3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
We live in a culture obsessed with credentials. If people knew the history behind the University system I'm guessing they would feel very differently about it. More and more educating is being required to do the same jobs. People with more education are more likely to be hired and/or get paid more than someone who works beside them doing the same job but with less "education". I put education in quotes because in our current culture we call sitting in a classroom education and we grant credits for it and people get degrees and certifications etc... for doing it. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem is that it is not the only kind of education. Let me illustrate:
In Europe during the dark ages universities were born. They were created by a culture that was divided between the nobility and the peasantry, the rich ruling class and everyone else. The divide was very real and very large. However the skills lay very heavily in the hands of the working class peasants. Families had been practicing certain trades and skills for generations. There was no formal schooling attached. They learned by observation and by hands on training from father to son or mother to daughter etc...
As the noble class grew and their families became too large to be sustainable without them doing some kind of work a problem became evident. How could these rich kids with no skills compete in the marketplace against peasants who had been plying their trades for generations? The solution? Universities. The nobility created a system where the educated got the jobs over the skilled and the only ones who could afford this education were of course their own children. Having formal education/certification trumped hands on education. Those who knew how were squeezed out by those with papers.
My brother is a classic example in our times. My dad went to school and became a certified autobody repair technician. He opened his own business. My brother has natural giftedness and aptitude for it. He has been painting alongside my dad since he was twelve or less. It wasn't before he could paint better than my dad and my dad readily admitted it. To this day my brother has no formal education in autobody repair. If he wanted to work in that industry he would never get hired in a case where a certified person applied at the same time and if he did get hired he would be paid less even though he has years more experience and a higher level of skill than a young person coming out of school with an "education" and certification.
I say all this as an introduction to Paul's words to the church in Corinth here in chapter three. Paul has no formal education as a minister of the gospel. He has no PhD, nor Masters degree. He doesn't even have a Bachelor's degree. Some in Corinth because of his absence and because of the divisions and problems are feeling justified in dismissing his counsel to them. Like restless teens they are trying to buck his authority. After all, who does Paul think he is?
Paul asks the question: "Do I need to send letters of recommendation along with my advice? Or do I need you to give me a letter of recommendation? You are my letter."
The proof that Paul is certified is in the results. His qualifications are proven by the track record of lives surrendered to Jesus. In simpler terms the proof is in the pudding.
Would you prefer a man whose qualifications are proven by results or by papers? Ideally both is best but in the absence of one or the other I'll take the guy who has demonstrated his ability through tangible results. So it is in matters of faith. If you are struggling to know who to listen to in matters of faith look at their track record above the letters behind their name. Do the results match their title? None of the apostles were "educated" yet even their opponents could plainly see "these men have been with Jesus" and in the matter of faith there is no better education.