3:1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? 2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul uses a series of contrasting or even opposing terms in rapid fire sequence. Here they are:
Ink - Spirit
Stone - Flesh/heart
Old Covenant - New Covenant
Letter - Spirit
This of course is nothing new for Paul. In his writings we could probably find a page or more of similar contrasts. So why here? Why now? Yesterday I spoke of credentials and received some lively feedback in private message form which I appreciated. It made me see that I was as clear as I could have been. A couple of people felt it was an attack on education which was never my intent. What I believe Paul was trying to say is that his highest credentials (even though he was highly educated) were the lives changed as a result of his ministry. In other words the measure of man should not ultimately be his papers or the letters behind his name or his lack of such. There are some who would dismiss a person as unqualified because they are educated. There are others who would dismiss a person because they aren't formally educated. Both are unwise and wrong. More than once Paul claimed he was ordained as an apostle not by men but by God. Does this negate ordination? As Paul would say: "Heaven forbid!" He was indeed affirmed by the body. That just came later. Sometimes God is ahead of His people... (yes you can smile here).
God is big on education. He educated Adam and Eve. They rejected His education and paid a price we are still paying.
Now back to the contrasting terms. Do you see a pattern? One might say the first column of terms are concrete terms and the second more abstract. Others may express the differences as tangible and intangible. Still others may see or define it differently again. The real question is "What was Paul trying to communicate?" I believe the key word is sufficiency. Anyone can read the letters on the stone or the ink on the policies etc... and come up with some interpretation. Would they be right? Maybe. But if the writing is from God ought we not to ask Him what it means? Wouldn't we be better able to understand if we knew His heart and were lead by His Spirit? We can either be self-sufficient or make Him our sufficiency. This contrast applies to all of us whether we are formally educated as Paul was in all things Jewish or informally educated as Paul was in the reality of the carpenter from Nazareth. Had Paul not humbled himself and made Christ his sufficiency we would never have known much or anything about him.
We all have access to the writings from the finger of God on stone tablets. We all have the ink on the pages of the Bible written by the prophets. We all have some kind of education. The great difference is in Who we make our sufficiency - self or Christ?
We'll continue tomorrow...