We don’t like to admit it, but who you know is sometimes as-if not more-important than how good you are at something. We’ve gone through some hiring in our office recently, and a well-connected 3.5 GPA absolutely beats out a 4.0 that nobody knows. It’s hard to overstate the power of a good recommendation.
But this reliance on recommendations is not a new thing, it stretches all the way back to the time of the Apostle Paul.
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?” (2 Corinthians 3:1)
Apparently some people were running around, showing off their letters to churches that they got from other churches. Paul, apparently, did not have or did not want such a letter. So he responds to the Corinthians with the letter of recommendation that he has.
“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
This is an interesting move by Paul. Mostly because he did have an impressive resume. He lists out things that may have impressed people in Philippians 3. He received the right hand of fellowship from the Apostles in Galatians 2. He met the risen Christ on the Damascus road. But that’s not what he pointed to, he pointed to his love for the people of Corinth.
And if it seems like he was bragging, he adds,
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter ills, but the Spirit gives life.”
So follow the logic here. His confidence comes from transforming work of the gospel in the Corinthian church. And that comes only through God, who gave Paul the honor of being a minister of the new covenant, a covenant that can transform those who hear it. And what is the evidence that Paul is truly a minister of that gospel? Transformed lives.
I’m in a transitional place in my own life and ministry. And in such places, there is an impulse to try to quantify what you have accomplished. Now of course there is a danger there, you may be faithful with very little fruit, but it seems-based on 2 Corinthians 3-that it is not wrong to reflect on what God has done through you.
And in those moments when you want to quantify, I’m drawn to try to want to quantify in years. I led a small group for x years, I did campus ministry for x amount of time. But the richest and sweetest way to measure is often in what lives you have impacted. As you’ve preached the gospel, are there people that are closer to Jesus? As you’ve edified the church, are there Christians under your care that have conquered their sin, been emboldened to share the gospel, and love Jesus more than before?
And the beautiful thing about these questions is that if they indict you-as they do me-they also give you hope. When Paul says that his sufficiency is from God, it is not just something he tacks on the end of bragging so no one accused him of being proud. It’s something that’s gloriously true. Anyone can speak the gospel, pray, and transform lives.
The power of the gospel in the lives of people is our letters of recommendation, it is what shows that we are real. And because the power of the gospel does not depend on our merit, it is a letter of recommendation that any Christian can have.