I love Paul’s image in 3:1-3. He’s defending his ministry against accusations that he’s misled the Corinthians, or at least sold them short in teaching about the good news.
Rather than list his qualifications at this point, he points to the evidence of his ministry – his care for the Corinthian Christians and the signs of the life of God in their own hearts and lives. He doesn’t need letters from apostles and other church leaders to back up his claim to be an apostle. The letters that matter are written on the hearts of those touched by his teaching and care.
It’s following on from this that we get the contrast of Spirit and letter – ‘for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’ (3:6) The evidence and outworking of faith isn’t in the detail of doctrine, church order, rules and regulations. It’s in lives changed by the living love of God.
One of the great privileges of Christian ministry over the years is seeing lives touched and changed by God, and having a part to play in that. I remember one person after an Emmaus discipleship series, as she prepared for confirmation, giving me a card with the wonderful message, ‘Thank you for making God my friend and not to be feared.’ I’ve seen other people find freedom to be themselves with God, and people growing in confidence and stature as they are welcomed into God’s family and find their place.
My children also have an informal category of ‘People who blame Dad for them now being vicars.’ It’s been great to see people I’ve known early in their discipleship or ministry growing into all kinds of ministry and service.
When I need encouragement to keep going during the tough bits of ministry, it’s these people I think of – not the qualifications, job titles or roles that I’ve had, but the people whose lives I’ve been privileged to see and who I’ve been given the honour of helping to grow.
What kind of letter is written on my heart? And who’s reading it?