“LIVING EPISTLES” 2 CORINTHIANS 3:1-6 INTRO: God‟s people are a special people. We are special because of our birth. 1 Peter 1:23 says of us, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” We are special because of our beliefs. We believe that “..the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21) and “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). We are special because we bound for glory land. Our Lord Jesus promised His disciples and all who believe in Him, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). And we are looking and longing for the day that “…the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). In 2 Corinthians 3:2 Paul writes to the Corinthians—“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” What Paul said of the Corinthians is true of all true believers. Some false teachers has started carrying forged letters of recommendation to increase their authority. In no uncertain terms, Paul states that he needs no such letters. The lives of the believers whom he and his companions had converted were enough of a recommendation (1). Friend, If you have placed your faith and trust in Christ Jesus, you are a Living Epistle and that makes you special. Someone has said, “The „living Bible‟ people really read, is you” (2). Let us note this morning three things about “Living Epistles.” LIVING EPISTLES ARE: (1) REFLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR’S WORK 2 CORINTHIANS 3:2-3—“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.” A. CREATED BY THE AUTHOR’S HAND. Notice the last part of v3— “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” Christ is the author of the letter; Paul was the penman; the message was written on the fleshly tablets of the hearts of the brethren at Corinth. (The People’s New Testament Commentary). Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10—“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Friend, If you are saved, you are to be a reflection of Christ in everything you do. There should be no doubts about Whose you are and Whom you serve! Paul Gilbert wrote: “Men read what you write, if it‟s false or true. Say, what is the gospel, according to you?” (3). ILLUS: Ronnie Hinson wrote: Once Upon A Hill Verse 1 Somebody wrote my life‟s story Though the ink never touched the writer‟s quill Now in Heaven I‟ll live happy ever after Cause my life story started once upon a hill. Verse 2 I‟ve never laid eyes upon the author But it‟s clear to see He‟s laid his hand on me My life story may not be the world‟s bestseller But they won‟t have to read between the lines to see. Chorus Once upon a hill is all it took From hidden shame my heart‟s been changed My life‟s an open book It‟s never been a mystery How the fiction became real Cause my life‟s story started once upon a hill. B. CONSTRAINED BY THE AUTHOR’S HEART. Why are we to be reflections of the Author‟s work? Paul tells us why in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15—“for the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then we are all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” A Living Epistle’s will is the Author‟s will. If we are truly His, we will love Him and do His will for our lives! 1 John 2:3-6 tells us, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” Jesus said in John 14:15—“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” ILLUS: "I do love God," said a little girl to her papa one day when he had been talking to her about loving God. "Perhaps you think so, Maria." "Oh, I do, indeed I do, Papa!" "Suppose, my child, you should come to me and say, 'Dear Papa, I do love you,' and then go away and disobey me? Could I believe you?" "No, Papa." "Well, dear, how can I believe you love God when I see you every day doing those things which He forbids? You know, the Bible says, 'If ye love me, keep my commandments.'" --William Moses Tidwell, "Pointed Illustrations." LIVING EPISTLES are REFLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR‟S WORK, Created By The Author’s Hand and Constrained By The Author’s Heart, but also LIVING EPISTLES are… (2) READ BY ALL MEN WIDELY 2 CORINTHIANS 3:2—“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” *Note the last part of v2—“..known and read of all men.” All men who could see the transformation effected in the lives of the Corinthians could read the epistle. (The People’s New Testament Commentary). The Gospel‟s impact on the Corinthians had an obvious and widely perceived impact. Our lives impact others! There are two things we must never forget: A. PEOPLE READ OUR LIVES. When Paul said “Ye are our epistle… known and read of all men,” he was saying, "everyone could read, and was obliged to acknowledge the handwriting; it was so clear a case, what hand the apostle, as an instrument, had in the turning of these persons from idols to serve the living God; and which was so full a proof of the divinity, efficacy, truth, and sincerity of his doctrine, that he needed no letters from any to recommend him. (John Gill’s Exposition of The Entire Bible). Listen, Child of God, people are watching you. They are reading your life seeing if your epistle lives up to the intent of the Author. There is not so powerful a sermon in the world, as a consistent Christian life. The eye of the world takes in more than the ear. Christians' lives are the only religious books the world reads. (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary). ILLUS: Around the turn of the century in rural Tennessee an old man crippled with arthritis was very faithful in his assembling with the saints. Twice on Sunday and on Wednesday nights a little girl watched from her window as the old man with his cane painfully made his way down to the little church on the corner. One Sunday morning following a snow storm, the little girl ran to her window and looking out exclaimed, "Surely the old man will not go to church this morning." But there he was, right on schedule, plodding very cautiously through the snow. The little girl could not contain herself any longer. She just had to visit the little church to see what possibly could be there that would bring the old man out on such an inclement morning. The rest is history. The little girl was impressed by the services there that morning and a short time later became a Christian. After high school she enrolled in a Christian college and while there she met a fine young Christian boy whom she later married. To this union a son was born who was to become one of the finest gospel preachers. This brother during his ministry has literally led thousands to Christ. The old man went to his reward never realizing just what an impact he had made for the cause of Christ. Because of his godly influence many will go into heaven with him. There can be no greater joy than to reach heaven and to her someone say, "I am here because you have shown me the way." People read our lives and also… B. PEOPLE REACT TO OUR LIVES. As people read our lives, there will always be a reaction to what they read. If we live for Christ, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16—“For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” Warren Wiersbe wrote: “This savor, or perfume, means life to other believers, but to the un- believer headed for eternal condemnation, it means death. Joseph was a savor death to the baker, but a savor of life to the butler (Gen. 40). Paul‟s description is a beautiful and challenging picture. What a tremendous responsibility it is to introduce people to life, or to have them reject Christ and go off to death! Being a Christian is a serious responsibility, for our lives are leading people either to heaven or hell (4). Charles Spurgeon said, “I would not give much for your religion unless it can be seen. Lamps do not talk, but they do shine” (5). ILLUS: A group of teenage girls was discussing a new leader for their Bible class. Their frank comments on the woman in question were enlightening and amusing. One girl said, "If you kids pick Mrs. L- to be our teacher, I'm quitting." "Why, what's wrong with her?" asked several of the group. "Plenty," was the reply. "Remember how I used to go to help her with her housework on Saturdays? Well, she still owes me money and she won't pay. Also, she talks a lot about being a good Christian, and boy, you should hear her say nasty things about some of her neighbors. Honest, kids, I know I shouldn't talk about her, but, please, let's wait until we find a teacher who lives what she teaches us on Sunday." ILLUS: A non-Christian lawyer attended a church service and listened incredulously to the testimonies of some who were known to him for their shady deals and failure to meet their honest obligations. "How did you like the testimonies?" a man asked him at the close of the service. He replied, "To a lawyer there is a vast difference between testimony and evidence." Words are cheap, and it is perilously easy to give a fine-sounding testimony for Christ, but quite another matter to demonstrate evidences of God's purifying power in our lives through Christ. "This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" (Mark 7:6). Friends, As LIVING EPISTLES, PEOPLE READ OUR LIVES and PEOPLE REACT TO OUR LIVES. Is your life a honorable testimony to the life- changing power of God? LIVING EPISTLES are: REFLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR‟S WORK, READ BY ALL MEN WIDELY, and finally… (3) READY FOR THE AUTHOR’S WITNESS 2 CORINTHIANS 3:6—“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” *No one can claim to be adequate without God‟s help. No one is competent to carry out the responsibilities to which God hath called him or her. Without the Holy Spirit, natural talent can carry us only so far. As Christ‟s witnesses, we need the Character and strength only God gives (6). *Notice what Paul says in v5—“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” God gave Paul and his fellow-ministers their "sufficiency" (2Co_3:5), who had made them able ministers of the gospel. (The People’s New Testament Commentary). God has called us, his Living Epistles, to be witnesses of His life-changing power. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20—“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are the ambassadors for Christ…” What are we to be witnesses of? : A. HIS GRACE (EPHESIANS 2:8-9). We are to let this world know that Salvation is solely by grace through faith. Oliver B. Greene is his commentary on Ephesians wrote: “Grace came by Jesus Christ—yea, Grace WAS Jesus Christ—and becomes ours by faith. The Law extends blessings to the good—but Grace extends salvation to the bad…yea, to the worst. The Law demands that blessings be earned by righteous works; but Grace is the free gift of God, no strings attached. By Grace… the gift of God…Since the cross, salvation does not depend upon religious practices such as rituals, feasts, the keeping of Sabbaths, assemblies, etc. Salvation depends upon receiving Jesus…Good works have nothing to do with salvation. Good works are the evidence, the fruit, of salvation” (7). ILLUS: On April 18, 2000, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker tragically died in a counselor‟s office. Her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, took Candace to Connell Watkins‟ home-based therapy center in Evergreen, Colorado to help her overcome “reactive attachment disorder.” As part of the therapy, Candace was wrapped in a blanket, then four people pushed against the blanket with pillows. The little girl was told to fight her way out of it to become “reborn.” A video tape reveals Candace repeated said she couldn‟t breathe but the session continued. After 70 minutes of this exercise, Candace died of asphyxiation. This little girl‟s horrific death is but one grim reminder that our culture is spiritually confused. Salvation through Christ is the only avenue through which we can find new birth and new life (Houston Chronicle, 8/16/00, p5A) (8). As LIVING EPISTLES we must be WITNESSES OF HIS GRACE and also We must be WITNESSES of… B. HIS GLORY (V5). LIVING EPISTLES are to be witnesses of the glory of God operating in their lives. They are to show forth God‟s power and presence operating in their lives. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7— “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ILLUS: A Hindu trader in India once asked a missionary, "What do you put on your face to make it shine?" With surprise the man of God answered, "I don't put anything on it!" His questioner began to lose patience and said emphatically, "Yes, you do!" All of you who believe in Jesus seem to have it. I've seen it in the towns of Agra and Surat, and even in the city of Bombay." Suddenly the Christian understood, and his face glowed even more as he said, "Now I know what you mean, and I will tell you the secret. It's not something we put on from the outside but something that comes from within. It's the reflection of the light of God in our hearts. CLOSING: There are people in the world around us who never open, who never read this Book. But they are reading us. Are they able to see God in our lives? Are they able to say of us to others, "That man— or that woman--reminds me of Christ"? Do we let our light so shine that men may see, not us, but our Father in heaven? This is the real test. -- W. H. Griffith-Thomas in a sermon, "Knowing and Showing," from Keswick's Authentic Voice. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 5. LIVING EPISTLES are REFLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR‟S WORK, READ BY ALL MEN WIDELY, and READY FOR THE AUTHOR‟S WITNESS. Child of God, What is your life saying to this world about Christ? Listen to the words of Pearl Anderson: I am my neighbor‟s Bible, He reads me when we meet. Today he reads me in my home— Tomorrow on the street. He may be a relative or friend Or slight acquaintance be. He may not even know my name, Yet he is reading me. To learn if I am living And walking as I pray. He is watching closely Just what I do and say. Dear Christian friends and brothers, If we could only know How faithfully the world records Just what we say and do, Oh, we would write our records plain, And come, in time, to see Our worldly neighbors won to Christ While reading you and me (9). NOTES: 1. Living Letters From The Life Application Bible. p. 35. 2. Albert B. Wells, Jr. Inspiring Quotations-Contemporary & Classical. p. 37. 3. Wells. p. 35. 4. Warren W. Wiersbe. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on The New Testament. p. 481. 5. Wells. 6. Living Letters. p. 85. 7. Oliver B. Greene. The Epistle of Paul The Apostle To The Ephesians. pp. 81-82. 8. Raymond McHenry. In Other Words. Volume 10. Issue 4. Fall 2000. p. 10. 9. Wells. p. 34.
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