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 (ESV)
When someone seeks employment, generally there are letters written communicating why a business should hire an applicant. If you need a letter of recommendation, you don’t go to an antagonist and ask for one. You want someone you know of stature and experience, ideally in your field of industry, to write something positive.
For Paul, the whole church at Corinth was a living letter of recommendation for his ministry. The two verses above point out that his labor was a story of living transformation, enough weight to show the success of his work.
Again, Paul writes in verse 3: “…you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.” Essentially he’s saying you’re the living letter of our ministry written by the ink of the Holy Spirit.
The Ink of the Holy Spirit
Later in his writings, Paul points out that the experience of transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3, verse 6 reads that it’s God:
“…who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The competence to minister occurs at the efforts of God; it’s the Spirit that gives life! There are gifted ways to say things, there are great methods to apply things, there are even glorious purposes for attracting commitment, but ultimately the only process that accomplishes an enduring transformation of soul is the work of the Holy Spirit!
Transformation isn’t something left up to men—this task is so important that God, the Holy Spirit, takes personal responsibility to get the job completed. He begins the project when He takes up residence within the very life of the believer in Jesus Christ. Paul pointed this out to the Corinthians in an earlier letter; 1 Corinthians 6, verse 19 reads from the English Standard Version:
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”
The ‘specifics’ of how the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside the body is a mystery. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit lives inside the believer and the opportunity for lasting change is made available to everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord. When it comes to transformation, no one is beyond hope. The thought that someone can’t be changed is not in God’s vocabulary. He is the God of change making every soul He touches a living letter through the ink of the Holy Spirit. Practically, there is only one thing capable of hindering that work.
The Restricting of the Holy Spirit
As rain delays can hinder homebuilders, the process of God’s true transformation can be held up and restricted. Paul warns the Thessalonians that this problem exists when he writes to them in 1 Thessalonians 5, verse 19 the simple words:
“Do not quench the Spirit.”
The thought behind the word “quench” is that of extinguishing a fire. The metaphor is meant to illustrate the stifling and suppression of the divine influence—the Holy Spirit! The fastest way to break the process of transformation is to behave in ways that quench the fire burning in you—so to speak, throwing cold water on the Holy Spirit. Sure, God’s promise to us is that He’ll never leave nor forsake us! But, we can surely hinder, restrict and rain-delay His work in our lives through careless behavior.
What does that restricting behavior look like from a practical sense? Paul gives a hint of example when he writes in Ephesians 4, verses 30 and 31:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
Paul lists six-destroying emotions that can grieve the Holy Spirit and bring a work-delay to the transformation effort. But, the whole renewal processes can immediately start again through the simple act of putting away the six-destroying emotions. How can we do that? By acknowledging and confessing that we’ve slipped into any of these six-destroying detriments! Immediately following the work of the Holy Spirit is rekindled, the fire is relit and the ink of the Holy Spirit begins writing a living letter on our tablets of human heart again. We are The Living Letters written by God’s hand.
J. Robert Hanson