Letters of Recommendation

It’s graduation season and it reminds me of that terrifying experience of struggling to find out what work you are going to do or where you are going to school after you graduate. When I was graduating high school, I remember getting letters of recommendation from people who knew me. Those letters were meant to prove I was able to take the next step of development in my life.

The Apostle Paul brings up “letters of recommendation” in 2 Corinthians. The Corinthian church was started by Paul. They grew and developed well as one of the key congregations of the early church in one of the most important cities in the ancient world. Yet after Paul moved on to found churches in other cities, the Corinthians were wowed and dazzled by other preachers and self-appointed “Super Apostles” who dismissed Paul’s ministry and influence. This created a strain of doubt in Paul on the part of the very church he established. They considered Paul a second-rate minister compared to the newer, more presumptuous leaders they had encountered. To that end Paul spends the majority of 1 and 2 Corinthians defending himself to a doubtful congregation which he established in the first place.

While the Corinthians are looking for Paul’s credentials he counters with the ultimate credentials. Paul writes,
2 Corinthians 3:2–4 (ESV) You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 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. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 

I love what Paul does here. He says, “You want to know about my credentials? Look at you! You were pagans and now you serve and worship the living Christ. How did that happen? Because I was there telling you about Jesus!”

But he doesn’t stop there. He continues in verse 5:

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV) Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Paul does not boast in worldly fashion. He does not take complete credit for all that happened in Corinth. He says everything that happened in that church is proof that God’s Spirit worked through him to them and brought life where there once was death.

What can we draw from these words of Paul? Is the lesson “Make sure people never doubt you?” Is the lesson, “Defend your reputation against all doubters?” No. I think the lesson is much better.

The lesson for leadership in the church is simply this: Leadership is measured by life change in others. Leadership is not about what you can put on your social media profile page about yourself. Leadership is not about the title you can give yourself, the appointment of another or the degrees you can plaster on your office wall. Leadership is working to change people’s lives through the power of God’s Spirit working through you.

Leaders in the church – whether small group leaders, ministry leaders, pastors, deacons, elders etc… are in this business to see ONE THING HAPPEN: People growing in their love for God and love for others. That’s what proves you have the Spirit working through you. Degrees and titles are fine but their cultural collateral are always grounded in human institutions. According to Paul, real people growing in real love of Jesus is the ultimate leadership “cred”.

The final measurement of your life will not be how much money you earned or how big your house was. The final measurement will be who you loved and led to God in the power of the Holy Spirit. So it really doesn’t matter if others discredit you, a Godly leader considers people growing in Christ because of God’s Spirit working through you the only measurement that matters.