2 Corinthians 3:4-6 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
It’s rare for me to write on three verses together, but this is a very connected passage. Credentials are important in many societies, some more than others. Probably from the beginning of human society some people have claimed things about themselves that were not true; there have always been shysters of one sort and another. Paul is here saying that his credentials are from God. In verse two he has already said that the people to whom he has ministered are his letter of recommendation. People today often love to put assorted letters after their names to indicate their academic degrees and associations, but too often those mean very little in practical terms. I doubt that Albert Einstein put any letters after his name! Though it’s not what Paul was thinking of, that could be directly related to his statement that “the letter kills.” It generally takes hard work to earn advanced degrees, and I am rather proud that my father received his PhD at 23, but degrees aren’t what Jesus was talking about when He said, “by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20) These days there are countless doctorates of various sorts, and they mean many different things The current First Lady has been mocked for insisting at times that she be referred to as “Doctor,” because her degree is in some sort of liberal art and certainly not medicine, which is what the average person thinks of with “doctors.” We are certainly to evaluate people carefully, not from a judgmental standpoint but so as not to be deceived. There are plenty of people with paper credentials who are either incompetent or downright dangerous to society. We are to seek the wisdom of God and the life of the Spirit, so that we too may be agents of life and not death.
I once had an amusing incident along these lines myself. I was doing some consulting work for a computer company in a neighboring town, and they offered to get me a subscription to the Journal of the IEEE, which is a professional journal dealing with electrical engineering, particularly relating to computing. I had to fill out an application form, since they don’t give those subscriptions to just anyone. When it asked for academic degrees, I honestly wrote that I earned an MRE in 1978, and they approved my subscription, probably thinking that the E referred to some sort of engineering. Actually, those initials indicate Master of Religious Education! I chuckle remembering that. I have considered getting a doctorate, but realized that it would have absolutely no impact on my actual work and ministry. My experience of seminary in the US was that it bore very little relationship to actual ministry in Japan. Knowledge isn’t bad, but it is no substitute for obedient submission to the Holy Spirit. Right now, interestingly, my white beard is taken as a form of credentials, since age is still respected in Japan, but that too is meaningless. I need to rely fully on God and not on myself, and certainly not on what people think of me.
Father, thank You for having Paul record this truth. Help me be Your agent at all times, not being trapped again by pride and conceit, so that Your name may be recognized as holy and Your rule and reign established as Your will is done, in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!