In an age of instant communication by telephone or fax machine, we don't always remember the excitement we once felt when receiving a long-awaited letter from family or friends. Perhaps a child away from home at camp or school still feels some of that enthusiasm today. But just imagine what it must have been like for the early Christians nineteen hundred years ago to receive a letter from Paul!
The New Testament epistles (letters) to the newly founded Christian churches in Asia Minor and to early church workers like Timothy and Titus contain a wealth of inspiration and counsel on a wide variety of subjects. They include comments on everything from profound theological questions to marital relations to the practical considerations of church organization. Lovingly they offer fatherly advice on raising children, the care of widows and the poor, the challenges of young manhood; they even have something to say about excessive emphasis on physical exercise. How the recipients of these letters must have treasured them!
One of the most arresting statements Paul made appears in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth. Referring to those faithful church workers as his letter of recommendation to others, he wrote, "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 fleshy tables of the heart."
II Cor. 3:2, 3. It may have been quite a challenge for those early workers to think of themselves as "living letters," bearing a Christly message to a world hungering for news of freedom and spiritual redemption.