I am helping to write an epistle. It’s called the Epistle of Mike.
The word “epistle” means “a written message” and is often found in the form of a letter. Sometimes an epistle is identified in terms of the person who wrote it as in the epistles of James, John, Peter and Jude. Others are named in terms of the recipients of the letter as in Paul’s epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians or individuals like Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
There is a third sort of epistle mentioned in the Bible. I’ll use the NASB here because it uses the more familiar word “letters” instead of “epistles”. In speaking to the Corinthians about whether or not he and his team needed letters of recommendation to or from them to show their validity in Christ, Paul says this:
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for 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 - NASB)
That’s right. Paul referred to people, Christians like you and me, as human letters to other humans.
It seems, then, that in addition to the twenty-plus letters in the Bible written by human hands with ink, there were hundreds and hundreds of others “epistles” – all written by the Holy Spirit of God. Instead of being written on tablets of stone or papyrus scrolls, these letters were written on human hearts.
This has been happening now for over 2000 years and has occurred in the hearts of millions of Christians.
I am not writing the Epistle of Mike. God is doing that but He has granted us an incredible privilege. He is allowing us to be co-authors in writing these letters. God has used a beautiful word to describe this: “koinonia”. It means “partnership, literally, participation” and it comes from another Greek word “koinonos” which means “sharer, that is, associate, partaker, partner.” It is often translated as "fellowship".
“…truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3b)
This tells us that God is the Primary Author in the epistles that we are and that we have the privilege of being His co-author. We do have the right, granted to us by God, to affect the final draft of the letter. We can cooperate with the Primary Author or we can resist Him.
I am helping to write an epistle. It’s called the Epistle of Mike. You are helping to write an epistle too; it’s called the Epistle of You.
Now, the thing about a letter is that it is meant to be read. A letter is written to communicate a message or information from someone to someone else. There is always an author. We know that in this case the author is God Himself. But, there is always an intended recipient.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he had a single initial recipient in mind but obviously millions of others have read that letter since it is in our Bibles. When he wrote to the Ephesians or the Philippians or the Galatians he knew that the initial recipients would be the Christians in those specific places, read to them in their various homes and other gathering places. He also knew that these letters would be passed around from one town and city to another.
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men…” (2 Corinthians 3:2 - NASB)
We are intended, as letters written by Christ, to be read initially by specific people. God is intentional and, being all-knowing, He has in mind exactly who He intends to send us to as correspondence directly from Him to them. Eventually, though, we are known and read by everyone we meet.
As I pondered this idea my initial response was to think about all the times I failed to be a good letter. I felt a sense of guilt and shame wash over me. Then, it was like I heard God speak to me, saying, “I am the Author. You are not. I chose for you to be free. I allowed you to fail. Receive My forgiveness. Let’s do good work together. Let’s write this letter.”
The guilt and shame were washed away.
“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)
No one performs perfectly as God’s partner in this. We are epistles that will be being written until our last breath.
Seeing myself as “The Epistle of Mike” has caught my attention and has inspired me to want to cooperate closely with God, the Primary Author of this letter that is my life. I want to be a good letter from Him to the initial recipients and, eventually, the world.
When I was a teenager I had a pen pal. Young people would put their names and addresses in the newspaper and other young people would write them. As a normal young teenaged boy, I of course, chose a teenaged girl as my pen pal.
My house was set back from the street a ways and when I returned home from school one day I saw my mom standing in the doorway grinning at me. She had a letter in her hand. I could smell cheap perfume from where I was standing at the gate because my pen pal had SATURATED the letter with perfume she had bought at a dime store.
She had sent me a perfumed love letter and my mom KNEW it! My parents teased me about that for a long time but I was delighted that a cute girl from a nearby town had sent me that letter!
Years later I was reading 2 Corinthians and I saw something that affects me to this day. Before telling us that we are walking, talking human letters to the world, Paul says this:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)
A few verses later he tells us we are letters to the world. Put those two beautiful images together and what does that make us? We are perfumed love letters to the world and the perfume is Jesus Himself!
I pray that we will no longer live haphazardly as if everything that comes our way does so by chance. God has intentions for us and He intends to send you and me, as love letters from Him, to specific people handpicked by Him to be the recipients of that love.
Some will receive us like I received that perfumed letter long ago on our porch in New Orleans. Others will reject that love letter from God for various reasons, the saddest of which is that they feel unlovable.
These truly do not know our God.
Let’s commit to cooperating with Jesus, the Primary Author (Hebrews 12:2), so that some of those to whom we are sent will get to know Him.
I hope you enjoy being a part of the writing “The Epistle of You.”