Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, 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 3:1–3
I have a grey SEND T-shirt with the words, “Be Disciples, Make Disciples.” It communicates a central idea, key to our calling as missionaries, but also to every Christian. Each of us has been called to be both a disciple and a disciple-maker. We need to be learning and growing disciples of Christ who are multiplying ourselves in the lives of others so that they also become learning and growing disciples of Christ.
With Paul, I say, “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor 2:16). This work of making disciples and equipping disciple-makers is surely a task that only God can do. Becoming a disciple and a disciple-maker requires a heart change (not just a great strategy), and what can I do to change someone’s heart? The Word of God is the divine instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit, that accomplishes this heart change and equips people to be disciple-makers (2 Tim 3:16-17). However, amazingly we are called to be the human instruments of this heart change in others.
In the third chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul talks the transformation of the heart that the Spirit of God accomplished among the Corinthian believers. He says that the Corinthian believers (disciples) are a letter from Christ, written by the Spirit of God on the tablets of the heart. This is a clear reference to the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:33:
“I will put my law in their minds and write in on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.”
Nevertheless, he describes this writing on the heart as “the result of our ministry.” Through Paul’s work as a missionary, God had written his Word on the hearts of Corinthian pagans, transforming them into disciples of the kingdom.
But this was not the only writing that was going on in the process of Paul discipling these Corinthians. He says in vs 2:
“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.”
The Gospel was written on the hearts of the new believers. The new believers were written on Paul’s heart. His heart had also been inscribed by the Spirit of God as he had built relationships with these Corinthian disciples. He had learned to love these people of a very different culture than his own – and his life would never be the same.
A double writing – their hearts and ours. This is my desire for myself and every missionary in our organization. I do not want a single SEND missionary to leave the field without the assurance that, as a result of their ministry, the Spirit of God has been writing on the hearts of their friends, transforming them into disciples of Christ. It might not happen in the first year or even in the first term. But I firmly believe that it is very possible for every missionary to witness this. (see my blog post on this topic).
I also want every SEND missionary’s heart to be deeply inscribed with the names of people in whom they have invested. We are not meant to be detached and dispassionate in our interactions with those we disciple. God intends that we will never be the same again. The Spirit changes hearts through our ministry, and in the process, our own hearts are also indelibly marked by the friendships that we have formed.