The way in which such letters were used in New Testament times is shown by the following eight examples.
2 Cor. 3. 1-6; 13. 1-6. The constraint of Paul is seen as, with courtesy, he replies to the Corinthian believers’ request for a letter confirming his status. These saints were themselves a living epistle – that is proof enough! Need a father be commended to his children? Paul’s only concern is the defence of God’s glory. How do we react when misjudged?
Acts 15. 23-27. What a contrast! Here the competence of Paul and his companions is proclaimed as they contend for the truth, cf. 1 Cor. 16. 3.
Eph. 6.21-22. The comradeship of Tychicus is mentioned as Paul sends his friends to Ephesus, knowing that personal contact and communion with this beloved brother will strengthen the Christians throughout the whole region. When “on holiday” do we consider the needs of those to whom we go?
Col. 4. 7-9. The consecration of Tychicus is highlighted – he is a fellow-bondman. Paul wishes to communicate with the Colossians. Let us receive one another in a similar spirit of mutual welfare and comfort.
Philemon 10-21. The conversion of Onesimus (a name meaning profitable) is described. Now, with contrition, the former unprofitable servant returns to be a true Onesimus. A letter of commendation is not intended merely as an introduction to the Lord’s Supper, but to happy fellowship in all the worship and work of the local assembly, which will thereby benefit, vv. 14-15.
Acts 18. 27. Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus help Apollos whom they then commit to the disciples in Achaia, convinced that he will be useful there. Only that which is commendable can be commended; having been helped, Apollos then helps others. The “helps”, 1 Cor. 12. 28, not the hinderers, Gal. 5. 7, are gifts of God.
Rom. 16. 1-2. The compassion of Phebe as she cares for the disciples is an example of the great
yet silent ministry of sisters in the Lord. The Roman saints had to look after her as she had looked after others.
3 John 12. The constancy of Demetrius deserves this compliment; cf. Phil. 2.25-30. In other words, give praise where praise is due. Every Christian shall “have praise of God”, 1 Cor. 4. 5.