New Testament Commendation

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W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (pages 210-211) lists five verbs (and an adjective linked with one of them) which the Authorized Version sometimes translates “commend” or “recommend”. In local assemblies, we use this word frequently; what meaning do we convey when we use it?

  1. Praise. “And the Lord commended the unjust steward”, Luke 16. 8. “I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things”, 1 Cor. 11. 2.
  2. Present. “I beseech you … that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God”, Rom. 12. 1. “But meat commendeth us not to God”, 1 Cor. 8. 8.
  3. Commit. “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him”, 1 Pet. 4. 19. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”, Luke 23. 46. “And when they had ordained elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord”, Acts 14. 23. “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up”, 20. 32.
  4. Commend. This fourth verb conveys the idea of bringing together: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”, Rom. 5. 8. “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church”, 16. 1. Of the five words, this is the only one associated with a letter.
  5. In 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the verb seven times and the adjective twice. His statements indicate possible abuses of letters of commendation. When he visited Corinth the second time, a Judaizing leader and his party rejected Paul for want of a written letter. Paul claimed that his commendation was written on his heart with all his Corinthian converts as signatories, 2 Cor. 3. 1-2. The truth that he preached commended him, 4. 2. He said that over-insistance upon written commendation leads to “glory in appearance”, 5. 12. Commendation tells others what men think of a person, 10. 12, but they need to know what our Lord thinks of him, 10. 18. In any case, Paul should have been commended by the Corinthians, 12. 11.

    The letter of commendation in this case is really a letter of introduction which brings strangers together, and has obvious value when used rightly. Such letters were common where people were not known outside their own area, Acts 28. 21, and necessary when some were asked to trust others with money, 1 Cor. 16. 3.

  6. Deliver. This verb occurs 121 times in the New Testament. It is rendered “deliver” 63 times: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all”, Rom. 8. 32. It is rendered “betray” 40 times: “Jesus knew … who should betray him”, John 6. 64. It is rendered “recommend” twice: “Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled”, Acts 14. 26; “And Paul … departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God”, 15. 40.
  7. The first of these two “recommend” references refers back to the Holy Spirit’s call and the response of the Antioch prophets and teachers: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away”, 13. 2-3.

    Thus commendation in this fifth sense requires: (a) that the Holy Spirit show that one or more should go forth from the assembly to do a certain work for God; (ft) that the leaders express this by identifying themselves with those who go forth, and by delivering them into God’s hands; (c) renewal when the nature of the work to be done changes. Such commendation is from the assembly by the brethren. No letters are mentioned in connection with commendation in this sense.

Conclusion

In local assemblies, when we use the word “commend” in practice, it partakes of the qualities of all these five New Testament words. We use it in the fourth sense when we introduce one another into assemblies where we are not known hitherto.

Our use of “commendation” in connection with missionary work is a combination of the fourth and fifth usages in particular. Thus if a worker is commended for work for God, we (a) present him to others, commit him to their care, and praise him in such a way as to give support to our request to them; (b) indicate that elders and gifted brethren of an assembly have delivered him to God’s hands for a specific work which he is in fact doing (or is about to do); (c) express all this in a letter which may be shown to individuals or assemblies wherever an introduction is needed.

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