Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Letter Of Commendation

Temple of Apollo, Corinth (Wikimedia)
I have been working on the AS350 Helicopter now for over six years. In this time I have had the opportunity to work on most of the systems and components in the most detailed of inspections and repairs. Though, if I were to seek employment at another facility working on AS350s, they would require that I have references from those who worked with me validating my professional knowledge, and recommending my services to them. Everyone does this when looking for a new job, it is an essential part of a resume. But in ancient times, knowing somebody was almost as important as actually knowing a trade or a skill. In antiquity, someone of note would write a letter of commendation, affixing his or her seal to it, so that the person to be recommended would hand it over to a potential employer or another person of note as a way of introduction and an assurance of their value. Some examples of these letters of commendation are preserved on papyrus. Here is a letter of commendation which dates from ca. 25 AD.

Theon to his most esteemed Tyrannus, heartiest greetings. Heraclides, the bearer of this letter to you, is my brother. Therefore I beg you with all my power to hold him as one recommended [συνίστημι] to you. I have also asked Hermias my brother in writing to communicate with you regarding this. You will do me the greatest favour if he [Heraclides] gains your notice. But above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously. Goodbye. (Milligan, 37-38)

Paul references this ancient practice of letters of commendation in his second letter to the Corinthians. The Greek verb for commendation in this papyrus, and which is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians is συνίστημι. Paul used this verb a total of nine times in his second letter to the Corinthians. Showing that this was an important central theme to the letter. He also revealed his dislike of this ancient custom, showing the foolishness of Christians who practice it,
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending [συνίστημι] themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:12, ESV).
Paul was “commending” himself to them because other Apostles were bringing these letters of commendation to the Church, bringing false teaching and undermining his authority as an apostle. They were probably being recognized by powerful and famous Christians. Paul was attempting to make a point by telling them; “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation [συνίστημι], written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Corinthians 3:2, ESV). Paul was stressing the importance that “it is not the one who commends [συνίστημι] himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends [συνίστημι]” (2 Corinthians 10:18, ESV). The Corinthian Church should have been the ones to “commend” Paul in his ministry, to recognize his authority as an apostle and to recommend him to other Churches. Yet, 2 Corinthians is filled with Paul “commending” himself, reminding the church of his labors bringing them the truth of the gospel. He disliked this very much but knew that this was the only way to connect with them, through this ancient practice; “I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended [συνίστημι] by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11, ESV).
This ancient practice of commendation, and Paul's interaction with it in 2 Corinthians has encouraged me to live and serve in such a way that the changed lives of people will actually be my letter of commendation to the world. I am working through seminary right now and will earn an MDiv in time. The seminary education is important, and has helped me in my Christian walk. But it is not the "commendation" which the degree gives that enables me to be approved of men to serve the Lord. What is truly important is that I am commended by the God.

Milligan, George. Selections from the Greek Papyri. Cambridge: University Press, 1912.

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