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Is a letter of commendation required even when a visiting brother or sister go to an assembly where they are well known?

Brethren need to be sensible and realistic in giving or demanding letters of commendation to or from believers visiting an assembly where they are known. A letter of commendation is certainly not a ticket to the Breaking of Bread. If a believer in assembly fellowship has been known and respected for some considerable time then it should be sufficient for them to be welcomed and announced to the assembly without a letter. It is another matter if the believer has not presented himself or herself to the assembly for some years. A letter brought in this situation would be a godly way of giving the brethren confidence that in the lapse of time the person has not become uncommendable. We must not allow the writing and receiving of letters of commendation to degenerate into a binding tradition - a "must have", no matter how many times the same assembly is visited. Of course, there needs to be godly care in the receiving of visitors to an assembly, and godly care too in commending them.

There are two examples of reception to an assembly without a letter. Paul did not need a letter when going to Corinth (some others did). His own work there was commendation enough (2 Cor 3.2). An urgent and hasty departure from Damascus had necessitated Paul’s appearance at Jerusalem uncommended, but Barnabus bore clear testimony to his conversion, commission, and confession (Acts 9.26-28). Attention should be given here to the precise details as to the reception of a stranger without a letter. There has been little or no teaching publicly concerning letters of commendation. Some today do not feel they are needed, but believers taking letters of commendation to other areas where they were not known was clearly a practice in apostolic days. So if the question is asked, "Are they Scriptural?", then the answer is, "Yes", for we have an inspired example of a letter of commendation in Romans 16.1-2. Phoebe, in journeying to Rome, was either unknown to the saints there or had not been for some time. Thus Paul commends her, and eight brethren stand associated with this commendation (see vv. 21-23). In Acts 18.27 the brethren in Ephesus wrote a letter concerning Apollos, asking the believers in Achaia to receive him. Using letters of commendation is in accordance with New Testament practice.

John J Stubbs

The Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (Jn 3.10). From which Scriptures should Nicodemus have learned of the new birth?

Nicodemus, having come "to Jesus by night", addressed Him, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God" (Jn 3.2). The Lord Jesus then employed the same term in interrogating Nicodemus, "Art thou a master (teacher) of Israel, and knowest not these things? (Jn 3.10). What a rebuke this was!

Water (static, as distinct from running, water) in the Scriptures is frequently typical of the Word of God. When the Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Jn 3.5), He was evidently referring to the way in which the Spirit uses the Word to quicken.

New birth is by i) the Word of God: "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth" (James 1.18), "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God" (1 Pet 1.23); and ii) the Spirit of God: "born…of the Spirit" (Jn 3.5,6,8).

Had Nicodemus never read the promise to Israel given through the prophet Isaiah: "For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty…I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring" (Is 44.3)? Had Nicodemus forgotten the words of another prophet: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean…A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezek 36.25.26)? N.B. these passages describe the future regeneration of Israel. The nation will require the new birth in order to receive and enjoy the earthly blessing of God’s Kingdom in the future.

It should also be borne in mind that when the Lord Jesus said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit"(Jn 3.8), He may have been alluding to the words of Solomon, "As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit…even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all" (Eccl 11.5).

What was presented to Nicodemus ought not, from a human standpoint, have been strange to him. However, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2.14).

David E West

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