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Is a letter of commendation required even when a visiting brother or sister goes to an assembly where he or she is well known?

The practice of carrying letters of commendation appears to have been a regular custom in the early days of the church. Scripture supports and endorses the use of such letters. The only case of reception to an assembly without a letter is found in Acts 9.26 where Paul assayed to join himself to the assembly in Jerusalem, but all the disciples were afraid of him because of his past reputation. Barnabas gave testimony to Paul's conversion and calling and he was received. Notice, too, the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3.1: "…need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?". They were his letter written on the heart. In Paul's position he did not need a letter, but today believers do well to take a letter when visiting an assembly. Paul's apostolic work at Corinth and in other assemblies was his commendation. The Corinthian assembly was his letter. He had laboured among them and laid the foundation.

A letter of commendation brought by believers to an assembly is a nice link of fellowship with the commending assembly. As regards not needing a letter because of being a regular visitor to a certain assembly, surely common sense must prevail. Even though the believer may be well known it could be the case that some considerable time may have elapsed since the assembly was visited. In such a situation it would be good to write an updated letter. This would give the receiving assembly confidence. Letters of commendation are certainly not to be regarded as a ticket to break bread. In Romans 16.1-2 and Acts 18.27 we have two inspired examples of letters of commendation. Both Phoebe and Apollos are commended by letter to an assembly.

John J Stubbs

What advice would you give to a Christian husband and wife who are considering separating with a view to divorce, to encourage them to continue together?

The advice would be to consider what counsel the Scriptures give in such a situation. It would be wise if elders of the assembly could give advice to the couple concerned, or alternatively an overseer and his wife, always bearing in mind what the Word of God teaches.

When Paul left Corinth, those who had been newly converted found themselves faced with certain personal issues and, with little in the way of New Testament writings available, were unsure what they should do.

It is at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7 that Paul begins to answer questions which were contained in a letter he had received from Corinth. What these personal issues were can be suggested by the answers given by the apostle.

Broadly speaking, Paul considers four subjects in this chapter: vv.1-9 - Marriage; vv.10-24 - Separation and Divorce; vv.25-38 - Celibacy; vv.39-40 - Widowhood.

In vv.10 and 11 Paul is addressing those who are married, where both partners are believers. It is apparent that Paul is answering two questions:

1) What is the position when a wife separates from her husband?

2) Should a husband divorce his wife?

Paul issues a charge which, he asserts, is really a command of the Lord: "Let not the wife depart (i.e. be separated) from her husband". However, he does allow for the possibility of a lack of compatibility: "But and if she depart…" - if circumstances arise where living with her husband becomes impossible. Paul now commands the wife what she must do in such a situation: a) "let her remain unmarried" - she must stay as she is, or b) better still, "be reconciled to her husband" - she is to spare no effort to re-establish normal relations with the man who is still her husband.

"And let not the husband put away his wife" - he must not divorce his wife. Marriage is to be permanent, and neither partner is expected to dissolve the union. The teaching in this context is clear: separation is undesirable, but allowed; divorce is prohibited.

David E West


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