Second Corinthians 5:11–6:2 . . .
Have you ever wondered, "What's there to live for?" That's a question asked today by Christians and non-Christians alike. These are times of crises. Last week's study showed the importance of: (a) being of good courage and walking by faith (5:6–8); (b) aiming to please him (v. 9); and (c) preparing for the judgment seat as we seek to please God (v. 10). A wonderful answer to "What's there to live for?" is found in today's passage, starting in v. 11 (shown below). Hopefully, many will be helped by it.
Paul goes on to say, not only are we to lead God-pleasing lives in our motives, but also in our faithful actions. In effect, what Apostle Paul is saying here is, "I find tremendous motivation from this awareness that all the hidden motives of my actions are going to come out in the open." He calls that "fear of the Lord." That fear isn't in the sense of trembling before God, but of respecting God; it's about being aware that he's a God of truth and that no one can water that down. Knowing this about God, Paul's saying, "It motivates me to be honest and faithful in the work he has given me to do, that of persuading men."
So Paul's concern is that his actions become faithful, honest, open, and properly motivated, and that he'll use the opportunities he has while he has the time, living a resurrection life for others, motivated by love:
"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (vv. 14–15).
Paul tells us that we must be compelled by Christ's love, which constrains, motivates, and then guides us after we get there; it sets the limits of what we should and shouldn't do. That, Paul says, comes from the sense that Christ loves him. He also says that he's learned that the death of Christ freed him from the need to live for himself (v. 15).
Verse 16 has two distinct parts: Verse 16a will enable you to see everybody else differently, making you treat them differently; v. 16b will discourage you from continuing to treat people and God in "worldly" ways. In fact, there was a time," Paul appears to say, "when we treated Christ that way. Everybody, even the most obscure, lowliest, and weakest among us is a possible child of God, made in the image of God, and is significant." That's why Paul became freed from bias and prejudice, treating people accordingly. While Paul initially tried his best to exterminate the religion that thrived about him (probably because he mistakenly regarded Jesus as an imposter and a phony), now he's saying, "No more! We've learned to look at people differently. Now we see Christ for who he is, the Lord of Glory, God himself who became a man." Therefore, Paul says, "We're to treat people differently," as he writes in v. 17.
If you are in Christ, you're a new creation. He who's begun a good work in you won't fail to perform it until the day of Christ. So there's always hope for every single one of us. Therefore, we're to treat everybody differently because we no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and was raised again. What a privilege it will be at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:1–1, reviewed last week) to know that we stood firm for his name and loved him in the midst of the emptiness, death, and darkness of a dying world. Thank you, Lord, for that privilege.
Apostle Paul painted a picture for us in chapter 5, drawing a portrait of a Christian living in a dying world. Hopefully, we've already learned how a Christian ought to act in a world like ours today, which is comparable to the world of the first century, filled with despair, hopelessness, corruption, deceit, and darkness. A Christian ought to be someone in whose eyes there's a great light of hope as he looks to the future, knowing that there's a "weight of glory" awaiting him for which his present trials and difficulties are preparing him.
We're to live like that, having that in our thoughts every day, being renewed in our minds by the Spirit of God so that we always look at life that way because that's life. Having said all that, the apostle goes on to describe the ministry that God has given us (vv. 18–20). These remarkable words describe the greatest, most powerful, most effective work going on in the world today. Hopefully they describe accurately your "ministry of reconciliation." Please read Paul's words again, right now here in vv. 18–20.
What a tremendous ministry that is! We need to carefully understand this "ministry of reconciliation" because it's our ministry; it's what God has called each of us who knows Jesus Christ to do. This isn't merely Paul's ministry or an apostle's or even a pastor's; it's our ministry. Notice how Paul uses the words "we" and "us" through this passage. He shared it with Christians of the early days in Corinth; and he shares it with us today. Our ministry of reconciliation: (a) comes to us from God himself (v. 18); (b) is a powerful ministry that reconciles the world (v. 19); (c) requires our voluntary acceptance of God's appeal to us (v. 20); and (d) achieves the "righteousness of God" (shown in the magnificent v.21).
The final word in this week’s assage is addressed directly to the believers in Corinth, warning them to not "receive God's grace in vein." "Grace of God" is a general term that covers all that God has done for us in Christ. It means becoming reconciled to God. Paul is saying this to people who are already reconciled, "Now, don't let his grace be accepted in vain, empty, worthless, in your life." When you receive Christ, he comes in to live with you to do two basic things: (1) show you the difference between right and wrong and (2) give you the power to do what's right and to reject the wrong in every area of your life.
When would it be best for you to reach out to your neighbors, befriending them so that you'll have an opportunity, hopefully, to share with them the change in your own life and heart? Well, now's the only time you've got! Paul completes his great "Become Reconciled!" message — of a beseeching God reaching out to a dying, despairing world with a cure for all its troubles — by pleading to us, seeing us as being actively involved in that process with him and God. And their joint appeal to us is, "Don't wait. Become reconciled now."
- Q. 1 What does Paul mean by what he says about Christ and our response to him (vv. 15–17)?
- Q. 2 Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations. What story from your life illustrates reconciliation?
2 Corinthians 5:11–6:2
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 5.]
The Ministry of Reconciliation
11Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13If we are "out of our mind," as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6 As God's co-workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. 2For he says,
"In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you."
I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.