A Ministry Of Reconciliation
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Key Verse: 5:20
“We 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.”
In verse 10 Paul reminded the Christian believers in Corinth that “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” These words in no way threaten a true believer’s salvation, because when you’re washed in the blood of the Lamb, your name is in the book of life and that’s that! However, these words were a reminder that every Christian will be judged for how we lived our Christian life while in the body. The Lord will evaluate each life and reward each life according to what we’ve done with it. Paul felt it necessary to speak this truth to them because he’d just been telling them of the kind of life God expects of those who belong to Christ— the kind of life God wants them to live— that is, the kind of life that pleases him. More than that, God expects us to make pleasing him a life goal— our life goal. It’s our greatest honor and privilege to set a life goal of pleasing him because it’s the purpose God created us— to please him! Paul reminds all of us that the day will come when we will stand before that awesome Judgment seat of Christ where an accounting will be tallied for the life one had lived. What was your life goal? What had you done with what God had entrusted you with, whether it was talent or health or illness, or time or occasion or situation or poverty or wealth or intellect or passion or strength or weakness, etc.? All must be accounted for! Indeed, Jesus once said: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12) So it’s good for us to learn how to “Make it our goal to please Him” (9). Jesus once said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) It’s a way of storing up treasure for that day. But you can’t store up treasure by giving to yourself [which many Christians seem to be in the habit of doing]. You can do so by [sacrificing] giving of yourself [to the Lord and to his cause, and so very few seem to be doing that].
Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles was blessed by the Lord’s grace and mercy in such a way that wherever he preached the gospel and served as a shepherd, there was the amazing work of God. He was God’s instrument bringing God’s love and God’s life to countless people. Paul didn’t need to advertise himself nor to defend nor justify himself or his actions to anyone, especially not to a church he himself had planted and raised by his own labor of love! In regards to the evidence of God’s hand at work in and through his ministry, he’d written them earlier saying: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (3:3) But as we had discussed in earlier studies, some of them may have lost sight of God’s grace in their lives; they had become proud and critical towards Paul. Despising and disrespecting their shepherd behind his back, being disruptive and a bad influence in the church certainly doesn’t please the Lord at all. Their goals seem to have been terribly selfish and self-seeking. They needed to seriously consider the consequences of their words and actions, bearing in mind the Judgment Seat of Christ they will have to stand before one day. More than anything else, they needed to remember God’s grace in their own lives, confess and repent of their sins of pride, and turn their hearts once again to the goal of pleasing God with their lives. Paul hoped that these words would bring them to their senses. He also hoped that the whole church of God would take these words to heart because they are serious beyond measure! Setting your heart and mind on pleasing him in our lives is the best choice we can make.
So, as we said Paul didn’t need to defend or to justify his life or ministry to anyone. Yet in the defense he makes of his ministry we learn what motivated his ministry with such passion. Read verses 11-15. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We 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. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 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.” In these words, we see several things that motivated him to serve the work of God so passionately. We see what gave the Apostle that undying fire to faithfully preach the gospel and to teach the word of God without tiring all his life. It would be good for us to carefully consider these things and take them to heart because apart from motivating our own hearts and lives, they are also ways to achieve our goal of pleasing God with our lives.
Look at verse 11 again. He says: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” Paul knew the fear of God in his heart. He had just finished mentioning the Judgment Seat of Christ where every child and servant of God will stand to be judged one day. It doesn’t mean that he feared being judged nor the day of judgment. He had the confidence of eternal life and welcomed the day when he would be at home with the Lord. (8) But he also didn’t fear that day because his heart and conscience were clear before God, something he knew was plain to the Lord, which he hoped would also be obvious to them as well. Yet, he says that we, that is we who know the Lord [who the Lord is, the Lord who is Righteous and Just and Who will bring us to accounting, the Lord whose word is Truth and Life, the Lord the King of glory before whom all will stand as his humble and lowly subjects; he says that] “We know what it is to fear the Lord”. In other words, those who know the Lord and his grace— who would live in his presence! To fear the Lord, or to know what it is to fear the Lord is to live in God’s presence day by day and abide by his will day by day. On the other hand, those who do not know what it is to fear the Lord, do not live in the presence of the Lord, and certainly do not abide by his will. They live double lives, pride and arrogance cover them; temptations escort them; sins amuse them; They know not what it is to fear the Lord. They call him their friend, one who understands their unnatural desires; one who approves of their perversions, even as they live in rebellion to his will. But when a man or woman lives in the presence of the Lord, they live in the fear of the Lord, they live in respect and in honor of him; “Hallowed be your name” is ever on their minds. “Your kingdom come, your will be done” is ever on their hearts. Temptations alarm them; sin convicts them to guilt and repentance; forgiveness refreshes them; faith uplifts them; and love spurs them on. And they all share a common motivation to serve the Lord and his gospel cause.
Paul reveals that earnest and sincere motivation to serve God’s mission. He says: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” Paul knew the Lord personally. He knew the Lord’s grace in his own life, and the tremendous forgiveness he himself received as a result of the Lord’s sacrifice for him on the cross. He knew that he was so greatly indebted to the Lord for his grace. At the same time, he knew that he was obligated to all people as well. He was especially obligated to serve all people with the gospel message in response to the Lord’s enormous grace to him. (Romans 1:14-15) Because he feared God and lived in the Lord’s presence, he also never forgot the Lord’s undeserved and overwhelming grace in his life. And as a result of that, he dedicated his life to “persuade men”. But of what did he try to persuade them? In his own words, he says: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) Some people treat the gospel message casually as if it doesn’t matter whether they should share it or not— that it’s personal. But Paul had a good reason why he didn’t hide the light under a bushel, but did his best to “persuade people” for the gospel. On the day he was commissioned, Jesus told him: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17-18) There’s nothing casual about life and death, about light and darkness, about being in the grip of Satan or under the loving protective hand of the Lord. When Paul knew what it is to fear the Lord, he lived in God’s presence, well motivated to obey the will of God! And a huge portion of that was to “persuade people” for the gospel of Christ. So he preached and taught and whatever else it took to shine the light of God’s grace upon their hearts. Those who need motivating to serve the gospel may need to live in God’s presence in order to awaken mission in their hearts. Lord, please help us live in your presence that we might do our share in persuading people for the gospel of our Lord.
Look at verse 12. In defending his ministry Paul wasn’t trying to commend himself to them. Instead he wanted them to take pride in him and in the real gospel work he was doing. They should know that real gospel work isn’t a matter of showmanship, nor an outward sort of spectacular ministry designed to awe others— like some false Christians do and brag about it— even disparaging Paul and his work. The real gospel work done by the Lord is a work of the heart; it’s mostly inward and sincere in nature; it usually unimpressive and hardly appreciated. Historically it has also often been criticized. When Jesus did his gospel work sacrificing himself, pouring out his life in service as a humble shepherd and Bible teacher to the seemingly unworthy and wretched people, even his family thought he was out of his mind. (Mark 3:21) In other words they thought Jesus was crazy. On the other hand, those who made a profit from doing God’s work, who lived in fancy houses, who wore rich priestly garments were regarded as normal! That’s what they were also saying about Paul and his ministry. Look at verse 13. But Paul didn’t deny that he was crazy. Yet, if he were crazy, Paul confessed he was certainly crazy for Jesus’ sake! A lot of people are crazy for something or other. Some are crazy for girls, some are crazy for video games, some are crazy for their pet dog, many are even crazy for money! Paul was crazy for the Lord. What he meant was that it didn’t bother him that he was viewed by many as ordinary and foolish, eccentric and weird, and unworthy— rather than to be considered sensible and for his work to be considered spectacular and worthy. Paul didn’t mind to be labeled as crazy for the sake of the Lord. But when it serving them the gospel truth, he was indeed in his right mind.
What else motivated Paul to serve the gospel message with such passion? Look again at verses 14-15. “For Christ’s love compels us”. It was that great love of Christ that motivated him day in and day out. Christ’s love is a powerful influence to compel us. What is Christ’s love? Christ died on the cross for our sins, once for all, and then rose again from the dead and ascended to his rightful place in highest heaven as our High Priest. And so, whoever accepts Christ’s sacrifice personally also shares in Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s what faith does within us— it brings us to experience Christ’s death and resurrection. Through that we are liberated from the dominion of sin and death. Look at the result of this liberation in verse 15. Jesus died so that we who believe in him should no longer live for ourselves but for him! Before knowing him, every human being lives for themselves alone— as the Bible attests that they do. It is living for one’s self, that selfish, self centered, self seeking life, that brings upon them the full curse of sin and death. But Christ in his great love died and shed his blood to liberate us from sin and consequently from selfishness— so that we may no longer be bound and chained and compelled to live for ourselves. So, we would live for whom? He freed us from ourselves and our selfishness so that we might have the freedom to live for him. It was his love that forgave our sins and it was his love that delivered us from sin. But more than this, it was his love that restored us to live for him. What possible reason would Christ die to liberate an enemy like you and me from such bondage? It was his love. And it that same love that freed Paul and then compelled him to serve Christ and his cause all his life. He was not only motivated to serve Christ and his gospel, but rather compelled by the great love of Christ. May the Lord bless us to grow to know his love so deeply that it compels us to love him in return with our very lives as he loved us with his life.
“Christ died for all, that those who live should not longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” This is the glorious truth we really ought to learn and etch on our hearts. Christ died, and those who died with him, rose with him to live a new life. But this new life they live, they live for him. And in living for him, everything changes— everything in our lives changes. To begin with, our world view changes. Look at verse 16. “So 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.” Before knowing Christ, we see the world and others with the eyes we’ve been trained to look through, worldly eyes. We see their education, talents, their worth in things like money and where they live, and how much of value they can be to me, whether they are worth my effort or friendship. We see life and death the way the world sees them and act accordingly. We make decisions based on our world view. But the moment we turn to Christ and die in him and live in and through him, what happens to us? Look at verse 17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” When we die in him and then live in and through him, we are a new creation. More than that, everything in us is new. Our hearts are new. Our eyes are new. Our spirit is newly reborn and given wings to see the world from a new perspective. We see and hear through the eyes and ears that have their roots and foundation in the word of God, the word of life. In other words, we see and hear with spiritual senses. And all is new. And since we are a new person, created newly through the loving grace of God, and since we are freed to live for him and for him alone, we neither see ourselves nor we see others nor do we see the world as we did before. We see them now through the eyes of our Lord. And what we see is incredibly glorious and at the same time, a heavy burden to bear on our soul.
Paul deeply understood this reality in his heart. Neither the world nor people ever looked the same after he met Christ. And his world and actions were revolutionized. As much as he himself was a new creation in Christ, he no longer saw anyone with a worldly point of view. The view was glorious. He could see the great love of Christ for all people. Those who were once enemies, his eyes now saw as troubled souls who needed the love and mercy of Christ. Those he once hated, he now saw with eyes of love and concern. Those who were not Jews like him, and whom he despised, he now saw as desperately lost children of God who needed to find the way back to God. Where there was hopelessness, he could envision hope, and where he could hear despair and sorrow, he could now hear whispers of faith and hints of joy. What seemed to be attractive and harmless in the world suddenly now began to look dangerous and ugly as it really is. And temptation looked as evil as sin, whereas sin looked as deadly as it truly is. The view was glorious but burdensome because when the eyes see the truth, the responsibility is also great. It is indeed a huge burden to bear on the soul when in Christ we are blessed with this new creation of the new life God gives us in Christ Jesus. Our world view changes— the way we see people, our friends and family, the ways in which the world behaves, the decisions made, our view of material things, what we value the most changes, our hearts turn from idols to heaven— at least that is what the new creation does. Some Christians keep on ignoring the newness, and keep putting off carrying the necessary burden, and try their best to obscure their newly found vision until their vision and hearing are numb to the Spirit’s work.
But we must never obscure the new world view given us by the Spirit through the new creation. If once we hated and now we are burdened to love, we need to carry that burden. If once we had no sympathy and now we are burdened to have compassion, we need to carry that burden to fruition. If once we saw temptation and sin as amusing and the world as a playground, and money as a goal, and friends as those to be exploited, and if once we looked at the future and only worried about security, but now we despise and abhor the old eyes through which we used to see our selfishness and indifference and mockery and stinginess and our lack of concern, then we need to carry the heavy burden of this new life that sees things and does things differently all because we are a changed and glorious and new creation made and finally liberated to live no longer for ourselves but to live for him. How wonderful it is that the Lord has given us a new world view that comes with a new creation!
Perhaps Paul’s greatest burden (or blessing) in his new world view and new creation that we are, was the burden God laid on him (and us all) to be an ambassador of Christ to reconcile all people (the world) back to himself through Christ. Read verses 18-21. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We 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. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This new creation that we are, where did it come from? It came from God who loved us and sacrificed his Son in order to bring us back to himself. Paul tells us something else here. He tells us that not only did God make us a new creation in Christ, but he also gave us all a ministry to carry on together with Paul and all the early church. What is it? It is the ministry of reconciliation. Simply put, it is the ministry of reconciling the lost people with their God, and that’s done in the same way it was done to us, through Christ Jesus. That is why the word of God gives all people a charge: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” So for those who have not yet returned to God their Father, they are implored to be reconciled to him through Christ Jesus. And the word of God gives another charge: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” So, for those who are already in Christ, the charge is to live for him and be ambassadors of Christ to the world by serving Christ and his cause in your life. Amen.