2 Corinthians 5:9-21
If in previous passages Paul has been giving lots of reasons why he doesn’t lose heart in the often discouraging ministry of seeking to share the Gospel with a lost world, here we are given an insight into some of the positive reasons why he gave himself to this work, what drove him on and motivated him. It is one of the best known and best loved bits of the letter, but its familiarity doesn’t lessen its ability to bring fresh motivation to a reluctant, hesitant ambassador for Christ like myself. May it be a shot in the arm to your groups as you ponder it together.
Preachers have very often worked through the passage under these three headings – three motivations – The Verdict of the Judge, The Love of the Saviour, and The Commission of the King. I think they are helpful ideas to steer a way through the text.
At the heart of this section Paul writes “since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men” (v.11a). Seeking to persuade people of the truth of Jesus Christ was what Paul’s ministry was about, and a key motivation which kept him to it, despite the opposition and difficulties and disappointments, was fear of the Lord. The reason for that fear is explained in the previous verse, namely the fact that one day “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”. The thought is not primarily, I think, that non- Christians will face a judgment for which they are not prepared so I must urge them to accept Christ; here the motivation seems to be more that we as Christians will stand before Christ and have our lives assessed, our service of Christ appraised. That is a motivation to be good and faithful servants of Christ.
It’s not a judgment whose outcome the Christian need fear (we have a sure and certain hope, as Paul has been describing) – though v.10 suggests there will be differing rewards, as might be suggested too by passages like Luke 19:11-27. The fear is not a cringing terror, but rather an awe-filled respect that recognises that ultimately it is His opinion that counts, so my longing is to “please Him” (v.9). And I please Him as I seek to persuade others to turn to Him.
Those driven by a desire to please others, or impress others – taking “pride in what is seen” – might make much of ecstatic spiritual experiences (probably what is referred to by being “out of my mind”, v.13), but for Paul such things are between him and God, his ministry is much more speaking plainly, not trying to impress but to persuade.
Paul wasn’t driven by a desire to be loved, but from a conviction that he was loved – and not just him, but that we are all loved. Love demonstrated in the death of Jesus on the cross for us, dying our death. His death has consequences for eternity, and for now – that we should live for him. Living for Him in part means seeing people as He sees them, those for whom He died. So instead of looking at people from a worldly point of view, assessing people with worldly criteria, we see them as either in Christ, and so a new creation, or without Christ, and so lost.
Three times in these verses Paul makes clear his deep sense that this ministry is one that had been given him by God (vv.18,19,20). It is a word ministry; not that our lives are unimportant, clearly they are as we “spread everywhere the fragrance of Christ”, but to be entrusted with this ministry (v.18) is to be entrusted with a message (v.19). And it is a ministry of reconciliation. As such it presupposes alienation and enmity between us and God, the cause of which is clearly our sins. In Christ, God took the initiative to reconcile us to Himself through Christ’s sacrificial death. Instead of counting our sins against us, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (v.21): a breathtaking exchange in which Christ takes our sin and gives us His perfect righteousness.
Reconciliation has been perfectly accomplished, and yet a job remains for us to do – the publicity, as it were, urging people to accept this reconciliation for themselves. God’s own appeal to his estranged world is to be heard through us (v.20).
In today’s passage he gives us some positive motivation to commit ourselves to this work.