The Fifth Sunday in Lent March 13, 2016
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
1 Timothy 1:1-17
149, 370, 493, 50
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
What did the multitude want to do with Jesus after He multiplied five loaves of bread and two small fish and fed them all? They wanted to make Him their “Bread King” on the spot! (John 6:1-15). They misunderstood His Gospel ministry.
What did James and John reveal when they wanted to call down fire upon the Samaritan village that would not receive Jesus? (Luke 9:51-56). They showed that they misunderstood Jesus’ Gospel ministry. Why did Peter try to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem to die? (Matthew 16:22). Peter misunderstood the Gospel ministry.
Jesus still carries out His Gospel ministry today, and it is still misunderstood, not only by the outside world, but also by the world inside the churches. Is the Gospel ministry something that may be tweaked and fitted to suit our own personal ideas and interests, whether we are preachers or hearers?
Some in the Corinthian congregation had been speaking against Paul’s ministry, saying that he had written harshly to them in his first letter and showed lack of concern for them when he did not visit them as planned. In this second letter to the congregation, Paul defends his Gospel ministry for the sake of those who were being troubled by those who spoke against his ministry. The words of our text give us an opportunity to ask: HOW SHALL WE REGARD THE GOSPEL MINISTRY AS PREACHER AND AS HEARERS?
To begin with, Paul says, “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (v.11). Motive is important! Paul wants those he serves to know that he does all his work with this fear of the Lord in mind. He wants them to know that he was not concerned about money or personal recognition, but men—that they might not be lost to Christ, but saved through Him.
Paul’s faithfulness to the Gospel ministry “was well-known to God,” but Paul says, “I also trust that we are well-known in your consciences” (v.11). Did the Corinthians know in their consciences that Paul could be trusted? Already in chapter 4 Paul wrote that he had put aside all smooth and deceitful language in order to speak the truth to every man’s conscience. The Law which accuses us of sin produces guilt and terror in our hearts. When the truth of the Gospel is faithfully preached and received by faith, our consciences find peace and joy in Christ.
Did the Corinthians enjoy such peaceful consciences? Do we know the peace of Christ in our own consciences? If so, then the Corinthians and we all know whether our ministers of the Gospel are faithfully winning men for Christ in the fear of the Lord.
Paul does not defend his ministry of the Gospel in order to protect his own honor among men. For every true preacher of the Gospel knows that regardless of whether he receives honor or dishonor on earth, he has a far greater and “eternal weight of glory” before God in Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17). What Paul is concerned about is the spiritual welfare of those in the congregation who may stray from the Gospel he is preaching because of those who were undermining the faithfulness and sincerity of his ministry.
Paul says that neither he nor those who served with him in the ministry to the Corinthians want to boast about what they accomplished by the Gospel. Rather he wants the faithful in Corinth to be able to do the boasting with undiminished faith and joy, as they answer “those who boast in appearance” (v.12). The boasting of false teachers is always superficial, about externals. Among the Corinthians the trouble-makers claimed to be more learned ministers than Paul. They boasted of their Jewish heritage (2 Corinthians 11:6,22,23).
In our own day there also many “apostles of appearances.” They boast of their scholarship, their preaching style, the size of their audience, and the like. So how do you answer such boasting in appearances? You simply say that the Gospel ministry you have received has spoken to your heart so that you know the peace of God which passes all human understanding!
Now, Paul further adds: “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you” (v. 13). Sometimes the minister of the Gospel may seem beside himself—so upset he loses control—even harsh. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul had to use cutting and harsh-sounding words to correct the failure of the congregation to discipline a man who was living in incest
Again, in chapter 11 when he admonishes the church about their terrible abuse of the Lord’s Supper, Paul is sharply sarcastic. But then, when he learned of their sorrow and repentance, he writes with gentleness in his second letter. The point is this: As Christ grants his Gospel ministers grace, whether we speak harshly or gently to you, it is not our own honor and glory we are seeking. Instead, we are doing and speaking for God and for you!
“It is the love of Christ which compels us,” (v. 14) to conduct the ministry in this way. Paul explains how Christ’s love moves us. For if we believe the love of Christ for us—that we “all died” through His death “for all”—then we are now sharing the life of Him who died for us and rose again!
So how can any of us live any longer for himself? If we are dead and the life we now have is in Christ and because of His love, then as God grants us grace, we must not live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us! We must not live according to the old ways of the flesh, but according to the new life He has given us in Christ.
In the ministry this means a new approach in dealing with people. As Paul puts it, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, yet we no longer know Him this way” (v. 16). To regard Christ in a fleshly way, does not lead to conversion or a loving concern for others. Paul knew from personal experience!
But faith in Christ’s love for us changes things! Our new life in Him does not allow fleshly considerations to influence how we treat others. Whether someone is rich or poor, likeable or not, must not affect our dealings with him. The only thing that matters is that we view all people as those who have died with Jesus, that they may live with Him through faith in His Gospel.
To know Christ to be our own Savior and our life eternal, changes everything. So Paul concludes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (v. 17).
Now all of this that we preach comes from God! Paul says: “It is God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them…and has given to us the word of reconciliation” (vv.18-19). The term “reconcile” is used five times in our text. The Greek verb means “to completely change.”
What changed through Christ’s death for our sins? Man’s attitude toward God did not change. Nor was there a change in God’s attitude toward man. Some modern Bible translations and teachers suggest that God changed from hating man to loving him. This is not true! For God’s love for mankind is what delivered His own Son to death from the moment He planned our redemption in eternity.
No, the change which God brought about by means of His Son’s death was a complete change of man’s status before God. The instant Christ died, the status of the whole world of sinners was changed from one of warfare to one of peace before the holy God. By our own sins and ungodliness we deserved nothing but God’s eternal punishment, and we could do nothing at all to change our standing. But God completely changed our status when He sacrificed His own Son in our places. That’s what Jesus meant on the cross when He said: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The reconciliation of sinners stands as a historical fact—nothing can change it! Even if the whole world rejected it, the fact would remain that God has declared all people righteous by the death and resurrection of His Son. This is the wonderful message which God has given to the Apostles, to all ministers of the Gospel, and to all Christians! It is a finished product, which cannot be improved. We are not free to offer it only to the people we like, or work harder to reach some than others.
Therefore, in the fear of our Lord who will judge the world according to what each one has done with Jesus Christ, we plead with every sinner, “You be reconciled to God.” Think of it! The holy, righteous God, who has been mocked and disobeyed countless times by people of all ages, the One who Himself has completely pardoned all in Christ, now implores every sinner to accept and receive his new status by faith! “For God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin in our places, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him” (v.21).
This is the wonderful Gospel of Christ, which its ministers are to proclaim in all its fullness to all people apart from any fleshly considerations. As God grants us grace, we all—preacher and hearers alike—will accept the Good News as those who no longer live unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.