2 Corinthians 5
Paul, in the larger context of this letter here, is speaking to believers. This is important, because he is discussing salvation in a way that is largely ignored in Christendom, and seems poorly understood by all except the faithful, and that is sanctification, the act of God imparting His holiness to us through His work and our cooperation.
We should contrast this with justification, the act of God declaring us righteous in the first place. This is why Christ died in our place according to the Gospel. He became human, he lived for between 33 and 34 years as a human, in perfect obedience to God under the Law of Moses, and then deliberately and knowingly gave up that life as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us vicariously on the cross. All those big words are chosen and precise in their definition, but the basically mean that Christ died for OUR sins as a substitute (vicariously), atoning for them (propitiation), with God then declaring us righteous in Christ (expiation), which pronounces us as faultless before God (justification). This is a sole work of our triune God, as opposed to sanctification, which God allows His new creations in Christ to learn to CHOOSE to do His will, and instead of simply imputing His righteousness (giving us the righteousness of another, Christ) monergistically (alone by Himself), He imparts His righteousness to our changed natures by teaching us to choose His will and live according to His Word. This is defined as sanctification, the process whereby He makes us holy, and it is said to by synergistic, that is we are allowed by God to participate in the act by our choices, that will move out into our works. However, it is still mostly His work – and none of what we do to become holy is worth two cents if we have not been born again, or saved, or converted, or justified, or redeemed, or regenerated – whatever term you want to choose for justification.
Paul is speaking of sanctification here to believers, and when justification does come up (as it does in 4:15, for example), it is mentioned as happening as a result of Christians that have said yes to sanctification and are choosing to live as God commands. If you read carefully, Paul is using this kind of sanctification as evidence of justification before God and all of His gifts to men, including His own Apostleship. Here is where my review of ground we have already covered begins.
Paul, you will recall, was put out to the extreme, I think to the point where it began to distract him in His service to Christ. After his second visit to Corinth, he was so saddened and deflated that he simply quietly returned to Ephesus. In Ephesus, he wrote the “angry” letter that he sent and then wished he hadn’t. He began to be distracted here, I think – you know, that gnawing thing in your mind and gut that just makes you crazy to know what happened? I wasn’t there, but Paul was one of us – human – and it seems reasonable that he would have human responses.
He was becoming so distracted, he left Ephesus and set out for Troas, where Titus was after his own trip to Corinth. It is entirely reasonable that Paul was after news of what happened with that letter that might have been like a hand grenade in the wrong setting. He didn’t find Titus, so he went looking for him in Macedonia, eventually finding him, and receiving a blessed report that at least a majority of the people there were with Paul and not the false teachers that were calling themselves “super apostles” and attacking Paul’s character.
So what is the first thing Paul chose to confront these “super apostles” with? The idea of suffering, and how that suffering perfects the believer. We talked about how the false teachers were essentially trying to use the gospel as a means of gain, and that’s never good. Paul, on the other hand, would not allow the Corinthians to support him while he was there. We talked about how Paul had gone through real life-threatening trials for the sake of the gospel. Were any of these false apostles ever stoned for preaching his message? Not ever. Paul was. Were any ever beaten with rods for speaking publicly about Christ? No, but Paul was, and he was even given 39 lashes on three different occasions. (One more stoke is a death sentence, if you didn’t know.) Had any of them ever been shipwrecked and lost at sea? Paul was, for a day and a night, for the sake of the work of Jesus on earth. No, beloved, suffering perfects us – if we will cooperate with God and let it.
What we saw was Paul talking about how the Lord had led him in real triumph – but it wasn’t Paul’s triumph, it was Christ’s. He speaks greatly here of his own motives in writing that angry letter, and what that meant to the work, his own state of mind, and the effect it had on the Corinthians. It is a sort of apology in our modern sense, but also an explanation of why he wrote it.
In Chapter 3, we studied the actual connection between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants. Paul compared them directly. This is a particularly crucial area of study, because if you get the Covenants confused, or worse ignore the one that has gone before, you end up with some really whacked-out ideas on things like tithing, resisting sin, like that. We saw that we live in a new and spiritual reality (more of the now/coming, present/future kingdom stuff we’ve been talking about on and off since we studied Ephesians), and that it is a reality that needs to be intentionally chosen to live in by act of will on our parts. Walking in the Spirit requires that we chooses to set aside all those old acts of the flesh (sins) that will kill us, and instead choose life, being renewed in our minds, and transformed in our characters into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Chapter 4, we saw a need to let God do the work and for us to submit and either cooperate or get out of His way. In his contrasting of the righteous versus the unrighteous, we saw that we can fit into both categories, and in fact that those category differences, the contradictions in our character, not only perfectly describer humanity, but actually give glory to God as we allow Him to work in our lives. We talked about the cost of following God like this, and we saw that it was in fact everything we have and are. Christ exchanged His life for ours. We are no longer our own, and we must live like that matters, by focusing on the unseen, spiritual reality we now find ourselves in. We have not arrived, and we will not arrive until Jesus comes for us personally.
This week, we get a look at what our behaviour as servants of God Most High should be, as we look at the reasoning of Paul and how he was motivated to behave in his own walk and service of Christ the King. I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV14: As Ambassadors, We Are Controlled By His Love
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died…
1-5: We Have Guaranteed Life in Heaven
6-10: We Will Give An Account of Our Lives
11-15: The Love of Christ Seizes Us and Holds Us
16-19: We No Longer Look On What People Seem to Be
20-21: We Are Now Ambassadors of Christ in Reconciliation
I know that this letter to Corinth was Paul’s justification of his ministry to Christ, but the best way I have found to read it is to make personal application, as if I were called to do what Paul was called to do in terms of the gospel. I know I’m not Paul, I’m not an apostle (Capital or Lowercase A), I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I’m MAYBE an evangelist, but we are all supposed to be that, and I’m barely a pastor and teacher. I understand that–but did not Paul say we are to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ? He did, back in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Also 4:6). This is my attempt to look at this in a way where I can make application as I go, bearing in mind that Paul is actually defending his ministry here.
KV14: As Ambassadors, We Are Controlled By His Love
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died…
Paul saw himself in a very real sense as an ambassador of Christ Jesus, who put an end to his old self and made him a new creation in Christ, and appointed Paul specifically as the capital-A Apostle to the Gentile nations. If you think about this, Paul isn’t the only one that has happened to, ALL believers are new creations in Christ, and when Paul spoke of these things, he used the term “we.” First person plural. We could debate about who “we” actually refers to, and we would be right to do so. It referred to the author of the letters, Paul and Timothy, who we read at the beginning was with him and identified as a sort of co-author. And it is Paul who said “imitate me.” Timothy would agree.
That means that we too are ambassadors for Christ in a very real sense. If God has made you to be born again, justified you in His sight, regenerated you, or whatever other terms you want to apply to God saving you, then you too are a new creation in Christ, and called to be a representative of Christ who lives in you, according to Galatians 2:20. Although it is true that we all bear that duty in different ways, the important part is that we actually bear it, and allow it to motivate us in our service to Him in the Church that He Himself called us to and gives us.
Paul here informed us of the bottom-line key to our motivations by giving us his own – the Love of Christ is to be the thing that controls us, holds us together, holds fast to us, or seizes us, and then drags us kicking and screaming into His service. Yes, I know, the kicking and screaming is not usually the case, but it has been, and not just for me. Every time you have heard something from scripture that you didn’t like and you ended up doing it anyway, learning in the process to submit to Christ the King, that is exactly what was happening to you, Beloved, saint of God. His Love calls us, it surrounds us, it overtakes us, it overrules us, and it controls us through His love for us. I am aware that this is not the way we normally think about this, but nonetheless, it is the way God transforms us and renews our mind to be more like Christ.
1-5: We Have Guaranteed Life in Heaven
All of this mind-cleansing and renewing, and transforming into the image of Christ Jesus can be, well, a terrifying process for those of us that are kind of control freaks. Like me. It is my past life that has formed me and my opinions, and that is what God is changing, sometimes gently, sometimes not so much, and Beloved, I’m an average man. This is nothing less than a full will transplant, right? Now, speaking in worldly terms, doesn’t this sound–well, a little dangerous? It does to me! This is why God gives us a “pledge,” or a “down payment” on that future perfection to which He Himself is bringing us. Let’s see what Paul is talking about.
1: For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
- What is Paul talking about here? The “earthly tent which is our house” is not referring to our houses. It is referring, quite plainly, to our bodies. That is our earthly dwelling. It is called a “tent,” the Greek work skenos, a literally temporary dwelling place. It is an apt analogy, is it not? Anyone here ever stayed in a tent for a night or even a couple hours? Everyone in my house has, we like to go tenting occasionally. Anyone ever live in a tent for a week or more? I have. You try to take care of it, because there are times where it may rain, and you want to try to stay dry. And it can leak. It can develop health problems. My tent has problems regulating sugar, so I have to take some additional care. Like that.
- There will come a time where our “tent” will be “torn down.” Paul is saying that everyone will die. He knew he was going to, and we should also. And this is the really encouraging part for the believer and follower of Christ–when that happens, we have a building [Gk., oikodome, an actual building, connotes more permanency than a mere tent] from God. As if there were any doubt about this, it describes this as a “house [oikos] not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Our “eternal” body, the one that will literally last forever. Think about that for a moment. If you had to keep the same body you have now, would you actually want to live forever? With all the suffering mine can put me through at times, like say the last 3-week headache I had, probably not. Beloved, this isn’t a cry for pity, but my right shoulder is so whacked up, it literally leaves me in tears it can hurt so bad occasionally. Before you say anything, I’m waiting for the call from the specialist now. This new eternal body will not be like ours is now, beloved.
2: For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,
- Please not that the first use of the word house in this verse is an insertion by the translator for the sake of clarity. I don’t dispute it, but we need to remember, because Paul is not being overly pedantic. In this state, we do groan. And cry in pain. And shiver with cold. Sweat in heat. Hunger and thirst for nourishment, physically speaking. And every person, whether they are aware of this or not, instinctively knows that this is a temporary body. They long for something better.
- Beloved, is this not where the desire for singularity, and the ability to transfer one’s own consciousness to another body comes from? Have there not been movies made of this idea? The movie that to me represents this idea in the clearest terms is Johnny Depp’s performance in Transcendence, where a dying professor transfers his conscious into a computer, which then (because of who we all are as sinners) begins to take over the world in reality. This idea, beloved, regardless of the consequences to the rest of the planet, is gaining popularity, and it is known as “transhumanism,” which is a bit of a bag of mixed stuff at the moment, but with AI coming into its own at present, this idea coupled with this idea of the singularity will drive humanity, in my opinion, after the Man of Sin gains power.
- Beloved, the idea is real. But when God does it, it will be blessed. And if you have ever had so much as a runny nose from pollen, you will understand the desire we all have for something better than we have right now.
3: inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
- This verse isn’t about shame, unlike what happened in Genesis. Remember how in Genesis 2, it says this in verse 25, speaking of the man and his wife: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Our initial sate was naked, my friends. Clothes came about after the fall, so that they could hide their nakedness. This is NOT what Paul is talking about, if you ask me.
- The context of what Paul has said is in verse 2 here. We long to be clothed in our heavenly dwelling. We are currently clothed in our earthly and temporary dwelling. This is speaking about having a house for our spirits or souls, or the combination of them. See Matt. 8:28-32–“When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’ Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, ‘If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.’ And He said to them, ‘Go!’ And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.”
- There seems to be something about a spirit/soul not inhabiting a body that must be in some way unacceptable to the spirit/soul. The demons begged to be put into the swine. Even possessing an animal was better than not having a body. And this isn’t the only reference to this in Scripture. Revelation 6:9-11–“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” These martyrs of Christ, who gave up their lives for Him, were comforted by being given a heavenly garment–a white robe.
- Is it possible that this white robe is at least symbolic of our own heavenly body, made by God for our eternal habitation? I don’t know that for certain, but it is certainly food for thought. And He will clothe us, in but a moment, in the tinkling of an eye, at His coming for us, whenever that may be.
4: For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
- And Paul seems to agree with my premise, although I don’t want to put words in his mouth that he didn’t mean. In this temporary dwelling we have defined here as our earthly body, we have issues! We know pain, hunger, sickness, and death! And that last one especially frightens many of us. I’ve thought for a very long time that I am not afraid to die. I just don’t want to die painfully! [hahahahaha] I think for me it comes down to me not wanting to shame my Lord and Master by dying in a way that brings ignominy to His name. I know I have a reputation for being a tough guy, but really I’m a wimp, and I wouldn’t want to say things in my pain that might shame Him. That is why we fear to be “unclothed” here, many of us.
- For the unsaved, I can understand why they don’t want to die. They somehow know (even those in very deep deception) that if they do not know Christ in a regenerate way, that this life is all they have, and some want to make the most of that, and some want to make that as long as possible, and some want to make their lives the best they can, and SOME want to make everyone else suffer because they know that is what they will face for eternity. Tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead, convince me. Never mind, you can’t, because I’ve done my homework on the human condition.
- But for the Believer, the true follower of Christ, when WE die, our mortal bodies are “swallowed up in life!” Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! As I once heard a fellow say, WE are not looking for the undertaker! WE are looking for the UPWARD-taker!
5: Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
- And it is that upward-taker, God Himself, that has set up this whole system! See what Paul says here! He who has prepared us for this very purpose is God! He did it this way because He is God! And it brings Him the glory to do so!
- And in case you were unsure of it, God the Father, at the request of God the Son, sent God the Spirit to live inside of us. And that Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, living inside the believer like this, is what God tell us here is a [Greek] arrabown, that is a “down payment,” literally. It is a deposit made in advance that guarantees the end result, beloved. We will be with God for eternity, because we already are with God! He has come to live with us and guide us, and lead us into the truth of His word!
So you see, we have guaranteed life in heaven, because heaven came down to us as a down payment of what is to come. This is an amazing reality for every believer that has ever lived, and includes us as those who today will submit to Him and the doing of His will in our lives, just as Jesus submitted to the will of God in His own life. Think about what that meant for Jesus for a moment. It meant that He had to go through the cross. He had to die for us, to propitiate and expiate us vicariously with respect to all of our sins. In other words, He died to atone for our sins, and make our records clean before God, as a substitute for us. He lived the life we should have lived, and then died the death that was ours, so He could do that for us, and then redeem us for Himself. He bought us, and we are no longer our own. Paul knew it. He referred to himself as the doulos of Christ. The bondslave. And this brings me to our next paragraph…
6-10: We Will Give An Account of Our Lives
Remember, we were lost to sin and dead men walking. We were, as the scriptures so eloquently put it in many places, slaves to sin. Jesus “redeemed” us to Himself. He paid for us with His own precious blood. Paul told these same Corinthians in his second letter (1 Corinthians to us) in 6:19-20 that very thing–“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” We were slaves to sin. Christ set us free. We could go any way we please–but should we? No. We should instead trade collars, Beloved. We should now in gratefulness to Christ serve Him in gratitude, as slaves instead to Christ. Paul did. And we should imitate him, remember? Let’s dig in.
6: Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—
- Paul here is listing off three key characteristics that all followers of Christ MUST live by, and I suspect these will figure heavily in the account we must give to Him. I’ll list them all off here, and then address them as we come to them in the text. 1) Courage. 2) Walk by Faith. 3) Desire to Please Him.
- In this verse, Paul introduces the first, courage. While we live on earth in our temporary dwelling, we are to live with courage. Beloved, that is very difficult, and I admit that I DO NOT measure up. I am at heart a coward. It is sometimes easier for me to sit on my hands and hold my peace, and not make trouble. I was speaking with some other folks involved in service like I am, and it actually stressed for me the importance of real fellowship with like-minded brethren. Do you know how hard it is to have the courage to speak up when the entire world around you does not see the truth? Honestly, it feels like you’re going crazy, because the entire planet is deceived it seems. Fellowship with like-minded believers helps you see that you are NOT going nuts. Despite that, we must live with courage. Why? Because to speak the truth in our world today is to make yourself a target and invite attack. And sometimes living with courage means you will be hurt. Who here likes pain of any kind? I mean really? That’s a sign of mental illness. Or you might be killed. And we go back to that “I don’t want to die in a way that will shame the Lord” statement I made earlier. All of that notwithstanding, we are to live with courage.
- Courage is NOT the lack of fear. It is the ability to act despite that fear, regardless of personal cost. Jesus did that. In fact, He is in a class all by Himself, because He deliberately provoked the violence so that He could die on the cross for our sins.
7: for we walk by faith, not by sight—
- Here he lists the second characteristic, walking by faith. What does it mean to walk by faith? Paul gives us a clue right in the text by citing what it is not–walking by sight. What could this possibly mean?
- We are not to walk according to what we see. Why is that? Because often, there is more than one way to look at the evidence that our senses present us. And clever speakers or writers (today’s journalists for example) can manipulate what we see with a clever and wrong narrative. What can we do about that?
- Well, I’m glad you asked. All of you long-standing members of BereanNation.com understand this–check out what the Scriptures have to say on any given issue. For example, what does the Scripture say about abortion? If you go back to the passage in Exodus where the midwives were told to kill the male babies at birth, we clearly see that killing a human of any stage of development is murder, a violation of the 6th commandment violation. And yet, we are bombarded with a false narrative that is multifaceted. We are told that it is a lump of tissue. It isn’t alive until it is born. Or until it has a heartbeat. Wherever you want to set up those goal posts. We don’t call it a baby, we call it a fetus, and euphemize the problem away. In response, what does the Scripture say? It is a human baby, and it is wrong for a human to murder another human at any stage of development. Don’t fight with me over my words or terms, fight with the God of Scripture, He is the one who said it. For those that would argue with me, I ask you–is that baby human or not? It had two human parents, and they did something very specific to create that life, whether they intended to or not. Can you tell me–does that baby have a soul? There are many questions the Scripture gives answer to that our society simply rejects, making up their own narrative that they wrongly call “science” to make their point by presenting evidence that you can see. Don’t believe me?
- Research all of the “evidence” about how masks actually do in protecting us from viruses. It’s like trying to stop a mosquito infestation with a chain-link fence. It doesn’t matter how many you wear, the virus will get through, because you are creating negative pressure every time you inhale. We must actually examine this “evidence” in the light of the will of God according to His word. That can be problematic, because the Scriptures say nothing about what to do about Coronavirus.
- Instead, we must walk by faith. What does this mean? It’s very precise, Beloved. Faith, the Greek word “pistis,” means a firm persuasion or opinion held. Who gave us that opinion? Come on, you’re all good Calvinists, who gave it to us? Hint–it happened when He regenerated us. That’s right, GOD did. We are to walk according to the firm opinion that what matters is what Jesus did and said and commanded His church to do. Or do we need to work on your soteriology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology for a bit? We can do that. We need to walk according to the faith He gave us. See Galatians 2:20. Next verse.
8: we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
- Paul is saying here that to walk by faith is to live with that kind of courage that does not take into account the consequences of what people think or do. We should, as he had, have the attitude that would prefer to be in glory with the Lord Jesus and in the presence of God, clothed in our eternal body if they want to send us there. After all, it is true they can kill us. But in the light of what we are now considering, isn’t that actually doing us a favour?
9: Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
- And here is the third characteristic, to be pleasing to Him. Paul here is telling us how it worked for Him, and we’re following his example, so this is what it means for us, whether we are here of not, as it turns out in the text.
- That word “ambition” is the Greek word philotimeomai, and it means “to love or to seek honour for.” I guess the idea of ambition, or seeking honour was too powerful an image to pass up for the translators, but I discern a slightly different meaning. We are to make our ambition the seeking of honour for HIM AND HIS NAME, not seek it for ourselves. To say otherwise is a man-centred theology that can open up the Scriptures to misinterpretation. We must please Him and not ourselves. We must love Him and not ourselves at least by comparison. We must have ambition for Him, and not for ourselves. We talked about this earlier, Beloved, we are His, not our own. We must live for Him, regardless of the consequences for us. We must have courage as we walk in faith, not the human narrative, and we must seek to bring honour and glory to Him and not ourselves. Why is that?
10: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
- We must live in that way because WE WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT TO HIM FOR HOW WE HAVE LIVED HERE!!!!
- Paul tells us, and he includes himself in the statement, that we must ALL appear before the judgement seat of Christ. Now, there is a little bit of a softener here. The word for “Judgement” here is the Greek bema, and this is said to be dealing with rewards for the believer. I won’t go into it entirely, but Paul has told these Corinthian believers of this concept in 1 Corinthians 2-3 if you want to look it up yourself. The deeds done in the body will be tested here by holy fire. If your works burn up, you’ll still be saved, but you WILL miss out on things, and I get the impression it isn’t going to be an enjoyable thing. But eternal life isn’t on the line for this judgement, and this isn’t just my idea, this is a historical teaching of the church. Look it up.
Paul here is only reminding the Corinthians of things he has said previously to them. That account we will have to give will not be an enjoyable thing. All things will be seen, at least by Christ. And don’t you want Him to be pleased with you, even just overall? I know I do. So I will, and only by His grace, live courageously, walking by (His) faith, and trying to please Him in everything I do. And this isn’t really my topic so I won’t get into it here, but that has MANY powerful implications. Those implications, as well as seeing how far short we really fall should have us shaking in our boots, Beloved. Moving on.
11-15: The Love of Christ Seizes Us and Holds Us
With all of that said, I can ease your troubled mind a little in this section because of the grace, mercy love, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ towards us who have been regenerated and who follow Him. I’ll just jump straight into the text.
11: Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.
- Paul is actually offering a little comfort for us from that account we will have to give, but he is also saying some other things. First, he says that because we know the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.
- The word here for “fear” is worth talking about, because it has multiple shades of meaning. I have heard in literally every place I have ever fellowshipped, the people speak of how fear here means a holy reverence for God. We are indeed to revere God, Beloved, because He holds all power in His hand. However, the Greek word here is actually phobos, and it means literally, “panic flight, fear, the causing of fear, terror.” Beloved, standing before God, in the loving form of Christ, or before the Ancient of Days, God the Father, or the great Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is a scary thing! We SHOULD be scared! We are standing before the one/three individual/s that had the power to speak all of Creation into existence into creation in six literal days. Wow!
- That fear is a powerful motivator, and what it should motivate us to do according to Paul in this text is to persuade men. This is a direct reference to evangelism and discipleship, in case you were wondering. What other thing should we be persuading men about? Unbelievers need the gospel, and believers need to follow Christ, or to be disciples. That’s the mission of the Church, given by its founder on the day He ascended back into heaven where He came from in the first place. That’s what it should motivate us to do–but we are also comforted, because that power is tempered in our favour as those He has chosen for Himself.
- WE, as it turns out, are “made manifest” to God. I know Paul is referring to himself here, but we are imitating him as he imitates Christ, so it applies to us as well. The Greek for “made manifest” is phaneroo, and it means to make clear or visible. Who are we made visible to, or shown in full clarity and truth to? To GOD, Beloved. To God. I remember the lesson from Sarai’s slave in Genesis. Sarai, because of jealousy on the part of both ladies, had Abram cast out Hagar, who had (with Sarai’s permission no less, it was her idea) fathered a son, Ishmael. Hagar was at the end. She had just run out of water and food as she wandered through the wilderness with her teenage son. She set him under a tree to rest, and then she laid down expecting to die. And God spoke to her, and He named Himself to her, El Roi. It means “The God who sees.” And Beloved, He sees us. All of us. He knows us. Everything, including those things we try to hide, like Adam and Eve tried to hide with their own fig leaves. He knows every horrible detail. And Beloved, He chose you anyway, and if you will walk with Him, He will do it for you, because it’s pretty clear we are not able to do any of this without Him.
- Paul here shares that he also hopes that he will be seen in the consciences of the Corinthians, and that should be a goal we have – to be clearly seen by those whom we are attempting to persuade. I think you all know me, and that I am honestly trying to persuade you all to follow Christ, and to read the Scriptures for yourselves with a goal of understanding them and what they say so that when you DO stand before God to give account for your life, you will not be ashamed.
12: We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.
- And for Paul, it wasn’t ever about building himself up in the eyes of the Corinthians. Beloved, we should take great care that we are NOT seeking to build up ourselves or reputations. Just do the work. Don’t seek the rewards, and I know what a problem that mostly empty promise can be, because I am human too. The rewards that we are worthy of, we will be given. That’s in the Lord’s more-than-capable hands.
- Like Paul, I seek to give you an occasion to boast about the capable bible teacher you listen to. Not for my own sake or reputation. But instead, it is so you know what the truth is, and what a real servant of God looks like, bad example of that though I may be, and I have to acknowledge that. But look, you all know me, and you SEE me actually doing it! And you can take great encouragement that if a dork like me can do it, so can you! Let it be a lesson not to look on the outward appearance and the so-called “facts.” Do NOT follow “The Science.” That’s stopping the mosquito infestation with a chain-link fence, remember.
13: For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.
- Paul is telling the Corinthians the real reason he is doing and saying everything he does and says. If we have literally “lost our good sense,” it is because of the greatness and majesty of God Most High! If we have any self-control at all, it is for you! Beloved, if we are going to follow the Lord, it must be like this for us. In God’s sight, we must give up our own intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom–for His. But we must always present ourselves as the wise, knowing, intelligent elder for the sake of all those that God puts in our path, because that is the way God has ordained it to be. It is how men are persuaded (v.11).
14: For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
- Why? Because it is the Love of Christ that controls us. In the grand scheme of the translators that worked this out, I can see why they would translate the Greek sunecho as “control.” Christ breaks us apart and puts us back together into a new creation. He holds us together by His own power. He regenerates us by His Spirit, and He sanctifies us by the power He has over everything and everyone. We have nearly no part to play at all, except to agree with Him as He brings us through trials to sanctify us, that is make us holy and set apart in our attitudes and opinions, and that takes literally the rest of our lives.
- It is Christ’s love [agape] that controls every facet of our lives in Paul’s model here. And it is because of this that we have concluded that one died for all, and therefore all died. Christ’s love was manifest, made clear to us, in that single vicarious, substitutionary act of atonement and justification. That act is called the gospel, or “good news” in modern English. “Gospel” is an Elizabethan English term meaning “glad news.” It actually may be older than that, but that’s all I’m confident in saying. I’m not trying to define the etymology here. I’m trying to explain that That single act of the gospel is what should control us. It breaks us down, builds us back up into a new creation, and then gives us the motivation for all our behaviour going forward. And it applies to everyone, right?
- Not so fast, Kimosabe. Universalists will say that the use of the word “all” here [Gk., pas, all] means that Christ died for everyone. Is that true? No, not really. Context, Beloved. He is speaking to the believers in Corinth here, so “all” means “all of us,” that is the believers. You can’t proof-text universalism here, we won’t let you, and neither will Paul, who disputes this in Romans, with his concept of reprobation. Either that or we’re all wrong and Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Tse Dong are all in heaven around the throne of God. I know more than a few theologians who will dispute that. That’s just a side-point, but it is an important one. We need to always know the context of the text, or we will have unjustified proof-text, and people who spew those are only seeking pretext to go astray on purpose.
15: and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
- This verse ties all of what we have said together very neatly. Christ died for all the believers, so that they who live (direct context, all, therefore the believers) might (who will now have the possibility, speaking of the radical depravity of all humans) no longer (speaking of regeneration, without which it is impossible to BE a Christian) live for themselves (speaking of a man-centered reasoning and philosophy in which we are either good in ourselves, have our own libertarian free will, or are co-equal or greater than God), but instead live only for Him, the One that died and rose on their behalf, in that act of the gospel, that substitutionary death on a Roman cross, where He gave up the life that he lived, and the we should have, to pay the penalty for ALL of OUR sins. Who are we? Those who have believed, in the context of this passage.
The word control in verse 14 has another meaning. It seizes us. It grabs us, and drags us in the direction of our Saviour. Then it holds us together, and pulls us along, whether we like it or not I suppose. There is a kind of misconception here, that God drags those who are unwilling to do things that they do not wish to do, but I don’t think that’s actually true. Instead He shows us who believe why it was necessary after He has changed us, but I digress. My point here is that because of that guaranteed life in Heaven, and because of that account we will have to give our Master of what we did in this life, Christ’s demonstrated love in His saving work grabs hold of us and takes us down the path of sanctification so that we will live for Him and put His interests as the critical ones in our lives, because nothing else really matters. And this has other implications.
16-19: We No Longer Look On What People Seem to Be
We will no longer see the people around us as what they are trying to portray to the world, and that includes us. I have occasionally received criticism for not responding in anger and/or horror at a given situation. There are several things I could use as an example, but the one that I’ll talk about here is the time an older lady came out to this bible study. She was a friend of Maria, who is a dear sister in Christ, and Maria had brought this lady that I will call Louise (not her name) so that she could hear the gospel and hopefully be saved. I got to share a pretty powerful gospel (in front of several of you), and Louise made a profession of salvation. She prayed, and then she did something that made me pause and wonder. She “invited Jesus into her heart.” The Bible doesn’t say that is the way you get saved ANYWHERE, although I know people that have really surrendered to Christ this way and became very strong Christians. I didn’t know, because I cannot see God working in hearts. Over the next couple of studies, it became very clear to me that she was still a very strong, and more importantly unrepentant sinner and unsaved Roman Catholic, who was relying on her own works or those of her “priest” to save her. She did nice things for my wife and I, and I genuinely like Louise. And then a brother who was there “pulled me aside” to “let me know that she was not really saved.” I simply and I hope kindly explained that I knew that. And then I posed the question–how do you think I should respond to that? Do you think that me blowing up and becoming angry at the obvious lack of salvation by grace would accomplish the work that needed to happen? I think not, incidentally. In the end, it was agreed, I still had to treat her as a person for whom Christ may have died, and present the Gospel in the simplest terms possible, which I did anyway. In other words, I could not, and did not, look on Louise by the claptrap she was presenting to us at the bible study. My responses though, were the same in any event, and that was to express the compassion and love of Christ, and let it control me. Let’s look at the text here and see if I can make this clearer.
16: Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
- It is almost as if Paul is telling the Corinthians that God is no respecter of persons and isn’t fooled, and it doesn’t matter, because He loves them anyway, regardless of their station in life, their economic status, their skin colour, or nationality. You see, NONE of those things should matter. What should matter is 1) are they human (are they made in the image of God, as distorted as that can be), and 2) have they believed the gospel, that is, are they saved? If they are not, I have a God-given responsibility to present that to them in a way they can easily understand, and if they are, then I have a God-given responsibility to shepherd them toward the Great Shepherd and teach them to do what He has commanded in a way in which they will effectively learn the lessons of a Christ follower.
- A word here about what Paul is actually saying. Paul said we are not respecters of persons. Even though we (the Apostles in this usage of we) knew Christ in the flesh (we all met Him, Paul said, and Paul met Him most powerfully on the road to Damascus), we do not actually know Him that way any longer. Why not? What changed? Well, for one thing, the Holy Spirit now lives inside of all believers and guides us into all truth. We know Him that way, and we know Him through His word, which are so closely related, the two things cannot actually be separated. We know Him by the Spirit through His word. Today. Why is this?
17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
- Because the lowliest, filthiest one of us can now become the son or daughter of the King of all kings, and Lord of all lords. When that happens, it can truly be said that old things have passed away. They have died. They are no more! And they have been replaced by NEW things. Heavenly things.
- Beloved, this universal law is so critical to following Christ that He actually died for it because He loved us–enough to give up his worthy life that we could not live no matter how hard we try and die the death that should be ours, no matter how good we try to be. That single act is the reason we are all here and where we are today. He died for us so that He could remake us into the person He sees us as already. Paul will explain.
18: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
- God has actually designed it this way, and has done it for everyone that will ever turn to Him! That what Paul says here! These things are from GOD! And that God (in case you confused on which God we were talking about) reconciled us to Himself through His Son, the Anointed one, Jesus. Beloved, this is simply AMAZING! He had no reason to do this–he just, well, DID!!!
- And even better than that, God gave to His people the “ministry” [Gk., diakonia, service] of that reconciliation! That means, Beloved, that WE should be telling EVERYONE what this good news is! Whether they will accept it or not! Whether they want to HEAR it or not! Everyone deserves a call. Those who God chose WILL respond to it, and we have no idea who those people are, so that means we need to be super diligent to share it with EVERYONE at every opportunity God opens for us to do so!
- The word “reconciliation” here is the Greek word katallage, and it is actually an accounting term. The Greeks used it in this kind of way, for example: “We need to reconcile the journal entries with the statement of accounts.” In this use of the word, it means “to bring into agreement or harmony,” and that is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. His final word in Greek was Tetelestai! My favourite way of translating that phrase is “Paid in full.” Because Jesus paid the price to reconcile us to God. I could get into this in greater detail, but we will be here for a few hours. I’ll simply give the reference of the book of Ruth, where we see a reconciliation (or redemption, related concept in Hebrew or Greek) actually going on. Uses your concordance to search out the term “kinsman redeemer.” That should get you started on that.
19: namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
- Here, Paul details what that “ministry of reconciliation” is: that God was in Christ, bringing the world into harmony with Himself–and this is key–NOT counting their trespasses [aka “sins”] against them! And this is the word of reconciliation He has given to us! The actual details of the gospel, or the “good news” of Jesus Christ!
You see, the things that the world looks on, the way people want to identify themselves so they can feel good about themselves, by skin colour, by size of bank account, by orientation, by nationality, by educational status, by profession, by rank or office, ALL of them are simply irrelevant in the light of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that is, the Gospel. It is the main story of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It is the story of the Creator God that made man, who disobeyed Him and won damnation for his entire race. It is the story of that Creator loving humanity enough to provide a way of reconciliation for anyone who would want it. It is that Creator becoming a human Himself to live the life that humanity should have lived, all so He could die as a substitute in our place and pay the price of reconciling as many of us to Himself as would ever turn to Him. And it is the story of what comes after that, right through for the rest of eternity for all those that did turn to Him in repentance and faith in Christ the Son. That’s the gospel. And for all those that have turned in humility to that salvation in Christ, there is more…
20-21: We Are Now Ambassadors of Christ in Reconciliation
He has made each one of us who have turned to Him in that repentance from our sins, believing that Jesus rose from the grave, showing that the price was paid, and that the power of sin in our lives was broken, his Ambassadors. He has made us to be His personal representatives, charged with the responsibility of not only communicating the good news to everyone, but also the living out of those new laws of His coming kingdom NOW so that all may see what kind of place that kingdom will be, attracting those that will be His in that everlasting place.
This does NOT mean He’s put it all on us, incidentally, because we are not adequate, as Paul has pointed out in 2 Cor. 3:5-6. He is our adequacy, and we can only do the things He enables us to do, as least as regards this ministry of reconciliation. Let’s get into the text.
20: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
- You may wonder where we get the word ambassador here, because the Greek word is actually presbeuo, a form of the word presbuteros, or elder. In fact, according to Vine, these concepts are connected. There are two meanings that Vine gives in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. The first is to be the oldest, the one that has priority of birth or age, but the second meaning is used in three places (Here, Eph. 6:20, and Philemon 9). It literally means “to be an ambassador.” Vine notes that there is a suggestion that to be an “ambassador” for Christ involves the experience suggested by the word “elder.” Elder men were chosen as “ambassadors.”
- So let me ask all of you aspiring elders in the house of God out there–have you done the work of an evangelist and made completion of your ministry (2 Tim. 4:5)? Don’t call yourself an elder if you haven’t, and don’t apply for the job until you have, because the rest of this will be using this as a qualifying attribute.
- So what do these ambassadors do? Paul actually defines it for us. As if God were actually speaking through us (Gee, ya think?), we beg you (a strong form of the word “ask,” more at “implore” or “beseech” from the KJV)–be reconciled to God. Those of us that God has called as ambassadors to represent His kingdom are supposed to try to stir up those who may wish to emigrate to the kingdom of God themselves, by showing or explaining the Way, who is Christ.
21: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
- And as if on cue, Paul gives us the very content of the gospel message that we should be explaining to everyone. Let’s go through it and see if we can identify what it is actually saying.
- He. This is speaking of God, perhaps God the Father from a basic knowledge of the Trinity. How do we know this? Well, He made Him. Interestingly, that word made can be translated into a lot of different things, but none of them mean “created” in the sense that we are all created. Just a handful on purpose.
- Him. This is a reference then of God the Son, if we can infer that He was referring to God the Father. This is further strengthened by the description “who knew no sin.” And clearly that is a description of the incarnation, when God the Son became human.
- He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. This fits with the substitutionary work of Christ on our behalf in dying on the cross at Golgotha. But why would He make Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf?
- This is the miracle, Beloved–so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. A great exchange was made, and none of us are worthy of this exchange. It was provided in love, and by grace, none of us being able to earn this for ourselves. He first gave us grace, that brough his faith in His own work on the cross as enough, and He saved us, not our own works, that no one should be able to be proud of themselves. New lives for old. New creations for old. New nature for old. All resulting in new works for old. And a new destination instead of our old. That is what I call “The Great Exchange.” I first read that term in a book by Hudson Taylor, China’s first inland missionary. You know what? I think that’s what we’re watching at our watch party this coming Sunday. A biography of Hudson Taylor. It was an amazing story. He finally arrived at this great exchange, and it is an apt term. In fact, Wayne Watson wrote a song in like 1982 about this called “New Lives for Old.” It is on YouTube if you want to look it up.
Beloved, this is the message that Christ died to bring us, rose again to enact, and ascended to heaven to send the Holy Spirit to get it started. It is this message that we are to present to everyone we meet whenever God gives us the providential opportunity. As His Ambassadors, we are to live in His love for everyone, and that can be a hard thing. Sometimes people are thick-headed and wrong, and stubborn. Sometimes they are cruel, and sometimes they can be murderous, especially toward the people of God.
How should we respond to this kind of treatment, form people, or from religious, or from government institutions? Jesus Himself told the church of Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11:
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”
The Lord Jesus, King of kings and Lord of Lords, did not abandon His people in such a world. They were being told that they had to worship Caesar as Lord and God. Of course they could not, because Jesus is Lord and God. As such, they were being put to death for treason against Rome. It is a hauntingly familiar tale here in Canada these days, although they aren’t killing us just yet. But we can’t yield to Caesar either. And if we will remain faithful, come what may in terms of cost to us, Jesus will not abandon us either, and in fact, will reward us for faithfully standing according to the principles of His kingdom in the in-between time. Be meek, be self-controlled, be filled with love, and be His.