“The Ministry of Reconciliation”
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
August 23, 2015
Reconciliation changes everything for the disciple and the disciple maker.
I. We are compelled to live for him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
II. We view people with spiritual eyes (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
III. We have the ministry and message (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
IV. God makes his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)
I love history, but I don’t like reading history focused on diplomacy. Watching paint dry is a thrill compared to diplomatic accounts. So-and-so sent a telegram to so-and-so who consulted with so-and-so, etcetera, etcetera and so forth. But in a sense, as Christians, diplomatic history should be of great interest to us since Paul the Apostle calls us ambassadors for Christ, diplomats for Christ.
One of the few moments in diplomatic history that does interest me is the arrival of America’s new Ambassador to the United Kingdom in March, 1941. The former ambassador was Joseph Kennedy, the father of future President John Kennedy. But Joseph Kennedy had been a Nazi appeaser and a fan of Hitler, which did not suit him well for working with Winston Churchill. When the bombing of London began in 1940 he requested a return to the United States, claiming the UK was done for. But Roosevelt didn’t believe that and looked for a new ambassador who could encourage the British in their struggle.
George Winant was Roosevelt’s man. He had been a Republican, the only three time governor of New Hampshire. But when Roosevelt became President, Winant left the Republican party and offered to serve in any way he could. Eventually Roosevelt made him head of the Social Security Administration, and then, after Kennedy gave up in England, he became the new U.S. Ambassador.
Upon arriving in London, Winant said “There's no place I'd rather be at this time,” Author Lynne Olson says “Winant made very, very clear that he meant what he said. When the bombing attacks began he would go to the streets and ask Londoners how he could help. Olson says "His warmth and his compassion and his determination to stand with them and share their dangers was the first tangible sign for the British that America and its people really cared about what happenedm. So, he really became a symbol of the best side of America."
As ambassadors to a foreign country, a fallen world, we need to learn what it looks like to show the people around us that Jesus really cares about what happens to them. Just as Winant was Roosevelt’s man in that dark hour, offering hope, we need to be Jesus’ people in this dark hour, offering hope and reconciliation to an often despairing world.
In 2nd Corinthians 5 Paul describes us as ambassadors for Christ, bringing the good news of reconciliation. And reconciliation is much more wonderful than the vague, insubstantial hope Winant brought Britain. Reconciliation changes everything both for the disciple and for the disciple maker, the ambassador.
Reconciliation is the restoration of the broken relationship between God and man, between you and your heavenly father. This reconciliation is great good news. But this reconciliation, Paul says, compels us to live for Jesus. 2 Cor. 5:14-15 For 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.
In 2nd Corinthians Paul teaches about the ministry of the Gospel, and about his own role in that ministry. He says in chapter 3 that God has made us “ministers of a new covenant.” Chapter 4 says “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” As he continues to develop this jars-of-clay theme he says that our outer self is wasting away. We do die. But to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. That leads him, in chapter 5 to the thought that “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Therefore, Paul says in verse 11, ‘knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” One of the things that motivates us to share the Gospel is the fact that we will stand before Christ and give an account of what we did with this good news. Jesus tells us that we should let our light shine before men, not covering that light with a basket, or hiding it from the eyes of a dark, hungry world. Reconciliation, our reconciliation to Christ is supposed to change everything.
It compels us, verse 14, to live for Jesus. I love that word: Christ’s love compels us. To compel somebody is to make them do something. We took our puppy, Boaz, with us to Pampa last week. He’s eight months old now, and he’s pretty well behaved, most of the time. He actually lay in the middle of Ruth and Joseph’s new kitchen while we were painting all around him and never once put his foot or his nose into wet paint. Still, when we walk him, we often keep him on a leash. If he wants to go chase something or stop to study a tree, the leash compels him to follow. In the same way, using the paycheck as a leash, the boss compels us to show up at work. The IRS uses compulsion to get us to pay taxes. The homeowners association compels us to paint our houses.
But when Christ’s love compels us, it is a whole different kind of compulsion. First, in Greek, the phrase is famously ambiguous. Does the love of Christ for us constrain us, or is it our love for Christ. It has to be sorted out from the context.
In this context, both are wonderful. Christ’s love for me, shown to me in the Gospel, on the cross, compels me to live for him. And my love for Christ, the grateful recognition of what he has done compels me as well. Which one did Paul mean? Probably Christ’s love for us, which is the more foundational, but he wouldn’t deny the other one. Again, I think of Boaz. At first it was the leash that compelled him to do things. And sometimes it still is. But most of the time now he does what you want him to do out of self-control and, if I can say it, love for us. So when I tell him to heel, he is not staining at the leash, but it hangs slack between us because he wants to obey. Now I admit, he gets cookies. But hey, loving Jesus brings rewards too. And love for Christ allows me, at times, to respond to his love for me, to walk with him on a slack leash.
Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. His love is shown by his sacrifice, his substitution. And because He died, we died as well, not the literal, physical death by which he bore our sins, but death to self, to our old sinful nature. The just punishment of our old nature was death. On the cross that death happened. The death of Christ for our sins means death-to-sin for his people. Paul says in Romans, we should consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
But here Paul draws a crucial conclusion, one we sometimes avoid. Verse 15: “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.” There is new life in Christ. He died so we could live. But our lives are to be radically transformed. We are no longer compelled to live for ourselves. Our death with him not only seals the grave on our old way of life, but frees us to share his resurrection newness, a new life with new goals and purposes. Everything is changed.
Paul hasn’t used the word reconciliation yet, but it is reconciliation that changes everything, that allows us to live for him. Because we have a relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Christ we are not supposed to live any longer for ourselves. Who are you living for today? Paul says it’s self or Jesus. We tend to see it as a little bit of self and a little bit of Jesus. Maybe I’m eighty twenty self. Maybe I’m eighty twenty Jesus. But Paul says no. Self is dead. Christ’s love compels you to live your new life on a slack leash, to live your days and hours close to the one who loves you, whom you also love.
And one of the ways we are called to do that is by seeing people with spiritual rather than worldly and self-centered eyes. Verses 16 and 17: So from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
There is a progression here. Because Christ died for all, we should no longer live for ourselves, but for the one who died for us and rose again. And we should view those around us differently. They are no longer merely creatures to be ignored or used, avoided or exploited. We no longer view them from a worldly point of view based on external appearance or circumstances. For Paul this meant it he no longer viewed men primarily in terms of nationality but in terms of spiritual status. People of every nationality were people in need of Christ.
Similarly, his pre-conversion view of Jesus as a misguided messianic heretic whose followers must be suppressed he now rejected. He now knew Jesus to be the divinely appointed Messiah whose death brought life. Paul's encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road changed everything: This was the risen Lord, and all people, Jews and Gentiles as sinners needed to be made new by His grace.
So how do you view people? Stephanie Eddy posted one of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes on Facebook recently. He says “It may be possible for one to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner.”
We no longer view people from a worldly point of view, but we recognize their immortal souls, which Jesus died to save and transform. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature – the old has gone, that new has come.
We tend to use this verse to motivate ourselves. As believers we’ve been redeemed, remade, renewed, restored, revived. We are no longer what we were. The old nature is still there, to be sure, but it is no longer who we are at the core. But in context Paul is really talking about seeing other people that way. As Lewis said “It may be possible to think too much of our own potential glory; it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.” We must see every person as either someone deeply transformed by renewal in Christ, or deeply, deeply in need of that transformation, of reconciliation
This is our ministry and our message. Verse 18: All 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 men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
God and sinners reconciled. There is perhaps no greater nor more profound phrase in all of our songs and Christmas carols than those few words which we pass over so quickly. Notice that it is God who takes the action on our behalf. God reconciled us to himself in Christ. It is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.
So what does it mean to be reconciled? As I said to the kids, it’s two things that were separated being brought back together again. In human relationships, it means that two people who have had a difference or a conflict are brought back into peace with each other and care for each other. A married couple separates but is reconciled. A prodigal child returns and is reconciled to his parents.
Reconciliation between people is a wonderful thing, but being reconciled to God is far greater. We were made to be in a loving relationship with God, and loving relationships with others. But we are separated and estranged from God, and from each other, by rebellion and sin. Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s rule and sinned against his law, and so were kicked out of his presence, and doomed to misery, sickness, death and hell. That’s the bad news, but Paul picks up the story in Romans 5 and reminds us of the good news: 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5, verse 9: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
This good news of reconciliation is given to us to share with the world. Paul calls this the ministry of reconciliation and it is at the heart of disciple making. We are called to be disciples who share the good news, verse 19: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. God no longer needs to count the sins of men against them because he has counted the our sins against Christ. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Of all the foolish things God might have done, this was perhaps riskiest of all, that men would learn this good news not, normally, from angels or visions or dreams or miracles, or even, directly, from the Word, but from the lips of those who have been reconciled.
This is the pivot of the passage and it has implications not only for what comes next, but for what came before. Having been reconciled to God through the death of his Son we can now see people with spiritual eyes and know that no matter how far away they seem from God, he is able to save. Having been reconciled, we now recognize that the old sinful self could never be in a loving relationship with God. I had to be made new, redeemed, restored, forgiven. And now that I’m in Christ, I am that new creature. The old is no longer in charge. And because I am now reconciled to God through Jesus, his love for me and my love for him compels and constrains me, so that I can begin to walk with him on a slack leash, no longer living for myself, but for him who died and rose again. That’s pretty much the definition of discipleship.
But as disciple makers we are to appeal to others to come and be reconciled and to receive and learn this new life. Verses 20-21: We are therefore ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, 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.
Because we have been reconciled, we are now ambassadors for Christ. We’ve been sent to a foreign country to represent and communicate the interests of our home country. What country is that? It is the Kingdom of God and of Jesus, the kingdom that is now and not yet, where Christ already reigns. As Paul says in Philippians, our citizenship is in heaven. Peter says we are to live our lives here as temporary residents and strangers in a foreign land. The author of Hebrews says we have not yet received all that is promised. We look forward to a heavenly city. Andrew Peterson summarizes all this beautifully when he says ‘this is a far country, just a far country, not my home.’
An ambassador doesn’t adopt the values and thinking of the foreign country where he lives, but he brings the values and thinking of his home country into the foreign land and he cares about how the residents of that land are doing.
In our case the crying need of the people we live among is reconciliation with God. And God makes his appeal through us. We are ministers of his reconciliation sharing his message of reconciliation. So verse 20 is not Paul talking to the Corinthians. It’s Paul and the Corinthian believers talking to the non-believers around them. It’s you and me talking to the sad, sick, sinful people around us. ‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’ Notice the depth of heart. Do you feel a crying need for the people around you to turn to Jesus?
Notice also, for the hundredth time how divine sovereignty and human responsibility live side by side in Scripture. Verse 18 said that God reconciles us to himself, which he does. But verse 20 is a heartfelt plea for people to be reconciled to God. This is human response. God has turned to you in Jesus, but you need to turn to God. Just as the prodigal son had to recognize his desperate need and turn toward home, so every one of us here and the people around us need to recognize brokenness, rebellion and separation and turn to Jesus for rescue.
Because only in Christ can reconciliation be found. Verse 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This is the heart of the Gospel. Jesus had no sin, but took on our sins on the cross so that he became sin. But having paid the price of sin and having conquered death by his resurrection, he now gives us righteousness from his infinite supply. We now, in him, can die to our sins and be made right with God. Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to us just as our sin was imputed to him.
So why is this a fitting close to our discipleship series? Because it reminds us of the greatness of our salvation, that we, lost and rebellious sinners, are reconciled to God through Jesus. And it reminds us that as reconciled disciples we have a profound obligation to share the message of reconciliation with others. We have a ministry of reconciliation which is foundational to our ministry of disciple making. How will lost rebels be saved if no one tells them?
I had a great moment in Slovakia this year. I was telling Bible stories to the older kids at the last camp in Liptovsky Mikulas. The theme of the Bible stories was that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. And as I approached the last session, I became convinced that I needed to offer a direct challenge. I asked the kids first to write down any questions they might have. But something told me no one would want to ask those questions, even anonymously. And the Lord laid it on my heart that if they didn’t ask a question, I should ask them whether there was anything that was keeping them from trusting Jesus. And that’s the way it happened. No questions, so I challenged them: if there is no question keeping you from faith, why not trust Jesus right now.
Then I told them that I was going to ask them to raise their hand if they wanted to trust Jesus. And I emphasized that in order to be polite to others, they needed to close their eyes and bow their heads, so that people would not have to make this choice in public. Then I asked people to raise their hands.
And one person did, a high school girl. And that was pretty cool – she heard the message of reconciliation and knew it was what she needed. I talked to her later and encouraged her to get involved with the church, with Bible Study, with other believers. And I encouraged some of the other believers there to get in touch with her. Because growing as a disciple starts with becoming a disciple, but it doesn’t end there. And being a disciple maker means helping people grow in Christ. But it starts with our plea to others: be reconciled to God. Jesus died for your sins and rose again that you might be reconciled to God. We have the ministry of reconciliation.