2 Corinthians 5:11-21
August 2, 2009
Motivated by fear, compelled by love, we become Christ’s spokesmen to share the Gospel message of reconciliation.
I Motivated by Fear (2 Corinthians 5:11-13)
II. Compelled by Love (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)
III. Moved by the Greatness of the Message (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Do you recognize this guy? It’s Jared Fogle, the spokesman for Subway, especially for the medical and weight benefits of Subway. It seems he lost 240 pounds just by focusing his eating on Subway subs. Now he not only makes ads, but goes around the country giving talks on health and weight loss.
How about this one? Bono, of U2, is a rock star, but may be better known for his humanitarian work, especially in support of AIDS relief. He played a key role in President Bush’s commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa and other parts of the world. He’s even been nominated for the Nobel peace prize.
And you probably know this lady, Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni was paralyzed in 1967 and yet the Lord has used her greatly from her wheelchair. Her organization Joni and Friends provides critical help for the disabled. She’s visited 46 countries, serves on the National Council on Disability, and has testified before Congress on issues of disability and euthanasia.
What do these three have in common? They’re spokesmen, spokeswomen for a cause. They’ve identified with a cause, committed their lives to accomplish something greater than themselves. Unfortunately, some of today’s celebrity spokesmen seem more concerned for their own celebrity than for a cause.
But throughout history great changes in society have come through individuals committed to a cause, willing to put their name and reputation on the line to achieve a larger goal. The movie Amazing Grace showed this in the life of William Wilberforce, who spent multiplied years working to stop the slave trade in England. He was a sold out spokesman for the dignity of the slaves.
So, are you and I spokesmen for something, maybe for someone? Are we willing to embrace a cause greater than ourselves, and work for the benefit of this greater cause? I’m talking, of course, about being a spokesperson for Jesus and for his Gospel. Is that where our hearts are? Do we want to be identified with Christ, so his cause and his good news define our lives?
And if we aren’t inclined to be spokepersons for Jesus, what would motivate us to do so? This morning we’re looking at a great text that teaches wonderful things about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also reveals what can motivate us to be all-out sharers of that Gospel. We’ll see in 2nd Corinthians 5 that motivated by fear and compelled by love, we become Christ’s spokesmen to share the Gospel message of reconciliation.
I Motivated by Fear (2 Corinthians 5:11-13)
Let’s begin by reading the text. You do want to turn in your Bibles to this text, because there are several verses you will want to take note of. 2 Cor. 5:11-21 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. 12We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than what is in the heart. 13If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
14For 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. 16So 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.
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All 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. 20We 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. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
In 2nd Corinthians Paul has been moving back and forth between acknowledgement of the hardships of ministry from a human point of view and celebration of the glory of ministry from an eternal perspective. He’s just finished talking about having the treasures of Gospel ministry in jars of clay, weak and persecuted bodies. Paul is not even sure whether he personally is going to live or die in pursuing ministry, only that God will be glorified.
He says “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10For 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.” Paul isn’t describing God’s giving or withholding of eternal life. He already said ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ He’s about to show God’s grace in reconciliation.
But he is saying that after death believers will stand before God to account for the use they made of their salvation. You can’t lose your salvation, but you can receive or not receive rewards for the way you have lived as a believer.
This brings us to the first motivation to be spokespeople for Jesus: fear. Verse 11: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” Paul is motivated by fear. Does that bother you? It might if you don’t take into account what the fear of the Lord really is. If all it means to you is terror, or fear of punishment or consequences, it’s probably bad motivation. But if it’s true heart recognition of who God is, his holiness, his goodness, even his grace; his righteousness and justice, then it’s good motivation.
A great place to see this is Isaiah 6. Isaiah is being called as a prophet, to proclaim the good news of the coming Messiah. Isaiah 6:1 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” God shows Isaiah his glory and his holiness.
What is Isaiah’s response? Verse 5: "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." Isaiah responds in fear: awe of this glory, awe of God’s holiness; recognizing his own sinfulness, unworthiness.
What does God do? Cleanses. Verse 6: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." God graciously and freely takes away Isaiah’s guilt and even his sin. God redeems and rescues.
Verse 8: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Motivated by this awe and reverence, fear and gratitude, Isaiah becomes God’s spokesman to his generation. That’s what Paul is saying: A holy God sent his Son to rescue and redeem me. He asks me for my service: ‘whom shall I send?” So Paul too answers “Here am I, send me.” Paul’s mission is to persuade men.
And unlike some of the teachers who were trying to influence the church at Corinth, Paul does so transparently and honestly. He says “What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12We 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.”
Paul’s opponents are impressive folks. They are more eloquent than he, more scholarly, more sophisticated. But Paul hopes the Corinthians will take pride in Paul’s simple commitment to the Gospel, not his outward impressiveness.
He says “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.” To some people Paul’s simple manner of life and preaching looked like foolishness. He did not conform to the standards of Greek intellectual and rhetorical society. He was called a babbler. But from God’s point of view his ministry and message were eminently sane.
II. Compelled by Love (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)
So the first motivation for becoming Jesus’ spokesperson is reverential fear of a God both great and gracious. But that’s not the only motivation. Verse 14: “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Fear motivates us, but Christ’s love compels us. What kind of love is this? The Greek grammar gives us two choices: this can either be the love of Christ for us, or our love for Christ. The context has to tell us which. Since Paul goes on to talk in wonderful detail about what Jesus did for us, out of his love, the context implies this is Christ’s love for us.
God has poured out his love on us in Jesus. Against all odds, against all logic, against all deserving, God loves you with incomprehensible, immeasurable love. Shouldn’t that make a difference? Scripture assumes it does: listen to a few of the things Scripture says about God’s love and our motivation.
Deuteronomy 7:6-8 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery . . . “
Romans 5:5-8 God poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit . . . 6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” His love is the motivation. He loves us, so we love him; he loves others, so out of love for him we love others, both believers and those he has not yet rescued.
Paul stresses the Gospel’s motivating power in verse 15: “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.” Paul is convinced that in embracing Christ’s salvation we die to self and live for him. When Christ bore our punishment he died for our sins and we died to our sins. Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” By faith we live for him; by faith we become his spokesmen.
So our attitudes toward people must change. 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 his conversion Paul saw Jesus as a threat. His shameful crucifixion discredited any good this teacher might have done, proving he was cursed by God. So his followers needed to be eliminated.
But on the Damascus Road all that changed: Paul saw himself as the sinner and Jesus as Lord, the one who had died for him, and whose love conquered him. He could no longer regard Jesus with human calculation, nor could he regard others that way. Instead he saw all others, Jews and Gentiles alike, as sinners for whom Christ had died, he was compelled to share this love with those who so desperately needed to know it. The love of Christ; his love for us and our love for him compels us to become his spokesmen.
III. Moved by the Greatness of the Message (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Paul is convinced, as we must be, that the message of Jesus is a beautiful message of reconciliation which needs to be shared with all men. We see this in verses 17 to 21: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in these verses is interesting: he goes backwards from effects to causes.
The effect he emphasizes here is that those in Christ have been re-created. He said something similar in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Here he says literally “In Christ - new creation” You’ve been made new by the redeeming, reconciling work of Christ. You’re not who you were, you’re his creation, the first fruits of a whole new creation.
Verse 18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:” The basic meaning of reconciliation is to bring back together two alienated or warring parties.
So if a husband and wife are in a troubled marriage, considering divorce, when they reverse that course and seek each other again and work to revive their marriage, we call it reconciliation.
There are several great cross references. In Romans 5 Paul says “For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received reconciliation.” We were enemies, but now we rejoice to be reconciled to God through the death of his Son.
In the same way, in Colossians Paul says “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” We are reconciled, purified and restored to right relationship with God through Christ’s death.
Paul says this in our text as well “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.” Sin was the problem. Sin and rebellion separated us from God; but God removed that separation in Christ. “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” God chooses to use his redeemed people as messengers, spokesmen for Jesus, sharing this wonderful good news of reconciliation. It’s an awesome privilege and responsibility to be those who are chosen to communicate the message.
So I’ve been saying we’re spokesmen, those identified with a cause to the point where they’re willing to share that cause with others. We’re motivated by reverent fear of God, but more by the love of God shown in Christ, and by the greatness of the message itself: God was in Christ, reconciling sinners.
I’ve been using the word ‘spokesmen’ but Paul uses ‘ambassadors’. Verse 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.” A spokesman represents a cause for which he is personally motivated, but an ambassador represents his nation. In the U.S. ambassadors are chosen by the President; they are to represent him and purse the goals of the home country.
But real ambassadors, like real believers, have a mixed record. In World War II our ambassadors could have had a great influence. But Roosevelt appointed several ambassadors who didn’t represent the interests of the United States well. For example, Joseph Davies was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1936, in the midst of Stalin’s purges. But he sided more with his communist hosts than the republic he was supposed to represent.
In the same way Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK was ambassador to Britain at the outbreak of the war, but actually had a high opinion of Hitler and Nazism.
We can fall into the trap of being ambassadors subverted by the culture we’ve been sent to. But that’s not what Paul expects. He believes that as those re-created in the image of Christ, compelled by his love, we will represent Jesus well in this culture, imploring those around us to be reconciled to God through him.
In fact the second half of this verse is Paul breaking forth with such a plea even in the midst of his letter-writing. He gives us the words we need to be Jesus’ spokesperson: “We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.” We may not use this exact phrase in our evangelism, but this is the heart of the Gospel: that God desires reconciliation with his helpless fallen creatures.
So, just as Jesus would say “repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” or “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” so we must say on his behalf “be reconciled to God.” We must be his spokesmen, loving as he loved and calling people to faith.
Paul summarizes our Gospel message in the final verse: “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 Gospel: Jesus who was absolutely sinless, nonetheless died for sins, but not his own. In fact he became our sins: to his Father and to himself he became impure and unholy, by nature an object of wrath.
Jesus did this out of love for us, so we might become righteous in God’s sight. He exchanged his perfect holiness for our pervasive sinfulness, and died that we might live. But he didn’t remain dead. The whole Good News is his death and his resurrection. He conquered death so that those who believe are now ‘in him’ and it is ‘in Christ’ we receive God’s love and it is ‘in Christ’ we receive God’s righteousness and it is in Christ we receive eternal life.
Friends, we call this good news; good news that is good news for every person we come into contact with every day. The message of the cross is compelling, it’s the world’s most beautiful message of love and rescue; it’s what people desperately need. So Christ’s love for them compels us, and our love for Christ compels us; God’s holiness motivates us. God calls us to be his spokesmen, his ambassadors on behalf of Christ’s beautiful salvation.
Someone many of you know who seems to epitomize this task of a spokesman, an ambassador, is Jozef Abrman. Jozef grew up in Czechoslovakia and became a believer through his family. He was outspoken for Christ, to the point where his education was thwarted, and he finally had to flee the country.
He came to the U.S., went to school, and soon became Trans World Radio’s Slovak voice, literally a spokesman, speaking the Good News back into his home country. After the fall of communism in 1989 he went back to Slovakia and began to witness to his own people.
He has since founded two churches, including the one in Trencin where our team has ministered the last four weeks. As they return tomorrow I’m confident their exposure to Jozef, and the opportunities they have had to be ambassadors will make them want to continue speaking of Jesus.
That’s what our exposure to this text do: motivate us by reverent fear, compel us by the wonderful love of Christ’s love, so that we become his spokesmen, lovingly sharing the Gospel message of reconciliation.