2 Corinthians 5:14-21
July 14th, 2011
Central point: Behold, Christ controls our entire life through the gospel
– What is the gospel
– What’s the alternative
– How does it impact all of life
– What do I do?
I recently received my first pair of contact lenses. I’m sure those of you who wear them will chuckle when I repeat that first comment I said once they were in my eyes: “I can see!” I had failed to realize how much my vision had been compromised, until I put them in.
Now, contact lenses are a bit different than the glasses I wore before. When you put contacts in your eyes, you see everything through them. There is not apart of your visual experience of the world that does not first pass through those lenses. Glasses come on and off, have a peripheral or ‘over the frame’ visual field that remains uncorrected. Furthermore, with contacts, if the lens is good, your vision is right and real. If they are bad, everything will be tainted.
For those who have come to know God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we would say that message is tremendously important. Yet, would many of us struggle to describe how that good news actually impacts our daily life? In other words, does that message give us a perspective to see everything or is it merely for certain settings?
Paul is writing in an audience with a similar problem. They had heard his message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but had been influenced and with still in company with those did not believe it. They had a content problem and an application problem: they believed different things about God and themselves and they had different views on how to live. The gospel had become dilute and diminished in the lives of the Corinthians.
Now, how about us? Have we ever this problem in our life? Here’s some questions to ponder:
– What is the gospel of Jesus Christ? As compared to alternative?
– How does the gospel impact your daily life? Marriage? Parenting? Job? Relationship to other people?
– Do you feel like you have different lenses to view different situations?
– In what ways has the gospel, this message of Good News, impact your day today? This past week? How about your upcoming month?
– Outside of evangelism, do you feel at a loss about what the gospel actually means for life?
These are important questions, questions that the bible answers. God’s word gives us a picture of people who are supremely impacted by the News of Jesus Christ, impacted in all parts of their life, in all times of their life. The bible pictures people who see through a single and common lens, or from a single perspective, all parts of reality – it does not portray, “oh this is your spiritual perspective, and your business perspective, and your recreation perspective, and your justice, and on and on. Rather, there is but one way that God has designed life to be viewed; over and against one other way. And it is at this point that we will note Paul’s central point for this text and the answer for these questions: Behold, Christ controls our entire life through the gospel.
Today we will look at
1) What is the gospel and its’ alternative
2) How does it impact all our life?
3) What are we to do?
As we get into this passage, I must offer a 2 point disclaimer: First, the content of these 7 verses lies in contradiction to everything this world around us has to offer. There will be familiarity, but there will also be newness 2) The depth of these 7 verses is oceanic. We can and will take our lifetimes to plumb the depths of this passage. We could faithfully study it for weeks and that is my recommendation: that in your personal time, as spouses, friends, families, you would pursue 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 this week.
Let us join the Corinthian audience as we read.
In his prior letters to this church, Paul has set the foundation by which to understand this passage: what is the gospel? And to be more precise, what is the alternative? For the sake of time let’s summarize 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 1 to answer this first question.
The Good News
Jesus Christ (is the King, the Son of God)
Died for our sins
Defeated Death/Raised from the grave
Note two things: 1) The gospel is all about what Jesus is and has done and 2) Does not involve all of the results of this Good News. This may seem overly academic, but I promise it is not. Making a distinction between the Good News of Christ and the effects, implications, and results is quite important. Now, I believe there are a couple other points (incarnation, sinless life, return) that also belong, but again this is news, not advice, it is news about what Christ has done – hence Good news.
Now let’s compare this to the alternative. Or it is plural? Are there other messages? Is there Islamic news, Confucius’ news, Hindu, American dream, Pop culture, middle-class suburban, African tribal, etc? Yes. But, according to Romans 1, they all find commonality with this:
The Good News The Bad News
Jesus Christ (is the King, the Son of God) I (am King, God)
Died for our sins Minimize or evade my problems
Defeated Death/Raised from the grave Self-improve and self-acquire
Reigns Forever Fight for a few years
God declares through His word that no matter what name of philosophy or religion you give it, all people operate under a man-centered perspective. Did it ever amaze you how Jesus was able to cut to the heart of issues with religious people – and discover who were truly with him. Because he didn’t just look at rituals, traditions, and practices. He determined: has this person placed Me at the center of their life. Do they recognize the full weight and guilt of their sin, have they given up on trying to fix problems that they can’t? Do they desire to live at peace and rest in my rule and authority? This is the difference between a Christian and a non-christian. It’s not complicated. It’s not blurry. It’s not gray. It’s Black and white.
And v. 14-15 is just as clear. For the love of Christ, that is the love Christ has for us, controls us. Our first reaction to this word ‘control’ may be to recoil – that just doesn’t seem right. This response, however, may indicate our tendency to see through this lens: that I am my own being, with my own plan, and my own capabilities. But that is bad news. It’s news that kills and news that sends us to hell.
The word ‘control’ that Paul uses is amazing: suneco (pronounced soon-eh-oh). Here’s the sense of control that Paul is testifying to. This word was used to describe
– A ship coming into a shipping straight, where the narrowing land masses control, constraint and direct the ship
– A cow or farm animal going through narrowing fences to control it for medication administration
– Jesus pressed in by the crowds
– Being hemmed in by both sides
– Being pressed from two sides à Philippians 1:21 (I am hard pressed, to stay with you, or die and be with the Lord)
– One commentator describes a narrow path with two shear rock faces on either side pressing against and leading you forward
So how does God’s love press against us? In two ways.
In verse 15 “because we have concluded this: that one has died for all and therefore all died – this is a reference to Adam (gen 2:17 – if you eat of it you shall surely die). In 1 Corin 15 Paul says, “by one man, came death to all.” Mortality, the curse, the wrath of God for our sin, the penalty for our rebellion, is bears down against us. But, something has happened. The first aspect of Christ’s love for us is this: He bears and takes the penalty. It’s substitutionary love. It’s sacrificial love. Think of how amazing this is! We marvel at the firefighter. We celebrate the marine who jumps on the grenade with a Purple Heart. Pressing up one side is Christ’s death, as it says “and He died for all…for their sake he died.” And as undeserved as this is, there is more. As undeserved as this is, there is more.
You see not only is something taken away from us, but something is given: “that those who live, no longer live for themselves, but for Him who was raised.” The second aspect of Christ’s love for us is this: He lavishes upon us. It’s giving love. It’s blessing love. In this verse alone we are given life everlasting and purpose over-reaching. Just in these few words. Amazing.
So to summarize, Christ’s love for us is a love expressed in sacrifice and a love expressed in blessing. The central points of this gospel message (death and resurrection) hem us in, they comfort us, they motivate us, they direct us forward. The due wrath of God, the curse, death, self-absorbed existence, guilt, all of it is removed by Jesus’ torture, crucifixion, and suffocating and agonizing death. But the slate just isn’t wiped clean. We are given everything, we are given more than we can imagine. Life everlasting, purpose, hope, a family, forgiveness, and on and on.
And now Paul will show us how these two pillars of love, the love that removes and the love that gives, has impacted his life; and ultimately impacts the life of anyone who is in Christ. For those of use who wonder how the gospel, the message of Christ impacts the areas of life, Paul will now show us in v. 16-20. He will show how relationships with others, God, and yourself are all impacted. Which includes marriage, parenting, friendship, recreation, counseling, advice, missions, Christians and non-christians, evangelism, and discipleship. He’ll also show us how to view our purpose, our work, and our job title. It’s comprehensive to say the least.
As we move through these verses keep in mind the word pairing of death/remove and raised/give.
v. 16 “From now on therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.”
– Therefore: because of what Christ has done, we now respond. The gospel is not just ‘we are saved’ but the gospel impacts our current actions. You see, the bible presents the gospel as singular – Christ’s work and nature – and the results a plural. Some, have reduced the gospel to merely be a pathway to heaven. Not so. Look again: “because of Christ’s death/resurrection, we regard no one according to the flesh
– According to the flesh. Simple definition: using anything as a commodity or resource for self-glory or self-preservation. Sounds like the way the entire world lives yes? Have you ever looked at someone who was in need any served them because it made you feel better? Have you even looked at someone who intimidated you and judged, gossiped, slandered, or exposed their weakness in order to make yourself feel safe? How many variations on this theme do you live out everyday? Think about your marriage, other Christians, non-christians.
– ‘no one.’ Paul unites Jew/Gentile, man/woman, slave/free. They’re all regarded from the same perspective. Here’s some practical examples: The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Removes (to death) Gives (raises)
– spiritual apathy priority to evangelism/discipleship
– competition with Christians confession
– judgmentalism of the broken compassion, love, charity, service
The normative relationship with others includes, evangelism, confession, and compassion.
Not only has our way of viewing others changed, but the way we have viewed Christ has changed. For Paul this meant, that Jesus was merely a man, but now He was the King, the Messiah, the Son of God. For us he may have been a Christmas character, a joke, a liar or a lunatic. And for some of us He is merely a resource to us to get what we want. A spare tire. Life insurance. A helper in a time of need. A resume builder. If he is any of these things to you – you don’t know Him. But He is these things no longer to those who have believed the gospel. For Paul, the gospel
– Put to death his view of Christ as a mere man, and raised Christ up as king
– Put to death Paul’s disregard of Christ, and resurrection Him as central
– Put to death paul’s use of Christ for his own benefit, and raise up Paul as Christ’s slave
Now, from our relationships with others, to our relationship with God, what of ourselves?
V.17 – read
Paul is telling us that everything about us has changed.
Our very definition has changed. From whatever we were, into a new creation. We have been remade. No matter how we defined ourselves (success, failure, guilt, using our cultural or family standards), we are now defined by God. That’s the shift. He says we are a new creation. Our opinion on the matter is moot. How freeing is this?!
Three quick points to understand about this verse. First, the old things, in particular our sin, has passed away. The grammar indicates that this has been done for us and that it is complete. This is what Jesus said on the cross when he exclaimed, “it is finished.” Your sin, the guilt, the required payment, the offense before God, has been removed from you – by no effort and by no merit of your own. Think on that again. Your sin, the guilt, the required payment, the offense before God, has been removed from you – by no effort and by no merit of your own. This is the work of Christ’s death on your behalf.
Moreover, “new things have come.” Now this is similar, but slightly different than what I just described. Similarly, the new things that have come are done for us – they are gifts from God. But, the tense of this verb is ‘present’, meaning that an action was completed with continual results. Christ’s resurrection has occurred once, and yet the results for those of us in Him are continual. We all are taking more steps into the promises and gifts that God has given to us in Christ.
So again, we are looking at an old life that has passed away and a new life that is and is awaiting. And what are we to do? Don’t miss this, what is next is absolutely crucial. Paul is going to command these Corinthians to do something that God has commanded of His people nearly 1000x times in the entire bible. This command is noted 200 times in the NT and 98 times in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
This is the practical, the fundamental, the foundational practice and task of every Christian for every day of their life. This is the most central word in this text. And what is it?
In light of Christ’s death to take away the old things, His resurrection to bring the new things, we are commanded to, Behold.
Behold = you, yourself, look, perceive. Now, don’t delay!
We are commanded to press into the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are commanded to look long at all the results, all of the promises. We are meant to take our eyes off ourselves, to see how great our sin is, to see how much greater Christ is, and to see how wonderful is His reign. We are meant to swim in the depths of the gospel. Think of the image of baptism. We are meant to drink it in deeply, eat of it satisfyingly. Think of communion. What has the finished work of Christ meant for your life? How inexhaustible are God’s promises?
What else does Paul ask us to behold?
“Now”, he anticipates that we pause and actually think. And then he responds, all those things you thought of, they are from God. And then he describes the final gift: our primary task, our primary method, and our primary hope.
v. 18-19. No matter where you are, what vocation or career you have, your primary task is the ministry of reconciliation. Surely, because we regarding no one according to the flesh, we will be champions for justice, health, full bellies, and quenched thirst. Some of us will work against sex trafficking, HIV/AIDS, greed, domestic violence, and abortion. But even while we are doing those things, we are a part of the ministry of reconciliation. And this ministry, this task is accomplished, but “the word of reconciliation.”
Our primary method is our words. Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with believers, with non-believers, with strangers, with friends, with family, with employees, and employers, with the happy and the sad, with the angry and the broken. We will speak of this Great News to everyone. Everyone. Note that Paul uses the powerful term of ambassador – meaning that we represent not ourselves but Christ – which causes us to have a high standard of our words and our character. Moreover, an ambassador leaves their home country. There comforts and goes out to a different land. As new creations we may find ourselves comfortable in our new life. But we will go amongst the dead, the diseased, the ugly, the rebellious, different races, cultures, and classes. We will go and we will speak.
And why? Because v. 20 – we hope that the greatest gift will be accepted by everyone – they are reconciled to God.
In v. 21 Paul ends by allowing his audience to obey the central command of this text. Behold what Christ has done. Press into it. See everything through this. Drink it in deeply. Confront everyday, every situation, every decision, every relationship through the gospel and the love of Christ will control you: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
As God leads us to start the Vine Church, we hope to wear a pair of contact lenses. These lenses are what we call, A Gospel Vision. As we collectively behold Christ, who He is, and what He has done, our lives will take shape, our goals will form, our hearts will transform. Every question we ask, every situation and circumstance of our day, every emotion we feel, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the lens by which we view and experience it. May we be a people who see what God sees.