Compelled by Love (2 Corinthians 5:10-6:2)
So what gets you up in the morning? Babies get up because they’re hungry or they need to be changed. Kids wake up because they hate sleeping, and they’ve got energy to burn. That changes when they go to school. Then you can’t get kids out of bed for school, until the weekend. They don’t have any troubles waking up on the weekends. When we’re older, we get up because we have to go to work, or we’ll get fired. If you’re lucky, you get up because you love to work. When you’re retired, well, I haven’t reached that point, so I’m not sure what gets you up in the morning. But something has to.For most of us, we’re motivated by obligations and duties, at least most of the time. We’re also motivated by love to look after kids and spend time with family. Motivation makes a big difference in our energy levels and dedication, especially when the tough is task.The Apostle Paul stayed motivated. He went from city to city, without a home to call his own. He was persecuted and mocked, sometimes even by those within the church who believed what he did. He never made a lot of money, and eventually was killed for his faith. You’ve got to wonder what could motivate a guy like that.Paul was able to explain what motivated him in very clear terms. What we’re about to read isn’t just a statement of personal motivation, it’s also one of the most profound statements of the Gospel. It’s a motivation that has changed millions of lives, right to today. If you have a Bible with you, let’s look together at his explanation of what motivated him, found in 2 Corinthians 5.Paul’s writing to a church, and explaining (sometimes defending) his ministry. He’s just finished talking about heaven, but then begins to explain why he continues what he does, despite the personal cost. One of the reasons is one we don’t hear a lot about today, in verses 9 to 11:
So our aim is to please him always, whether we are here in this body or away from this body. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in our bodies. It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.
It almost sounds strange to talk about a “solemn fear of the Lord,” but anyone who ever saw the Lord, or even an angel, knew about this fear. They’d always have to be told, “Fear not.” I’m not sure that would work for me. I’d be pretty scared anyway. If we could see God for who he is, that would keep us motivated in itself.I don’t think Paul’s talking about an irrational fear of a terrible being. It’s not like my kids last night, who saw a spider before they went to bed and woke up three times in the night terrified of that spider. I think he’s talking about living life shaped by the reality of who God is, and the reality of what happens after our lives are over.What made the difference in Paul’s life – and in our own – is knowing that every person will have to stand before Christ one day and be judged. That makes what we do eternally significant. If you really believe in heaven and hell, and if you believe that every person is going to stand before Christ’s throne one day, then introducing people to Jesus Christ is most eternally significant thing that we can do. If you really believe that this life isn’t everything, and that there is an eternity beyond the grave, then spiritual issues become much more significant.Paul continues by defending his ministry against critics in verses 12 and 13. He even admits that some might consider him crazy. We don’t know why – it could have been because of his lifestyle, or because he wasn’t a polished speaker, or because of what he did in his private worship of God. But in verses 14 and 15, he gives a second reason – an even more compelling reason – for his ministry:
Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.
Christ’s love wasn’t a theoretical fact for Paul. It was made tangible through his death – not the death of a mere human, but the death of God. “Christ died for everyone.” Jesus isn’t just the Judge that he talked about in verse 10. He’s also the one who died so that we don’t have to fear judgment. When Christ died, he involved us in his death. Something was made available to everyone when Jesus died.When Jesus died, our old sinful natures died. We all have one. We were born with them. We all like to do what we know we shouldn’t do. When we come to Christ, our old sinful nature dies on the cross with him. We no longer have the right to live the way that we used to. Our lives are no longer our own. We’re made new. Paul says in verse 17, “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!”This changes everything. It changes the way we look at people. “So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!” (2 Corinthians 5:16). We normally evaluate people by their looks, money, possessions, personality. We judge them by how they make us feel. Christ’s death changes this. Now, we look at people and think about them as souls. We see their relationship with Jesus Christ, or their potential relationship with Christ, as one of the primary things about them.Paul uses the picture of reconciliation – removing an offense between two parties – as a picture of what he’s called to do. In Paul’s picture, it’s God who takes the initiative in removing the offense, even though we’re the ones who caused the offense. He also gives a picture of his role as ambassador, representing God to people who need to be introduced to what Jesus did for them:
All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
And the message, according to Paul, that drives his life, is this: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).Here’s the message of what happened at the cross. All the wrong that we’ve done, all the mistakes that we’ve made, all the regrets for things that we wish we could take back, all of that was transferred to Jesus Christ, the only person who ever lived without sin. He was punished for all that we’ve done wrong. In return, God transferred his righteousness to us, so that all God sees when he looks at us isn’t the wrong we’ve done.God looks at us, and doesn’t see the words we wish we hadn’t spoken, the mistakes and the sins that are so obvious to us. He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We didn’t do our devotions this morning? God doesn’t look at us with disgust. He sees the righteousness of Christ. We fought with our families on the way here? God sees the righteousness of Christ. We messed up this week? If we’re in Christ, God sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God made Jesus our substitute. He got our sin and we got his righteousness.I read a story this week that helps me understand what happened. The second daughter of Queen Victoria was Princess Alice. Princess Alice had a son, who at the age of four, was infected with the horrible affliction known as black diphtheria. The condition was highly contagious and Alice was cautioned to stay away from her son.She tried, but she couldn’t. One day she overheard him whisper to the nurse, “Why doesn’t my mother kiss me anymore?” The words were more than she could bear. She ran to her son and smothered him with kisses. The mother contracted the disease and within a few days, both died and were buried.In a sense, that’s what happened at the cross. Jesus came near enough to us that he willingly became infected with the sin that we had committed. He didn’t sin himself, but he took our sin upon him. The only difference is that we were healed through what Jesus did. We became well because of the cross.That’s a pretty compelling reason to serve. As we approach Easter, as we see what Jesus did just for us, it changes our perspective. It changes that way we want to live.Paul’s thoughts continue in the first couple of verses of chapter 6:
As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
Paul concludes by turning to us and asking, “Okay, how is it going to change your life?” If you’ve never received this grace, the amazing forgiveness of Christ, it’s obvious what needs to happen. You have to give up your life to Christ. It costs you all that you’ve done. You die with Christ – you do lose the right to live your life by yourself, outside of Christ’s control. But he takes all your junk, all your sins, and makes you a new person. You’re forgiven, and you receive your righteousness. That’s what happens when you accept this message of God’s great kindness.If you have already accepted this message, it should factor in on the way I live my life. The love of Jesus should compel us to live differently too. I heard of someone who wasn’t a follower of Christ, but he said, “I’ve discovered I’m enough of a Christian for most churches.” What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? What’s the minimum standard? Its not that we change a little. It’s that we give up everything, deny ourselves, and follow him. It’s that we die to ourselves, and begin to see ourselves as ambassadors, wherever we are, who want to introduce others to what Jesus did for them.Prayer:
To receive God’s grace; to live our lives compelled by Christ’s love