May 3/4, 2014
Jason Meyer | 2 Corinthians 5:11-15
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.—2 Corinthians 5:11–15
Last week, we focused on the supercharged “so” of 2 Corinthians 5:6. I love the Bible. Words like “so” matter so much. We said the main point of 2 Corinthians 1:1–5:10 was always being of good courage. There is a constellation of terms that describe Paul’s approach to ministry: We are confident (3:4), we are very bold (3:12), we don’t lose heart (4:1), we believe and therefore we speak (4:13), we are always of good courage (5:6, 5:8).
Last week we also saw that there are real reasons to lose heart, but there are better reasons to take heart. It is not an emotional trick with some mind-altering hocus pocus that you play on yourself. It is not some Norman Vincent Peale power of positive thinking. It is not some Stuart Smalley self-esteem mantra: “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”
Paul is talking about reasons for taking heart that are robustly and rigorously God-centered and Christ-exalting. He talks a lot about his own weakness so that Christ’s strength can shine. The “so” stretches back throughout 2 Corinthians to remind us of why we can take heart in ministry. We looked at seven reasons why Paul could take heart and not lose heart. We said those reasons were things that you see by faith, not by sight.
What Paul is doing is similar to what Elisha did for his servant. When surrounded by the Syrian army and facing overwhelming odds, Elisha prayed that the Lord would open his servant’s eyes to see that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). We ended the last service with the prayer that the Lord would open your eyes to see that greater is the One who is in you, than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). He has overcome. God is for us and God is in us, so who can be against us? Take heart.
This week our prayer is that God will open our eyes to see three things that Paul wants the Corinthians to see: The fear of Christ (v. 11), the love of Paul (vv. 11–13), and the love of Christ (vv. 14–15).
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
Notice that verse 11 begins with “therefore.” I want you to treasure conjunctions like this. They show the connection between sections of Scripture. What is the connection between last week’s text and this week’s text?
Let’s look. We did not dwell long on 2 Corinthians 5:9–10. I did that on purpose because I knew I was going there today. The only thing we said last week in connection to verse 9 was that losing heart makes you lower your aim. You stop aiming to please Christ because you become cynical about whether you really can. You will not aim to please Christ if you believe that you are a failure. Christ’s pleasure and your failure will feel like oil and water. But Paul never stopped aiming all of the ambitions of his life Christward. Do you believe Christian obedience is pleasing to the Lord?
Ephesians 5:10 says, “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Philippians 4:18 says, “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord.” He didn’t aim down and look down. He kept his eyes and heart fixed on Christ.
Hebrews 13:20–21 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought up again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Let’s build on that observation by examining the first part of the verse: “Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” What does that mean, “home or away”? Our aim does not change whether we are in the body here on earth or whether we are away from the body in heaven. Wait a minute. Sure we should aim to please Christ on earth, but what about heaven? Will we make it our aim to please him even in heaven? Yes! Even more so! The target never changes because Christ is ultimate. We want to please Christ above all else because he is above all else.
But there is one glorious difference. The target doesn’t change; we change. Here we make it our aim to please him, and our aim is hit and miss. We have a new heart here that wants to please him and sometimes we do. He does not cheer when we miss. But he doesn’t boo us and stop loving us. He has made provision for our failures. When we miss, his blood covers all of our failures so that we don’t have to be defined by our failures. Otherwise we would just drop the gun and never aim and fire again. We would be too gun shy.
But in heaven the great change will happen. We will be without sin. We will be perfectly Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, and forever Christ-pleasing. Our aim will be perfect. We will never miss the mark again! That is something to celebrate indeed. What makes me lose heart most is how slow my growth in godliness is. What discourages us is how we battle with the same sins and still seem to struggle, and stumble and fall and hurt ourselves and others. But a day is coming! A day is coming. A heart that beats perfectly for the praise of Jesus! Imagine it! That makes me of good courage for the future indeed! Maranantha!
We keep our eyes on Christ because we are afraid to take our eyes off of him. If we stop aiming to please him, we will aim to please ourselves. Pleasing Christ keeps you from using other people for your own gain. We won’t aim at pleasing other people in an idolatrous way. We have a singular aim on Christ. We dare not turn away from Christ and care more about what other people think than him. Why? Because of verse 10, “For 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.”
Other people do not have a decisive voice in your life. People try to have power over you by acting as the judge. But they have no more authority than some crazed fans wearing a fake “referee jersey” at a basketball game, complete with their own whistle. They can be loud and obnoxious and pretend like they are calling the game, but they don’t have any authority to call the shots. Keep your eyes on the real Judge. His judgment is decisive. He alone defines good and evil. Only he can render the real judgment. You only care about his verdict. There is a kind of fear that refuses to take Christ lightly and fears taking his eyes off Christ. Paul knows that he and everyone else will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Why do we aim to please others? Too often we try to please others to use them to get something we want. We please others to use them to please ourselves. We use them 1) to make much of us or 2) because they have much for us. Sometimes the motive is pride. We try to please others so they will be pleased with us and they will like us. We use others to make much of us. Or we aim to please others if they can provide for our future. They don’t make much of us; they have much for us. We can look at others and see that they have the means necessary to make us safe and secure for the future. But we don’t need people for any of those things. God controls our future. We exist to make much of him and he controls our future and will provide us with everything we need.
I just explained the “therefore” of verse 11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” We don’t persuade others because of an incessant need to be right. Paul has not set his sights on the Corinthians to use them to build an identity. They do not exist to praise Paul. Paul exists to praise Christ and they exist to praise Christ. So he does not take his eyes off of Christ when he tries to persuade them. He has the final judgment in his sight, not their judgment. You see? He is thinking about Christ judging them, not them judging him.
This is so healthy. Let’s take this thought and give another couple of turns to the screw. We must begin with God’s decisive judgment at the cross. We start with the doctrine of justification. I will try to justify myself in the sight of others unless I am thoroughly grounded in God’s justification of me. We are going to see in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The cross is both the greatest criticism and the greatest affirmation.
It is the greatest criticism because nothing could be more devastating than seeing that my sin deserved eternal condemnation. Jesus absorbed the wrath of God as a substitute in my place. Christ’s atoning work was perfect and in him I am complete, lacking in nothing. God has declared me righteous in Christ. I am standing on singed ground at the cross. My sins are decisively paid. The debt is paid in full. I now stand completely righteous in his sight. My acceptance with God cannot go up or down. It is fixed and it is perfect. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). What court could they possibly charge you in that is higher than this court?
Second, we need to move from the judgment of justification to the final judgment. Only one judgment is thorough in that nothing will be hidden. All earthly judgments are provisional because things always remain hidden. Paul says, “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it” (1 Corinthians 3:13). One of my favorite preachers of past centuries was George Whitefield. He was one of the greatest preachers in history, but he was criticized incessantly. He responded to these criticisms the same way Paul did. His friends pleaded with him to respond to the criticisms and defend himself. Finally, he said, “Alright. Here is my only response. Write this on my tombstone: Here lies G.W. What kind of man he was the Great Day alone will tell.” He knew he already had a defender. It was enough for him that God knew the truth and would disclose it some day.
We must take the long view. There is a judgment to come that is much more complete and much more exhaustive than anything that man can convene. Later Paul says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:3–6).
I gather from this text that God’s judgment should always be big and man’s judgment should be small (though not unimportant) in comparison. Whenever those two perspectives are reversed (what man thinks is big and what God thinks is small), idolatry happens.
Because Paul feared Christ, he didn’t fear the Corinthians. Because he didn’t fear them, he was able to love them and serve them. He says, “What we do, we do for you, not for us.” This is love.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
Look at the conjunction “but” that starts the second half of verse 11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” Because we fear the Lord, we persuade people, but we persuade with a certain motive. God already knows us so we do not need you to know us; you need to know God. We do not persuade because we are interested in justifying ourselves in your sight, but in seeing you justified in God’s sight. We don’t care about winning an argument; we care about winning you for Christ for all eternity. We are only interested in your seeing that we are right so that you will be right before God. We do what we do for you, not for us.
Paul claims that he is known by God. That is a decisive fact for Paul and at one level it is all he needs, but he does not stop there because the Corinthians need more. We do it for you, not us. He labors to make known what he knows about himself and what God knows about him to the conscience of the Corinthians. The Corinthians need to think God’s thoughts about Paul. Why? They need to get Paul right to get the gospel right. Rejecting Paul means rejecting the gospel. Why?
Look at verse 20 and you will see exactly what is at stake. Paul is called an ambassador of Christ: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Rejecting the ambassador of Christ will cause you to reject the gospel of Christ. God is making his appeal through us. If you reject us, you will reject God’s appeal to be reconciled.
The next verse goes further: “We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us.” Paul wants to do more than say enough to gain their acceptance. He wants more than their acceptance; he wants their excitement. They need to move far past mere acceptance to fierce allegiance. They need to be able to boast in Paul. Why do they need to boast in him? Verse 12 says, “We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.”
Have you ever heard a contrast between the “outward appearance” and the “heart” before? The situation is very similar to God’s choice of David. Samuel thought that the other brothers of David must have been the Lord’s anointed, but God chose David. Why did Samuel fail to see what God saw? “When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:6–7).
Paul doesn’t have to say anything in order for God to know his heart. God already looks on the heart. “But what we are is known to God” (v. 11). But the Corinthians could not see his heart. Now we know why Paul talked so much about not losing heart. He had to show them his heart so that they could boast in his heart for them and the Lord. The opponents rely on outward appearance—literally the “seen” things. Paul needed to show them the unseen things of the heart.
Why? They need ammunition to answer the assaults of the opponents. Without ammunition they would be sitting ducks against the artillery of the opponents. The word translated “cause” is better translated “opportunity” (aphormen). It is a military word. It describes a strategic base of operations that can serve as a foothold—a place to launch an attack in enemy territory (like World War II and the beaches of Normandy). A base of operations in enemy territory. You can see this sense with a couple of other examples from Paul.
Romans 7:8 says, “But sin, seizing an opportunity (aphormen) through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”
Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity (aphormen) for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
He uses the same word twice in 2 Corinthians 11:12 of the opponents: “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim (aphormen) of those who would like to claim (aphormen) that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”
I can’t defend myself because then it looks like I am only trying to commend myself or defend myself. I will only do so because you need me to defend myself so that you can defend yourselves against the opponents. They need a base of operations from which they can launch offensive assaults against the oncoming opponents.
Paul explains his approach further in verse 13, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.”
Once again, Paul does not need to tell God about himself. He could tell the Corinthians all about his personal relationship with God through his experiences. He was very reticent to share these experiences in 1 Corinthians. He would rather use rational arguments of the mind to help them rather than ecstatic experiences that they could not comprehend if they had not experienced them. He said in 1 Corinthians 14:18–19, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
He also refuses to go on about visions and the like in 2 Corinthians 12. He does not think it will help the Corinthians and it would probably just puff himself up. He keeps his ecstatic experiences to himself, “That is for God.” Instead, Paul chooses to focus on those things that he can communicate in rational argumentation that can serve as artillery for the Corinthians. “If we are in our right mind, it is for you.” He appeals to arguments that everyone can understand because he loves them.
Do we have this kind of love for others? Do we strategize about how to spend our time and our energy loving people? When you are trying to decide what to do, do you think about what will serve you or what will serve others? Is a decisive reason to do something, “This will help them!”?
How can we do that? Paul is going to show us how. Paul now goes down to the very depths of his heart to show the Corinthians what makes him tick. What makes him do what he does, say what he says, and live for what he lives for? He says that the only thing that can explain his life is the love of Christ.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
The first thing you notice is the word “for.” These verses give the grounds for why Paul is the way Paul is. His answer is the love of Christ. Love of Christ here means the love that Christ has for Paul. Paul lives this way because Christ’s love for him controls him. I love this word “control.” It has so filled him that it has taken him over. This one thing governs everything else. Have you ever experienced that? Does Christ’s love define you, control you, and govern all that you do?
Verse 15 transitions to talk about Paul’s love for Christ. What is the relationship? Christ’s love for him begets his love for Christ (vv. 14–15). What does a life look like that is controlled by Christ’s love? It means you live no longer for yourself, but for Christ: “Those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” In other words, you say “all that (death and resurrection) was for me, so all this (my whole life) is for you.”
Some people are afraid of the love of Christ. If people think that God really loves them, then they might think much of themselves—they will think they are really big stuff and develop idolatrous self-esteem. They will just start living for themselves and use the love of God as an excuse to sin.
But real love doesn’t do that. One of my students in preaching class, Dan Shambro, said that the Bible does attack idolatrous self-esteem, but it does not do so by removing references to the love of God. I agree! If anything, the Bible multiplies reference to the love of God. Why? Real love changes us like nothing else. Love does not create idolators, but worshippers. Real love does not make us idolatrous and inflate us with self-importance. Real love fills us up with Christ so much so that it controls us. It takes us over so we stop living for ourselves and start living for Christ. Love does not create selfish people, but selfless people who die to themselves and live for Christ.
Communion is a visible, tangible reminder of Christ’s love. We feel it in between our fingers. We taste with our tastebuds. The physical cracker and the little cup of juice are too small to fill us up physically. What they represent spiritually, however, is massive and glorious and sweet enough to fill us for all eternity. Take it in and testify that the love of Christ has filled you and controlled you. I sometimes hear people say that Bethlehem is strong when it comes to doctrine, but some perceive us as weak when it comes to being loving and warm and inviting. The love of Christ ought to control us and compel us to love others. Listen to D.L. Moody: “I remember I took up the word ‘love,’ and turned to the Scriptures to study it [doctrine!] and got so that I felt I loved everybody. When I went out on the street I felt as if I loved everybody I saw. It ran out of my fingers. Suppose you take up the subject of love and study it up. You will get so full of it that all you have got to do is to open your lips and a flood of the love of God flows upon the meeting.”
So go ahead, don’t shy away from the love of Christ—study it all the more. Study how much you are loved. Study it so that it fills you up so much that it controls you.
Closing Song: “You Are My King (Amazing Love)”