Living in the Light of Eternity – Sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2


 

VIDEO FOR THIS SERMON CAN BE FOUND HERE

 

It was a warm summer Sunday evening and I was asked to bring a message here. This was nearly 40 years ago.

About 2/3 through some thoughts on the book of Jonah, a couple got up and left in sort of a hurry. I thought maybe one of them was ill.

After the service – as was common back then – 10 or 15 of us went out for coffee at a nearby restaurant. After just getting my 1st cup someone mentioned that the ones who had left during the service were very upset at me and maybe I should check it out.

I immediately went to the pay phone and called them. The husband picked up the phone and proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms that I had chosen that passage of Scripture and taught on it in an effort to embarrass him and put him in a bad light. And that he was very hurt and angry that I would have done something like that to him.

Now this guy, a good guy, had in fact taught from the book of Jonah himself the previous Sunday night. He did an excellent job. In fact, what he brought up had sparked a number of things in me that I thought would make a compliment to what he had taught, building on it and going further, but in other places. I had not chosen the identical passage though I was in the same book.

After several very tense minutes and several apologies from me for offending him, we ended our conversation with the relationship restored.

What had occasioned the entire rift, tension, and offense?

My dear brother, sincerely but quite incorrectly imputed motives to me that I quite simply never had.

Had he asked me WHY I had spoken on that passage, I would have gladly told him he was the one who inspired me to go there. But thinking he KNEW why I’d done It, assuming he knew what was in my heart, imagining what my motives were without asking me, he interpreted my actions in the worst possible.

Enter 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and the perennial problem of assigning motives to people. Of thinking we can divine what is in the hearts of others based solely on our interpretation of their actions from inside our own bubble and suspicious hearts.

Isn’t that virtually a national pastime today – both inside and outside the Church? And it forms the backdrop of what Paul says in today’s portion and this sin – and yes, I will call it plainly a sin – of assigning motives to people’s actions without actually inquiring what is in their hearts at all.

Jerry Bridges in his excellent book Respectable Sins writes:

“Closely related to the sin of gossip is the sin of slander. Slander is making a false statement or misrepresentation about another person that defames or damages the person’s reputation. Political campaigns, for example, are notorious for slandering opponents by falsely ascribing to the opponent a position based on statements taken out of context or based on some isolated act that occurred some years ago. It is such statements that are definitely aimed at creating a false, slanderous impression.

But do Christians slander? Yes, we do. We slander when we ascribe wrong motives to people, even though we can’t see their hearts or know their particular circumstances. We slander when we say another believer is “not committed” when he or she does not practice the same spiritual disciplines we do or engage in the same Christian activities we engage in. We slander when we misrepresent another person’s position on a subject without first determining what that person’s position is. We slander when we blow out of proportion another person’s sin and make that person appear to be more sinful than he or she really is.”

Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 160–161.

Understanding Paul’s purpose in writing this section is vitally important to understanding it period, and especially in order to apply it rightly.

As I’ve mentioned before, Paul finds himself in the very unenviable position of having to defend his ministry. What he does and doesn’t do, and why he does what he does, the way he does.

Why?

Because some unidentified group had come into the Church seeking power and influence. And in order to get their way, they needed to undermine the authority of Paul, and alienate the affections of the people from him.

Last time, we saw this faction had 5 chief complaints against Paul they said made him a poor choice:

  1. His sufferings
  2. His unwillingness to treat the Corinthians like benefactors in refusing their money so as not to be influenced to preach and teach what some people might want under the weight of risking the loss of their support.
  3. His need to change plans in visiting them
  4. His apparently lackluster preaching style
  5. His lack of credentials

As we’ll see later on in the book – and this is VERY important to keep in mind, they will also vaunt themselves in various ways in contrast to Paul:

  1. They’ll talk about spiritual experiences they’ve had that gave them special status.
  2. They’ll point to letters of recommendation.
  3. They’ll gladly take the people’s money.
  4. They’ll claim to have special teachings – secrets for better lives, prosperity, success, and respect in the community.
  5. They put great store in coming off as authoritative – even to the point of abuse.

But underneath all of this – don’t miss this: was the issue of his opponents getting everyone to question Paul’s motives.

There is no better way to alienate people from one another than to get them suspicious of each other’s motives.

So, Paul has been laboring to get them to see that some very important realities are being overlooked in all of this: In Paul’s mind, he is just following Jesus’ example!

Jesus wouldn’t have measured up to this group’s standards either.

So here Paul was having to explain to people – to those actually converted under his preaching of the Gospel – that not being a great public speaker, not having a big ministry organization, not being affluent and successful the way the people often think of success, has anything to do with Gospel ministry.

To get them to judge his ministry NOT by false motives imputed to him by others – but understand his motives so that he can heal his relationship with them, and so that everyone can move forward in truly growing in Christ.

Paul is not alone in all of this.

In Martin Luther Kings’ famous “I have a Dream” speech he said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

And Paul could be saying to the Corinthians “I have a dream, a dream for God’s Church, a Church were people will not be judged by outward appearances or imagined motives, but by the purity of the Gospel they preach, and the way they live their lives before God.”

So let’s go back and see how Paul works through this in the passage. He is going to provide 10 clarifying things which form the motivational basis for all he does.

1 / 2 Corinthians 5:11 / 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.

Motivation #1: Divine Accountability

Hearkening back vs. 10: “look, you and I, ALL of us, are all going to stand before God one day to give an account not just of what, but of why – we did and said what did.

Out of respect and reverence for that hour – I persuade others of THE GOSPEL!

That’s WHAT I do. And, what I AM – whether that is my genuine motivation, that is known to God too – and SHOULD be evident to you also!” Especially after all the time he had spent with them.

In light of having to give an answer before God someday – I stick to one thing above all: persuading men regarding the Gospel.

I don’t know that we can emphasize this motivation in Paul enough – and examine our own hearts to see how this perspective needs to inform us too. It is a direct application of the very things Jim preached to us about last week in the preceding passage.

You and I have this same divine accountability.

Matthew 12:36–37 / I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The word “careless” there means, useless. Of no benefit to anyone.  Given social media today – let that sink in, in light of divine accountability.

2 / 2 Cor. 5:12 /  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.

Motivation #2: Creating Discernment

“outward appearance” vs. “what is in the heart”

In the never-ending responsibility of Believers to choose well who they will listen to and look to for spiritual & Biblical teaching and instruction: The issue is NOT accomplishments or appearance, but CHARACTER.

Do they have a track record we can access? And is that track record one that demonstrates lives lived in the Spirit of Christ?

Not demanding perfection – but demanding lives that demonstrate they are heading in the direction of Christ’s likeness.

One commentator notes: “At least some of them had created in their minds an image, largely shaped by the values of their culture, of a leader who had honor, power, spiritual gifts, rhetorical skills, and good references and who would accept patronage. They looked, that is, for a Sophist, or at least for a rhetorically adept philosophical teacher.”

Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 348.

Decades later the famous philosopher Epictetus, was visited by one of these Corinthian orators and said he was: “somewhat too elaborately dressed and whose attire in general was highly embellished” which included having his hair set, wearing jewelry, and having the hair plucked from his body.” ibid.

Paul wasn’t the popular cup of tea. A contemporary says of Paul that he was medium sized, mostly bald, badly bow-legged with projecting knees; had large eyes a long nose and his eyebrows were “knit in the middle”.

Who might we be looking for externally when it comes to ministry? Whose imposing size, charisma, commanding voice or outward appearance sway us even now?

3 / 2 Cor. 5:13 / For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

Motivation #3: Service vs Super-spirituality

Beside ourselves / in our right minds

The phrase “if we are beside ourselves” here takes a bit of unpacking. Some say this refers to how Paul was like Jesus in Mark 3. You’ll remember that Jesus’ family thought He was out of His mind because of the crowds at His house. And later in Acts 26 the Governor Festus will tell Paul he thinks Paul has gone nuts.

But more likely Paul is speaking to something he’ll bring up later in this letter in regard to the interlopers who are trying to gain influence in the Church and turn the folks away from him by appealing to dreams and visions they’ve had.

Pagans can have spiritual experiences too. So what?

He argues that if he has some sort of ecstatic spiritual experience – that is between him and God alone, not for public consumption and confers no spiritual status on him. If we are beside ourselves – that is for God – not you.

But when it comes to you, we can’t serve you unless we are self-controlled, not in some ecstatic state. Communicating soundly.

When people come to you implying they should be listened to because of dreams, visions or some spiritual experiences they’ve had – walk away. Shut them down.

Later in this letter he’ll refer to a vision he had 12 years earlier – and he’ll say – “look, I’ll tell you about it, but “there is nothing to be gained by it.”’” (12:1)

Spiritual experiences, real, fabricated or imagined lend no credibility to the truth and do not make the person special. The Word of God taught accurately and soundly is what matters.

Don’t be taken in by anyone who uses some dream, vision or experience as a basis for why you should listen to them. Jesus never did it and neither does anyone else need to.

What can I tell you of the Gospel and its implications for life and knowing and serving Christ – that is the point of ministry.

4 / 2 Cor. 5:14 / For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;

Motivation #4: The Love of Christ

Christ died for all

I want to have the same sort of love for you that Christ had Paul says; I find that – compelling.

The example of Christ’s love for us which is best seen in His willingness to suffer the loss of all things and to die for us to save us from our sins is what compels me to minister as I do.

And not to be occupied with fame, fortune, success, or anything else like them.

That he would give up everything out of love for the sake of our souls, compels me to be willing to shed all pursuit of the worldly concepts of success for the same reason. It isn’t even on my radar screen.

So if I don’t project the image of being witty, hip, successful, socially attractive or outwardly compelling – so what? I just don’t care. Your souls are too important to let those things influence me in any way.

5 / 2 Cor. 5:15 / 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.

Motivation #5: Making Disciples of Christ not of Me

Living for Him!

I’m not in the business of trying to build MY ministry: “The Apostle Paul World Outreach Center”

My goal is to move you to stop living for yourselves, and start living lives given over the purposes and plans of the One who died for you!

I don’t want my name on a building.

I don’t want anyone to say they are a disciple of Paul.

I don’t care if anyone remembers my name or honors me with a dinner – I want you to be about the most important thing in the universe – a life yielded to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

This motivates me. And if it doesn’t I’ve sure been going about it all wrong.

Disciplining you. Writing difficult letters. Calling you up short on sin. Refusing your money. Not trying to present a more culturally acceptable or popular – me.

I ache to have you given over to following Christ. With or without me.

6 / 2 Cor. 5:16 / From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

Motivation #6: Imparting Spiritual Sight

“we regard no one according to the flesh”

Before Paul’s own conversion, he had a certain opinion of Jesus: A carpenter upstart from a backwater with no education, questionable parentage, no connection to the leading teachers of the day and decidedly not in step with the traditions of the religious elite.

He and His followers were deceived and deceiving blasphemers who deserved to be prosecuted and killed.

But my eyes have been opened! I don’t judge people that way anymore. I have to look beyond externals and use God’s understanding.

In the new birth I’ve gone from what I was to 2 Cor. 4:6 / For 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.

And it is in this light that I learn to regard men. In Christ – my brothers and sisters; outside of Christ – needing the saving grace of Jesus. Outward appearances mean nothing.

Cleaned up moralists need Christ.

Broken down drug addicts and prostitutes need Christ.

Religious people need Christ. Atheists need Christ.

No matter how they look, sound or present themselves, do they bring the clear message of the Gospel and live lives that correspond with growing in the character of Christ?

I am motivated by seeing you come to see that same way.

7 / 2 Cor. 5:17 / Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Motivation #7: Identity in Christ

“A new creation”

Paul is vitally interested in getting Believers to understand the magnitude of our salvation.

Of being free from the condemnation of the Law.

To live in the daily reality of our irreversible justification before God because of Christ.

Of living in the wonder of the New Covenant.

Of Christ’s righteousness having been imputed to us by faith.

Of the assurance of His completing the work He’s begun in us.

Of Christ’s abiding presence with us.

Of our adoptive status as true sons and daughters of God.

Of the reality and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Of our direct access to the Father in prayer in Jesus’ name.

Of the raging battle against indwelling sin.

Of the promise of the resurrection.

Coming to grips with the full reality of who and what we are in Christ and all that is ours in Him.

This – Paul says – this motivates me.

8 / 2 Cor. 5:18 / All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

Motivation #8: Ministry of Reconciliation

Reconciled and Reconciling

God has entrusted us with a message – that God in Jesus Christ, has made a way to reconcile His enemies back to Himself.

When Christ died, God was in Christ, doing the work of reconciliation INSTEAD of pouring out His final definitive judgment upon us all as He could have. And as a result, we now have this ministry of calling men to be reconciled to Him themselves. He was providing His own acceptable sacrifice for us. He was showing how absolutely willing He is to receive sinners on the basis of faith alone. He was removing every obstacle and giving us the platform to preach grace to all others. We had no idea the precipice we were on that moment. And now we are His sons and daughters by faith.

In light of this says Paul: I could care less if anyone thinks much or little of me or my ministry – as long as they are reconciled to God.

THAT – motivates me. God did this! And He not only gave ME this ministry of reconciling others to Himself through the preaching of the Gospel – He has given US this amazing ministry.

9 / 2 Cor. 5:20 / Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Motivation #9: Ambassadorship

“We are ambassadors – God making His appeal through us”

Ambassadors do not speak for nor represent themselves or their personal interests. They act wholly on behalf of someone else.

Paul understands ministry this way. As everyone who enters any ministry ought to.

Paul’s opinions, concerns, preferences, desires, and activities are all subject to his status as an ambassador – a representative of God and His plans, purposes, messages and aims.

As an ambassador, Paul is not here to accomplish anything for himself. All sense of personal ambition must be set aside. He is not trying to BE anything other than what He is – God’s ambassador to bring the terms of surrender and reconciliation to God’s enemies.

He is not on HIS mission seeking HIS ministry, building HIS reputation or accomplishing HIS goals. He is here to serve God’s interest alone, and not his own.

And when one purports to speak for God, they had better be VERY sure they have His message and His interests at heart.

There can be no doubt in this regard that Paul would recall God’s words in Jeremiah 14:14-15 / And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed.

It is dangerous stuff to say “God said” or “God told me”, when God didn’t say.

Paul is highly informed and motivated by this ambassadorial role.

10 / 2 Cor. 6:1 / Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

Motivation #10: Prevention of Fruitlessness

“The grace of God in vain”?

Lastly, Paul says he is deeply concerned that some might profess to be Christ’s, but in actuality, bear no real fruit for the Kingdom, and at last be shown to be nothing but mere professors.

How can we receive the grace of God in vain?

  1. We can believe it in a surface way that has no lasting impact on our souls. Turning away when it means trials and tribulations because of professing the Gospel, or, in embracing it, we did not experience an end to suffering and trials like we errantly thought.
  2. When we do not apply the hope of what is to come to our present experience of trials, and thus live as crushed and in despair when we might enjoy the comforts and ministrations of the Spirit if we would walk by faith.
  3. In this immediate context: To hear of the grace of God, but to delay in responding to it. To let the day of grace pass us by thinking we can respond at any time. When the truth is we have no promise of tomorrow or even the next hour. “Now is the acceptable time.”

And if this is you today, I can only plead with you as well – Do not hesitate. Don’t hear – don’t receive the message of this redeeming grace in Jesus Christ in vain. Come to Him. Confess your sin and lostness. Cry out to Him for mercy. Look to the Cross of Jesus and cast yourself upon His finished work there on your behalf.

In the words just above these: He made Him sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him – we might become the righteousness of God. And therefore, as an ambassador for Christ, God making His appeal through me this very moment – I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Divine Accountability

Creating Discernment

Service vs Super-spirituality

The Love of Christ

Making Disciples of Christ not of Me

Imparting Spiritual Sight

Identity in Christ

Ministry of Reconciliation

Ambassadorship

Prevention of Fruitlessness

What should be pretty evident to his readers at this point is that if they go back and examine how Paul has conducted himself from the beginning, all of his words and actions are fully consistent with this set of motives.

And to impute other motives to him is not only unfair and sinful, people with motives for status, power, money, fame or position don’t behave as he has.

They jockey for position. Promote themselves. Ingratiate themselves. Build groups of supporters. Seek status. Preach things that tickle the ears and appeal to fleshly impulses and accord with worldly values. Point people to causes, projects, issues and agendas of their own creation.

They will speak little of personal sin and walking in holiness, and will major on teaching that “godliness is a means of gain”, rather than that it is “godliness with contentment” which is “great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:2)

In all of this, Paul has bared his soul to the Corinthians in a way he does nowhere else.

And in it, he has also given the Church in every age a powerful diagnostic tool for evaluating Gospel ministry.

When you and I look to preachers, teachers and ministries – whether here at ECF or on the web, TV, radio or whatever – are these the kinds of characteristics which are evident in those ministries?

Do they operate on these principles?

Read their material. Listen to their statements. Try to see if they fall into line with what has been laid out here in such plain terms.

As 1 John 4:1 reminds us: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Be discerning hearers. And if these sorts of motivations are not detectable, not evident – if they have purpose statements and goals that aren’t focused like what you’ve read here – go somewhere else.

As I reconsidered all of this material this week, I was struck at how – if you go back and survey all of the material the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write – how these 10 motivations are detectable over and over again.

Let me leave you with just 2 quick thoughts in closing.

1st – where Paul began this entire section.

Do I live as though I will one day have to give an answer?

You and me, all of us, will one day have all have our works and motives examined by God. This is true whether we were in any kind of ministry or not.

Will our efforts, our words, be deemed useful or useless for the cause of Christ?

That Christ has paid for our sins says nothing of the nature of our rewards in Heaven in the final day.

As we discussed this past Wednesday – each of us in Christ will be full in Heaven. And yet, some will have enlarged their capacity to know and enjoy God more in that day.

Are you about that activity?

This – is living eschatologically. Not looking for “signs of the times” – but considering how my pursuit of Christ now, impacts eternity with Him.

2nd – To ask ourselves: What motivates me most in life?

Do we examine the “whys” behind our “whats”?

If you are a Christian here today – this passage must have jogged you in this regard. And it is good to examine ourselves, to ask the Holy Spirit to examine us in this regard. To bring to light what may be worthless or impure motivations, and to take on those that are in line with being a new creature in Christ, and our share in our ambassadorship.

And if you are not a Christian today – how foreign all of this must seem to you. But make no mistake, you too will one day stand before the God who made you for Himself – and you will have to give an answer for how you lived your life and WHY you did as you did.

What will you say in that day?

In comparison to the things you’ve seen today, how far from them are you? For these are the nature of a heart changed and made new – reconciled to God.

And once again I implore you – be reconciled to Him. Come to know Him as Savior rather than judge.  As our text today said: “Behold, NOW is the favorable time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation.” Do not hear this Gospel in vain. Come to Him.

A fitting prayer for all of us today – Believer and un-Believer alike: Psalm 139:23-24 / Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

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