The Right Motivation

2 Corinthians

Lesson Focus: This lesson focuses on reasons believers are to be involved in ministry.

Because of Our Accountability: 2 Cor. 5:9-11a.

[9]  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. [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. [11a]  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.  [ESV]

[9-11a]  Because of Paul’s desire to be with the Lord, it is only natural that Paul should also wish to live in such a way as to please Him. This, indeed, is his consuming ambition, the motive force behind all that he does. At home or away refers to Paul’s body in relation to Christ’s return: whether he is still alive (at home with his body) or dead (away from the body). Paul’s point is that it is not important whether the final day finds us at home in the physical body or away, separated from the body by death; what counts is that while we have time we should make every effort to please the Lord. To have the glorious hope of being transformed into the likeness of Christ at His appearing in no way absolves us from responsibility for the manner in which we conduct ourselves now. If our deepest longing is for that consummating moment when we shall at last be transfigured into His image, then it should be our present concern to progress daily, by the grace of God, towards the goal of Christlikeness. Love for the Master because of His matchless love for us should be sufficient incentive for us to follow devotedly in His steps. But there is a further consideration, to which Paul draws attention here, namely, that even for the Christian there is to be a day of reckoning. We must all, apostles and the rest, whether living or dead at Christ’s coming, be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ. To appear (or be made manifest) means to be laid bare, stripped of every outward pretense of respectability, and openly revealed in the full and true reality of one’s character. All our hypocrisies and concealments, all our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed, will be open to the scrutiny of Christ. This thought of the judgment seat of Christ is not meant to cloud the Christian’s prospect of future blessedness, but to act as a stimulus. The incentive is to Christian living that is marked throughout by complete integrity, both in what is apparent and in what is not apparent to one’s fellowmen. It is only in Christ, through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, that this wholeness of being can be realized.

The tribunal of Christ serves the purposes of absolute justice. It vindicates the holiness and impartiality of God. It is a salutary reminder to the Christian that, although it is true that he has been justified by faith, and is no longer under the law but under grace, yet the moral values of God’s universe have not therefore ceased to be his concern. On the contrary, it is precisely the Christian whose life should display the fruit of moral consistency. The impartiality of Christ’s tribunal is stressed by the assurance that each individual will receive as his own the things done in his body, according to what he did, whether good or worthless. The aorist tense of the verb has done indicates that the judgment is not on individual acts but on the habitual action of the individual. It is what the individual did during their lifetime that is viewed as a whole and judged. Thus character rather than separate acts will be rewarded or punished. Paul is not suggesting here the punishment of sin and eternal damnation. This judgment concerns the deeds of redeemed Christians and is an assessment of worth, with the assignment of rewards to those who because of their faithfulness deserve them, and the loss or withholding of rewards in the case of those who do not deserve them. Paul’s meaning here becomes clear in the light of what he has already written in 1 Cor. 3:10-15 where he discusses building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Thus in verse 10 the declaration of Christ’s judgment seat is not the ultimate sentence of salvation or damnation. It is the redeemed alone who stand before this judgment seat of Christ and either receive a reward or suffer loss based upon their work over their lifetime. This judgment does not take place until the return of Christ. But meanwhile the Christian is left in no doubt that he is regarded by God as fully answerable for the quality of his present life in the body. As the therefore shows, verse 11 must be interpreted in close connection with the teaching concerning the judgment seat of Christ before which all believers will appear. Paul himself has a deep consciousness of the awe which should be inspired in the heart of every servant who will be required to give an account of his stewardship to his master. The recollection of this fact fills him with a wholesome reverence for his divine Master and causes him to treat the ministry which has been entrusted to him with the utmost seriousness. By fear of the Lord, then, Paul does not mean that terror which the ungodly will experience when they stand before God’s judgment throne, but that reverential awe which the Christian should feel towards the Master whom he loves and serves and at whose hand he will receive what is due for what he has done in the body. Accordingly, when Paul speaks of persuading others here he is not referring to the evangelical duty of warning the ungodly of the wrath to come and pleading with them to be reconciled to God. But rather he refers to the necessity which has regrettably been laid upon him of persuading certain members of the Corinthian church of the integrity of his personal character and of the authenticity of his apostleship.

Because of Christ’s Love: 2 Cor. 5:11b-15.

[11b]  But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. [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. [13]  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. [14]  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; [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.  [ESV]

[11b-13]  While Paul feels himself obliged to persuade men of his personal uprightness and apostolic authority, yet there is no question of his having to persuade God. For his whole life, including the depths of his personality and the motives of his behavior, lies open to God who discerns all things. Whatever they or others might be saying about him, he believes that in their heart of hearts they know that he is sincere and genuine. Paul realizes that what he has just written is likely to be seized on by his adversaries in Corinth and brandished by them as further proof of arrogance and boastfulness on his part. Self-glorying is, however, far from Paul’s mind. In fact, it is to his children in the faith at Corinth that he is giving an incentive to speak up boldly on his behalf in refutation of those who were making false charges against him. Certainly, the false charges of his opponents could not harm him personally, for he has a clear conscience before God. But they were harmful to the unity of the Church and hindered the progress of the apostolic ministry that had been entrusted to him. His concern, in brief, is not with what men may think or say about him, but with the well-being and edification of the Church of Christ. Paul is doing no more than remind the Corinthians that the knowledge which they have of him, both outwardly by personal acquaintance and inwardly through the testimony of their own consciences, is adequate for them to rebut the lies against him by those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. By describing his opponents in this way Paul means, it would seem, that their glorying is entirely outward and fails to correspond to their true inward state. They put on a bold face and appear to be thoroughly confident of the things which they teach, but in reality, in their hearts, they are anything but confident, and indeed care little for the spiritual issues which they profess to defend. Their glorying is only a pretence designed to impress and deceive men and directed towards their own material advantage. Paul’s glorying, however, is not in things which the world might reckon to be to his advantage. His outward glorying is in his infirmities and sufferings, because it is precisely through them that the grace and power of God are magnified. Accordingly, his concern is not to serve self or to impress men, but to fulfill the ministry entrusted to him in obedience to the heavenly vision [Acts 26:19]. Unlike his opponents, then, his glorying may truly be described as deeply genuine and not superficial for it centered on the One who is the Light and the Truth. Whatever his state or disposition, Paul, in contrast to his critics, is entirely free from self-interest: if in an ecstatic condition, it is to God; if sober minded, it is for the Corinthians’ sakes. Paul’s preaching of the gospel is at all times thoughtful, intelligible, balanced, directed to the mind as well as to the heart, and entirely free from any suggestion of being beside himself or out of control. Yet, though his evangelism is marked by sobriety, he does not here reject the charge of ecstasy. This would suggest that there was indeed another side to Paul which his opponents seized on in order to insinuate that there existed a contradiction in his personality. It was claimed by his opponents that Paul went to extremes, that he was unbalanced, fanatical, senseless, that he courted hardships and hazards beyond all reason, that his conduct was characteristic of the religious maniac. Against these criticisms, Paul says in effect: If this is madness and fanaticism, then I acknowledge myself to be mad and fanatical but it is a matter between me and God. What concerns you is the undeniable fact that I was sober minded in bringing you the good news of Jesus Christ and in all my dealings with you.

[14-15]  The great compelling motivation in Paul’s life since conversion is that of love; not, however, love originating, far less ending, in himself, but the love which originates and ends with God in Christ. His conduct, however it be judged, is dictated by the love of Christ. It is this agape love and none other, that shuts him in, confines him as between two walls, to the one purpose of living for the glory of God. The constraining power of the divine love of Christ is the logic which demands Paul’s willingness to suffer the loss of all things for Christ’s sake. Paul, however, is not speaking merely of the response of his love to Christ’s love, as though the spectacle of the cross were sufficient by itself to move us to repentance and faith. The death of Christ for us has an inner consequence which can be understood only in terms of substitution where we are identified with Christ and He with us.

Because of God’s Purpose: 2 Cor. 5:16-21.

[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. [17]  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18]  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19]  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. [20]  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. [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.  [ESV]

[16-17]  The consequence (therefore) of what Paul has just said, namely, that Christians no longer live to self but to Him who died and rose again for them, is that he now knows nobody according to the flesh. By regard Paul means his appraisal and acknowledgment of persons is no longer according to the flesh. Here in this verse Paul uses flesh to mean the way unregenerate people of the world regard or appraise people. The world’s standard of value is respect of persons in their outward appearance. But with God there is no such respect of persons [Rom. 2:11]. Typically worldly distinctions, such as those of race, social status, wealth, and title, should no longer govern the Christian’s estimate of other people. The absolutely vital question, as the next verse shows, is whether a person is a new creation in Christ Jesus. Yet it is sadly possible for those who profess the faith of Christ to estimate others according to the flesh. For this fault Paul had found it necessary to rebuke the Corinthians in his earlier letter. Prior to Paul’s conversion his knowledge of Christ had been after the flesh, formed in accordance with external and mistaken standards; but his conversion had meant the transformation of his knowledge of Christ. A man in Christ is a creature entirely renewed, for whom the old judgments after the flesh have become a thing of the past. He now knows Christ as He truly is. In verse 17, Paul sets forth a further consequence (therefore) of the Christian’s identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. Not only does the Christian no longer know any man according to the flesh, but by being in Christ he is in fact a new creation for whom the old order of things has given place to a transcendental experience in which everything is new. The expression in Christ sums up as briefly and as profoundly as possible the inexhaustible significance of man’s redemption. It speaks of security in Him who has Himself borne in His own body the judgment of God against our sin. It speaks of acceptance in Him with whom alone God is well pleased. It speaks of assurance for the future in Him who is the Resurrection and the Life. It speaks of the inheritance of glory in Him who, as the only-begotten Son, is the sole heir of God. It speaks of participation in the divine nature in Him who is the everlasting Word. It speaks of knowing the truth, and being free in that truth, in Him who Himself is the Truth. All this, and very much more than can ever be expressed in human language, is meant by being in Christ. No wonder that Paul describes it in absolute terms as a new creation, redemption in Christ is nothing less than the fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes in creation, so radical in its effects that it is justly called a new creation.  

[18-19]  Paul’s words in verse 18 confirm that God is not only the Initiator but also the Finisher of our faith [see Heb. 12:2]. It is He who reconciles us, and it is to Himself that He reconciles us. Reconciliation proceeds from God and returns to God. Thus all begins and ends in God. And all is performed through Christ, who is the sole Mediator between God and men [1 Tim. 2:5], with the result that it is by Him alone that we may come to the Father [John 14:6] and in His name alone that there is assurance of salvation [Acts 4:12]. These are essential elements in the message of reconciliation. The need for this message is seen against the background of man’s alienation from God; and the cause of this alienation is sin. By sin man sets himself in rebellion against God; he becomes an enemy of God. For the essence of sin is seen in the desire of the creature to set himself up in the place of his Creator. But man’s rebellion, though it is the originating factor, is not the sole factor in the alienation between man and God: it is met and matched by the wrath of God against sin. However, the rebellion of man is also met and matched by the love of God in Christ Jesus. When the Cross is seen to be the place where God-become-Man bears for man and as Man the sin of man, endures the just penalty of sin, and therefore exhausts the wrath of God against sin, and all this because of God’s surpassing love for man, then alone will it be seen that at the Cross love and wrath meet in a common purpose, that mercy combines with truth and righteousness and peace kiss each other [Ps. 85:10; Rom 3:26]. In Christ God’s holy and loving work of reconciliation has been accomplished once and for all. It is because the way of reconciliation now stands wide open that the ministry of reconciliation has been committed by God to His servants. There is no service to mankind more crucial and urgent than the exercise of this ministry. The ministry of reconciliation consists of the message of reconciliation. It is a verbal proclamation involving the declaration of what God has done in Christ for the rescue of His fallen creatures. This divine act of entrusting to us the message implies two things: fist, that those who minister have themselves been made recipients of the grace of reconciliation, and, secondly, that they are under obligation to proclaim that grace to the world.

[20-21]  An ambassador acts and speaks not only on behalf of but also in the place of the sovereign from whom he has received his commission. It is his duty to proclaim faithfully and precisely the message entrusted to him by his sovereign. Accordingly there is a real sense in which the voice of the ambassador may be said to be the voice of the sovereign he represents. Thus God makes His appeal through His ambassadors. This message of reconciliation is not something which Christ’s ambassador announces with impersonal detachment. He has been entrusted with vital news for people in desperate need. It is for this reason that he should implore his hearers to be reconciled to God. In verse 21 Paul sets forth the gospel of reconciliation in all its mystery and all its wonder. There is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture; for this verse embraces the whole ground of the sinner’s reconciliation to God and declares the incontestable reason why he should respond to the ambassadorial entreaty: be reconciled to God. As Man, in His incarnate state, Christ knew no sin, for only on that ground was He qualified to effect an atonement as Man for man. His freedom from sin is the secret of His unbroken unity and fellowship with the Father. Only He who had completely and uninterruptedly obeyed the law of God was fit to suffer the punishment due to those who have willfully disobeyed that law. Only He who was entirely without sin of His own was free to bear the sin of others. God, declares Paul, made the Sinless One sin for us; that is to say that God the Father made His innocent incarnate Son the object of His wrath and judgment, for our sakes, with the result that in Christ on the cross the sin of the world is judged and taken away. In this truth resides the whole logic of reconciliation. Paul proceeds to speak of the sinner’s justification, whereby our sins are reckoned to Christ and the absolute and spotless perfection of His righteousness is reckoned to us with the consequence that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [Rom. 8:1].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul mean by the judgment seat of Christ in verse 10? What kind of judgment will the believer receive from Christ at this time? What should motivate the believer to seek a favorable judgment from his Lord?

2.         Examine your life to determine when the love of Christ is controlling your thoughts and actions and when love for self is in control. How can you grow in the area of allowing the love of Christ to control you?

3.         What are some of the blessings that come to us because we are now in Christ? How does the fact that you are now a new creation affect the way you live your life?

4.         What does Paul mean by the message of reconciliation? How does the teaching of verse 21 summarize this message? What is your responsibility concerning this message?


The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Inter-Varsity Press.

Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

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