A Passion to Share the Gospel

2 Corinthians

Week of August 20, 2017

The Point:  God calls us out of our brokenness to share the Gospel.

The Ministry of Reconciliation:  2 Corinthians 5:11-21.

[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. [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. [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]

“1. Paul’s ministry: a basis for pride [5:11-13].  Paul’s allusion to those who boast [5:12] brings the newcomers into focus once more. In what do they boast? It is about outward appearance, which Paul explains as being beside themselves or out of their mind, a reference to their ecstatic behavior. It seems that the new ministers were seeking recognition on the basis of bizarre religious trances or gibberish, doubtless as a sign of their inspiration by God. Paul’s admission if we are beside ourselves [5:13] is written to anticipate a possible rejoinder from the Corinthians that Paul also was in this condition. Did he not speak in tongues more than all of you [1 Cor. 14:18]? Surely Paul too, by his tongues-speaking, was trying to legitimize his ministry by means of position or appearance – the very thing he complains the newcomers are doing. Paul’s reply is that his glossolalia is something private; it is for God alone, presumably as an expression of personal devotion. It is not done to support his apostolic claims. For you, however, he tells the Corinthians, we are in our right mind or self-controlled. Nevertheless the Corinthians need to be able to say something in defense of Paul. It would be helpful if there were some quality or achievement about which they might express confidence in him. The opportunity for which they should boast about us is that we persuade others [5:12], that is, he engages in evangelism. It is the ministry, therefore, and his faithfulness of it, which are to be the basis of Corinthian confidence in Paul. This source of pride in Paul is not something esoteric or bizarre; his ministry, being public, is plain to the Corinthians’ conscience just as Paul himself is known to God [5:11]. What matters is that the would-be minister is active in persuading others to become Christians and that he does so in a self-controlled way in the public exercise of his ministry. Paul’s motive for his ministry was the fear of the Lord [5:11], the fear, as verse 10 stated, that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul knew that his ministry as an apostle would be subject to judgment with the giving or withholding of commendation as the outcome [1 Cor. 4:1-5]. He also knew that sinners, children of wrath [Eph. 2:3], face the just condemnation of God if they do not accept reconciliation with God through Christ. Whether, therefore, Paul thought of the sinners’ or the servants’ judgment, the fear of the Lord inspired him to persuade others. While fear is not the highest motive for behavior (love is), it is, nevertheless, a valid motive. Paul is confident that he has been faithful in his apostolic ministry. By these few words, therefore, Paul gently reminds the Corinthians of his work as an evangelist and pastor so that they may indeed be proud of him and have something to say to his detractors.”  [Barnett, pp. 106-108].

“2. The scope of ministry: all people [5:14-15].  The clause one has died for all, which eloquently expresses Christ’s love, is the gospel in summary. We acclaim the truth of this statement, because all Scripture testifies to it. That Christ died on Calvary’s cross is fact; that He died for all is gospel. But how do we explain the two terms for and all. The preposition for with reference to Christ’s death means substitution, as for example in the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many [Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20]. Christ gave His body for His followers [Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24]. He suffered and died for sinners [1 Peter 2:21; 3:18]; and He laid down His life for His own [1 John 3:16]. Hence, the fact that Christ lifted the curse from humanity through His death is indeed a summary of the gospel. Next, the adjective all occurs twice in this verse and once in verse 15. Does Paul have in mind that Christ died for every human being? Or is he referring to every believer? We can say that the atoning death of Christ is sufficient for all people but efficient for all true believers. Only those who appropriate Christ’s death in faith are included in the word all. If we look closely at the wording of verses 14 and 15, we notice that the expression all is modified by three persons or qualities: the governing love of Christ, the pronoun us, and those who live for Him. Christ died for all who believe in Him, for faith is an essential element in the believer’s redemption. To all true believers Christ extends His redeeming love. Although the pronoun us often refers to Paul and his co-workers, here it is broad enough to embrace all Christ’s followers. In addition, this text must be explained in harmony with similar passages [Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:22]. Only those who have true faith in Christ Jesus receive eternal life, are reconciled to God, and are justified. Those who have died with Christ are recipients of eternal life [Rom. 6:8]. They are the ones who are united with Him in His death and resurrection and are alive to God. Therefore all have died is a brief statement that appears self-evident, if not superfluous. But the statement is a continuation of the preceding clause: one has died for all. There the verb to die has a literal meaning that alludes to Christ’s physical death on the cross. Here that same verb may be taken in a figurative sense, namely, the removal of the curse of death [Gen. 2:17; 3:17-19; Gal. 3:13]. Hence, the death of all who died points to the death that Christ, as both their representative and substitute, experienced for all His people. I make three observations: Paul draws a consequence from the previous clause by saying therefore all have died; next, the Greek literally says “the all” to specify a particular group; and last, the verb died in this short clause shows the past tense and single action. The action occurred at Calvary but its significance is for the present. In other places, Paul pointedly states that God delivered His Son for us all [Rom. 8:32]; now he also seems to say, “Christ died for us all.” All who have died metaphorically at the cross died with Him, for Christ and His people are one body [1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:18,24]. On the cross of Calvary, Christ Jesus delivered the deathblow to death and set His people free from the bondage of sin [Rom. 6:6-7]. And he died for all [15]. With the conjunction and, Paul repeats the words of verse 14. He returns to the literal use of the verb to die to indicate the death of Christ at Golgotha. But the short clause that features the word all is explained by a lengthy sentence: that those who live might no longer live for themselves. The purpose of Christ’s redemptive work is that His people, set free from the curse of sin, now enjoy life in fellowship with Him. They are no longer spiritually dead but are the recipients of new life in Christ. Selfish goals and ambitions are set aside, because believers’ purpose now is to live for the One who died for them. But for him who for their sake died and was raised. In Greek, the stress is on the phrase for their sake. Paul calls attention to this phrase and intends it as an explanation of the preceding clause. He states that Christ died and was raised for those people who now live for Him and produce spiritual fruit [Rom. 6:11; 7:4]. Through His death, Christ set them free from the power of this world. And through His resurrection, He places them under His dominion to have them serve Him as citizens in His kingdom. Lastly, the two concepts died and raised are intimately related to the phrase for their sake and govern it. It is one thing to say that Christ died as our substitute, but to say that He was raised as our substitute is inexact. Accordingly, with respect to His resurrection, Christ is our forerunner [Phil. 3:21]. God raised Him from the dead with the intent that we too shall be like Him. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection harvest [1 Cor. 15:20,49].” [Kistemaker, pp. 187-191].

“3. The effects of ministry: new creation [5:16-17].  Twice in verses 15-16 the apostle uses the words no longer. This means that for the person who is now in Christ through the ministry of reconciliation certain things are no longer true. Such a person no longer lives for self [15], no longer regards Christ from a purely worldly point of view [16]. These things which are no longer true belong to the old which has gone, replaced by the new creation [17] which has now come [16]. Radical reorientation.  Paul’s Damascus Road experience changed the whole direction of his life. Even though he was an outwardly religious man, everything had revolved around him. Formerly he had lived an egocentric life as the center of his own universe. But from now on this is no longer true. He no longer lives to and for himself; now he lives to please the one who loved him, who died and was raised again for him. Christ, not Paul, is the new center of Paul’s universe; egocentricity has given way to Christocentricity. What Paul underwent through the Damascus Road event others come to as a result of the ministry of reconciliation. What ordinary believers experience is no less remarkable, since the human will is so entrenched in egocentricity. Radical insight.  Before the Damascus Road event Paul’s knowledge of Jesus had been according to the flesh, not in the sense of having known the historical Jesus, but of having a false and superficial view of Him. For Paul, Jesus had been a dangerous messianic pretender whose crucifixion was proof that He was indeed the accursed of God. But from now on, he writes, he no longer regards Christ in this way. It became clear, in an instant, that the glorified, crucified one could only be the Son of God who in death received God’s curse; not a false Messiah, but the divinely appointed agent through whom forgiveness and reconciliation would be mediated to sinful humanity. How shallow and erroneous Paul’s earlier views of Jesus were compared with the new and profound appreciation of the unique figure who alone was qualified to die for all. Paul’s stern opposition to the new ministers arose out of his conviction that Christianity stood or fell depending on one’s view of the person and work of Jesus. False views of Jesus have been promoted throughout history, including in these present times. Such views must be as firmly opposed in our generation as they were then by Paul if the true gospel is to have its power to mediate salvation. A new creation.  While Paul’s reference to a new creation [17] summarizes the changes which occur within the life of any believer, these changes are dramatically focused within his own life. Love was now the controlling motive [14] in place of hate. Serving the one who died for him had taken the place of selfishness [15]. True understanding of Jesus, His identity and achievement, have replaced ignorance and error [16]. The apostle’s use of the vocabulary of the creation narratives of Genesis is striking. It is implied that unbelievers (as Paul had been), are blind [4:4] and live in a darkness analogous to the primal darkness of the first verses of the book of Genesis. Just as God spoke then, and there was light, so too God now speaks the gospel-word and once again there is light, though it is inward within the heart [4:6]. As by the agency of the word of God the world was made, so now, by the word of God, the message of reconciliation, people are remade. In expressing the great and profound changes that occur in the life of anyone who is in Christ Paul not only affirms that there is a new covenant [3:6], there is also a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come [17]. We should note, however, what is not said about the new creation. The new creation in no way immunizes people from life’s problems or pain. Since sin and its outworkings have not yet been abolished, everyone will continue to undergo, in varying degrees, difficulty and hardship. We are aware of the reality of the new creation through our new perception of Jesus and the accompanying, radical, Christ-centered lifestyle. But in this life we experience a process of edification or upbuilding which continues quietly and unseen throughout our lives until, at death, God presents us with a new home. When that occurs, the new creation, which to that point had been spiritual and psychological, will become physical and visible. The two aspects will be fused together in a perfect and indissoluble union.

4. The source of ministry: God was in Christ [5:18-21]. All this is from God. All this, writes Paul – referring to his now love-controlled life, his service of the crucified and risen Christ, his radical insight into his identity – all this, summed up as a new creation, is from God. These things, the subjective or conscious results of being reconciled to God, flow from the being of God into our hearts and minds through the word of reconciliation. What God does in us, however, is preceded logically and historically by what God did for us through and in Christ. In Christ God was – the Son of God by whose coming the ancient promises were fulfilled [1:20], the one who though rich became poor [8:9], the one who was made sin – God was reconciling the world to himself. All this is from God. God gave us the ministry of reconciliation [18] and entrusted to us the message of reconciliation [19]. The whole movement towards man in his need is from God. Certainly God works through human emotions and the circumstances of life as well as by means of human agents. Yet the initiative, the momentum and the purpose are all from God. God … reconciled us to himself through Christ [18].  That God reconciled us to himself implies that we were alienated from Him. But what is alienation? Alienation may be defined as the absence of trust and respect between persons. Alienation implies enmity, division and the loss of communication. In writing that God reconciled us to himself Paul is teaching that it is God who is the aggrieved party and that man is the cause of the alienation. The reference in context to trespasses [19] and to sin [21] make it clear that these are the source of the estrangement between man and God. When Isaiah told the people that your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you [59:2], it is plain that God’s response to their sins is personal, even emotional. Moreover, it is God who personally takes the initiative to reconcile man to Himself. God made him … to be sin [21].  Because we are so frequently confronted with evil, for example through the news media and television entertainment, we easily become desensitized to its abhorrent character. But God is not like that – our sin offends Him, grieves Him, alienates Him. It cannot be otherwise. Reconciliation cannot mean the ignoring of human rebellion or the mere reducing of God’s displeasure. Action was necessary; the divine disapproval must be removed. How has God done this? God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them 19]. While God’s reconciling of man to Himself is expressed in the forgiveness of which this verse speaks, there is, in fact, more that must be said. While God is merciful and forgiving by nature, He is, at the same time, the holy one who cannot simply say of evil, ‘It doesn’t matter; let’s forgive and forget.’ Because we humans are compromised by our own sins, we may say that. But God, because He is God, cannot. Therefore the statement that God does not count our sins against us is incomplete. Atonement, a means of removing sin from God’s sight, is necessary as a prerequisite to forgiveness. God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself is made possible by the sacrifice of His Son. The words who knew no sin evoke a great sense of mystery. They describe the Son of God [1:19], the image of God [4:4], the Lord [4:5] who was without sin [John 8:46; Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5]. And yet God made him to be sin. What does this mean? Paul had in mind that grim event, the crucifixion of Jesus. The darkened sky in the gospel story is an outward sign of the cosmic and eternal transaction which took place. Paul’s words to the Galatians, in which he teaches that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us [Gal. 3:13], help explain his meaning here. The curse of God which falls upon law-breakers fell instead upon the accursed, crucified one, so that law-breakers can be set free. Two ideas appear to be in Paul’s mind in relation to Christ’s death for others – representation and substitution, though the ideas are difficult to separate. In verse 20, ambassadors for Christ implies representation, whereas in we implore you on behalf of Christ the stronger idea appears to be substitution. When he states that one has died for all [14] and he died for all … for their sake died [15], Paul appears to envisage Christ as our representative, who, in dying and rising, achieved reconciliation with God. Closely connected with representation is the notion of incorporation. When Christ died and rose again as our representative, we who belong to Him died and rose again in Him. The other thought-model, substitution, seems to be implied in for our sake he made him to be sin [21]. The intensity of he made him to be sin suggests that God substituted the sinless one for the sinful ones. If representation implies incorporation, then substitution implies exchange. Thus, as a result of the sinless one being made sin for our sake, in him we become the righteousness of God. The sinless one takes our sin in Himself; the sinful ones are given the righteousness of God in exchange. The message that Christ was crucified for us, therefore, draws forth from us our dependence upon Him. To withhold our faith and love from Him would be perverse and ungrateful. Moreover, since our sins demanded so high a price for their forgiveness, we conclude that they must be deeply offensive to God. We are left with no honorable alternative but to die to sin and to live for Him who, as our representative and substitute, died and was raised.”  [Barnett, pp. 111-119].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In 5:11-13 Paul compares himself to the false teachers who have come to Corinth. According to Paul, what is the key difference? Why should the Corinthians boast about Paul?
  2. Who are the “all” in 5:14-15? What is the connection between Christ died for all and all have died? In what sense have all died? Does “all” refer to the same group in both statements? In 5:15, what was the purpose of Christ’s death for all? Is this true of all people? Are the “all” the same group as the “anyone” [17], the “us” [18], the “world” and the “them” [19], the “our” and the “we” [21]? What is Paul teaching us with this language? Does Paul have in mind that Christ died for every human being? Or is he referring to every believer?
  3. List the things that Paul says have changed because we are now in Christ.
  4. What is the message of reconciliation? Why is reconciliation necessary? Who takes the initiative? How is reconciliation accomplished? What does Paul teach us concerning reconciliation in 5:21? How would you explain reconciliation to an unbeliever?
  5. How is it possible to be motivated by the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ? Are not fear and love irreconcilable? How are they reconciled in Christ? How do you reconcile them in your daily life? How is a believer’s fear of God different from an unbeliever’s fear of God? Pray that the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ may grow in your spiritual life so that they will motivate you to be faithful ambassadors for Christ.


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

2 Corinthians, David Garland, NAC, B & H Publishing.

II Corinthians, Simon Kistemaker, Baker.

Let’s Study 2 Corinthians, Derek Prime, Banner of Truth.

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