2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Greetings, everyone, welcome to Thursday’s edition of EDiBS, and blessings to each one of you in our victorious, risen Christ! It’s great to be with you today as we come to God’s Word together, where over the next several minutes we’ll be finishing up our time in 2 Corinthians 5. Thanks for joining in; if you’ll take a moment to find your place, we’ll pray and begin.
Gracious God, grant peace that passes understanding to your people today. Draw close to us as we open your Word, and remind us that you are always with us as the God who loves the world and sent His Son. Hear us as we pray in Christ’s precious name, amen.
As we get started today, 2 Corinthians 5 ends with Paul talking about a change that has occurred in his and his ministry companions’ thinking regarding how people are to be looked at in the world. Our focus: reconciled…to be reconcilers!
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Some time ago, actually many years ago now, I mentioned to you that early in my life as a pastor I had a difficult experience in a particular congregation. It left me and many other people deeply wounded, and in one way or another we all bear the scars of that season of our lives to this day. Interestingly, however, God used that time of trial to birth in my heart what would ultimately become a new ministry – one directed toward other church workers and churches going through their own times of hurt and discord. Because of what I had gone through and seen my church go through, I had a great desire to come along side others to help them in their own time of need. In fact, one of the reasons I originally left California and moved to Missouri was to give more time to developing precisely that kind of an outreach. Over the years, my involvement with reconciliation ministry has ebbed and flowed, both in formal and informal settings, and no matter what my other ministry projects may be at a given time, I always try to stay open to the Lord’s leading when He opens the door for me to serve in that way. I do that, always remembering this: I would never be in a place to act as a reconciler if I had not gone through the pain of brokenness and the need for reconciliation myself.
In today’s reading, Paul has been moving steadily toward an appeal to the people in the church at Corinth, and as we reach the verses before us, that appeal finds the fullness of its voice. As we heard a moment ago as we read, this passage is an intensely careful, thorough proclamation of the message that in Christ we have been reconciled to God. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, Paul says. The old has gone, the new has come, and what follows is a succinct description of the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. That’s very important to get ahold of because it is foundational to our understanding of how it is we have been saved. But contextually speaking, what we want to understand here is that Paul uses the gospel truths in this passage not just to point out the saving work of Christ, but also as a way to show the framework of his own ministry on Christ’s behalf.
Here’s what I mean. Look, if you would, at the opening verse. In the past, Paul says, he used to regard people – including the Lord Jesus Himself, by the way – in a mere earthly, non-spiritual, external, worldly kind of way. But when Christ met Paul on the Damascus road and changed him from the inside out, that all changed. Since that moment in time, Paul, in having the scales of unbelief and spiritual dullness removed from his eyes, not only no longer regards Jesus Christ in a merely worldly way, he no longer regards anyone in a merely worldly way. Now as he regards men and women, he does so through the loving eyes of His Savior, and his new priorities in life have nothing to do with his wants and his needs and his self promotion, but everything to do with meeting the spiritual needs of the people around him. The way to meet those needs is by connecting folks to Jesus, and in fact, Paul’s whole reason for existing has become wrapped up in that activity. How does he explain it? “God,” he says, “reconciled me to Himself in Christ...and not only has He reconciled me, He has now also given me the ministry of reconciliation.” What is he saying? He’s saying that there is an authenticity to his ministry, because he’s not preaching anything that he hasn’t already been through himself. He is confessing in a humble but authoritative way to the people in Corinth that he would never be in a place to act as a reconciler if he had not gone through the pain of brokenness and the need for reconciliation himself. Paul is a sinner who has been saved; a new creation in Christ Jesus from whom the old has gone and to whom the new has come.
So you see, when Paul says to the church that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them, he knows that of which he speaks. When he says to the people of Corinth, I and my fellow ministers are coming to you as ambassadors of Christ, elder statesmen of the Lord Jesus, men tempered and trained in the school Christian experience, guys who have been there – which is what the word “ambassador” connotes – this is not something to take lightly. In fact, it is because Paul realizes the magnitude of that which he has been saved from and the blessing of what he has been saved to that he is so passionately committed to his life of ministry; ministry even to people who talk about him behind his back and kick him in the teeth and mock his lifestyle and question his integrity. Ministry even to people like the ones in Corinth. “We implore you on Christ's behalf,” Paul says: “Be reconciled to God. For God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
As we wrap up for the day, what a powerful word from the Lord through his servant the apostle Paul. What a critically important appeal – that we be reconciled to God. And what a wonderfully hopeful and blessed example in Paul himself: that if God in Christ reconciled to himself even a Christian-bashing, Jesus-hating, disciple-murdering man like Paul was, there is surely a place for all of us at the cross. Are you reconciled to God? Come to Calvary, to the cross, to the Savior who stretched out His arms and died there for you, and receive the life in Him that is new and eternal. More to come as we continue, so do stay with us as we proceed!
Thanks so much for being with me today everyone; take care, and I’ll see you again next time!