NOTES II Corinthians
5:11-21 (click here for
Paul has just completed one of the clearest passages in the New Testament explaining that physical death does not separate us from God. We go to be with Christ when our earthly tent dies. Paul even states, "As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord[we] would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Cor. 5:6, 8) He concludes his discourse on being with the Lord by reminding the Corinthians that everyone must stand before Christ's judgment seat to receive from Him "what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (v. 10)
Paul carries this theme of accountability to God into the next section of his letter. "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men," he writes.
He submits himself to God's accounting of him, and because he is committed to transparency and truth before God and before those to whom he ministers, he continues to present the truth about himself to the Corinthians and other new believers. The false apostles and teachers who had infiltrated the Corinthian church were actively trying to discredit Paul, and they were having some success.
In 1 Corinthians Paul mentions the fact that he has received word that brothers in the Corinthian church were divided in their loyalties. Some claimed to follow him; others claimed to follow Apollos, and still others claimed to be followers of Jesus. Paul took them to task for dividing themselves. These men, he says, are nothing; Jesus Christ is the head of all. (see 1 Cor. 1:11-17; 3:3-5; 4:2-5)
Paul repeatedly defended his apostleship. His detractors were trying to convince people that Paul was not a true apostle, but he continually reminded them that he had personally been called by Jesus to be his apostle. He appeals to them to remember that he is their father in Christ. (1 Cor. 4:15) Paul shows his deep love for this obstreperous church as he pleads with them to acknowledge his authenticity. They themselves, he tells them, are his greatest recommendation. Their relationships with Jesus is the result of his ministry to them, and their conversion testifies to his integrity as an apostle of Jesus. (see 2 Cor. 3:2-5) He also reminds them that his ministry bears all the hallmarks of a true apostle. (2 Cor. 12:11-13)
Paul challenges the Corinthians to respond to those who defame him by calling them to look past outward appearances and to see the truth about his heart. He has told them that he will "boast of [them] in the day of the Lord," (1 Cor. 1:14) and he wants them to be able to boast of him as well. This boasting is not idle, self-aggrandizing talk. Paul boasts of Christ's work in the Corinthians' lives, and he wants them to see also that Christ is at work in him. He is not puffing himself up as a teacher in order to build fame and prestige for himself. On the contrary, he is being obedient to Christ at the expense of privation and hardship and near-death experiences. Unlike his detractors, Paul is not pretending to be an apostle in order to garner a following. He IS an apostle, and he longs for those he loves, those to whom he preached the good news, to recognize his integrity and defend and respect him.
Crazy for Christ
Verse 13 suggests that some might have been accusing Pal of being not quite in his right mind. "If we are out of our mind," he writes, "it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you."
Possibly Paul's remarkable conversion, recorded in Acts 9:1-19, caused some detractors to declare him sensational and crazy. Another reason some Gentiles might have considered him crazy was his relentless preaching of Christ crucified. The Greek mind made no sense out of a God who would become human and suffer persecution and death. The cross seemed ridiculous. (see 1 Cor. 1:18-19)
Paul also boasted, although with the comment that he knew there was nothing for him to gain, about his mysterious experience of being "caught up to the third heaven." There God allowed him to experience things "man is not permitted to tell." (2 Cor. 12:1-5) God apparently gave him a glimpse of eternity, a peek into the reality of what it means to be fully with God. The things he experienced would not make sense to us in our three-dimensional world. We would misuse or misinterpret the things he saw if we were to know them. This experience, however, undoubtedly informed many of Paul's statements about the surety of spiritual reality, including his discussions about what happens after death, the resurrection, the return of Christ, and living by the Holy Spirit here on earth.
Further, Paul feared that some of the Corinthian believers might think him emotionally over-wrought because of his deep love and jealousy for their loyalty to truth. (see 2 Cor. 11:1-2) Since the issue of his authenticity had become so dominant and since many apparently wondered if he was "all there", Paul risked "boasting" about his experiences as a way of illustrating his commitment to Christ. In fact, he acknowledges that he has made a fool of himself by boasting, but, he says, "you drove me to it." (2 Cor. 12:11)
The reality about Paul, however, is that he was far from crazy, and he presented the gospel clearly and plainly. His accusers were attempting to malign his character and impugn his integrity, but, he reminded the Corinthians, he had never given them mixed messages. "Our message to you is not 'Yes' and 'No.' For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by mewas not 'Yes' and 'No,' but in him it has always been 'Yes' in Christ." (2 Cr. 1:18-19) He also reminds them that he has "renounced secret and shameful ways," and he does not use deception or distort the word of God. (2 Cor. 4:2) He is not promoting himself; rather, he is upholding Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5)
Unlike a person with emotional or psychological problems, Paul went out of his way to nurture and reassure the people to whom he ministered of both his love and God's love. He continually stressed their accountability to God who had saved them and had provided them with the power of His Spirit to live holy lives. Paul lived his life for Christ, and his energy was spent proclaiming truth and nurturing the new believers. He did not seek fame or gain; he live exclusively for Christ. His love for the Corinthians was deep and genuine because his love came from God. He did not live his life of persecution and imprisonment and slander for the sake of his own advancement. He lived for Jesus. (Philippians 1:21)
Motivated by Christ's Love
Paul continues his argument that he is indeed in his right mind by saying that Christ's love compels him. Jesus died for all humanity, "and therefore all died." There are two ways one can understand this statement. One is that because of Jesus' death, all humanity experiences death in one of two ways: either Jesus' death confirms one's own death, or one experiences eternal life and the defeat of death by accepting Jesus' death for himself or herself. The other way to understand this passage is that Paul is talking to believers and is describing the effect of Jesus' death on Christ-followers. In other words, a Christ-follower experiences death to his or her own mortal desires and experiences the life-giving transformation of the Holy Spirit's power in him. (See notes in NIV Study Bible.)
Romans 6:6-7 explains how a Christ-follower experiences Jesus' death in himself: "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin."
To the Galatians Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God." (Gal. 2:20)
"For you died," Paul wrote to the Colossians, "and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Col. 3:3)
When we accept Jesus we die to our natural selves. We are no longer the way we were when we were born into the world. Our spirits, disconnected from God, become bonded to him by the indwelling Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus. Our spirits come alive, and we are no longer dead in our sins. Instead, we are alive to God. We have been born from above, and forever we are different. This difference is not merely metaphorical; it is absolutely real. We live in a new reality-a reality that connects us to God and eternity.
Our new life, however, is not possible unless we willingly die to our old lives. Unless we are willing to give up coping and controlling and struggling to live and to allow God's love to soften and change our hearts, we cannot be born from above. We cannot truly live.
Jesus said, "A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." (John 5:25) The context of this verse makes it clear that Jesus is not talking about physical death. He is talking about the spiritually dead coming to life when they hear and internalize the voice of Jesus-the amazing truth of the gospel.
In John 11:25 Jesus further stated the paradox of life transcending death: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
"Those who live," as Paul referred to Christ-followers, are those who have been willing to die to their struggles to manage and control their lives and instead allow Jesus to regenerate them, bringing them from their inherent death into eternity, bringing their souls to life, filling them with his own power and peace and love. When people are born again, when they become "those who live," their lives, paradoxically, are no longer about themselves.
"For none of us lives to himself alone," Paul says, and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord." (Romans 14:7-8)
With a reborn heart and a living spirit, our motives and understandings change. We desire to grow in Christ and to live with congruence between our thinking, our longing, and our behavior. Congruence between what we believe and what we do, however, is impossible in our natural state. Israel failed to live as God asked them to live, even though they wanted the blessings he promised. Their desires, however, were not enough to ensure that they would live faithfully. It is only by the power of God's Spirit in us that we can surrender our wills and perverted human desires to his love. Our natural sinful selves are "crucified with Christ" when we accept Jesus, and we receive a new heart of flesh instead of stone from the Spirit of God in us. Only when we are willing to sacrifice our failures and dreams and hard work to Jesus can we begin to embrace the freedom from internal bondage that holds us hostage and creates dissonance between what we long for and what we actually experience. When we respond to the transformation of the Holy Spirit working in us, instead of living to satisfy our cravings and dreams, we are satisfied by his love so we can live for his causes instead of searching for our own satisfaction.
When we enter the ranks of "those who live," we become entirely new creations. Our old understandings of life and death and eternity completely change as our newly-awakened spirits come alive and touch eternity through the indwelling Holy Spirit. This new reality is a spiritual fact that is not visible or explainable by normal scientific observations. It is, however, real. Becoming a new creation is not a metaphor. Internally we become different people. We are no longer isolated; we are directly connected to our Father in heaven. This new reality is spiritually discerned, and normal worldly explanations cannot address it.
The new birth will produce visible results in people who surrender to the love and discipline of God. It will yield the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) These results will be observable, but unregenerate people will attempt to explain these phenomena in strictly physical or psychological terms. It is true that spiritual health and life affect our physical and psychological selves profoundly, but the CAUSE of spiritual health cannot be explained by human understanding. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. (see 1 Cor. 1 and 2)
When we are born from above, Paul explains, we no longer see people "from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ this way, we do so no longer." (v.16)
When we see people from a worldly point of view, we are impressed by their education, their money, and their power. These things, however, are foolishness in the light of true reality.
"Where is the wise man?" Paul asks; "Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor. 1:20)
The things that earn respect and admiration from natural men and women in the world mean nothing to God. In fact, he transforms and empowers people that the world would see as insignificant or even as failures. "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;" Paul continues in 1 Cor. 1:27-28; "God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
The way we naturally evaluate each other is worldly; it is the result of our own spiritual deadness. Without the power of God bringing us to life, worldly success looks satisfying. Having money and power and respect appears to fill the void every person feels deep inside his or her heart. The emptiness that gnaws in every human's soul demands satisfaction, and achievement and power appear to offer relief.
Even the weapons of power people brandish against each other in their fight for dominance are powerless in the light of eternity. Intimidation by boasting and by flaunting one's accomplishments may gain one some amount of worldly dominance, but it is unable to change a person's heart or motives. Christ-followers have "divine power to demolish strongholds." Normal human weapons of war or of dominance only carry the illusion of power. They may possess the ability to wound or even kill another person, but they do not posses the power to kill a person's soul or to touch spiritual truth. (see 2 Cor. 10:4; 11:18)Worldly methods cannot change people or effect peace. Only the weapons of the Spirit can accomplish any kind of true or permanent change. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Not only do we evaluate each other inaccurately when we see each other from worldly points of view, but we also evaluate Christ wrongly. Isaiah prophesied how people would evaluate Jesus. "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him," he writes in Isaiah 53:2-4; he had "nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hid their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not."
Paul further elaborates on the inaccurate ways people see Jesus in their natural condition: "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:22-24)
When we are born again and see each other from a spiritual point of view instead of a worldly one, we see each other differently. No longer do we lust after "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." (Ephesians 2:3) We see each other through the window of grace; we see each other as objects of God's love and salvation. We see others and ourselves as "God's workmanship," created to do the "good works" God has foreordained for us to do-works that spring from the Spirit's love in us, not from our own impulses. (Eph. 2:10)
We also begin to see those who are not saved as deserving of our grief and compassion. No longer do we evaluate people by their social, financial, or professional accomplishments. We see them as people who are alive or who are dead, and those who are dead need the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus. (Matthew 23:37-39)
Becoming new creations is a real change. It's not just a change of mind or a change of tastes or the discovery of a new lifestyle or model of behavior. Becoming a new creation is an actual change in the reality of a person's identity and nature. It appears intangible to others in the physical world, but if we could see beyond the structure of space-time, we would be able to see the change. Becoming a new creation is a spiritual change, and that is not limited to space and time. We can't see or touch it because the new birth is a reality that is eternal, not time-bound. We can't perceive it completely with our senses because we are locked, for now, in our mortal bodies which function entirely in time and space.
When we are born again, however, we do become aware of reality in a new way. Our spirits are brought to life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and we become connected to eternity. We begin to experience eternal life. Our bodies will yet decay, but our new, reborn selves will never die. When we are born again we have an immortal spirit living eternally still housed in a temporary tent. The tent obstructs our perception of the reality beyond our universe and the four dimensions within which we function. But our now-living spirits do begin to know truth and understand things that are eternal. The Spirit of God teaches our spirits, and the Bible becomes a living book full of living words from a living God. A person who is not born again, who does not have the Holy Spirit indwelling him or her, cannot understand the spiritual realities that begin to come into focus for a Christ-follower. An unregenerated person cannot understand these things because spiritual truths are spiritually discerned, not intellectually discerned, and with a naturally dead spirit, spiritual reality and truth will not make sense because the "sensor" is not activated, so to speak. (see 1 Cor. 2:14)
When we become born again, the disciplines and signs we inflict on our mortal bodies count for nothing. The new creation within us is what counts. (see Gal. 6:15) The Holy Spirit calls us to life, and on this side of the resurrection, our bodies are still doomed to die. The new life we experience is the life of our spirits as they accept Christ's sacrifice and become connected to God and part of his family. (see John 6"63; 1:12-13, 3:5-8)
When we are born again, we become free from the law and its curse, and we begin to live in a new way-by the teaching and nudging of the Holy Spirit. (see Romans 7:6) We leave behind our "old self", our natural condition of having dead spirits corrupted by "deceitful desires," and we become new creatures "created to be like God," righteous and holy. (see Eph. 4:22-24) This righteousness and holiness have nothing to do with our own self-discipline; they are entirely a gift from God as he credits us with Christ's righteousness and changes our motives and behaviors by the continuous love and teaching of the Holy Spirit in us.
This new birth, this miraculous transformation from death to life that we experience in Christ, is entirely the result of God's initiative. Our reconciliation with God is entirely a gift from Him through the death of Jesus his Son. "All this," Paul says in verse 18, "is from God." God did not provide reconciliation because we begged him for it. Neither did he bargain with us and say that he would reconcile with us if we met his demands for good behavior or proper offerings. Rather, God initiated our reconciliation. He is the one who set salvation into motion and asks us to receive it as a gift from him.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) Jesus died for us when we were completely unable to appreciate his death. We were spiritually dead and separated from God, and Jesus gave up his life and died the second death for us so we could be restored to communion and likeness with him.
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:36) All things: Christ's death, his resurrection, our new birth, our eternal security, the work he gives us to do-all things are from him. He is the Creator and initiator of all things. All things we receive come through God, and all things we do through his power are offered back to him. God is the focus of all creation. He is both the sole giver and the ultimate receiver of everything.
God is sovereign. We have no response except to bow before him in humility and to praise him for choosing us and adopting us into his family.
Because of God's sovereign gift of grace, we are reconciled to God-we are no longer separated from him by our sins. We are restored to intimacy with Him. Because we are reconciled to him, because we are now part of God's family and carry within us the Spirit of God as his representatives on earth, he asks us to go into the world as ministers of reconciliation. Jesus asks us to tell the world that God "was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." (v.19)
Jesus, the only sinless person-the only God-man-took all the world's sins on himself, experienced separation from God, and died the second death instead of us. He did all of this in order to satisfy the demands of the law and of righteousness. God's law said that sin demanded death.
Jesus satisfied that demand so that we could receive his righteousness. We, who were born in sin and separation from God, can inherit Jesus' own righteousness when we accept his sacrifice for us. This arrangement is not logical by human standards. But God transcends human understanding, and this mystery of grace is a free gift to us from him.
Although the mechanism of our becoming the righteousness of Christ because Jesus became sin for us is a mystery, scripture does help us understand it. In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul says, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption."
Because of Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit, and he makes real to us our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
The righteousness that is ours from God is by faith alone. It is a righteousness "apart from the law." (see Romans 1:17; 3:21-22; We do not earn it or perform in order to receive it. It is ours by faith in Jesus and his sacrifice and resurrection. It is not a righteousness of our own "that comes by the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (Philippians 3:8-9)
Covered with the righteousness of Jesus, we move in this world as ambassadors of Christ, new creations with living spirits eternally connected to God, bringing his light into the darkness of earth. As new creations in Christ, we bear the miraculous news that people can be reconciled to God. Those bound in despair and pain and shame and guilt can be set free; they, too, can become new creations and adopted into God's family. They, too, can share the resurrection power of Jesus in their mortal bodies and can become ambassadors of reconciliation.
Jesus is asking you to become an ambassador of reconciliation to the world. He asks you to allow him to make you alive, to allow his love and grace to make you a new creation in him. He is asking you to stop seeing your colleagues, family, and neighbors through worldly points of view. He asks you not to obsess over injustice or to plan revenge. Rather, Jesus is asking you to allow him to grace your interactions with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
Jesus asks you to trust him with the conflicts and confusion in your life. He also asks you to trust him with the character flaws in you. He asks you to trust him enough to give you his eternal point of view about the people and situations which upset you. He wants to give you his spiritual viewpoint so you will see your problems with eyes of hope instead of with eyes of despair and resentment. When we pass from death to life, the Holy Spirit changes our perspective and gives us eternity's insight into reality.
Let Jesus take charge of the people and events that annoy you and make you feel threatened and misunderstood. Give those people into God's hands and ask him to hold the situation(s) in his wisdom. Ask him to deal justly with those involved, and ask him to help you see people as he wants you to see them and to feel about them as he wants you to feel. Ask him to fill you with his wisdom and grace and to make streams of living water flow from you. Ask Jesus to fill the empty, bruised places in your heart and to be all you need.
Praise God for giving us hope and new life through Jesus. Praise Jesus for becoming sin for us and for making us the righteousness of God. Praise the Holy Spirit for living in us and for making us ministers of reconciliation.
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:36)
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