Friday, August 07, 2009

2 Corinthians 5:11-15

11Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Dig Deeper
One of my favorite television shows used to be the Crocodile Hunter, starring Steve Irwin. Irwin, before his untimely death, had become quite well known for his enthusiasm and his infectious passion for animal life. A typical episode of the show might find Irwin going deep into some swamp or lake area to remove a crocodile. Usually the crocodile had gotten itself into some precarious situation and Irwin needed to rescue it and move it to a safer location. In order to do this, though, he had to catch and subdue the crocs. The crocodiles were not usually very cooperative because they had no clue what he was doing. Thus, while he was trying to save these crocodiles, they would actually try to bite and even kill him. Many people thought that Irwin was crazy. The question always came up, why would he do these things? Certainly, one reason was that the crocodiles were in danger of dying, that was true. It was also true that he wanted to bring them to a place of safety. Those could both definitely be listed as motivations for doing what he did, but they were not the ultimate motivator. The ultimate motivator was that Irwin loved the crocodiles, plain and simple. His passion for them drove him to do what he did.

The question is what really compels Paul to do what he was doing? This was, no doubt, a confusing question for his critics. If Paul had been taking support and making money, it would have been obvious. Much to their frustration, though, he wasn’t doing that. The only other plausible explanation was that he must have been crazy; his so-called Damascus road experience must have been a delusion. After all, they likely argued, if Paul really had been in God’s presence the way he claimed, then why didn’t his appearance reflect it the way Moses’ face had? No, he must have been a fraud because he didn’t need a veil, his physical appearance was so weak, and because of his constant suffering.

Paul has repeatedly offered up defenses of his apostolic ministry, and in the last section, he offered up two explanations for his motivation. The first is the hope of resurrection. No matter how difficult the present sufferings may be at times, those in Christ have the promise of resurrection into the age to come. The second motivator is the promise of judgment for all human beings. Those in Christ, then, have not only the positive motivation of resurrection, but also the negative motivation of realizing that all mankind will step before the judgment seat of Christ. Those in Christ have nothing to fear, for this is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1). Yet it is a powerful reminder that it is completely worth standing firm in our faith and not shrinking back.

Paul, in fact says that he desires to persuade men with the gospel of Jesus Christ because he understands the fear of the Lord. He knows the judgment that God mercifully allowed him to escape, but he also knows the danger that those who have not entered into Christ are in. That his motivations are pure and straight forward is obvious to God and to anyone who truly looks at Paul’s life with any level of honesty. Paul is careful to make it clear that he is walking the fine line between boasting in Christ and boasting in self. He is not commending himself, but Christ, and he wants his fellow brother and sisters in Christ to take pride and build their hope on what God has done in Paul’s life, and what he has done and will continue to do in their lives. Paul contrasts that with his critics who can’t see the true reasons for what he does, and can’t understand the true Godly source of his ministry. These are the ones who can only understand what is seen rather than what is in the heart. They should be like God who looks at the heart rather than appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). The word translated “answer” in the NIV can be used as a Hebrew idiom, and would probably best be understood as Paul telling them that he wants to give them the opportunity to be “Ill-disposed” towards those who take pride in what is seen.

Even if Paul is crazy, as his opponents claim, then it has been for the sake of God. If he is in his right mind, as he would maintain, then it is not only for the sake of God but for them. Either way, the claims of the critics don’t really stand up against Paul’s behavior. They were simply perplexed because all they could see was appearances. They were unable to look at Paul’s heart, and thus, they could never have understood Paul. Why? Because the true motivating factor for Paul (the one that even outweighed the hope of resurrection and the reality of judgment) was Christ’s love. Paul is a living example of something that John wrote in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

Christ demonstrated this love by dying for us and allowing us all to enter into His death. Because he suffered and died, entering into the resurrection and the age to come, we can now enter into His death and receive His inheritance. Of this, Paul is convinced. There is no doubt in his mind that was is true of the Messiah is true of His people. Yet, this gift from the Messiah isn’t one of just entering into His life to gain all of the good things. It demands what seems like sacrifice to us. In order to truly enter into His life, we must first lay down our lives. If we insist on living our own life, we will never be able to enter into His. The call for us, then, is to realize that we have entered into the life of Christ (Romans 6:3-4) and our obligation is to live the life of Christ to the full.

If we add this all up it becomes clear that Paul’s motivating factor was the love that the Messiah had shown his people and was being made manifest in his resurrection life coupled with the great hope of resurrection in the age to come. It was this belief in the certainty of the resurrection and the ability to live by faith in that reality rather than the present age that drove the early church and made them able to change the world and stand strong despite the incredible persecution that they faced. We often look back at the apostolic church with admiration and wonder how we can get back to that brand of powerful Christianity. The answer to that does not lie in organizing our church government in just the way that they did it or finding the right combination of elders, deacons, and evangelists. The path back to the counter-cultural power lies in the understanding of resurrection. A proper understanding of the resurrection of Christ and those in him drives God’s people to begin reconciling the world to God (2 Cor. 5:14-21). We are not polishing brass on a sinking ship when we expand God’s kingdom in the present age. Because of resurrection, what we do now matters (1 Cor. 15:58). Beyond that, though, a people that believe that the resurrection life that we have now is a pointer and a promise to the age to come cannot be deterred. The Roman Empire found that you could not intimidate or stop a people that truly believed in resurrection. It motivated them, it drove them to live differently, it was the power of the gospel on display in their lives. The true gospel which Paul said repeatedly was this message of resurrection (Rom. 1:1-6; 2 Tim. 1:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:8-11; 1Cor. 15:1-7, 20; Col. 1:21-23) has a power that will transform the world. That’s what we need to connect with and get back to.

Devotional Thought
What compels and motivates you in your Christian life. Is it obligation, is it fear, is it not wanting to look bad, or is it the love of Christ and the hope of resurrection? Have you truly entered into the life of Christ? What areas of your life are not currently consistent with living the life of Christ?

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