THE CONTEXT: Underlying much of 2 Corinthians is the fact that "false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ's apostles" (11:13) have mounted significant opposition to Paul's ministry. Paul deals with this opposition in detail in chapters 10-13, but the conflict influences what he has to say elsewhere as well. These opponents have treated Paul as an imposter (6:8). When we hear Paul talk about reconciliation (vv. 18-19)-and God "having committed to us the word of reconciliation" (v. 19)-and his claim to be an ambassador of Christ (v. 20)-we should keep in mind that he makes these statements, in part, in response to the opposition that he has been facing. 2
CORINTHIANS 5:14-15 - ONE HAS DIED FOR ALL
14For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died.15He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again.
While these verses are not included in the lectionary reading, the preacher needs to be aware of them. When, in verse 16, Paul says, "therefore," he is referring back to the things he said in verses 14 and 15.
"For the love of Christ constrains us" (v. 14a). "The love of Christ" could refer to Christ's love for us or our love of Christ. The ambiguity could be deliberate-Paul might intend it to mean both. In any event, it is love that motivates Paul to minister to the Corinthian church. Having experienced Christ's love for him-and having responded with love for Christ-Paul feels a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel far and wide.
As noted above, Paul is dealing with critics in the Corinthian church who have challenged his apostolic credentials. Paul's defense permeates the whole book-and this verse is one example. Paul is not serving to gain honor or money. He is serving because of Christ's love for him and his love for Christ.
"because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died" (v. 14b). In the Jewish sacrificial regimen, thousands of animals were sacrificed each year. Each family contributed its own sacrifices of lambs or pigeons. Jewish law specified in detail the offerings to be made-and how they were to be made. Various offerings served various purposes, but atonement for sins-bringing humans into harmony with God-was a major purpose (Leviticus 1:4; 17:11-14). God allowed the blood (death) of the sacrificial animal to take the place of the blood (death) of the penitent offering the sacrifice.
This same idea was continued into the New Testament, where Christ's death on the cross was seen to be the final and ultimate sacrifice-the sacrifice sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. That's what Paul means when he says "one died for all."
"therefore all have died" (v. 14c). In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about Christians as having "died to sin" (Romans 6:2). He says that we "were buried therefore with (Christ) through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).
"He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again" (v. 15). In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, "For he who has died has been freed from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:7-11).
We who have died to sin have been raised up to live a new life-a life not devoted to selfish purposes but devoted to the one "who for (our) sakes died and rose again."
2 CORINTHIANS 5:16-17 - NOT FROM A HUMAN POINT OF VIEW
16Therefore we know no one after the flesh (Greek: kata sarx-according to the flesh) from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. 17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.
"Therefore we know no one after the flesh (kata sarx-according to the flesh) from now on" (v. 16a). As noted above, "therefore" refers back to what Paul said in verses 14-15. Because Christ "died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again" (v. 15), Paul no longer regard others "after the flesh" or "according to the flesh" (v. 16).
In the New Testament, sarx is most frequently used as a contrast with that which is spiritual (John 3:6; 6:63; Romans 7:18; 8:3-6; Galatians 5:17). That is how Paul uses sarx in this verse. To view someonekata sarx(according to the flesh) means to view them by worldly standards-by their wealth or physical beauty or political influence or power. Those are the concerns of the natural person. Paul now regards people from a different perspective-a spiritual perspective.
One reason for this change in viewpoint is that Paul has become aware that the things that the world treasures are passing away. In the end, wealth, beauty, influence, and power will prove transient. Christ has come to point us to eternal values-and to offer us eternal life.
"Even though we have known Christ after the flesh" (v. 16b). Prior to becoming a Christian, Paul's name was Saul. Saul's role as a persecutor of the church is well known. He was complicit in the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58 - 8:1). He ravaged the church by entering Christian homes and committing Christians to prison (Acts 8:3). He breathed "threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). He saw Jesus as a charlatan and blasphemer-and Jesus' crucifixion as just punishment-and Christians as promulgators of a false religion.
People today often see Christ kata sarx-"after the flesh" or "according to the flesh". We are tempted to see Jesus as a good teacher-or a foolish visionary. Or we think of him as someone who lived "way back there," in a time and place that have no significance for our lives. More likely, we simply fail to think of him at all.
"yet now we know him so no more" (v. 16c). Saul's spiritual eyes were opened as a consequence of his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road-an encounter that temporarily blinded him physically. A light from heaven drove Saul to his knees, and a voice asked, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). When he asked, "Who are you, Lord?" the response was, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise up and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:5-6).
Saul went to the home of Ananias, who laid hands on him and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:17). "Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized. He took food and was strengthened" (Acts 9:18-19). "Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20).
This last phrase, "he is the Son of God," show how completely Saul's view of Jesus had changed-from charlatan to Son of God-from blasphemer to Messiah.
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ" (v. 17a). The phrase, "in Christ," is important. Paul uses it frequently. Some examples:
Being "in Christ" involves an all-encompassing relationship with Christ Jesus-a relationship that has saving power. That relationship involves receiving justification (being made righteous) as a gift rather than as an achievement, which makes us all equal at the foot of the cross, so there is "neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female." There is no room for boastfulness "in Christ," because we have all received the same gift.
"he is a new creation" (v. 17b). The vision of a new creation was important to the prophets. Ezekiel had a vision of a new temple, filled with the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 40-47). Isaiah had a vision of the Lord comforting the exiles and leading them through the wilderness on straight highways (Isaiah 40)-of God's servant bringing justice to the nations (Isaiah 42)-of Cyrus of Persia making possible the new creation of Israel (Isaiah 45)-of Zion's children returning home (Isaiah 49).
This idea of a new creation or a new age carries forward into the New Testament.
"As the revelation of God's purposes in history, Christ undergirds all of creation (John 1:1-9; Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). Yet creation, according to Paul, remains in travail, 'groaning in labor pains' (Rom. 8:22). The new age that Paul foresaw is one that involved the completion of God's purposes in Christ, in the "revealing of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19)" (Brown, "Creation").
"The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new" (v. 17c). In one sense, this is not true. We still live in the old kosmos-the world that is opposed to God. We still see people living their old kosmoslives-and, try as we might, we find ourselves too often living by kosmos standards and doing kosmos things.
However, in another sense, Paul is pointing to the ultimate reality. Christ's coming to earth has divided history into "Before Christ" and "After Christ." We no longer have to look for the Messiah-the Savior-because he has come. Christ is in the process of redeeming the kosmos. He has already redeemed those of us who have placed our faith in him. We have become new and different people. The difference will not be complete until we are permitted to join Christ in the heavenly realm-but Christ has already started his work in our lives. We are, indeed, new people.
The contrast between old and new is most apparent to those whom Christ has saved from addictions-or lives of crime-or other self-destructive behaviors. While those of us who were raised as Christians are still sinners, we may have been spared the worst of the "old" behaviors, so that the contrast between old and new is less apparent. I am reminded of the famous Luther quotation:
"God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be strong, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign."
2 CORINTHIANS 5:18-19 - GOD RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST
18But all things are of God, who reconciled (Greek: katallasso) us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation (katallage); 19namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses (Greek: paraptoma), and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.
But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ
"But all things are of God, who reconciled (katallasso) us to himself through Jesus Christ"(v. 18a). The idea of reconciliation is important in Paul's epistles. He uses either the verb, katallasso, or the noun, katallage, ten times in Romans (5:10, 11; 11:15); 1 Corinthians (7:11); and 2 Corinthians (5:18, 19, 20).
Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship from bad to good-from enmity to friendship. When used of nations, it involves establishing peace between nations that were previously at war with one another.
Note that it is God who reconciled us-restored us in our relationship with God by bringing about a change in our lives. This is not something we could have done for ourselves. It required God's initiative, because our unholiness was incompatible with God's holiness. Paul says that God accomplished this reconciliation "through Jesus Christ"-through the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
Reconciliation is related to several other New Testament concepts-forgiveness, grace, justification, and redemption-but is distinct from them:
But Paul says that Christ died for our sins while we were yet sinners. We are justified by his blood-by his sacrifice. Therefore, we have been reconciled to God (Romans 5:8-10)
"and gave to us the ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation"(katallage) (v. 18a). The word diakonia is often used in the broader sense of "service." Here it is used to speak specifically of a particular kind of service-Christian ministry. Paul was called to the "ministry of reconciliation." God has called Paul to be a reconciler-to help reconcile person to person-and people to God.
Given the conflict that underlies this letter, Paul's "ministry of reconciliation" is particularly significant. He has called the Corinthians to forgive those who have caused them pain (2:5-11). He has engaged in a "service of righteousness" among them (3:9). He has proclaimed "Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (4:5). He is dealing directly with problems in the Corinthian church-not as a faultfinder but as a reconciler.
"Ministry of reconciliation" is one name for Paul's ministry. He also calls himself a servant "of a new covenant" (3:6) and as rendering "a service of righteousness" (3:9). These are not necessarily distinctive ministries, but are instead different facets of a holistic ministry.
"namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (v. 19a). Verse 19 restates and expands upon what was said in verse 18.
This phrase makes it clear that God is the actor in this reconciliation drama. It also makes it clear that Christ is the agent through whom God accomplishes this reconciliation.
"not reckoning to them their trespasses" (paraptoma) (v. 19b). In the New Testament, the Greek word hamartiais the word more usually used to mean sin. It has the sense of missing the mark-or transgressing-rebelling-revolting. Paraptoma is similar in meaning, and is used of those who make a mistake or engage in wrongdoing.
We have all made mistakes or engaged in wrongdoing. Most of us commit these trespasses on an almost daily basis. Married couples who have succeeded in keeping their marriage alive for a long time know the importance of "not reckoning... trespasses." If husbands or wives were to keep a record of every trespass, the relationship would soon suffer such terrible damage that nothing could restore it.
God models for us the kind of behavior that underlies reconciliation. He makes it a point not to count trespasses against people, so that they might become holy-eligible to be reconciled to God-fit to be brought into God's holy presence.
"and having committed to us the word of reconciliation" (v. 19c). In verse 18c, Paul said that God "has given us the ministry of reconciliation." Here he restates that thought in slightly different words.
2 CORINTHIANS 5:20-21 - AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
20We are therefore ambassadors (Greek: presbeuo) on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For him who knew no sin he made to be sin (hamartia)on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness (dikaiosyne) of God.
"We are therefore ambassadors (presbeuo) on behalf of Christ" (v. 20a). Originally, the word presbeuo meant "old" or "eldest." However, it came to be used for important positions that required the kind of wisdom that comes with age and experience. In this instance, ambassador is a good translation, because that word brings together the ideas of wisdom and authority.
An ambassador is an agent of a ruler, such as Caesar. An ambassador does not decide what shall be done, but instead delivers to others the message that the ruling authority chooses to send.
Nevertheless, an ambassador is far from a simple lackey. According to Jewish custom (shaliah), the one sent is fully representative of the one who did the sending. Therefore, an ambassador speaks with the authority of the ruling authority, and people to whom the ambassador has been sent are expected to treat the ambassador with the kind of respect that they would pay the ruling authority. Failure to do so would bring severe repercussions.
"as though God were entreating by us" (v. 20b). As an ambassador for Christ, Paul is delivering the Gospel message with which Christ has entrusted him. The message is God's. The messenger is Paul.
"we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (v. 20c). In our comments on verse 18a above, we said that it is God who reconciled us. Reconciliation required that God take the initiative.
Now in verse 20, Paul entreats the Corinthian Christians to be reconciled to God. This raises two questions:
(1) Is the initiative now in the Corinthians' hands?
(2) If the people to whom Paul is writing are already Christians, haven't they already been reconciled to God?
With regard to the first question, God has taken the initiative to effect reconciliation. The first move was God's. The Corinthian Christians now need to take advantage of God's initiative by accepting the reconciliation that God has offered.
With regard to the second question, sin is an ongoing problem, so reconciliation is an ongoing process. The Corinthian Christians have begun the process, but it is far from complete. The Corinthian church has all sorts of problems-evidence that the Corinthian Christians are guilty of many sins. Therefore, they need to keep coming to God's well to drink of the forgiveness and reconciliation that God has made possible.
"For him who knew no sin (God) made to be sin (hamartia) on our behalf" (v. 21a). As noted in the comments on verse 19 above, hamartia is the usual word for sin in the New Testament.
In what sense is Christ a sinner? The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus was without sin (Hebrew 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5), so this can't mean that he committed sins.
Frankly, I have trouble distinguishing between these two ideas. Christ as a sin-offering and Christ bearing the consequences of our sins seem like one and the same thing to me. I found a number of commentaries that tried to explain the difference-always in favor of the second option-but none that I found compelling.
"so that in him we might become the righteousness (dikaiosyne) of God" (v. 21b). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word sedaq means righteousness, and the word mispat means justice. Those two words are closely related. While both involve right behavior, this right behavior is a natural outgrown of right relationship with God, who is the ultimate righteous one. In the case of Israel, righteousness grew naturally out of the covenant relationship that exists between Yahweh and Israel, and involved the establishment of justice.
In the New Testament, the word dikaiosyne is usually translated righteousness, but it is sometimes translated justice or justification. As in the Old Testament, righteousness in the New Testament involves a right relationship with God.
The phrase, "the righteousness (dikaiosyne) of God," is also found in Paul's epistle to the Romans (1:17; 3:5, 21-26, 10:3). Paul says:
"But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified (Greek: dikaioo) freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God's forbearance; to demonstrate his righteousness (dikaios) at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier (dikaioo) of him who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26-note the similarity of the word that is translated "justified" and the word that is translated "righteousness").
When Paul speaks of "the righteousness of God," does he mean the righteousness that is characteristic of God or the righteousness that God imputes to those who have faith? Scholars are divided, but it seems best to say "both/and" instead of "either/or":
2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-2 - DO NOT RECEIVE GOD'S GRACE IN VAIN
1 Working together, we entreat also that you not receive the grace of God in vain, 2a for he says, "At an acceptable time I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you." 2bBehold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.
"Working together, we entreat (Greek: parakaleo) also that you not receive the grace (charis) of God in vain"(6:1). In 5:20, Paul said, "as though God were entreating by us," which suggests that "working together" in 6:1 means "Paul working together with God."
The Greek word parakaleo combines two words, para (near) and kaleo (to call), and means to call near--to invite--to beseech--to exhort. It is a strong word that implies urgency. God, through his ambassador Paul, is entreating the Corinthian Christians to "not receive the grace of God in vain"--but rather to accept the grace of God and appropriate it to their lives.
Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God's lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness. God's grace is beyond measure (hyperballo Ephesians 2:7)--sufficient to cover our sins, no matter how numerous or grievous. We don't need to earn forgiveness, but need only accept the gift that Christ offers. Paul is urging these Corinthian Christians not to spurn this wonderful free gift.
"for he says, 'At an acceptable (Greek: dektos) time (Greek: kairos) I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you'" (6:2a). "For he says" refers to God. Paul is God's ambassador, and is delivering to these Corinthians what God has given him to say.
This verse quotes Isaiah 49:8. In its original context, it was news of the impending release of Israel from their Babylonian Exile. Paul appropriates that verse to speak of the salvation that God has made available through Christ.
There are two Greek words for time--chronos and kairos:
When Paul uses the phrase "acceptable time" here, then, he is telling these Christians about a special moment in history (the cross and resurrection) when God listened to them and helped them. They dare not spurn such an important Godly gift.
"Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation" (6:2b). Paul takes it one more step, saying that NOW is the acceptable time-- that NOW is the day of salvation for these Corinthian Christians. NOW is the moment that will determine their eternal destiny.
NOTES ON THE "WORK" OF RECONCILATION: If it sounds as if Paul is calling us to grit our teeth and try harder to be good, then we are missing the point of 2 Corinthians. Paul intends for us to see the world in a completely new way, so that our actions stem from this new understanding, not from trying harder.
2 Cor. 5:17-19: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
Paul wants us to become so thoroughly transformed that we become members of a "new creation." The mention of "creation" immediately takes us back to Genesis 1-2, the story of God's creation of the world. From the beginning God intended that men and women work together (Gen. 1:27; 2:18), in concert with God (Gen. 2:19), to "till the ground" (Gen. 2:15), "give names" to the creatures of the earth, and exercise "dominion" (Gen. 1:26) over the earth as God's stewards. God's intent for creation, in other words, includes work as a central reality of existence. When humans disobeyed God and marred the creation, work became cursed (Gen. 3:17-18), and humans no longer worked alongside God. Thus when Paul says, "Everything has become new," everything includes the world of work as a core element.
God brings the new creation into existence by sending his Son into the old creation to transform or "reconcile" it. "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself." Not just one aspect of the world, but the whole world. And those who follow Christ, who are reconciled to God by Christ, are appointed to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). We are agents to bring reconciliation to all spheres of the world. Every day as we go out to do our work we are to be ministers of this reconciliation. This includes reconciliation between people and God (evangelism and discipleship), between people and people (conflict resolution), and between people and their work (goods and services that meet genuine needs and improve the quality of life and care for God's creation).
There are three essential elements of the work of reconciliation. First, we must understand accurately what has gone wrong among people, God, and the creation. If we do not truly understand the ills of the world, then we cannot bring genuine reconciliation any more than an ambassador can effectively represent one country to another without knowing what's going on in both. Second, we must love other people and work to benefit them rather than to judge them. "We regard no one from a human point of view," Paul tells us (2 Cor. 5:16)-that is, as an object to be exploited, eliminated, or adulated, but as a person for whom "Christ died and was raised" (2 Cor. 5:15). If we condemn the people in our workplaces or withdraw from the daily places of life and work, we are regarding people and work from a human point of view. If we love the people we work among and try to improve our workplaces, products, and services, then we become agents of Christ's reconciliation. Finally, being seeds of God's creation, of course, requires that we remain in constant fellowship with Christ. If we do these things, we will be in a position to bring Christ's power to reconcile the people, organizations, places, and things of the world so that they too can become members of God's new creation.
BLB Commentary - 2 Cor. 5:16-21; 6:1-2
3. (2 Cor. 5:16) Because of a new life made possible by Jesus, old earthly attachments are far less important.
16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
a. We regard no one according to the flesh: Why? Because we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Because our earthly tent will be destroyed, but we will have a new body, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1). Because we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Because we do not glory in appearance, but we glory in heart (2 Corinthians 5:12). For all these reasons, we don't look to the image and appearance of the flesh, but to the substance of the heart.
b. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet we know Him thus no longer: Even those who knew Jesus in the flesh found their new relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit far more rewarding.
i. Because Paul writes we have known Christ according to the flesh, we can surmise that Paul knew of Jesus during the days of His earthly ministry, and probably even heard Jesus teach in Jerusalem. Paul may have even been among some of the Pharisees who often confronted Jesus! No doubt, Paul now looked back on what he remembered of Christ according to the flesh fondly. But at the same time, he knew his relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit was far better.
ii. "When he knew Christ after the flesh he considered Him as the leader of a new sect, the leader of a new party, a menace to holy religion. He says we do not see Him like that any more. We know Him now in the Spirit, by the Spirit." (Morgan)
iii. So, to have known Jesus in the flesh didn't guarantee anything. "Great numbers had followed Christ in person who afterwards deserted Him and demanded His crucifixion." (Hughes) Even the disciples were poor followers of Jesus until they knew Him by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
c. We know Him thus no longer: Some think that it would be better if Jesus were present with us according to the flesh. But it would not be, and Jesus knew this. This is why Jesus told His disciples It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you (John 16:7).
4. (2 Cor. 5:17) Jesus resurrection life gives us new life.
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
a. If anyone: This is a promise for anyone. Anyone! It doesn't matter what class, what race, what nationality, what language, or what level of intelligence. Anyone can be a new creation in Jesus Christ!
b. Is in Christ: This is a promise for anyone who is in Christ. This is not a promise for those who are in themselves, or in the religion of men, or in someone or something else. This is for those in Christ!
c. He is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Paul here teaches the great principle of regeneration. Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him by faith, and who are in Christ. The saved are not "just forgiven." They are changed into a new creation.
i. It is unfair for us to expect those who are not in Christ to live as if they were a new creation. However, it is not unfair to expect a changed life from people who say they are Christians! "I know no language, I believe there is none, that can express a greater or more thorough and more radical renewal, than that which is expressed in the term, 'a new creature.'" (Spurgeon)
ii. However, being a new creation doesn't mean that we are perfect. It means that we are changed, and that we are being changed.
d. Who makes us a new creation? This is something God alone can do in us. This isn't just "turning over a new leaf" or "getting your act together." But the life of a new creation is not something God does for us, but in us. So, we are told to put off ... the old man, and to put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
i. Being a new creation is a gift from God received by faith. "God is surely the author of the second creation as he was of the first." (Harris) "A phrase which argueth the greatest change imaginable, and such a one as can be wrought in the soul by no other power than the power of God." (Poole)
ii. The work of a new creation is even greater than God's work of creating the world. "My brethren, it was more difficult, if such terms are ever applicable to Omnipotence, it was more difficult to create a Christian than to create a world. What was there to begin with when God made the world? There was nothing; but nothing could not stand in God's way - it was at least passive. But, my brethren, in our hearts, while there was nothing that could help God, there was much that could and did oppose him. Our stubborn wills, our deep prejudices, our ingrained love of iniquity, all these, great God, opposed thee, and aimed at thwarting thy designs ... Yes, great God, it was great to make a world, but greater to create a new creature in Jesus Christ." (Spurgeon)
iii. Living as a new creation is something God works in us, using our will and our choices. So, we must both receive the gift of being a new creation, and be challenged to live the life of a new creation. But it is God's work in us that we must submit to. This reminds us that at its root, Christianity is all about what God has done for us, not what we can or should do for God. "Beloved, if you have no more religion than you have worked out in yourself, and no more grace than you have found in your nature, you have none at all. A supernatural work of the Holy Ghost must be wrought in every one of us, if we would see the face of God with acceptance." (Spurgeon)
e. All things have become new is the language of God's perfect, recreated work (Revelation 21:5). God wants to do a new thing in our life!
i. "The man is not only mended, but he is new made ... there is a new creation, which God himself owns as his workmanship, and which he can look on and pronounce very good." (Clarke)
5. (2 Cor. 5:18-19) The message and ministry of reconciliation.
18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and [a]He has [b]committed to us the word of reconciliation.
a. All things are of God: Paul is soaring high here, and wants the Corinthian Christians to know that he is writing of things that are of God, not of man. This work of a new creation and our eternal destiny are works of God, not something we have to earn and achieve.
b. God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ: God has initiated this ministry of reconciliation, even though He is the innocent party. He reconciled us to Himself; we did not reconcile ourselves to Him.
i. Importantly, God did this through Jesus Christ. God did not reconcile us to Himself by neglecting His holy justice, or "giving in" to sinful, rebellious humanity. He did it by an amazing, righteous, sacrifice of love. God demands not one bit less justice and righteousness from man under Jesus, but the demand has been satisfied through Jesus Christ.
c. And has given us the ministry of reconciliation: Having has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, now God expects us to take up the ministry of reconciliation, and has therefore committed to us the word of reconciliation.
i. Reconciliation comes by the word of reconciliation. God uses the preached word to reconcile men and women to Himself.
d. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself: Through all the terrors of the cross, God the Father was working in and with God the Son, reconciling the world to Himself. The Father and the Son worked together on the cross.
i. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself is all the more amazing when understood in light of what happened on the cross. At some point before Jesus died, before the veil was torn in two, before Jesus cried out it is finished, an awesome spiritual transaction took place. The Father lay upon the Son all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and Jesus bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the wrath of God for us.
ii. As horrible as the physical suffering of Jesus was, this spiritual suffering - the act of being judged for sin in our place - was what Jesus really dreaded about the cross; this was the cup - the cup of God's righteous wrath - that He trembled at drinking (Luke 22:39-46; Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). On the cross, Jesus became, as it were, an enemy of God, who was judged and forced to drink the cup of the Father's fury, so we would not have to drink that cup.
iii. Yet, at the same time, Paul makes it clear that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. They were working together. Though Jesus was being treated as if He were an enemy of God, He was not. Even as Jesus was being punished as if He were a sinner, He was performing the most holy service unto God the Father ever offered. This is why Isaiah can say, Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10). In and of itself, the suffering of the Son did not please the Father. But as it accomplished the work of reconciling the world to Himself, it was completely pleasing to God the Father.
iv. Robertson rightly comments: "We may not dare to probe too far into this mystery of Christ's suffering on the Cross, but this fact throws some light on the tragic cry of Jesus just before he died: 'My God, My God, why didst thou forsake me?'" In that cry (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34), Jesus expresses both His partnership with God the Father (My God) and the agonizing feeling of receiving the wrath of God that we deserved.
e. Not imputing their trespasses to them: Why? Because God has gone soft, and given mankind a "Get Out of Hell Free" card? Not at all. Instead, it is because our trespasses were imputed to Jesus. The justice our sin demanded is satisfied, not excused.
i. If God sets aside His wrath or His justice to save sinners, then the Cross, instead of being a demonstration of love, is an exhibition of unspeakable cruelty and injustice, and of one man's misguided attempts at do-goodism. If sin could just be excused, then it never needed to be satisified.
6. (2 Cor. 5:20) Ambassadors for Christ.
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.
a. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ: Paul sees that he serves in a foreign land as the representative of a King. The King has a message, and Paul is delivering that message as though God were pleading through us.
i. There is so much in the idea of ambassadors! An ambassador does not speak to please his audience, but the King who sent him. An ambassador does not speak on his own authority; his own opinions or demands mean little. He simply says what he has been commissioned to say. But an ambassador is more than a messenger; he is also a representative, and the honor and reputation of his country are in his hands.
b. Ambassadors is a glorious title for Paul and the other apostles. But it is not more glorious, or more stunning, than the thought of God, out of love, pleading to man. Why should God plead for us?
c. We implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God: An ambassador, Paul makes a simple, strong, direct plea: be reconciled to God.
i. This makes it clear that the work of reconciliation mentioned previously in the chapter does not work apart from our will and our choice. Who are the ones reconciled to God? Those who have responded to Jesus' plea, made through His ambassadors, be reconciled to God.
ii. This makes it clear that it is we who must be reconciled to God, not He to us. We are the party in the wrong.
iii. Who is Paul imploring? The you of we implore you was added by the translators. Paul may have been saying "We implore the whole world on Christ's behalf," or he may have been saying, "We implore you Corinthian Christians on Christ's behalf." The thought is valid either way, and both ideas may be in mind.
d. Be reconciled: We are not commanded to do the work of reconciliation between us and God. He has done the work; it is merely ours to embrace and receive. "It is not so much reconcile yourselves as 'be reconciled.' Yield yourselves to him who round you now the bands of a man would cast, drawing you with cords of love because he was given for you ... Submit yourselves. Yield to the grasp of those hands which were nailed to the cross for you." (Spurgeon)
7. (2 Cor. 5:21) How God made reconciliation possible.
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
a. Him who knew no sin: The idea that any man could be sinless was foreign to Jewish thinking (Ecclesiastes 8:5). But when Jesus claimed to be sinless, no one challenged Him (John 8:46).
b. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us: Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul carefully chooses his words. He does not say Jesus was made to be a sinner. Jesus never became a sinner, but He did become sin for us. Even His becoming sin was a righteous act of love, not an act of sin.
i. Jesus was not a sinner, even on the cross. But on the cross, the Father treated Him as if He were a sinner. Yet all the while, sin was "outside" of Jesus, not "inside" Him, and a part of His nature (as it is with us).
ii. "Christ was not guilty, and could not be made guilty; but he was treated as if he were guilty, because he willed to stand in the place of the guilty. Yea, he was not only treated as a sinner, but he was treated as if he had been sin itself in the abstract. This is an amazing utterance. The sinless one was made to be sin." (Spurgeon)
iii. "I do not say that our substitute endured a hell, that were unwarrantable. I will not say that he endured either the exact punishment for sin, or an equivalent for it; but I do say that what he endured rendered to the justice of God a vindication of his law more clear and more effectual than would have been rendered to it by the damnation of sinners for whom he died." (Spurgeon)
iv. "We obviously stand at the brink of a great mystery and our understanding of it can only be minimal." (Kruse)
c. Note well that He made Him. This is the work of God Himself! The Father and the Son (and the Spirit as well) were in perfect cooperation in the work on the cross. This means that the work of atonement on the cross was the work of God. "If God did it, it is well done. I am not careful to defend an act of God: let the man who dares accuse his Maker think what he is at. If God himself provided the sacrifice, be you sure that he has accepted it." (Spurgeon)
d. That we might become the righteousness of God in Him: Jesus took our sin, but gave us His righteousness. It is a tremendous exchange, all prompted by the love of God for us!
i. "Not only does the believer receive from God a right standing before him on the basis of faith in Jesus (Phil 3:9), but here Paul says that 'in Christ' the believer in some sense actually shares the righteousness that characterizes God himself." (Harris)
ii. The righteousness of God: "What a grand expression! He makes us righteous through the righteousness of Jesus; nay, not only makes us righteous, but righteousness; nay, that is not all, he makes us the righteousness of God; that is higher than the righteousness of Adam in the garden, it is more divinely perfect than angelic perfection." (Spurgeon)
iii. "The righteousness which Adam had in the garden was perfect, but it was the righteousness of man: ours is the righteousness of God." (Spurgeon)
iv. This is the whole truth of justification stated simply: our sins were on Jesus, and His righteousness is on us. And, "As Christ was not made sin by any sin inherent in him, so neither are we made righteous by any righteousness inherent in us, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us." (Poole)
A. The seriousness and character of Paul's ministry.
1. (2 Cor. 6:1-2) The responsibility of God's great offer.
And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain- 2 for He says, "AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON TEH DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU." Behold, now is "THE ACCEPTABLE TIME," behold, now is "THE DAY OF SALVATION"-
a. Workers together with Him: Paul sees himself as a co-worker with Jesus Christ. They are partners, and Jesus has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Since Paul is among the ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), he works with Jesus.
i. What an amazing job: workers together with Him! It isn't that God needed Paul, or any of us. Instead, it is that God wants us to be workers together with Him for our good. It's like the little boy with the toy lawnmower following dad as dad mows the lawn. For the sake of pure efficiency, dad should ask the boy to go away because he is really just in the way. But it is so good for the boy to work with dad! And because dad loves his boy, he wants him to work together with Him.
ii. The word "workers" itself is important. There is something good and important in work itself, so much so that God wants us to be workers together with Him. God's best for our life is never a state of ease and comfort and indulgent inactivity - even if we did all those things together with Him. God wants us to be workers together with Him, not "couch potatoes" or "pew potatoes" together with Him.
iii. We are workers together with Him. Paul never said God works together with us. It isn't our work that God helps us with. It is His work that He asks us to do together with Him. Instead of trying to persuade God to help us with our work, we need to find out what God's work is, and do it with Him!
iv. The picture of ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) is especially helpful in understanding the nature of being workers together with Him. An ambassador can rightly be described as working together with his king. Yet, the ambassador himself has no power or authority or agenda on his own. It is all bound up in his king. Yet the king delegates power and authority to the ambassador, and reveals his agenda to the ambassador, and the king expects the ambassador to fulfill that agenda.
b. Also plead with you: Paul told us that God was pleading through the ministry of the apostles (2 Corinthians 5:20). Now Paul will also plead with the Corinthian Christians. To plead is to beg, and Paul isn't too proud to beg with eternity on the line!
c. Not to receive the grace of God in vain: The Corinthian Christians had obviously received the grace of God. They would not be Christians at all had they not received the grace of God. Yet, having received it, they were potentially guilty of receiving the grace of God in vain, so Paul pleads with them to not do this.
i. What does it mean to receive the grace of God in vain? It means to receive the goodness and favor of God, yet to hinder the work of grace in one's life. It means to receive the favor of God, and to fail in what Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 15:10: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
ii. According to 1 Corinthians 15:10, if Paul would not have worked as hard as he did, the grace of God would still have been given to him, but in some measure it would have been given in vain. Grace, by definition, is given freely. But how we receive grace will help to determine how effective the gift of grace is. Grace is "frequently used by St. Paul to express the favours and privileges offered to the members of the Church of Christ, not to be limited to grace given at any special moment (such as at salvation) ... it is offered, independently of man's faith and obedience, but it will not profit without these." (Bernard)
iii. Grace isn't given because of any works, past, present or promised; yet it is given to encourage work, not to say work is unnecessary. God doesn't want us to receive His grace and become passive. Paul knew that God gives His grace, we work hard, and the work of God is done.
iv. Many Christians struggle at this very point. Is God supposed to do it or am I supposed to do it? The answer is, "Yes!" God does it and we do it. Trust God, rely on Him, and then get to work and work as hard as you can! That is how we see the work of God accomplished. If I neglect my end of the partnership, God's grace doesn't accomplish all that it might, and is therefore given in vain.
v. "God's grace is always coming to my heart and life in very wonderful and blessed experience of now. Yesterday's grace is totally inadequate for the burden of today, and if I do not learn to lay hold of heavenly resources every day of my life for the little things as well as the big things, as a Christian I soon become stale, barren, and fruitless in the service of the Lord." (Redpath)
d. Now is the acceptable time ... now is the day of salvation: By quoting and applying Isaiah 49:8, Paul wants to give the Corinthian Christians as sense of urgency. God has an acceptable time for us to work with His grace. God has a day of salvation that will not last forever. This is no time for Christian lives all about ease and comfort and self-focus. It is time to get busy for the Lord, and to be workers together with Him!