2 Corinthians 5 – Ambassadors for Christ
A. The Christian’s destiny.
1. (1) Our existence in the world to come.
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
a. For we know: Paul has just contrasted our light affliction with a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and things which are seen and temporary with things that are not seen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Now, Paul will write more about this contrast between the earthly and the eternal.
i. In this discussion, Paul is bold enough to say, “We know.” Christians can know what the world beyond this one is like because we know what God’s eternal word says.
ii. “Not we think, or hope only; this is the top-gallant of faith, the triumph of trust; this is, as Latimer calls it, the sweet-meats of the feast of a good conscience. There are other dainty dishes in this feast, but this is the banquet.” (Trapp)
b. Our earthly house, this tent: Paul thinks of our bodies as tents – temporary structures that cannot be thought of as the whole person. If the tent is destroyed, we still have an eternal hope: a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
i. Destroyed is the very same word used for “striking down a tent.” One day, God will “strike the tent,” and we will each receive a new building from God, a place to live in through all eternity.
ii. “Many people are in a great fright about the future, yet here is Paul viewing the worst thing that could happen to him with such complacency that he likens it to nothing worse than the pulling down of tent in which he was making shift to reside for a little season.” (Spurgeon)
iii. This means that we are more than our bodies and explains why Paul could consider all the pain and discomfort in his body a light affliction compared to the eternal weight of glory to come. It is a mistake to say, “My body isn’t me.” In truth, my body is me, but only part of me. There is much more to me than this body.
c. A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens: Our future bodies are not made with hands. God specially makes them to suit the environment of eternity and heaven; they are eternal in the heavens.
i. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). According to the literal wording of the ancient Greek, the word for mansions is better translated “dwelling place” or “a place to stay.” But in light of God’s character, it is better translated mansions! This building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens will be a glorious place to stay, a mansion for all eternity. After all, Jesus has been preparing that place for us since He ascended into heaven.
ii. Salvation isn’t just for the soul or spirit, but for the body also. Resurrection is how God saves our bodies. We have a glorious new body to come. “The righteous are put into their graves all weary and worn; but as such they will not rise. They go there with the furrowed brow, the hollowed cheek, the wrinkled skin; they shall wake up in beauty and glory.” (Spurgeon)
2. (2-4) Our longing for the heavenly body.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.
a. For in this we groan: Christians therefore groan because we see both the limitations of this body and superiority of the body to come. We are earnestly desiring our new bodies.
i. Many of us are not earnestly desiring heaven. Is it because we are so comfortable on earth? It isn’t that we should seek out affliction, but neither should we dedicate our lives to the pursuit of comfort. There is nothing wrong with earnestly desiring heaven; there is something right about being able to agree with Paul, and saying “we groan.”
b. Earnestly desiring to be clothed… having been clothed, we shall not be naked: Paul is simply saying that in eternity, we will be clothed and not be naked – that is, we will not be bodiless spirits.
i. The Greek philosophers thought that a bodiless spirit was the highest level of existence. They thought of the body as a prison for the soul, and saw no advantage in being resurrected in another body.
ii. To God, the body itself is not a negative. The problem isn’t in the body itself but in these sin-corrupted, fallen bodies that we live in. Jesus approved the essential goodness of the body by becoming a man. If there was something inherently evil in the body, Jesus could never have added humanity to His deity.
c. Not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed: As Christians, we have no earnest desire to be “pure spirit” and to escape the body. Instead, we are earnestly desiring to have a perfect, resurrected, body.
i. We really don’t know all that much about the state of our resurrected bodies. “If after that you desire to know more concerning this house, I can but give you the advice which was given by John Bunyan in a similar case. One asked of honest John a question which he could not answer, for the matter was not opened up in God’s word; and therefore honest John bade his friend live a godly life, and go to heaven, and see for himself.” (Spurgeon)
d. That mortality may be swallowed up in life: Our new bodies will not be subject to death (mortality). Instead, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:54, Death is swallowed up in victory. When we receive our eternal bodies, life completely conquers death. If a snake swallowed up a mouse, the mouse is completely conquered; it is no more. Even so, death will be swallowed up in life.
e. But further clothed: In Medieval times, some Christians who had never been monks were buried in the clothing of a monk, hoping to do a little better on judgment day dressed like a monk. Jesus offers us a far better garment.
3. (5-8) Our confidence.
Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
a. Now He who has prepared us: God is preparing us right now for our eternal destiny. Here, Paul connects the ideas of our light affliction and the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Our light affliction is (in part) how God has prepared us.
i. A man in the middle of many painful trials took a walk in his neighborhood and saw a construction crew at work on a big church. He stood and watched a stone craftsman work a long time on a block but could not see where the block would fit, because the church appeared to be finished. He watched the man work on the block carefully and methodically, slowly shaping it into a precise pattern. Finally, he asked, “Why are you spending so much time chipping and shaping that block?” The craftsman pointed up to the top of the nearly completed steeple and said, “I’m shaping it down here so it will fit in up there.” The man in the middle of the trials instantly knew that was God’s message to him: He was being prepared down here so that he would fit in up in heaven.
b. Who has also given us the Spirit as a guarantee: When the trials are hard on earth, it isn’t always easy to take comfort in our heavenly destiny. God knew this, so He gave us the Spirit as a guarantee. He backs up the promise of heaven with a down payment right now, the Holy Spirit.
i. Guarantee is the ancient Greek word arrhabon, which described a pledge or a partial payment that required future payments but gave the one receiving the guarantee a legal claim to the goods in question. In the modern Greek language, arrhabona means “engagement ring.”
ii. Many Christians experience great blessing from the Holy Spirit right now. When we consider how glorious the down payment is, we should consider how great the whole gift will be.
iii. “So the Holy Spirit is a part of heaven itself. The work of the Holy Spirit in the soul is the bud of heaven. Grace is not a thing which will be taken away from us when we enter glory, but will develop into glory. Grace will not be withdrawn as though it had answered its purpose, but will be matured into glory.” (Spurgeon)
c. Therefore we are always confident: The presence of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life gave him confidence. It assured him that God was at work in him and would continue His work. If you cannot say of yourself that you are always confident, then ask God for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your life.
i. We can be always confident, even in hard times, if we keep Colossians 3:2: Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. “What, then, is the way to maintain peace when there are changes in the soul; when we are sometimes taken up to heaven and are anon cast down? Why, the only way is never to be unduly elated by prosperity without or within, and never to be unduly depressed by adversity or by doubts and fears, because you have learned to live neither upon the things without nor upon things within, but upon things above, which are the true food for a new-born spirit.” (Spurgeon)
d. While we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight: Right now, the presence of God is a matter of faith. We are at home in the body so there is a sense in which we are absent from the Lord, at least in the sense of His immediate, glorious presence. So now, we must walk by faith, not by sight.
i. To walk by faith, not by sight is one of the great – and difficult – principles of Christian living. It must amaze the angels that we live for, serve, and are willing to die for a God we have never seen. Yet we love Him and live for Him, living by faith, not by sight.
ii. To walk by faith means to make faith part of every daily activity. Walking is nothing remarkable in itself; it is one of the more mundane aspects of life. But God wants us to walk by faith. “That man has not yet learned the true spirit of Christianity who is always saying, ‘I can preach a sermon by faith.’ Yes, sir, but can you make a coat by faith? ‘I can distribute tracts, and visit the district by faith.’ Can you cook a dinner by faith? I mean, can you perform the common actions of the household, and the daily duties which fall to your lot, in the spirit of faith?” (Spurgeon)
iii. The day will come when we will no longer be absent from the Lord in the sense Paul means it here. On that day, we will not have to walk by faith, but we will see the glory and the presence of God by sight.
e. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord: Because Paul is confident (in part, based on the guarantee of the Holy Spirit) of his eternal destiny, he is not afraid of the world beyond. In fact, he would be well pleased to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
i. This text deals with a question on the minds of many: What happens to believers when they die? Christians will leave these bodies, be resurrected in new bodies, and be with the Lord. Plainly speaking, to be absent from the body means we will be present with the Lord.
ii. But will we live in heaven for a time in an intermediate, bodiless state awaiting resurrection? Some think so, based on passages like Revelation 6:9-11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. But here, Paul seems to see such a bodiless state as undesirable. Either the present dead in Christ are with the Lord in a spiritual body, awaiting their final resurrection body; or, because of the nature of timeless eternity, they have received their resurrection bodies already because they live in the eternal “now.”
iii. The truth that to be absent from the body means we will be present with the Lord proves two false doctrines to be false. It refutes the false doctrine of “soul sleep” (saying that the believing dead are held in some sort of suspended animation until the resurrection occurs) and the false doctrine of “purgatory” (saying that the believing dead must be “cleaned up” through their own suffering before coming into the presence of God).
iv. “He did not expect to be roasted alive for the next thousand years, and then to leap from purgatory to Paradise; but he did expect to go, as soon as ever his earthly house was dissolved, into his eternal house which is in the heavens. He had not even the thought of lying in a state of unconsciousness till the resurrection.” (Spurgeon)
f. To be present with the Lord: This is what makes heaven really heaven, so we long to be present with the Lord. Heaven is precious to us for many reasons. We want to be with loved ones who have passed before us and whom we miss so dearly. We want to be with the great men and women of God who have passed before us in centuries past. We want to walk the streets of gold, see the pearly gates, and see the angels round the throne of God worshipping Him day and night. However, none of those things, precious as they are, make heaven really “heaven.” What makes heaven really heaven is the unhindered, unrestricted presence of our Lord. The place of heaven would be like hell if we could not be present with the Lord.
4. (9-10) The aim of our life in light of our eternal destiny.
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
a. Therefore we make it our aim… to be well pleasing to Him: Since what we do right now has eternal consequences, our goal must persistently be to please God.
i. “You report to headquarters. Never mind what anybody else thinks of you. Your business is to please Christ, and the less you trouble yourselves about pleasing men the more you will succeed in doing it.” (Maclaren)
b. Whether present or absent: We can’t do anything right now about pleasing God when we are absent from these bodies and present with the Lord. That day has not yet come. Yet we can do something about pleasing the Lord when we are absent from His immediate presence and present in these bodies.
i. We must consider that as far as we know, there are some opportunities for pleasing God that we will only have while present in these bodies. When we get to heaven, there will be no more need for faith, no more need for endurance through trials, no more need for courage and boldness in telling others about Jesus. Now, while we are present in these bodies, is our only opportunity in all eternity to please God in these areas.
c. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ: When we pass from these bodies to the world beyond, we must each give account according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
i. This is not the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). This describes a judgment of the works of believers (the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad).
ii. The phrase judgment seat is a single word in the ancient Greek language of the New Testament. Bema literally means “step,” as in a raised platform or seat. This was where a Roman magistrate sat to act as a judge. The bema was “an object of reverence and fear to all the people.” (Hodge)
d. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ: What will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ? First, what we have done will be judged (the things done). Secondly, our motives for what we have done will be judged (according to what he has done, whether good or bad).
i. We must live understanding that what we have done will be judged. It is possible to have a saved soul and a wasted life, and that will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ. This should be an encouragement in our service to the Lord. It should remind us of the principle in Hebrews 6:10: For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Paul knows that the troubles of this life are worth it because he will be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ.
ii. We must live understanding that our motives for what we do will be judged (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 shares this idea). One can do the right things but with a wrong heart. God will often still use that person and even bring great blessing through them. Yet in the end, it is as if they did nothing for the Lord because their motives for service did not stand up at the judgment seat of Christ.
iii. Paul presents essentially the same idea in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, where he speaks of a coming assessment of each one’s work before the Lord. In that passage, he makes it clear that what we do and our motive for doing it will be tested by fire, and the purifying fire of God will burn up everything that was not of Him. We won’t be punished for what was not done rightly unto the Lord; those things will simply be burned up, and it will be as if we never did them. We will simply be rewarded for what remains. Sadly, some will get to heaven thinking they have done great things for God and will find out at the judgment seat of Christ that they really did nothing.
iv. “Appearance before Christ’s tribunal is the privilege of Christians. It is concerned with the assessment of works and, indirectly, of character, not with the determination of destiny; with reward, not status.” (Harris)
5. (11) Our message in light of our eternal destiny.
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
a. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord: What do we know of the terror of the Lord? We know that apart from Jesus we are the righteous targets of the terror of the Lord. We also know that in Jesus we have been delivered from the terror of the Lord.
b. We persuade men: Knowing the place of men both apart from Jesus and the place of men in Jesus, we persuade men to come to Jesus and know what it means to be delivered from the terror of the Lord.
i. The message is not, “Watch out for the terror of the Lord,” though there is a place for that message. The message is not, “If I don’t persuade men I might face the terror of the Lord, so I better get to work!” Instead, the message is, “I have been delivered from the terror of the Lord, and you can be delivered too. Come to Jesus!” In truth, the terror of the Lord was targeted on Jesus, so it would not be directed at all those who trust in who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
ii. We persuade men: This should be the heart of everyone who presents the gospel, whether it is in a pulpit or anywhere else. We intend to persuade men. We are not simply casting out ideas without caring how men respond to them. We should be like Paul, who passionately desired that men and women come to Jesus. We must intend in our hearts and our words to persuade men.
c. But we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences: Paul worked hard to persuade men, but he knew he did not need to persuade God. Instead, he knew that he was well known to God. He also wished that he did not need to persuade the Corinthian Christians; he wanted to trust that his message and his ministry were well known in their consciences.
i. Paul saw the need to persuade the world of the person and work of Jesus and of his own integrity as a messenger of the good news. However, he knew there was no need to persuade God, and it frustrated him that it was necessary to persuade the Corinthian Christians.
B. Paul defends and describes his ministry.
1. (12) Why would Paul defend his ministry at all?
For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart.
a. We do not commend ourselves again to you: Was Paul just bragging? Was he just trying to glorify himself before the Corinthians? Not at all. Though Paul gloried in his weakness, his trials, and his struggles, he doesn’t do it to brag before the Corinthian Christians.
b. But give you opportunity to glory on our behalf: Instead, by telling of his weakness, his trials, and his struggles, Paul wanted to give the Corinthian Christians the opportunity to be proud of him (glory on our behalf).
i. Paul speaks with irony here. The Corinthian Christians were not interested in glorying in Paul or in seeing anything good in any of his trials. They thought the trials made Paul less of an apostle and man of God, not more of an apostle and man of God. Paul knew this well but is happy to give them the opportunity to glory on our behalf nonetheless!
c. That you may have something to answer those who glory in appearance and not in heart: One problem with the Corinthian Christians is that they liked those who glory in appearance and not in heart. They looked down on Paul because his glory was not in appearance and only in heart. By telling the Corinthian Christians how God worked through his struggles and trials, Paul gave them something to answer those who thought that way.
i. What do you glory in? Are you among those who glory in appearance and not in heart? Remember what the Lord said to Samuel: The LORD does not see as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We are so easily impressed by a person’s image that we often do not see or care about their substance. It isn’t that appearance is completely unimportant, but compared to the heart it almost is.
2. (13-15) Paul isn’t crazy; instead, he is motivated by the love of God he has received.
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
a. If we are beside ourselves: To be “beside yourself” describes crazy, irrational behavior. The Corinthian Christians probably thought Paul was crazy because he seemed content with a life of pain, trials, and discomfort if it brought glory to God. In being accused of being beside himself, Paul is in good company. Jesus was also accused of being out of His mind (Mark 3:21 and John 10:20).
i. “Probably he was reputed by some to be deranged. Festus thought so: Paul, thou art beside thyself; too much learning hath made thee mad. And his enemies at Corinth might insinuate not only that he was deranged, but attribute his derangement to a less worthy cause than intense study and deep learning.” (Clarke)
b. If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you: Paul doesn’t want the Corinthian Christians to think he is deliberately acting in a way that some might think crazy, just for the sake of acting crazy. Instead, he is doing it for God. Then again, if the Corinthian Christians want to think Paul is of sound mind, they can think he is acting that way for them.
i. “The apostle tells them, that if indeed he was beside himself in any of their opinion, it was to God, that is, for the honour and glory of God: or if he was sober, it was for their sake; in what temper so ever he was, it was either for service to God, or them.” (Poole)
c. For the love of Christ constrains us: Paul is motivated – even pushed on by – the love of Christ, that is, Jesus’ love towards him. Paul had to do what he did in ministry, because he received so much love from Jesus that it compelled him to serve others.
i. This is the greatest foundation for ministry, wanting to give something to others because Jesus gave you everything. When we really receive the love of Christ, it touches us and makes us want to serve others.
ii. Paul felt compelled by the love of Christ. If someone asked, “Why are you doing it all? Why all the pain and all the trials?” Paul would answer, “I have to. I have received the love of Christ. I have the love of Christ in my heart in the sense that I love Jesus. I also have the love of Christ in my heart for all the people Jesus loves. I am compelled by the love of Christ!” “The apostles laboured much, but all their labour sprang from the impulse of the love of Jesus Christ. Just as Jacob toiled for Rachel solely out of love to her, so do true saints serve the Lord Jesus under the omnipotent constraint of love.” (Spurgeon)
iii. To say, “the love of Christ constrains us,” is to say that the love of Christ has power. It has a force that can bind us and influence us. “The love of Christ had pressed Paul’s energies into one force, turned them into one channel, and then driven them forward with a wonderful force, till he and his fellows had become a mighty power for good, ever active and energetic.” (Spurgeon)
d. If one died for all, then all died: How did Jesus die for all? In the sense that His death is able to save all who will come to Him and is a demonstration of God’s love to all; but not in the sense that all are saved because Jesus died (which is the false doctrine of universalism).
i. However, it is probable that in this context Paul means “all the saved” when he says all. There is no doubt that there is a sense in which Jesus died for the whole world: And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2). But the all Paul mentions here is probably “all the saved,” because he also writes then all died. It can only be said that those who join themselves to Jesus by faith have spiritually died and risen again with Him (Romans 6:1-6).
e. That those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again: If Jesus died for us, it is only fitting that we live for Him. Jesus gave us new life, not to live for ourselves but to live for Him. The question is simple: Are you living for yourself, or are you living for Jesus? “He died for us that we might die to ourselves.” (Calvin)
i. God created us for the purpose of living for Him, not for ourselves. It is a corruption of our nature that makes us want to live for ourselves and not for the Lord. In Revelation 4:11 it says in the King James Version: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. We are and were created to live unto God, not unto ourselves. Jesus lived completely unto God the Father.
ii. What does it mean to live no longer for themselves, but for Him? It doesn’t mean that we can say, “I won’t love or serve anyone else but God.” Instead, our love for God, and our life for God, is expressed in the way we serve others. When we say that we live for God, we can not use it as an excuse to neglect serving others.
3. (16) Because of this new life made possible by Jesus, old earthly attachments are far less important.
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus 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).
i. 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! Paul certainly fondly looked back on what he remembered of Christ according to the flesh. 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. (17) The resurrection life of Jesus gives us new life.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
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. He is a new creation: 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.” Yet 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. All this is God’s work in us that we must submit to. This reminds us that at its root, Christianity is all about what God did 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. (18-19) The message and ministry of reconciliation.
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
a. All things are of God: Paul soars 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 initiated this ministry of reconciliation, even though He is the innocent party in the estranged relationship. 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 worked 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 set upon the Son all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and Jesus bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the justice 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 that 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 worked together. Though Jesus was being treated as if He were an enemy of God, He was not. Even as Jesus was punished as if He were a sinner, He performed 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 completely pleased 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? Was it because God went soft and gave 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 attempt at do-goodism. If sin could just be excused, then it never needed to be satisfied.
6. (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 to the idea of being 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: This is a glorious title for Paul and the other apostles. However, 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: As 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.
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 said, “We implore the whole world on Christ’s behalf,” or he may have said, “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 man 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. (21) How God made reconciliation possible.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, 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). Despite that, no one challenged Jesus when He claimed to be sinless (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. 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 it was not 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. He made Him: We note that well. This was 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)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission