The Constraining Love of Christ - Part 1
by Contributing Author Ryan Reynolds
For the next two weeks we will look at the constraining love of Christ found in 2 Corinthians 5:11-15. This text will be the basis for which we look at and derive our understanding on how to move forward in improving the world. We want to steer clear from the secular idea of world improvement, a social justice orientation that focuses only on physical and materially needs while neglecting the redemptive purpose of God's grand plan of human restoration through Christ and His cross. Many people go astray here and lose focus on what matters most.
We will look at evangelism as the primary way to improve the world and some motivating factors therein. We will look at a fundamental reason for sharing the gospel, an aspect of what makes our witness effective, and what should be an ever-flowing characteristic in our lives as we take the gospel to other nations, and to our own backyard.
I encourage everyone who will be reading these articles to turn in their Bible and read a broader context than what I will be dealing with. I would suggest you read all of chapter five a couple times (a Bible handy will be to your aid). This is a difficult passage; and as such, because of time restraints, I will not be able to go over everything in the text that would aid to your complete, as complete as it can be, understanding of this passage. Moreover, there might be some technicalities that may seem superfluous at first, but as we unpack this marvelous passage of God's immense Word, hopefully the pain of nitpicking and pointing out seemingly minor details will be shown to be theologically rich, personally edifying, and Christ exalting. To the passage.
"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." (2 Cor 5:11-15 ESV)
There is a terribly desperate need in the world.1 The world sits stuck in the muck of evil, injustice, and misunderstood interpretation of right and wrong. We like to call evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20). Furthermore, because of this backwardness, people in the world often see a secondary need in improving the world as primary need and therefore neglect freeing the main vein that pumps true life to the heart. But from a purely humanistic perspective, the evidence can be quite daunting that causes us to forget the true need in all humans. Let's look at some of this evidence.
India, for example, has a population of 1, 214, 464,312.2 There are around 400 million children that are under 15yrs, and about thirty-five million of them are orphans. Forty percent of the children suffer from malnutrition because of lack of clean water and other sanitary issues, and around 900,000 people a year die because of those related problems. Zambia of Africa has similar needs.3 With a population of 13, 257, 269, the life expectancy per person is around 44 yrs., and in which 46% of the population are children who are under 15 yrs. Most of these kids die of lack of water, food, and the wide spread of aids.
What is my point? Well, I am not trying to spur you on by way of statistics. (By the way, dramatizing by pouring out random stats usually leave us superficially concerned and halfheartedly motivated, for our cars just get newer, our houses bigger, and our bank accounts deeper as we sit comfortably far away of any real practical insight of such horrific conditions, which would otherwise make us vomit if confronted with such a reality because of being so adapted to our Americanized setting.) My point is this, although physical needs are of great importance, they fall very short concerning the real issue at hand.
The real problem lies in Hebrews 9:27. "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…." (Heb. 9:27 ESV) Everyone is going to die. Everyone. There is no escaping this reality. Death is the last enemy that will be destroyed for Christians (1 Cor. 15:26); but for the nonbeliever, their real terror will have just begun, for after death comes judgment. And we see that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We can feed all the hungry people in the world but if we forget the real importance of glorifying Jesus Christ by the proclamation of the gospel for the forgiveness of sins, we have only added to the misery of those who will perish without their sins forgiven, for judgment will keep piling up throughout the course of their lives, whether hungry or not. (I am in no way downplaying the necessity of caring physically and materially for the poor, destitute, and helpless. This is a topic so widespread in Scripture that one cannot escape the exhortations that command it, and the warnings for such a neglect [see, but not limited to, Ps. 37:21; 4:1; 112:4,5; Prov. 28:27; 29:27; 31:9; Isa. 1:17; 16:3; 58:7, 10; Matt. 5:42; 19:21; 25:35; 14:7; Luke 3:11; 6:30; Rom. 12:8, 13, 20; 2 Cor. 6:10; 8:19; 9:5; Gal. 2:10]).
Our text gives a greater reason for teaching others the good news. We evangelize because we fear the Lord. Ahh man! That's not a good reason! Hungry and dying people are a much better reason for bringing the gospel is probably the way a lot of us think, at one time or another. In some sense, "evangelical" Christians in America have lost the motivating power of the awe-inspiring fear of the Lord as a reason to bring the gospel to the nations.
In our passage we have a perfect participle in a causal position. The NET Bible does a good job in translating this verse. "Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people…."(2 Cor 5:11 NET) This fear is a fear only the Christian possesses, for the unbeliever does not fear God (Ps. 36:1). It is a "reverential awe, which the Christian should feel towards the Master whom he loves and serves and at whose hand he will receive 'the things done in the body.'"4
The holy fear of God we have by being in Christ should compel us to share the gospel since we know that the Lord is awesome in majesty, great in terror, and mighty in wrath, for every Christian has come to this reality when they came to the end of themselves and saw Jesus as the only remedy for sin. We know, or have come to know (οἶδα), this truth when the Holy Spirit regenerated us to see the glory of Christ's person, and now we have a reason to persuade men of the same truth.
The Greek word for persuade (πείθω) has the idea of "convince" and can be easily misinterpreted. We can think that effectiveness in evangelism is by our own ability to convict or convince someone to believe what we are saying is true; but as Paul has shown elsewhere (see 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1), no matter what we say or do, only the Spirit can prove the gospel message to be true and effectual unto salvation. On the other hand, it shows that we must do everything in our power to preach and teach the message with integrity, sincerity, and, most definitely, in truth. That means we don't change the message but proclaim the cross for everything that it is: offensive and glorious. You may have noticed that the NET version says, "we try to persuade men." This is because the present tense of the verb is a conative present, which simply means that this is an action the subject is desiring or attempting to do. They don't know what the results will be, but they will work tirelessly as if they did.
Now we will move from reason to practical effectiveness in evangelism. We might miss this practicality in our witness if we don't pay close attention to Scripture. We will look at morally correct individual ethos or character as a powerful tool for the persuasion of the gospel in evangelism. However, we must guard against one extreme by saying it's our righteous behavior why men come to Christ, and therefore external influences are the primary reason for men believing. We fall in this pit too often by assuming that our prayer life, devotional life, miracles, and life of fasting are what cause people to believe in the power and love of God. Only the Spirit of God can cause a sinner to be born again into a new creation and therefore embrace Christ as their soul-saving Redeemer, and thereby experience God's love and power (see Ez. 36:27; John 1:13; 3:3-8; 6:44; Rom. 8:26; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:1-2).
Paul says something that is somewhat obscure. "But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience" (ESV). In the Greek, literally translated it reads, "and we have been revealed (or manifested: φανερόω) to God, and we also hope we have been revealed (or manifested: φανερόω ) to your conscience" (my translation). Throughout the whole epistle Paul is defending his Apostolic ministry against his accusers, who are perhaps accusing Paul of wrongful ministerial practices.5 And here Paul is saying that God knows he has behaved with integrity in his ministry of the gospel and that he hopes it is plain to the Corinthians, too. He then goes on to tell them that his integrity can be used as ammunition for those who boast about outward appearances and not about what is in the heart (vs. 12).
"Godly character plays a role in two ways. The first role it plays in evangelism is that it gives our ministry credibility and authority, for the one who is preaching the cross of Christ being the place in which true transformation takes place should show their resurrected life through changed desires of a new life. We will have greater confidence, and therefore greater authority, when our conscience is clear, knowing that by God's grace and Spirit we have behaved as a Christian should. "For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you". (2 Cor 1:12 NAU)
The second role godly character plays is that it will enable our conscience to be free from the false accusations we will receive when evangelizing. One commentator pointedly says, "As a man is in his conscience so he is before God. And what he knows in his conscience he knows with candor in sharp contrast to the hypocrites and dissimulations which may disfigure his personality."6 No matter what anyone says, if we have been renewed in Christ, no mistake, no sin, no mishap can condemn us to judgment because our own conscience testifies to the internal reality that, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom 8:1 ESV).
Living a sanctified life by grace through God's Spirit is a testimony that will leave others perplexed and curious. Evangelizing is about teaching the gospel to those who are rather ignorant of it, but that doesn't come without a life consecrated to God. "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5 ESV).
You might be wondering about the title The Constraining Love of Christ. Next week we will get to the latter half of our text, which will further explain this concept, but for now a few words may suffice as to my overall intention in this two part series. I believe the main theme in our passage (2 Corinthians 5:11-15) is found in the last two verses (14 and 15). The passage has somewhat of an inductive style to where we arrive at the main idea last, going from the particulars to the main theme. And the main idea has to do with the love of Christ as a constraining factor in Christian service, something that holds or presses together to restrict us to act selflessly.
The love that we receive from Christ overflows out to our love for people, which enables us to teach the gospel with freedom, zeal, and conviction. His love constrains us to act a certain way. To tie the whole text together, one may logically conclude, though not without taking some liberties in biblical exegesis, that because the love of Christ constrains us, we are able to fear the Lord, progress in personal character, and thereby have this love outflow as a fountain that showers on others to change them for the glory of God.
All this is possible because we have been transformed by the Gospel. Our affections are made new in Christ. We now have Gospel affections that seek the good of our brother, sister, and neighbor, showing a Christlikeness that doesn't bend with the waves of culture nor sway with the wind of popular consent. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). This has enabled us to obey the teaching of the Gospel from the heart (Rom. 6:17). Before we were Christians we were slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20), unable to truly obey from the heart. But now in Christ we have a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17) that gave us a new person, a new heart (Ezk. 36:26-27). "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…." (2 Cor 5:18 ESV). May we continue to look to Christ as the supreme example and the source of all strength as we seek to forgive those who have wronged us both in the home and out.
1Right now I am referring to the fallen world that is currently outside of Christ's redemptive work.
2You may find these numbers about India in Mandyk, J. (2012). Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation (7th ed.). Colorado Springs, Colorado: Biblica Publishing, pg. 410.
3You may find these numbers about Zambia in Mandyk, J. (2012). Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation (7th ed.). Colorado Springs, Colorado: Biblica Publishing, pp. 892-893.
4Hughes, P. (1962). The New International Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 186.
5For Paul defending his ministry in the epistle, see 1:12; 4:1; 6:3; 7:2; 10:1.
6Hughes, P. (1962). The New International Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 187.
Hughes, P. (1962). The New International Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Mandyk, J. (2012). Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation (7th ed.). Colorado Springs , Colorado : Biblica Publishing.
Ryan Reynolds was born in Houston, Texas and has spent most of his life residing in Houston and the surrounding suburban areas. He grew up in a tightly knit family of six who have encouraged and helped push him along his desired path of advancing God's kingdom.
In a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ through the Word of God, Ryan was graciously saved at the age of twenty-two. Since then he has made it his aim to thoroughly understand the Bible, so that he can help re-insert sound teaching into a culture that has lost sight of godliness.
Ryan is a third year student at Sangre de Cristo Seminary in Westcliffe, Colorado. He is studying for a Master of Divinity, which he hopes to attain after completion of an undergraduate degree in biblical studies.
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