LESSON FIVE: 2 CORINTHIANS 5:11-6:2
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR AMBASSADORS
True disciples are disciple-makers.
Having established that the New Covenant, the Good News, is so glorious that it is worth any price to communicate it, and having explained that the rewards are far greater than the costs even if the price paid is the death of the messenger, Paul now gets to the heart of the ministry as he ties together the motives, method, and message for this ministry.
DAYS ONE AND TWO: PAUL EXPLAINS MOTIVES FOR MINISTRY.
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:11-15
In light of the fact that we will one day give account to God for what we have done with what He has given us, Paul is motivated to serve with excellence! It was a healthy fear of the Lord, not people-pleasing that motivated him. His goal was to please God. He knew that although God loved and forgave him, He was yet a holy righteous God, and one day everyone, including apostles, would stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account for what they had done in their earthly bodies.
A. FEAR OF THE LORD
- Read 5:11-13
- We are not used to people willingly undergoing such hardships over and over and over like Paul did. It looks crazy to us (and to our families). Some people thought Paul was insane (5:13) much like some thought Jesus was (Mark 3:21). Why was Paul willing to set aside his own needs in this way?
- The fear of the Lord should not only motivate our work, but also determine the way we carry out that work, using God’s methods and holding to God’s standards. What is this “fear of the Lord”? Could “reverential awe of the character and sovereignty of God” be another way of describing this? This fear of the Lord causes one to live one’s life in submission to Gods will. How might this include both a fear of offending God along with a desire to please Him because of one’s love for Him?
- Describe in your journal the very important concept of “fear of the Lord”, how it is lived out and what its benefits are. How could you explain this to someone else? (You might use a Bible dictionary to help you as well as the following verses: Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- By contrast, what is the result of the “fear of man” (sometimes called “people pleasing”)? (1 Samuel 15:24; Proverbs 29:25)
- What role does the fear of the Lord play in your life and your life work? Is your faith reflected in your lifestyle, or do you sometimes live as a practical atheist, as if there were no God?
- Paul again defended himself – not for his own ego, but so that the Corinthians would trust his message as being from God. We tend to analyze speakers based on external appearances and abilities which are easier to see than the heart. Paul is not boasting about himself in a negative sense, but is letting the Corinthians see into his life so they can evaluate his work from God’s point of view. Who is the only one who can judge us and our work accurately? (5:11; 1 Samuel 16:7)
- From your dictionary, define “persuasion.” What does it include? What does it not include? Who does the ultimate persuading? (John 16:8-11) Was Paul always successful in this work? (5:11)
- The work of persuading is necessary not only with those outside the church but also with those within. Both need to be convinced of truth and the consequent appropriate response to the truth. The act of persuasion must be done in the fear of the Lord in an honorable way.
B. LOVE OF THE LORD
- Read 5:14-15
- The “love of Christ” includes Christ’s love for Paul, Paul’s love for Christ, and both Christ’s and Paul’s love for others. Christ’s sacrificial love came first, but Paul then responded by giving his life in a sacrificial way. (1 John 4:19; Galatians 2:20)
- Using your dictionary, define the word, “compel”. It can have both a positive and negative connotation. The NEB translation says Christ’s love “leaves us no choice.” Reason and logic can take us so far, but love can take us furthest! What compels you?
- Paul was convinced of his message. Are you? Have you wrestled through your faith until you were convinced of its truth and truly made it your own? Have you encouraged your children to do the same? How about your spiritual children?
- How did Christ show His love? (5:15; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18)
What does it mean that Christ died for “all”? (Colossians 1:19-23; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2) Is Paul teaching “universal salvation”? NO! Contrary to some popular thinking today, there is no guarantee of salvation regardless of whether one accepts, rejects or ignores Christ! Instead there is one universal way which God has provided for all people to receive the salvation of their souls. See John 14:6, Acts 4:12 and 1 Timothy 2:5.
Dying with Christ is one way to describe becoming a true Christian. When Christ died for “all” to atone for sin (verse 14), then positionally (or legally) all who were “in Christ” also died; the penalty for their sin was paid in full.
Whereas Christ’s death made provision for reconciliation to God for all people, both Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free throughout the world and throughout all time – those who reject or ignore this gift remain apart from God (John 3:36).1 Another way to state it is that Christ’s atoning death was sufficient for all but efficient for those who repent and believe.
- From your dictionary, define the word, “atonement”. Then explain how Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice from the following verses. (5:15, 21; Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 2:24)
- Because Christ left heaven for earth becoming one of us and paid the ultimate cost for our atonement, there is a sense in which all who put their faith in Him must also die – to sin and to self. Being a Christian is not just about going to heaven, but is also about how we live on earth now. Therefore, how and for whom should we now live? (5:15; Galatians 2:20) In fact, this provides evidence as to whether we do or don’t belong to Christ.
- Give some practical examples of what it means to live for Christ. If you were to do that, would it catch the attention of your neighbors? (1 Peter 2:11-12; 3:1-2; 3:8-9)
C. BEING IN CHRIST
The world’s view of people is usually superficial and based on external appearances. Paul sees people the way Christ sees them, in relation to their standing in Him.
- Read 5:16-17
- What is the world’s view of Christ? How might you lovingly and respectfully dialogue with someone over their different view of Him?
- What does it mean to be “in Christ”?
The new creation can refer to a couple of things. The first is that of individuals who, having turned from living life on their own terms, now belong to Christ and live in the sphere of His power, united to Him and part of the body of Christ. Secondly it refers to the new eschatological age inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection in which He rules, currently in the lives of His followers, and soon over all things.
“The old has gone.” We are no longer under the bondage of sin. The deliverance we receive is greater than that provided by the exodus from Egypt. It is transforming.
“The new has come.” The complete transformation of believers (and of a new heaven and new earth) are yet future, but the process of becoming transformed (sanctification) has now begun. To be a new creation means we now live life turned “toward” God with a new loyalty, a new viewpoint, new values, and a new power. (Romans 6:8-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18)
Because all things are now new, not only our heart changes, but also our behavior. What would that look like in practical terms? (Ephesians 4:22-5:2)
DAYS THREE AND FOUR: PAUL DESCRIBES MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION.
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:18-20
For God to ignore our sin problem would not be love but would be a matter of divine indifference. God’s character of righteousness, holiness and justice could rightly be challenged. God would not be “good” if He were to give a pass to our sin. Our sin debt must be paid! Christ’s costly atonement has provided the basis by which people can be justified, and even more than that can be reconciled to God in a way that is consistent with God’s character of love and righteous justice.
The atonement procures peace with God for those who trust in Christ. This peace is not only a “cessation of hostilities” with Him but we also gain peace in the form of a personal relationship with Him! God is the initiator of it all: the atonement, the new creation, and the reconciliation to Himself.
Given God’s character, it is not surprising that He then gives to us the ministry of reconciliation. We who are the beneficiaries of God’s grace are compelled by His love to pass on the invitation to others to also receive this grace.
- Read 5:18-19
- Define “reconciliation.” The act of reconciling our check book in which we bring our balance in line with the bank’s gives us a picture of this, although it is inadequate. How can the account of sinful man be reconciled to the standard of perfection of holy God? Can we do it? If not, who can do it? On what basis could this be “legally” done?
- Reconciliation assumes there has been a broken relationship. God can never be reconciled to sin (Isaiah 59:2) but He turns toward sinners in love. (Romans 5:8) The one who is the righteous judge becomes our friend! Who does the reconciling in the relationship between God and us?
- Reconciliation begins by an acknowledgement that there has been a wrong. One party then takes the initiative to resolve the problem that has occurred. God’s act of initiating reconciliation is described in Colossians 2:13-15. Can reconciliation occur if one party offers it but the other party doesn’t respond?
- The message of reconciliation was for the whole world, not merely for the Jews. What is the message of reconciliation? Put this message into your own words. Perhaps you might incorporate Romans 6:23 or another passage into your explanation.
- A ministry of reconciliation first of all is a carrying of God’s message to people who are alienated from God. God ordained that rather than speaking directly to the peoples of the world, human spokespersons would do so on His behalf. Is this only for the apostles?
- Having a ministry of reconciliation not only involves proclaiming a message, it includes living it. How does Paul describe this in 1 Thessalonians 1:5?
- There is another place for a ministry of reconciliation. If Christians have all been reconciled to God, should there be any “unreconciliation” between us within our churches? Much of Paul’s letters to Corinth involve this very issue.
- Read and ponder 5:20.
- Define “ambassador.”
- For whom does an ambassador speak? On whose authority and in whose interest does he or she act? For whom do Christ’s ambassadors speak? How careful must we therefore be to communicate His message accurately with His words and His heart?
- In Paul’s day ambassadors did not negotiate but pleaded the case of the people they represented to the emperor of the ruling country, Rome. In our case, God doesn’t wait for us to appeal to Him; He sends out His ambassadors to plead with us! If the Corinthians rejected the message of Paul, or if we reject the message of Scripture, Who are we actually rejecting?
- What does the word “implore” suggest about our passion in our service for Him?
This plea is a universal appeal to the world. But it is perhaps shocking to us to realize that in verse 20 Paul is making his appeal to the Corinthian church,2 and by extension to you and me! The Corinthians had accepted the message of the Good News, but they were still being influenced by the values of the society around them and were living sinful lifestyles as 1 Corinthians revealed. They needed to: 1) admit and take responsibility for their broken relationships; 2) be reconciled to God, and truly submit to His leadership in their lives. 3) This would then be reflected in reconciled relationships with each other.
- Consider your team of coworkers. You as individuals and as a team are reconciled to God. You are likely in agreement regarding your role as His ambassadors. However, are you reconciled with each other? Are there any issues simmering under the surface that need to be brought out and dealt with? Is there any reason you should be successful as ambassadors in your community if there is disharmony in your team?
- Read 5:21.
- Jesus never sinned nor did He have a sin nature. (Hebrews 4:15) Paul used an abstract term (a “metonymy” – a figure of speech in which something is called not by its own name but by something associated with it) and added “for us” to show that Christ Himself was sinless when He became identified with our sin. Galatians 3:13 is a related passage. Isaiah 53:4-6 and 1 Peter 2:22-24 provide a picture to help us understand how the sinless Christ could “become” sin on our behalf. See if you can explain this in your own words.
- Scholars ask whether Christ died as our representative or as our substitute. The best interpretation McLean says is that Christ “does not become human in order to stand in solidarity with humanity but to stand in its place and to participate in a twofold imputation: he receives the burden of humanity’s sin while humanity receives God’s righteousness. … A real transfer of sin … to Christ was essential. … A real death was necessary to put real distance between saved Christians and the power of sin.”3 So Christ was not merely our representative, He actually became our substitute.
- What Old Testament picture prepares us to understand His substitutionary atonement? (Exodus 12:1-13)
- Do we have any inherent righteousness? (Romans 3:23) Can we earn righteousness? (Isaiah 64:6) The only way we can be declared righteous according to Scripture is to receive it as a gift from Christ. (5:21; Romans 6:23)
At a high cost, my sin and yours was transferred to Jesus and His righteousness was transferred to your account and mine. Stop and thank Him now for His indescribable gift!
DAY FIVE: PAUL FERVENTLY EXPRESSES THE AMBASSADORS’ PLEA.
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-2
A. RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE
- Read 6:1.
- To be coworkers of God implies that we work with God to accomplish God’s purposes. What does he mean when he urges that we not receive God’s grace in vain? Could this be a warning against learning about God’s gracious gift but not responding by receiving it personally? Might this refer to continuing to live a self-centered, self-directed life after one receives this gift of grace? (5:15) Could this relate to the warning in Hebrews 2:1? Might it be a warning to not compromise with worldly values, beliefs, and practices?
- Examine yourself carefully in regard to this warning. Is there anything with which you are compromising which is creating problems in your relationship with God? Is there anything which has taken on inordinate importance in your life? Have you become careless in maintaining close communication with God either because of laziness, unconfessed sin, busy-ness, etc.? Will you confess it and become reconciled to God in that area today?
B. DAY OF SALVATION
- Read 6:2.
- Find the source of the quote in verse 2. In its context it referred to a time when God answered Israel’s prayer and acted on her behalf – her day of salvation. God used Isaiah to proclaim His warning and grace to Israel. Now at this time in history, God was using Paul to proclaim his warning and grace to the Corinthians.
- The “day of salvation” refers to our deliverance from the “wages of our sin” which happened when we placed our faith in Jesus and His substitutionary death on the cross.
- Now is the time of God’s favor – the day of salvation. It is God, not you or me, who determines when that time is. Hearing about this salvation is not enough. It must be received. How is that expressed in 6:2 and Hebrews 3:12-13?
When did you receive the gift of salvation? How has that changed your life?
The only rational response to what Christ has done for us in reconciling us to God is to become His ambassadors in carrying the message of reconciliation to others.
We sometimes serve God out of duty or guilt. Paul shares the proper motives: the fear of the Lord and love of God. We also sometimes make our role and our message more complicated than they need to be. Realizing that we are God’s ambassadors simplifies that for us. We carry the message of John 3:16 from God who loves all mankind so very much to people who need to hear that message. We are credible as we make this plea on behalf of God because we, too, are recipients of His love. What an awesome privilege we have to encourage and exhort others to join us in being reconciled to God!
1. The question always arises: what about those who have never heard. Consider Psalm 19:1-6; Jeremiah 29:13; Romans 1:18-20; Romans 2:13; Romans 3:10-20; James 2:10. From these verses, has God given enough evidence of His existence and His character that a person could seek Him should they choose? If that person seeks God, what does God promise? If that person does not choose to seek God and instead chooses to stand before Him based on their own merits, is God fair in His judgment?
2. Garland, David E., The New American Commentary, Volume 29, 2 Corinthians. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 298.
3. Garland, p. 301-302.
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