The Ministry of Reconciliation
May 7, 2017 Series: Stand Alone Sermons
Topic: Stand Alone Passage: 2 Corinthians 5:13–5:21
Good morning, my name is Randy and I’m one of the pastors here.
This week is a gap week between two sermon series here. Last week, Chris finished up “The Story,” a 12-week series that walked us through the entire bible, starting with creation and ending last week with looking at the Return of Jesus. Starting next week, we’ll start going through the book of Jonah verse by verse.
Today’s passage is a fitting one because it helps understand what to do with the gospel. It’s a useful passage for answering questions like, “What’s my life supposed to be about?” Or, “What do I, as a Christian, do with the amazingly good news of the gospel?”
Let’s read God’s word together…
2Co 5:13-21 (13) For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. (14) For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; (15) 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. (16) From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. (17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (18) All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (20) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (21) For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This passage is one whose primary thrust surrounds the idea of reconciliation. Reconciliation is certainly a biblical term, but it’s not one that appears very often throughout the Bible. In fact, this word – or a form of it only appears a handful of times in the bible. In the ESV translation, it only appears 16 times – 5 of which are right here in these verses. That’s significant!
The Greek verb used for RECONCLE literally means something like “TO CHANGE TO AN EXACT POINT.” That is, there are two perspectives, positions, or records and reconciliation brings those two things to one point. There are different uses for the word RECONCILIATION, but it’s probably most helpful to think of RECONCILIATION in terms of relationship.
In relationships, reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship that is broken. We experience this in our lives, don’t we? We have relationships… we have spouses, friends, parents, children… our church family. We hurt others and we are hurt by others that we have relationships with. Consider the effects of the fall on our relationships…
Genesis 3:6-13 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (7) Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (8) And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (9) But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (10) And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (11) He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (12) The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (13) Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Reconciliation: the removal of enmity and the restoration of fellowship between two parties (Grudem). And we see in Genesis 3 that we are creatures badly in need of reconciliation…. With God and with each other.
GOD HAS RECONCILED
In verses 13 through 17 of this passage, Paul is talking about the effect that the gospel should have on our lives. I’m going to unpack these in detail in a moment, but I first want to skip forward to what Paul says in verse 18…
(18) All of this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…
Paul is saying that all of the benefits of the gospel – all of the effects it has in our lives are from God. Nothing of what he is describing in verses 13-17 is from us. We can’t earn it, we can’t muster it up on our own, we can’t fake it – it absolutely has to come from God and so we are left desperate for his work in our hearts that he would bring those things about. Perhaps rather than trying to be stronger, you need to become weaker. Perhaps you need to depend humbly on God to act. Perhaps you need to come to him in prayer.
GOD HAS RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST
Paul talks at length in the book of Romans about a problem we all have with God. Sin. Simply put, sin is the failure to follow any of God’s laws. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all, therefore, faced with the reality that because of our sin we have earned death and an eternity in hell… separated from God. That’s what we have earned. A helplessly broken relationship with God. And there is nothing that we can do to change it.
Romans 5 says that while we were still weak… while we were still sinners… while we were still enemies of God, we were reconciled to God by the death of Jesus.
Ephesians 2 says (1) You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… (4) but God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…
This should never cease to blow our minds. Even if you’ve heard this a million times, it should still shock you. If your faith is in Jesus, you were hopelessly lost and separated from God, but he took care of it.
HE HAS DONE ALL OF IT
Reconciliation requires action. It doesn’t just happen on its own. Typically, reconciliation occurs when those who have done damage to the relationship take action to restore it. In this case, it is the offended one – God – who moves. He comes 100% of the way. He sends his Son to die in our place. And makes us his sons and daughters by adopting us.
God isn’t just the INITIATOR of reconciliation, he’s the ACHIEVER of reconciliation.
THE EFFECTS OF BEING RECONCILED
We’ll be spending the rest of our time this morning discussing what happens when we’re reconciled to God. How does this change us? How does it change the world? Because the truth of the gospel doesn’t just stay in our heads if it’s rightly understood… it works its way out into the rest of our lives. I’ll go in the same order that Paul does in these verses.
1. We become controlled by the love of Christ.
(14) For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
The word ‘controlled’ might better be translated as ‘constrained’ or ‘bound.’ The picture we have here is not simply a governing principle by which life is lived. Being controlled by the love of Christ means that you are restricted to that which his love directs you to do.
It’s important to note how Paul lays this out. Take a look at verse 14 again. Do you see that he’s using CAUSE and EFFECT language?
Paul here is doing that same thing... and it is super important. Being controlled by the love of Christ isn’t something that just magically happens on its own. Yes, God has reconciled you to himself through Jesus. And yes, he did that completely. Still, Paul points out what causes the shift.
He says, the love of Christ controls us… BECAUSE we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died… do you see that this isn’t as mystical as we want to make it? Paul is saying that there a progression of logical thought that led him to the conclusion of being controlled by the love of Christ. Our natural state because of our flesh and indwelling sin is to be all about ourselves. That’s the gravitational pull of our hearts without something reversing it.
And the radical transformation occurs when we realize what was done for us on the cross. He (Jesus) died for all (those whom he has elected), therefore all have died.
The question here is What is constraining you? Is it the love of Christ or is it sin that entangles?
2. We no longer live for ourselves, but we live for HIM
Verse 15. (15) 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.
This verse is hugely important in understanding what it means to be a Christian. Paul says that Jesus died for all – we’re normally pretty good with understanding that part of it. But he also gives a reason why Jesus died. He died so that we would no longer live for ourselves but that we would live for him.
Here is my basic premise on this point: we do far too much living for ourselves. Which is an affront to our Savior who died so that we would live for him.
The question for you is: where are you living for yourself? Your marriage, job, your life in this church…
May is foster care awareness month. Social workers throughout our state would classify the foster care system as being in a state of crisis. There aren’t enough homes for these children to go to. I’m sure that doesn’t come to a surprise to you, but when you think about this issue statistically, it’s surprising.
• The foster care system in Washington State has about 10,000 kids in it.
• Washington state has a population of 7.2 million people (2.7 million households)
• About 18% of people in Washington claim to be evangelical Christians (about 500,000 Christian households in Washington).
• That works out to be about 1 foster child for every 50 Christian households.
Why is it that there aren’t enough homes for these children? It is because God’s people have soaked in the free gift and salvation and have kept it for themselves.
We live for ourselves… don’t we? We’re all about our comfort, our schedule, our money, our time, our house, our church. We don’t want to give those things up.
But the thing that we need to remember is that when we make the choice to live like Jesus wants us, it is where we ultimately find joy and contentment.
November 21, 2012 is a day I’ll never forget. [tell Hannah story?]
3. We become new creations
(16) From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. (17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Paul continues by drawing a line in the sand – from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. What he means here is that we should not treat people in a way that is according to our own selfish interests. It’s an exhortation see others’ needs as more important than our own.
This all seems increasingly oppressive and impossible to obtain. We’re supposed to surrender to the Love of Christ, and let it control us… we’re supposed to not live for ourselves… and now we’re supposed to regard no one according to the flesh… None of these things I’m talking about are possible to do on our own.
Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… the old has passed away, the new has come. This is a miracle. God cuts out a wicked, hard, rebellious heart and replaces it with a new, soft heart. We aren’t simply improved or made to be less bad than we once were, we are made to be completely new creations!
4. We are given the Ministry of Reconciliation
All of this is moving toward a single central idea. Let’s look at verse 18 again…
(18) All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (20) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
Paul discusses the work of Christ as being two-fold. First, he was reconciling the world to himself – dealing with the enmity between us and God. Second, he was entrusting us with the gospel – giving us a ministry of reconciliation.
2 Timothy 2:1-10 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, (2) and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (3) Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (4) No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. (5) An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (6) It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. (7) Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (8) Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, (9) for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (10) Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Do you see how all this is connected? If you are a Christian, you are benefitting from those who have come before you. Those like Paul who say remember Jesus Christ. Paul’s words here are the words of a man who knows that God performed a miracle in his life that he would make him a new creation with new affections and a new mission. Paul is a man who knows that the message – or the word – of reconciliation has unlimited potential when it is unleashed in the hearts of those who receive it.
That is why Paul is willing to endure everything for the sake of the elect. How do you think when you’re out in the world – away from this place? I was at a conference for Acts29 church leaders this week. One of the pastors delivered a message using this passage from 2 Timothy. This short sermon cut to my heart. He said something like, “Act as though any unbelievers in your life are elect who just don’t yet know it. Assume that God put you in their life so that you could bring the message of reconciliation to their life.”
At one point in this sermon, he challenged me with this question: do you have meaningful relationships with people who don’t know Jesus? If not, you’re in sin and need to repent. I found my eyes welling up with tears as he spoke, knowing that I have failed in this area. But it wasn’t just that I had failed, but that I had preferred it this way. I have preferred to live in a way that is safe and unsacrificial. Sure, I make some sacrifices and take some risks, but I knew that I couldn’t stand with Paul and say, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect…”
The elect are out there, and God intends to use us to reach them.
The Greek word for ministry is diakonia… where we get our word deacon. Being a deacon is serving others like a table waiter. It’s not glamorus. It’s not flashy. Are you willing to be a table waiter of reconciliation? That’s the job God has given us. Paul says that God makes his appeal through us. We are it… so live your lives as ambassadors for Christ. Share God’s word with those who are in the dark. It’s going to cost you something, but that’s okay – because none of your stuff or your time is actually yours.
If you’re like me, and you feel like you’ve done a bad job of being faithful in this area, Repent of your sin, turn toward faithfulness, and start doing something. Pray – ask God to give you opportunities to share the gospel… but remember that evangelism is best accomplished in the context of relationship.
BE RECONCILED TO GOD
So now, I’ll end this sermon in the same way that Paul ends this chapter.
(20b) We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (21) For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
If you don’t trust in Jesus, Paul is imploring you to be reconciled to God. He’s begging you, and so am I. Earlier I mentioned that God does all of the work in Reconciling us to himself. It’s true, God comes 100% of the way to cover the gap that your sin has created. But, all that he asks of you is to yield your heart to him. He’s done all the work, and all you need to do is open up your hands and receive the free gift of salvation. Be reconciled to God.