2 Cor 5: 11-15: Not For USby Ed de la Cour on November 23, 2015
2 Corinthians 5: 11 – 15
November 22, 2015
“NOT FOR US”
It struck me as I read this passage that most of us are a long way from being able to live what these verses declare to be the normal Christian life. We live sub-normal lives for Jesus because you and I are very much tied to the things of this world. What the Bible describes is the norm for Christian living. The Bible shows us the kind of life that God gives to His children, those who have received Him and to whom God has given new life in Christ. The Bible shows us the life we expect to be able to live, not in our own strength, of course, but empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Life in this world is not as easy or as predictable as we might hope, so we encounter failure at an alarming rate. Failure in itself is not alarming, because the Bible shows us how to repent. The Bible shows us how to seek and find forgiveness and how to begin again
As American Christians, we hardly know what it means to fear the Lord. We fear the IRS. We fear radical Islamists. We’re afraid of getting the flu, but much like people in the world, we conduct our everyday lives with little or no fear of God. We like to say we live under grace so there’s no room for fear in our personal theologies. We are independent American Christians and we claim to fear no man. I would say rather we have a poor understanding of the fear of the Lord.
Paul knew the fear of Him who has the power to throw body and soul into hell. Paul knew that eternity is not a warm and cozy place for those whose only hope is in the stuff of this world alone. Consequently, Paul felt himself compelled to share the Gospel. His inner compulsion was due to that appreciation of the fear of God. The Good News of Jesus is the only provision God has made for our salvation. There is no other hope. The Gospel focuses with laser-like clarity on Jesus alone. Jesus is the One who died for us all. Jesus received in His own body God’s judgment on sin. The judgment of God is seen in Jesus’ experience of the ridicule and the hatred of men, the crown of thorns and the flogging, the nails and the spear, the blood that was shed, and the isolating and painful separation Jesus experienced from His Father. We are so focused on getting out of jail free that we happily overlook the great pain and the terrible penalty that the righteousness of God required of His Son. That penalty Jesus willingly paid for you and for me.
When we are sitting around our Thanksgiving table, we can be very thankful that by God’s great love, Jesus took all our sin and bore the penalty for us. By faith you and I take Jesus’ death on the cross as our own death. In Him we died. In Him we are raised. In Him we now live. And it is this part, the living in Christ part, about which we want to reflect today.
To engage in this reflection we will concentrate on verse 15, “And He died for all, those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” In truth, this verse is a summation of the Gospel lived out in daily life. I will confess that I have been accustomed to glossing over the words of this verse, of spiritualizing those words so that I can look good in my own eyes. But this week, I came face to face with the righteous demands of God on my heart, and I began to realize in a fresh way how far from the truth I had fallen. Let me explain briefly.
I have long struggled with the tension between my Biblical faith and my political views. Since Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, every thinking Christian experiences that tension. Sometimes it seems that I can keep the two aligned and other times, not so much. I struggle to keep Jesus at the forefront, along with my responsibilities toward my wife and my family, my church, and my country. We all have natural biases, allegiances that are acquired because of where we live. Some are of those harmless, like my allegiance to the Red Sox or the Patriots. Other allegiances cost me a bit more by way of spiritual anguish.
Think about this: Jesus has not called us to think or to act like Americans. We act like Americans quite naturally. We respond to world events and we become angered at the decisions made by our leaders primarily because we are thinking and behaving like Americans. On the one hand that is quite normal because, after all, we do live here. But Jesus has not called us to respond to this world as liberals or conservatives, or as Republicans or Democrats. God has called us to live and to act as people of the cross, as those whose first allegiance is to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. God has called us to live and behave as those for whom Jesus died, as people who are, according to Paul in verse 20, “Christ’s ambassadors.”
What does the text say? That “those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him.” When we are afraid of serving God, when a chance to help someone arises and we turn that person away, it is because we are living for ourselves. We are protecting our own lives and our own self-interest. Mercy is not convenient for us. We are afraid of being exposed as someone who trusts in God and who is willing to take a risk for the sake of Jesus.
The life that is focused on Jesus, the life that is lived for others is a Gospel-centered life. When you begin to live for Jesus, you start placing the focus of your life away from your own situation. You begin to think of others before you consider your own needs. You start seeing through the lens of the cross. You start seeing other people as God sees them. You see those people as sick and suffering because they are like sheep without a shepherd. As your focus shifts away from yourself, you become aware that beyond your family, outside of the warmth of your home, a great many people are living in the cold. They are alone. They are far from home and they are in desperate need.
Are you living for Christ today or are you living for your own convenience and you own safety?
In verse 14 Paul said, “Christ’s love compels us.” What does that mean? It means the love of God drives us. The love of God causes us to do stuff we would otherwise never do. It is the love of God that motivates our thinking. It is the love of God that causes us to make vastly different decisions in life than we would otherwise make if we were simply motivated by personal comfort, by just getting the bills paid, or by taking care of home plate. When was the last time you made a decision that was motivated by Jesus and that was not at the same time self-serving?
In recent weeks, we have been seeing a vast migration out of Syria. Many thousands of people are fleeing as refugees, fleeing with their lives, from the violence of the demonic Syrian president Assad and from the demonic violence of ISIS. These hordes have swarmed over Europe and the European nations are overwhelmed by this unprecedented crisis. What are we to do? Combine that with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Mali, Egypt, and Nairobi and we have a humanitarian crisis, a political crisis, and a level of fear that is out of control. Neo-Nazi political parties are gaining in strength. A gripping fear is on the rise.
How are Christians to respond? How are people who are trying to live for Jesus and to live for others supposed to react in a spiritually responsible manner? It is precisely here where up to now my response has been as an American and not at all as a follower of Jesus. Jesus has taken a back seat to my overriding political views. But today, I am being forced by the Spirit of God to begin thinking instead as a follower of Jesus, to think about this as a man whose life is being transformed by the Spirit of God.
This influx of Moslems into Europe and into the nations of the world represents a huge threat to the stability of the world. At the same time it is a massive evangelistic opportunity for the Gospel. It may well become the greatest such opportunity in our lifetime. An unarmed army of Moslems is overrunning Europe. Some of those Moslems may well be intent on the destruction of western society and they will propagate violence in their efforts. Many others, though, are simply seeking a better – and a safer life for their families.
Churches in Europe that are opening their hearts to the refugees are also finding Moslems are opening their own hearts to Jesus. Islam is not known for mercy ministries, so when Christians demonstrate the love of God, it does not go unnoticed.
Most of us were not alive in 1945 at the end of World War 2 when Japan was defeated. Japan was utterly vanquished and the nation lay in ruins. The gods the Japanese worshiped and served had failed them. The people of Japan were humiliated by the Allied victory. Japan was spiritually empty and post-war Japan became a spiritual vacuum. General Douglas MacArthur called for thousands of missionaries and millions of Bibles to be sent to Japan during the rebuilding of the nation. Over the next twenty years only about 5,000 missionaries responded, which was not nearly enough. As a result, Japan happily accepted western materialism, Santa Claus and financial prosperity, which are also equally empty ways of living life, but they did not receive the Savior.
The point is, back then the west missed the opportunity of a generation to be compelled by the love of Christ, to leave the materialism and comforts of home, to go into a broken nation to win them for Jesus. Exactly such an opportunity is before us now. The streets of Europe are filled with people who literally have no hope. They have no prospects and no future. They are almost universally seen as pariahs, as the unwanted garbage of the world. Many of our ancestors were seem in a similar light once upon a time. Might God be calling us to make a difference in this present crisis – not so much for the United States – but for the sake of the Kingdom of God?
A great controversy has been erupting over fears that terrorists will infiltrate the refugee community, enter the United States and attack us. More fear is present over the need for those refugees to find meaningful work in economies that are already broken. The president and the Congress are at odds about what to do, and Americans are up in arms over the thought of refugees being allowed to come to America.
The question before us is not so much what we should do as Americans. The question is, how does God want us to respond as Christians, as men and women who name the name of Jesus? We might want to be mad and upset because we are Americans, but God is calling us to listen to a higher authority. Leith Anderson, who is president of the National Association of Evangelicals recently said, “Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.”
God has not called us to enjoy all the blessings and benefits of His love to the exclusion of millions who are perishing and going into eternal hell. The prevailing opinion today seems to be that those refugees are somebody else’s problem, or that they deserve their fate. Such gut level responses are rooted in fear. While fear is understandable given the threat, paralyzing fear is always the work of the devil. Being motivated by fear is not being compelled by the love of Christ. I hope we can all see that living in fear is not living for Jesus, nor is it the result of Christlike thinking.
There are three foundational teachings of Jesus that we need unpack to inform the way we approach any crisis in life, any difficulty, and any threat to our existence. The first is Matthew 22: 37 – 39, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I realize that loving the least among us is always going to be out of style and out of favor, but from God’s perspective it remains of cardinal importance in the Kingdom. Nowhere does God command us to fear the consequences of love.
The second teaching is Mark 10: 41 – 45, but especially verse 43, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” The passage has to do with our natural inclination to be in charge and to have other people serve us. The Christian makes the conscious decision to die to self and to serve others. Refugees, no matter where they’re from, are the very last people. No one cares for them but God. And we work for God.
Lastly, in Luke 19: 10, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Why are we here? Why has God called us to live at this time? What is the purpose of our lives? This is our prime directive, to offer the gift of life to those who are dying without the love of God.
All the anger, all the pride, and all the bitterness that swirls around the political discussions of our day are harmful for the whole nation and those responses are not for us. We are here to live for Jesus, to serve Jesus, and, if necessary, to give our lives to this world for His sake. Are you living for Christ today?
By no means am I saying that I have all the answers to this problem or that I have it all figured out. I am saying that we need to listen to Jesus far more than we are listening to politicians and the media. We need to open our ears to God’s Word. We need to gain His perspective on how He would have us welcome the alien, the sojourner, the stranger, those who are wandering the globe seeking a safe harbor. How does God want you and me to love those who are the least, the last and the lost in our world?
What does it mean that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us? Let’s ask Him to teach us.
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
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