2 Corinthians 5:6–17 (NRSV)
6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 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 urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Why do we do what we do? Have you ever really thought about why we do the things we do? Why do we act a certain way, why do we attend certain events, why do we even bother coming to church? I know that it is a strange question to ask, and I also know that it may make some of us nervous when the pastor asks why we bother coming to church, but the question remains. Why?
We each struggle with this question as we walk along the pathways of live. At times everything we do seems to be in vain, as the writer of Ecclesiastes eloquently states throughout his observations. But then there is something deep within that seems to drive us to continue on down the trail. There is something within us that tells us this is right even though everything else around us seems to say the exact opposite. We walk down the road following Christ, even when it is hard.
Imagine if you will the people of the first century, the people that first heard the gospel that we nearly take for granted today. A people that lived in a world that was filled with religious devotion and to be perfectly honest fear of the world. The culture surrounding this city we know as Corinth was deeply devoted to the pantheon of gods and goddesses that could never really be known, that were tricky and picky with who they would bless and would often curse. People would be driven to make sacrifices often great sacrifices just for the hope that their crops would survive or their spouses would conceive an heir to the estate. Yet they would never know if it was enough. What if the priest or priestess did not do something correctly, or what if we happened to offend one god by honoring another too much, or what if a god was just in a bad mood? There is a reason that people first came to faith in Christ, it was mainly due to confidence that the faithful disciples had in life.
We all know that there is a perpetual fear of the dark, it is almost ingrained in our DNA that bad things happen in the dark. The spirits walk in the night, spirits that have ill intent for the living. When Patrick was ministering to the Celts of Ireland one of the most powerful testimonies he had was his ability to sleep at night without the use of intoxicating beverages to deaden fear. The ancient Celts lived in fear of their gods to such a degree that they could literally be scared to death. Yet Patrick slept without fear, he had confidence, and those that listened to his testimony receive the same confidence. The ancient people that first heard the Gospel throughout the lands of the Mediterranean were not all that different. And Paul reminds them that we are confident not in the things that we see but the things that are unseen.
We have confidence in the unseen, because that unseen force that is at work within us raised Christ from the grave. Not just in some mythological sense but in truth. Over five hundred people bore witness to this and were dispersed around the known world, all across the Roman Empire in the west and to the farthest reaches of the Persian Empire to the east. Down to the sources of the Nile and some say that they went as far north as the British Isles. Each carrying the same message, “Christ has risen!” This is a game changer because if Christ has risen then our faith is not just some superstition but true power.
But do we live as if we believe in the resurrection?
I ask this in all seriousness, because how we answer that question actually leads into the answer of why we are here and why we bother with faith in the first place. Because if there truly is a resurrection then that means that there is hope beyond the things that we see. That there is something happening just beyond what we can sense around us, and if we train ourselves properly we will be able to get a glimpse. This is why Paul says, “[W]e aim to please him.” Because we know somewhere deep within our hearts that there is something more to life.
We aim to please him! What a profound statement that is. So much of religion is wrapped up in appeasing the gods, yet in Paul’s statement there is a slight difference mainly that there is an ability to know Him in the first place, and an ability to know what pleases Him. Our God is not one that is separated from us but is Emanuel, God with us. He can be known and can know. Paul goes as far as to say that he is well known to God. Our God knows the human condition, He has experienced every emotion and struggle that we experience and he walks with us. Jesus came down from heaven to be born as a baby, He lived through the entire spectrum of childhood, He even had to experience a drastic life change like moving from one nation to another. Jesus was an immigrant at one point in time. He experienced adolescence, he experienced the loss of loved ones, he experience career changes, and he experienced pain. He knows what we are going through and he endured it all because He desires a relationship with us. He wants a relationship that is so deep that our every motive and action is aimed at pleasing Him.
The early Friends understood this and when they began their ministry across England, Ireland, and into the colonies of the Americas. They taught that all of life is a sacrament. That every aspect of our life should be lived and devoted to God, aimed to please him. This is present throughout all of our testimonies, from our testimony of peace to simplicity, each is devoted to this idea that every aspect of our life should be lived honoring God. So in honoring God in all that we do, we might encourage others to walk in the light as well.
We aim to honor and please Him, we aim to make every aspect of our lives holy and devoted to Christ within us and within those around us. We strive to know the spirit so fully and deeply that we begin to reflect Christ in all that we do. We do all of this because, as Paul states, “the love of Christ urges us on.” Have you experience that urge? Every so often I am asked why I do what I do. What drove me to leave the path if was on to become a pastor? Most recently I was asked this by a man I know absolutely nothing about who just happened to find out I was a pastor. The only answer I could give him was that I could not see myself doing anything else. In under a minute I told this man that I went to Ukraine saw people’s lives changed, came home and found that everything in my life was also changed. I no longer had a desire to pursue the things I once pursued and that strangely I had a desire instead to encourage people to walk in faith. I have no idea if this encouraged him, but it is a testimony of the love of Christ urging me on. It makes no sense rationally, financially, or even spiritually because the struggles I have face are not anything I would have chosen, yet I cannot see myself doing anything else.
We are urged in love to live every aspect of our lives devoted to Christ. Known intimately by God, and knowing Him as well, but we do this for the benefit of others. This is where many may begin to squirm, our lives with Christ are not lived so we can get to heaven but so that through us God can lead others to him. In the somewhat awkward language that Paul speaks in verse 12, “We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.” He is telling us that our lives are not lived for ourselves, we are not living to bring honor to ourselves or to have bragging rights. If you are in Christ and if Christ is in you, if you are living a life urged on by the love of Christ everything you do should be to encourage others to pursue Christ. Just think about that for a moment? Your business is not your business but it is Christ’s in which God gave you stewardship over so that you could participate in the ongoing ministry of Jesus to the world. All that we have is given for the ministry of Christ to the world around us. It is not about our preferences, it is not about our lifestyle, but it is about encouraging other to sense and discern the urging of Christ within them to be moved down the paths of faith that are not sensed by worldly methods.
It sounds crazy I know. It sounds ridiculous and pretty much insane. Paul was considered by many to be crazy. The disciples were accused of being drunk in the early morning on the day of Pentecost. Yet these men gave all they had many gave their very lives so that others could know the love of God. And people responded to the craziness. The numbers of faithful grew daily because they were faithful in living totally sold out to Christ. The testimony that Luke gives is that there was no one in need among them. They had a reputation of being just, of being loving and gracious, of having a confidence that was supernatural to the world among them. And that spoke volumes.
But do we live like that? Does our love proceed us? Are we known to be out of our mind in generosity or are we living a life bound to worldly wisdom? “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” That is the power of the resurrected Christ. That is where our confidence lies. It is a different perspective, a point of view that is not based on human understanding.
Early Friends stated that there is a light of Christ in all people and that is the view that Christ urges us to take. Looking not at what the world sees but looking deeper within, taking hold of that which Christ has taken hold of in us. Encouraging them to look beyond. God is with us. He is all around us. He is within and without, above and below. He is urging us to be led by love and saturated in His spirit. So let us be a people that live lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others, so that we might experience and see the power of the resurrection that makes all things new!