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3. The sufferings and supports of a minister of the gospel 4:7-5:10
Paul proceeded to explain further the nature of ministry under the New Covenant so his readers would understand his ministry and theirs better. The nature of Christianity is paradoxical. Second Corinthians explains more of these paradoxes than any other New Testament book.
In writing this epistle Paul wanted his readers to realize that his ministry was not faulty, as his critics charged, but that it was solidly within the will of God. To do this he described his own ministry as a projection or extension of Jesus’ ministry. As Jesus had died and been raised, Paul was similarly dying, but he was also experiencing the benefits of resurrection. He used the death and resurrection of Jesus metaphorically to describe his own ministry. This becomes most evident in 2 Corinthians 4:7-15, but also in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 and in chapters 8-9 where the metaphor describes the ministry of giving. [Note: See Steven J. Kraftchick, "Death in Us, Life in You," in Pauline Theology. Vol. II: 1 & 2 Corinthians, pp. 156-81.]
"For" (NASB) or "Now" (NIV, Gr. gar) continues the contrast between things presently seen and things not yet seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Here Paul contrasted our present and future bodies.
"The ’clothed upon’ and ’swallowed up by life’ imagery (2 Corinthians 5:2-4), when read alongside 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, leaves little doubt that this ’house’ is the individual’s resurrection body." [Note: Barnett, pp. 257-58. Cf. Keener, p. 179.]
As a tentmaker, Paul compared the human body to a tent. Jesus referred to His body as a temple, and He predicted that God would raise it up (Mark 14:58; John 2:19-22). Since God had raised up Jesus’ "temple," Paul believed that He would also raise our "tents." In ancient times a tent was a familiar symbol of what was transitory. [Note: Hughes, p. 162.] Our physical bodies are only temporary structures, but God is preparing new bodies for us that are superior to anything that human hands can produce and maintain.
Paul earlier indicated that he expected that the Lord would probably return before he died (1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51). Here he said that he might die before Jesus Christ returns for His own. Perhaps his recent brush with death in Ephesus made this possibility fresh in his mind (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). No Christian can ever be sure which will come first, the Rapture or death. These statements indicate that Paul believed in Jesus’ imminent return to take Christians to heaven (John 14:1-3).
Imminent means overhanging. The doctrine of imminency does not teach that Jesus Christ will come soon but that He could come soon, even before we die. If the Tribulation must precede the Rapture, the Rapture must be at least seven years away, years that will be full of terrible trouble for believers and the whole world. This is not the picture that Paul’s references to the Rapture seem to present.
The contrast between our present and our future dwellings 5:1-10
Paul continued to give reasons why we need not lose heart. The themes of life in the midst of death and glory following as a result of present suffering also continue.
"Few chapter divisions are more unfortunate than this one since what follows (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) details the thought expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Failure to appreciate this fact unduly complicates these already difficult verses by removing their contextual constraints." [Note: Lowery, p. 565.]
What about the believer who dies before he or she has followed God faithfully for very long? Will such a person experience no glory in the future? Paul explained that there are three bases for comfort in such a case. All Christians who die will receive an immortal body (2 Corinthians 5:1). This is by itself a substantial gift of glory. Second, all Christians, including those who die soon after becoming believers, presently possess the Holy Spirit who is God’s pledge of our future complete glorification (2 Corinthians 5:4-5). Third, death begins a new phase of existence for all believers that will be far superior to what we experience now (2 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Paul changed his figure slightly. God will clothe us with a new and better garment. Until then we groan because we feel the pains associated with mortality, namely, our physical limitations, sickness, and the increasing disability that accompanies advancing age. This new covering apparently awaits us immediately after death and before our resurrection. It is therefore probably an intermediate body.
Even though there is no specific instruction concerning an intermediate body and its characteristics in Scripture, its existence seems beyond doubt. References to believers after death and before resurrection suggest that they have bodies (cf. Lazarus, Luke 16:19-25; Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-3, et al; the martyred dead in heaven, Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 7:13-17). These bodies evidently will not be suitable for eternal existence since God will replace them with resurrection bodies. [Note: John F. Walvoord, ed., Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, abridged ed., 2:506-7. See also Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:414-15.] Another view sees this "building" or "dwelling" as our heavenly home. [Note: See Hodge, pp. 107-28; and Joe L. Wall, Going for the Gold, pp. 44-48.] God has also prepared a dwelling place for our resurrection bodies, but that does not seem to be in view here.
2 Corinthians 5:3 is parenthetic. Paul clarified that believers who die are not disembodied spirits until the resurrection of their bodies. Another interpretation sees believers as unclothed (without an intermediate body) between their death and resurrection. [Note: E.g., Barnett, pp. 262-63; and Martin, p. 106.] Those who hold this view understand Paul to be saying that he did not look forward to his disembodied condition. He anticipated the time when God would clothe him with an immortal body (at his resurrection).
"Greeks celebrated exercise in the nude, though even they regarded nakedness as shameful in some situations (Polybius 14.5.11). Although Romans favored nakedness less than Greeks (Juvenal Sat. 1.71), they had adopted the custom of nude bathing from Greeks (Plutarch Marcus Cato 20.5-6; Roman Q. 40, Mor. 274A), and Corinth had notable public baths (as well as public latrines). For most Jews, however, nudity remained scandalous." [Note: Keener, p. 180.]
I believe that one of the strongest arguments that we will never be disembodied spirits is that the Bible consistently views humans as unified beings. It does not describe the body as merely the house that the real person lives in. That is a Platonic concept that the early Gnostics and other anthropological dualists held. Rather, the Bible describes people as consisting of material and immaterial parts. If we were to lack material substance (either mortal or immortal), we would seemingly be less than human beings.
This verse expands 2 Corinthians 5:2. The Christian does not groan in his or her present body because he or she wants to get rid of it. At least that was not what Paul meant here. We groan because we long to receive the immortal bodies that God will give us. God’s promises of something better make us dissatisfied with what we have now. We long for the time when immortal life will in a sense consume what is mortal and dies. This is another paradox. Paul was confident that if death would destroy his present body he would certainly receive a glorious future body that God would provide. Paul’s concern in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 seems to have been to contrast our mortal state and our immortal state, not to introduce the idea of an intermediate body. [Note: See Lowery, pp. 565-66, for a helpful summary of the views.]
The hope of an immortal body is not just wishful thinking. We already have the down payment of our inheritance in the Holy Spirit. In modern Greek the word translated "pledge" (NASB) or "deposit" (NIV) here, arrhabona, elsewhere describes an engagement ring (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22). Our present possession of the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will provide all that we need in the future.
The Spirit may not seem like a very convincing guarantee since we cannot see Him. However, we can see what His presence in us produces, namely, our character and conduct transformation (cf. John 3:8). This should give us confidence that God will transform us completely in the future.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 bear the same relation to each other as do 2 Corinthians 5:2-4. 2 Corinthians 5:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:6 make a statement. 2 Corinthians 5:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:7 are parenthetical, and 2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 5 :2 Corinthians 5:8 expand 2 Corinthians 5:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:6 respectively.
|Statement||2 Corinthians 5:2||2 Corinthians 5:6|
|Parenthesis||2 Corinthians 5:3||2 Corinthians 5:7|
|Explanation||2 Corinthians 5:4||2 Corinthians 5:8|
Since we have the promise that we will obtain a glorified body (2 Corinthians 5:1), and since we have a pledge of that promise in our present transformation (2 Corinthians 5:5), we can feel consistently confident.
However because we are absent from the Lord, while we are living in our mortal bodies, we desire to leave these bodies and take up our new residence in the Lord’s presence. Note that there are no other alternatives for the believer. We are either in our mortal bodies and absent from the Lord or we are with the Lord and absent from our mortal bodies. This is a strong guarantee that when we leave our mortal bodies we will go immediately into the Lord’s presence. There will be no purgatory. Being "at home with the Lord" implies a closer fellowship with Christ than we experience now, as well as closer proximity to Him (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Philippians 1:23).
We need never despair, therefore, when we walk by faith believing what God has revealed He has in store for us. Nevertheless the fact that we now walk by faith and not by sight reminds us that the fellowship that we enjoy with the Lord now, while genuine, is inferior to what we will experience.
"Heaven was not simply a destination for Paul: it was a motivation." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:645.]
As we look forward to the realization of these good things our ambition must be to please God come life or death. The prospect of face-to-face fellowship with Jesus Christ should motivate us to please Him out of love (cf. Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:20; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1). Paul did not mean that we can perform acts after we die that will please God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10), though we can. "At home or absent" is a figure of speech (merism) for always. In a merism two parts represent the whole (e.g., heaven and earth means the universe).
"To be well-pleasing to Christ is, indeed, the sum of all ambition which is truly Christian." [Note: Hughes, p. 178.]
". . . one always wishes to please the one he or she loves." [Note: Barnett, p. 273.]
It is not only the hope of God’s positive provisions that should motivate the Christian, however. We must also bear in mind that we will have to account for our works when we meet the Lord. Then He will reward His children on the basis of their deeds. This is not a judgment to determine whether we will enter heaven but one to determine to what extent He will reward us who enter heaven (cf. Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse; and Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ, pp. 25-34.]
"The imagery used here for the future moment of eschatological revelation is that of the forensic process whereby the Roman governor sat on his tribunal to hear accusation and defense of an accused person standing before him. If he judged the accused guilty, the governor would order immediate punishment. Paul’s use of this language to the Corinthians may have been calculated; he himself had stood accused before the Roman governor Gallio in the Corinthian agora some years earlier (Acts 18:12; Acts 18:16-17), as the original members of the Corinthian church doubtless remembered." [Note: Barnett, p. 275.]
"The term for ’judgment seat’ [Gr. bema] is a normal one for the raised platforms from which governors could issue decrees or judgments, including the particularly impressive one excavated in Corinth (Acts 18:12)." [Note: Keener, p. 181.]
The Greek word translated "bad" (phaulos) really means worthless. The idea is not that God will reward us for the good things we did and punish us for the bad things we did. He will rather reward us for the worthwhile things we did and not reward us for the worthless things we did (cf. Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The worthwhile things are those that contribute to the advancement of God’s mission and glory in the world. Worthless deeds are those that make no contribution to the fulfillment of God’s good purposes (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27).
"The bad works are discarded as unworthy of reward but good works are rewarded. The penalty is limited to the loss of reward." [Note: John F. Walvoord, "The Church in Heaven," Bibliotheca Sacra 123:490 (April-June 1966):99. Cf. Hughes, p. 182.]
". . . believers do not face condemnation at Christ’s tribunal (see Romans 5:16; Romans 5:18; Romans 8:1) but rather evaluation with a view to the Master’s commendation given or withheld (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)." [Note: Barnett, p. 276.]
"Judgment on the basis of works is not opposed to justification on the basis of faith. . . . Yet not all verdicts will be comforting. The believer may ’suffer loss’ (1 Corinthians 3:15) by forfeiting Christ’s praise or losing a reward that might have been his." [Note: Harris, p. 349. Cf. 1 John 2:28.]
"The judgment seat of Christ might be compared to a commencement ceremony. At graduation there is some measure of disappointment and remorse that one did not do better and work harder. However, at such an event the overwhelming emotion is joy, not remorse. The graduates do not leave the auditorium weeping because they did not earn better grades. Rather, they are thankful that they have been graduated, and they are grateful for what they did achieve. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential." [Note: Samuel L. Hoyt, "The Negative Aspects of the Christian’s Judgment," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:546 (April-June 1980):131. See also idem, "The Judgment Seat of Christ and Unconfessed Sins," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:545 (January-March 1980):38-39.]
". . . because much is required of those to whom much has been given, the thought of the judgment seat of Christ has for the Christian a peculiar solemnity. It is not meant to cloud his prospect of future blessedness, but to act as a stimulus, as strong a stimulus as the most imperious of human ambitions; for the word philotimoumetha, translated we labour (RV ’we make it our aim’), means literally ’we are ambitious’." [Note: Tasker, p. 82. See also Wall, pp. 31-38, for a fine popular explanation of judgment at the bema.]
Another notable feature of this verse is that Paul ascribed the role of judge to Jesus Christ, whereas in Jewish depictions of the judgment day Yahweh is the judge (cf. John 5:22; Romans 14:10).
Throughout this section, contrasts between the Spirit-imparted viewpoint on life and the natural viewpoint stand out. Some of the Corinthians were criticizing Paul because they were looking at his activities from the human viewpoint and were projecting that point of view onto him. They were concluding that he viewed life as they did. For their benefit he drew these contrasting views of life clearly.
The extent to which we view life from Paul’s spiritual viewpoint will be the extent to which we do not lose heart in our ministry.
4. The life of a minister of Christ 5:11-6:10
The section of this epistle that expounds the glory of the Christian ministry (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 6:10) builds to a climax in the following verses (2 Corinthians 5:11 to 2 Corinthians 6:10). Here Paul clarified the driving motive, the divine mission, the dynamic message, and the diverse ministries of the New Covenant. He did so to inspire the Corinthians to recognize his ministry as Spirit-led and to follow his example in their ministries.
Respect for the Lord since He would be his judge ("the fear of the Lord," 2 Corinthians 5:10) motivated Paul to carry out his work of persuading people to believe the gospel. A healthy sense of our accountability to God should move us to fulfill our calling as Christians (Matthew 28:19-20).
"According to 2 Corinthians 5:11, the judgment seat is the place where the ’terror of the Lord’ will be manifested. The word ’terror’ in this verse is a translation of the Greek word phobos, referring to ’that which causes fear,’ ’terror,’ ’apprehension.’ This is the same word translated ’fearful’ in Hebrews 10:31 . . . another reference to events at the judgment seat." [Note: Chitwood, p. 31.]
Paul had a double purpose. The NEB translates "we persuade men" as "we address our appeal to men." Paul tried to persuade people of the truth of the gospel but also of the truth about himself. His motives were pure (2 Corinthians 1:12), and his conduct had been consistent with his apostleship (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6). Paul’s knowledge that his life was an open book to God led him to voice the hope that it would be transparent to all the Corinthians too.
"The ministry is ultimately responsible to God. Christian ministers are servants of the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:5), attendants of Christ and stewards of God (1 Corinthians 4:1); they discharge their ministry ’in the sight of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5) as ’knowing the fear of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:11)." [Note: Ronald Y. K. Fung, "The Nature of the Ministry according to Paul," Evangelical Quarterly 54 (1982):138.]
The constraining love of Christ 5:11-15
Paul insisted that he had bared his soul to his readers in the previous verses not to boast (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1). He had written what he had to give his allies in Corinth ammunition to combat his critics whose judgments were wrong. He was simply reminding his original readers of things they should have remembered. The external appearances that Paul’s critics admired included physical relationship to Jesus during His earthly ministry (2 Corinthians 5:16), their Jewish orthodoxy (2 Corinthians 11:22), and their visions and revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1-7). The heart reality that Paul considered more important was the testimony of his clear conscience before God and people.
"His anomalous position as an apostle who was called directly by Christ and who did not belong to the college of the twelve disciples meant that he had no option but to appeal to that call. But this laid him open to the accusation that he was self-commended. In consequence, whenever he affirms his ministry-in this case that he evangelizes (’we persuade men’)-he must disclaim self-commendation (see on 2 Corinthians 3:1 and 2 Corinthians 6:4). Nonetheless, his ministry did commend him, as the Corinthians should have recognized (2 Corinthians 12:11; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 10:18)." [Note: Barnett, p. 282.]
All of Paul’s ministries to and for the Corinthians had been for God’s glory and their welfare.
What Paul meant by the charge of being beside himself, and its opposite, being of sound mind, could and probably does include all the following possibilities. Some critics apparently attacked him for his teaching that differed from mainstream Judaism, his ecstatic experiences, and his ceaseless service. To this his response was, "That is for God to judge" (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:9-11). Other critics may have thought him crazy for speaking in tongues and having visions (cf. Acts 22:17-21). For Paul, that was a matter between him and God (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:2). Occasionally Paul may have appeared carried away with his emotions, but that conduct only resulted in God’s glory. His self-commendation may have looked like lunacy to some in Corinth, but Paul was only defending God’s cause. In Paul’s culture people considered self-commendation inappropriate except in certain particular circumstances. [Note: Keener, p. 166.] To the Jews the apostle’s conversion marked him as a madman, but that change of mind was a totally rational decision. [Note: Harris, p. 351.] Jesus’ critics had misjudged Him too.
The primary reason Paul could not live for himself, however, was God’s love for him. The Greek construction is probably a subjective genitive. [Note: See Martin, p. 128.] God’s love extended to Jesus Christ dying on the cross. Jesus provided the example that all His disciples must follow. He gave His life for others. Yet Jesus’ death was much more than an example. Paul had come to appreciate the widespread effects of that death (as being "for all") and the essence of that death (as a substitute).
"Paul is not suggesting that, irrespective of their response and attitude, all men know forgiveness of sins or experience selfless living. There is universalism in the scope of redemption, since no man is excluded from God’s offer of salvation; but there is a particularity in the application of redemption, since not all men appropriate the benefits afforded by this universally offered salvation." [Note: Harris, p. 352.]
The apostle had also become aware that such love merited complete devotion (i.e., making the fulfillment of God’s desires rather than selfish desires the goal of life). We "all died" (2 Corinthians 5:15) in the sense that all believers died in the person of their representative, Jesus Christ. [Note: See Hodge, p. 136; and John V. Dahms, "Dying with Christ," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36:1 (March 1993):15-23.]
". . . Christ’s death was the death of all, in the sense that He died the death they should have died; the penalty of their sins was borne by Him; He died in their place . . ." [Note: Tasker, p. 86.]
". . . One died on behalf of all (not only, for the benefit of all . . . but instead of all . . .). . ." [Note: Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 2:663.]
Moreover as Jesus died to His own desires and rose to continue serving us, so we should die to our own selfish interests and live to serve others. Paul himself modeled what he observed in Jesus’ experience and called on his readers to duplicate His example.
"Thus there emerge from 2 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 Corinthians 5:14 two motives for apostolic evangelism, the ’fear of the Lord’ and the ’love of Christ.’ . . . The one relates to Jesus’ role as Judge, the other to his role as Savior." [Note: Barnett, p. 288.]
In this section Paul identified two motives for Christian service: an awareness of our accountability to God (2 Corinthians 5:11) and the example of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus is both our Judge and our Savior, and His two roles should have an impact on how we live.
Since his conversion, Paul had stopped making superficial personal judgments based only on external appearances (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:12). Previously he had looked at people on a strictly physical basis, in terms of their ethnicity rather than their spiritual status, which is the merely human perspective. Now whether a person was a believer or a non-believer was more important to him than whether one was a Jew or a Gentile.
Paul had also formerly concluded that Jesus could not be the divine Messiah in view of His lowly origin, rejection, and humiliating death. Now he recognized Him for who He really was and what He really had done (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Probably Paul did not claim to have known Jesus during His earthly ministry here, though he may have known Him. However after his conversion on the Damascus road, Paul saw Christ in a new light (i.e., according to the Spirit), from the divine perspective.
The new creation 5:16-17
Paul now illustrated how Christ’s love had changed his viewpoint.
Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) had had another effect besides altering Paul’s viewpoint (2 Corinthians 5:16). 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 each begin with the same Greek word, hoste: "therefore" or "so." Whenever a person experiences conversion, as Paul did, he or she really becomes a new person. It is not just his or her viewpoint that should change and can change, but many other things also change. Certain old conditions and relationships no longer exist (Gr. parelthen, aorist tense), and others take their place and continue (Gr. gegonen, perfect tense).
Obviously there is both continuity and discontinuity that takes place at conversion (justification). Paul was not denying the continuity. We still have the same physical features, basic personality, genetic constitution, parents, susceptibility to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:14), sinful environment (Galatians 1:4), etc. These things do not change. He was stressing the elements of discontinuity: perspectives, prejudices, misconceptions, enslavements, etc. (cf. Galatians 2:20). God adds many new things at conversion including new spiritual life, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, the righteousness of Christ, as well as new viewpoints (2 Corinthians 5:16).
The Christian is a new creature (a new man, Romans 6) in this sense. Before conversion we did not possess the life-giving Holy Spirit who now lives within us (Romans 8:9). We had only our sinful human nature. Now we have both our sinful human nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit. This addition makes us an essentially new person since the Holy Spirit’s effects on the believer are so far-reaching. We also possess many other riches of divine grace that contribute to our distinctiveness as believers. Lewis Sperry Chafer listed 33 things that the Christian receives at the moment of justification. [Note: Systematic Theology, 3:234-65. See Robert A Pyne and Matthew L. Blackmon, "A Critique of the ’Exchanged Life,’" Bibliotheca Sacra 163:650 (April-June 2006):131-57.]
The basis of this total change (new attitudes, 2 Corinthians 5:16, and new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17) is God’s gracious provision of reconciliation in sending His Son to die for us. He has brought people to Himself by dealing with our sins in Christ. God is the reconciler, and He has reconciled everyone to Himself, the elect and the non-elect alike (cf. Romans 5:10-11; Colossians 1:20-22). [Note: See Gary L. Shultz Jr., "The Reconciliation of All Things in Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 167:668 (October-December 2010):442-59.] He has brought everyone into a savable relation to Himself by sending His Son who paid the penalty for sin that separates people from God. The fact that God has reconciled everyone does not mean that everyone is justified, however. People still need to respond to the offer of salvation by believing the gospel to receive justification (2 Corinthians 5:20). Reconciliation removes a barrier to our salvation, but it does not by itself accomplish our salvation.
God has committed the message of this provision to those who have experienced reconciliation, and our ministry is to present it to all people (Matthew 28:19-20). Paul was perhaps speaking primarily of his own ministry of bringing people back to God as well as the ministry of his fellow apostles. However all believers clearly share this ministry since God has reconciled us all. The word of reconciliation is the gospel message.
The ministry of reconciliation 5:18-21
This section and the first two verses of chapter 6 constitute the crux of Paul’s exposition of the apostolic office (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:4) and of the entire letter. [Note: Barnett, p. 300.]
This ministry makes us God’s ambassadors, one of the most exalted titles the Christian can claim.
"The ambassador has to be persona grata with both countries (the one that he represents and the one to which he goes)." [Note: Robertson, Word Pictures . . ., 4:233.]
Ambassadors authoritatively announce messages for others and request, not demand, acceptance. The Christian ambassador, moreover, announces and appeals for God.
". . . when Christ’s ambassador entreats it is equivalent to the voice of God entreating through him." [Note: Hughes, p. 210.]
"When I was a young pastor, it used to embarrass me somewhat to make visits and confront people with the claims of Christ. Then it came to me that I was a privileged person, an ambassador of the King of kings! There was nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, the people I visited should have been grateful that one of Christ’s ambassadors came to see them." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:650. Cf. Romans 1:16.]
However the stakes involved require an urgent appeal. We should never present the gospel to the lost with a "take it or leave it" attitude. Our presentation should communicate the urgency of their believing the message. Full reconciliation only takes place when a person trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her Savior (John 3:16). Consequently it may be helpful to think of reconciliation as objectively provided by God in the past but needing subjective appropriation by the unsaved in the present.
We could understand the word "you" in "we beg (or implore) you" as a specific reference to the Corinthians or as a general reference to all people. Paul was probably not appealing to his Corinthian readers to be reconciled to God. They had already been reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:18) and had trusted in Christ. While there may have been a few unbelievers in the Corinthian congregation, Paul was clearly writing to believers. If his appeal was to the unbelievers in Corinth to get saved, he probably would have made a more specific appeal and identified that segment of his audience in his appeal. He was explaining his ministry to the unsaved generally (2 Corinthians 5:19).
2 Corinthians 5:21 condenses the ground of Paul’s appeal and expresses it in another paradox. This verse explains the "how" of full reconciliation and takes us to the very heart of the atonement.
"In these few direct words the Apostle sets forth the gospel of reconciliation in all its mystery and all its wonder. There is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture; for this verse embraces the whole ground of the sinner’s reconciliation to God and declares the incontestable reason why he should respond to the ambassadorial entreaty. Indeed, it completes the message with which the Christian ambassador has been entrusted." [Note: Hughes, p. 211. Cf. Broomall, p. 1272.]
Paul probably intended that we understand what he wrote about Jesus Christ becoming sin in three ways. First, God treated Jesus as if He were a sinner when He poured out His wrath on Jesus, who bore the guilt and penalty for all people’s sins. Jesus’ sinlessness is a clear revelation of Scripture (Isaiah 53:9; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Second, Jesus Christ became a sin offering (Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 5:12), the perfect and final one. Some Hebrew words mean both "sin" and "sin offering" (i.e., hatta’t and ’asam; Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 53:10). Third, He became the locus of sin under the judgment of God, the place where God judged sin.
"So complete was the identification of the sinless Christ with the sin of the sinner, including its dire guilt and its dread consequence of separation from God, that Paul could say profoundly, ’God made him . . . to be sin for us.’" [Note: Harris, p. 354.]
Jesus Christ was the target of God’s punishment of sinners God having imputed the sin of all humankind to Him (cf. Romans 8:3; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Now God makes us the targets of His righteousness and imputes that to us (1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). The effect of God imputing righteousness to believers is that now God sees us as He sees His righteous Son, namely, fully acceptable to Him.
"Paul has chosen this exceptional wording ["made sin for us"] in order to emphasize the ’sweet exchange’ whereby sinners are given a righteous status before God through the righteous one who absorbed their sin (and its judgment) in himself." [Note: Bruce, p. 211.]
"Here, then is the focal point to which the long argument has been building up. Paul, having himself been reconciled to God by the death of Christ, has now been entrusted by God with the task of ministering to others that which he has himself received, in other words, reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:20 then follows from this as a dramatic double statement of his conception of the task . . . That is to say, when Paul preaches, his hearers ought to hear a voice from God, a voice which speaks on behalf of the Christ in whom God was reconciling the world. Astonishingly, the voice of the suffering apostle is to be regarded as the voice of God himself, the God who in Christ has established the new covenant, and who now desires to extend its reconciling work into all the world. The second half of the verse should not, I think, be taken as an address to the Corinthians specifically, but as a short and pithy statement of Paul’s whole vocation: ’On behalf of Christ, we make this appeal: "Be reconciled to God!"’
"What the whole passage involves, then, is the idea of the covenant ambassador, who represents the one for whom he speaks in such a full and thorough way that he actually becomes the living embodiment of his sovereign-or perhaps, in the light of 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, we should equally say the dying embodiment." [Note: N. T. Wright, "On Becoming the Righteousness of God," in Pauline Theology. Vol. II: 1 & 2 Corinthians, pp. 205, 206.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29