RECONCILIATION 2 Corinthians 4–5
“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).Counted sins stunt other’s growth.
Paul ministered the New Covenant in honesty (4:1–6), aware of his mortal weaknesses (vv. 7–15) yet confident of the unseen (vv. 16–18). Heaven is assured (5:1–10), as is the love of God which works transformation within the believer (vv. 11–15), assuring the success of the New Covenant ministry of reconciliation (vv. 16–21).
Understanding the Text
“We have renounced secret and shameful ways” 2 Cor. 4:1–6. Paul used no tricks in presenting the Gospel. He set “forth the truth plainly” (v. 2). Some will believe, others will reject. Paul trusted the outcome of his ministry to Christ. Donald Barnhouse wrote a book called The Invisible War. In it he pictured spiritual armies of good and evil conducting their warfare on the battleground of history. This warfare is being conducted yet today, with Satan struggling to blind man’s eyes to the Gospel, as God cries out, through the proclamation of Jesus, “Let there be light!” How foolish we are to rely on our skill to make a material difference in the invisible war. Yet God has in fact entrusted to us the most powerful weapon of all, the simple message of Jesus and His love. We can rely on the simple story. As Paul wrote to the Romans, it is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). “We have this treasure in jars of clay” 2 Cor. 4:7–15. Paul wasn’t being critical of the mortal body. He was simply contrasting the weak and ordinary character of the messenger with the overwhelming power of the message. Paul found himself under pressure, perplexed, persecuted, knocked to the ground. Everything in his experience reminded him that the dynamic power that had marked his ministry had no source in him. He credited Jesus, who saves all who believe in Him, with the fact that despite his weaknesses he had not been crushed, nor drowned in despair, nor abandoned or destroyed. Don’t let a sense of personal weakness keep you from serving God. The fact that you and I are weak is the backdrop against which the incomparable power of God is revealed. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” 2 Cor. 4:16–18. This verse is the key to understanding New Covenant ministry. We don’t rely on the evidence of our senses. We rely instead on the utter reality of what has been revealed to us by God. Paul said, “Therefore we do not lose heart” (v. 16). Setback after setback can occur. People we minister to—our children, our friends—can fail again and again. But we remain confident that God’s Spirit does transform those who know Jesus, and will work in the lives of those we serve. Paul said that there is only one thing certain about things we can see and touch and feel. They are temporary: they can and will change (v. 18). And there is one thing certain about the unseen world. God will not change! What He has said is fixed for all eternity. How much better then to rely on what we cannot see than to rely on what we can see. Never mind discouraging setbacks. Never mind disappointments. These can and will change. Simply count on God, who can’t change. And who won’t. “If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed” 2 Cor. 5:1. We know only too well that one of those things which changes is our body. We grow old. We develop wrinkles. Our eyesight dims, our stride shortens, our back bends. One day the body, our “earthly tent,” will be destroyed. The seen is temporary, changeable. How wonderful to be able to look beyond our own decaying frames, and know that “we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (v. 1). Some ridicule Christians for confidently looking for life beyond death. How ridiculous instead to pin all one’s hope on an earthly body that every passing year brings closer to the grave. The “judgment seat” (bema) at Corinth was a large platform from which official announcements were made, and special honors given citizens were proclaimed. Paul’s teaching that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v. 10) is no threat suggesting punishment. It is a promise implying reward! “Clothed with our heavenly dwelling” 2 Cor. 5:4–9. Christians earnestly debate Paul’s meaning here. Was he speaking about the resurrection body? Or, as the text seems to suggest, was he teaching that an intermediate body is worn by those who die until the time of resurrection comes? No one is really sure. But we can be sure that after death “what is mortal” will be “swallowed up by life.” How can we be sure? The Holy Spirit is a down payment God has made, His guarantee of what lies ahead. The Spirit is unseen, but real. His presence makes it possible for us to say “we are always confident” and that we “know” (v. 6). “What is seen rather than what is in the heart” 2 Cor. 5:11–14. Anyone other than Paul might have been discouraged at the unresponsiveness and unspirituality displayed by the Corinthians. Many a pastor has despaired over people like them. And many a parent has felt grief and remorse over a rebellious child. But Paul placed no confidence in what is seen (4:18). He was not one of those folks who viewed statistics as the bottom line in ministry. Yes, it’s nice to be able to report 39 folks joined the church, giving is up 18 percent, 7 young people went off to help construct a building in South America, and to bask in the envy of fellow pastors at the annual district meeting. But Paul took no pride in statistics (in “what is seen”). What counted for Paul was what was in the heart. However discouraging things may be, if Christ is in the heart, believers will be compelled by love to grow. And growth will transform the stumbling, unspiritual men and women of today into tomorrow’s saints. “Christ’s love compels us” 2 Cor. 5:14. One of the worst things desperate pastors and parents do is turn to inadequate motivators of spiritual growth. Some say “you must” and try to force growth. Some say “you should” in hope that guilt will move the reluctant. Some say “you can,” and try to create a willingness to try. Paul said, “Jesus loves you.” And he counted on an awakening response of love for Jesus to move others to want to grow and change. Keep on telling others, “Jesus loves you, and I love you too.” Love is the unseen reality that motivates spiritual growth and change. “He died for all” 2 Cor. 5:15. How could Paul have such confidence in the Corinthians, whose unspirituality he admitted in his first letter? (1 Cor. 3:1) Despite the evidence of all those problems in the church? Paul tells us that Christ died not just to forgive our sins, but to transform us. He died, “that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them.” It is unthinkable that God’s grand purpose in the sacrifice of His Son should fail. It is unthinkable that the Cross should have no impact on those who believe. Our progress may be slow. But God is committed to bring all who believe to the place where they gladly live for him! “We regard no one from a worldly point of view” 2 Cor. 5:16–17. Paul developed the thought of verse 15. Judged from a worldly point of view—by what we can see and observe—some might throw up their hands and give up on the Corinthians. Sometimes we feel that way about our fellow Christians too. But Paul said that’s not the way to look at people. Why, if we looked at Christ from that point of view, even He would seem a failure: a preacher of love, who awakened so much hatred that He was unjustly slaughtered by His enemies. But if we look at Jesus from God’s point of view, we see in the Cross the triumph and not the defeat of God. And if we look at our fellow believers from God’s point of view, we see Christ in the heart. And we know, whatever a believer may be now, he is one of God’s new creations, and one day he will become a living example of the triumph of God’s saving grace.
Reconciled(2 Cor. 5:15–21)
Mom and Dad looked at each other in fresh despair. No matter what they did, Jimmy didn’t seem to respond. Try to develop responsibility with regular chores, and Jimmy “forgot.” Insist he pick up his room before playing, and somehow or other he slipped out of the house before either of them could ask if he’d finished. Not just once. Not just twice. Dozens of times. Mom’s and Dad’s frustration mirrors that of many who come after a time to expect their children—or their charges—to misbehave. Ready to give up, their attitude says loud and clear that they don’t really expect their children to change. And that makes change even more difficult. Paul, on the other hand, exuded confidence in the Corinthians. Even though they challenged his authority. Even though they’d failed time and again. How can we have his confidence in others, and communicate that confidence as well? Paul understood the nature of reconciliation. This biblical term means, essentially, “to bring into harmony with.” Paul was sure that God, who in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself, will work in the believer’s life until he is experientially reconciled, and lives that life of righteousness that reveals our harmonious relationship with the Lord. Paul understood reconciliation. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (v. 19). Paul understood, and he modeled his ministry on God. Like God, Paul didn’t hold the Corinthians’ sins against them. He didn’t even count their sins! Instead Paul communicated total confidence. The purpose for which Christ died will be accomplished, and the lives of believers will be brought into harmony with the righteousness of God. With this assurance, you and I are freed too. We’re freed not to count the sins of those who are young in our family or our faith. We’re freed not to hold their failures against them. And we’re free to communicate our confidence that, though they stumble, they will rise again.
Expect God to work in others, and they will believe that He can.
“It is the Christian’s business to believe in others until they learn to believe in themselves.”—Gilbert R. Martin