Working with the True Gospel
1. The narrow focus of God’s love
2. The wide reach of God’s reconciliation
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 For the love of Christ compels us, because we came to this conclusion: One died for all; therefore, all died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him, who died in their place and was raised again.
16 As a result, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer know him that way. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. The new has come! 18 And all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 That is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. And he has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, inasmuch as God is making an appeal through us. We urge you, on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Dear friends in Christ and fellow ambassadors of His love and reconciliation.
This past week I was watching a show on television about a team of archaeologists who were exploring some ancient Mayan ruins deep in the jungle. Through some new technology they were able to discover sites that had been previously unknown to explorers and researchers. One of these areas that they came across was a cave. Many of these cave systems are linked through underground tunnels and passages which sometimes flooded by underground rivers. But from the outside as you enter the cave through the jungle, it doesn't seem like a very spectacular thing. In fact, to the outward observer it might appear that there's really nothing of significance there. Many of these cave entrances look like a small crack in the rock or a divot in the landscape. The thing is with many of these cave systems you have to crawl through a very narrow entrance and sometimes a very narrow passageway before it opens up underneath. In the cave that these researchers were exploring there were parts at the very beginning that they could barely fit through there were times where they were uncertain if they would be able to go any farther. But once they made it through it opened up into a giant cavern which no one from the surface would have known existed.
The Christian faith works in a very similar way and out mission work reflects that at times. You've heard the arguments before against the narrowness of the Bible. Jesus makes the claim that He is the way the truth and the life that no one will come to the Father except through Him. The book of Acts tells us that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we can be saved.” One of the biggest criticisms of Christianity today is that it’s too narrow. People don't like to listen to the law of God because it puts restrictions and boundaries on their lives. People look at a church like ours and consider us strict or old fashioned when we use the word of God as it's written. What people want today out of religion seems to be something that they can use to express themselves. Perhaps they want to retain the old framework of some of the things of the past such as the Christian name or the church building, or the practice of using the Bible in some way or another. But sadly, for many people a faith that trusts completely in the Bible is simply too narrow.
What do we do when we come across the parts of the Bible where God restricts us and we're even tempted to look on those things in a negative light? Today we focus on mission work and sharing the gospel with the world and the Bible depicts the gospel as a free and liberating thing. The freedom of the gospel is that it breaks the bondage of sin and the weight of the law that bears down upon our consciences. But the gospel gets narrow too. That's why this message is such a crucial reminder for us today as the Apostle Paul wrote about the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. In this section Paul brings out the constraining quality of the gospel; that yes although it does free us from sin and the deserved condemnation that we have under the law, the gospel also controls, directs, and compels us to follow Christ in a very specific way. We are liberated from sin so that we can obey and serve God – not so that we can follow our own brand of religion.
Like those cave systems in the jungle, we realize that even though the gospel has a narrow entrance, it opens up a truly endless possibility to all people in Jesus Christ. It’s precisely because we go through the narrow gate of God's deliverance that we have hope for an even bigger reality of what He has done for us, greater than what we can imagine or think of on our own.
The narrowness of the gospel is seen in the opening verse of our text where Paul writes “for the love of Christ compels us because we came to this conclusion:: one died for all therefore all died.” We're not used to hearing that the gospel compels us to a certain direction – that’s usually something we think of in connection with God’s commands. Another way to understand “compel” is that it urges us or moves us on to something by keeping us hemmed in. There’s an element of pressure to it. Usually we think of the law in that way; that the law is the defense around us or the curb that keeps us on the direction that God wants us to go. But here Paul tells us that the gospel works like that too. When somebody truly comes to know and believe the true gospel in Jesus Christ it changes their life it points them in a different direction; it dictates in a good way in a way that which God desires in their life.
The narrowness comes in as well in the way that Paul describes the product or the essence of the gospel, namely that one died for all. Jesus is the only Savior and that is a restricts salvation to one path. Typically, as Christians we don't fight against this sentiment although some are starting to. But you have to recognize also that as Jesus is the Word Incarnate, anytime we take a position contrary God's word – in any teaching – it also stands against Jesus and what he has come to do. Only one died, but he died for all. Similarly, Jesus said in John chapter 10 that He is the only door to the sheepfold, that all who trie to enter by a different way are “thieves and robbers.” There are fewer sections more comforting in the Bible than John chapter 10 where Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and that He knows His sheep and will protect them, and nothing can snatch them out of His hand. These comforting sentiments are the great cavern of peace that exists when faith is entered by the narrow gate of only one Savior – who delivers us the truth in His Word.
And so, the gospel compels us in the love of Jesus. And that leads us to change the way we treat others. Paul goes on to say Jesus died for all “that those who live would live no longer for themselves but for Him who died in their place and was raised again.” We live in a world where helping others is still a high for many people, even by many non-Christians. From the world’s perspective, this is why they see mission works as an archaic, outdated thing. It’s believed that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person or to help others. In fact, many today see religion as a stumbling block to these very things. The Bible makes the case that only through Christ can we serve others in the way that God intends. This doesn't mean you can't be good or virtuous person in some way without Christ, but the Bible says that Christ makes a difference. Christ opens up a greater love that we can't show on our own; a love based on the unconditional grace He has shown us. And God says that kind of love changes the way we look at others and treat, in a way that we can’t do outside of Jesus. So we no longer treat someone according to the flash but according to how Christ sees them as redeemed soul.
This sentiment makes a huge difference in how we approach the gospel and mission work. It’s all too commonplace and easy for us to back away from telling others about the direct gospel and how it compels our lives by the love of Christ, and instead speak more of a generic, non-religious love. You need to look at your heart and see if you trust what God says here, that He offers a gift and blessing that no one else can. Do you believe that Jesus makes the difference and therefore every person in the world needs Jesus? Or have you fallen for the trap of thinking that all faiths can reach the level of love displayed and given by Christ? I don't think I have to dig into how that makes a difference in the way that we work as a church and in the way that we pursue mission work.
Now that Paul is introduced the narrow entrance of the gospel in Jesus Christ the last half of our text opens the wide breadth of what that reconciliation accomplishes. What we essentially have here are 3 parallel verses that say the same thing. Just like the way we use our language today, when God repeats something in the Bible, especially in an immediate context, it's a pretty good indicator of how important it is. 3 times in verses 18,19, and 20 reconciliation comes up; and 3 times it is governed by Jesus Christ. As a reminder, reconciliation is a word that focuses on the salvation; it's a gospel word and specifically it means to be friendly again. reconciliation is really a word that speaks to relationships. And it describes a relationship that was once positive, and fell apart, but now has been brought back together again - that's what Jesus Christ does for us as the Mediator between God and mankind, Jesus restores, reunites, and reconciles that relationship.
So 3 times as Paul speaks of reconciliation it is governed by the work of Jesus and it naturally moves into our mission work. Verse 18: God reconciled himself to us through Christ - there's the governing aspect, and then He gave us a ministry of reconciliation. Verse 19 - God reconciled the world to himself (in Christ) there's the governing term; and then God entrusts to us the message of reconciliation. Verse 20 is simply flipped around and talks about the ministry first - we are ambassadors for Christ, we represent him because God has reconciled us (on Christ behalf). There's a lot here in this section and a lot of familiar comforting gospel passages but remember they all focus on these same principles - God reconciles us – in, through, on behalf of what Christ has done; and that leads us to proclaim this message to others.
Here's where the gospel now opens up, but we have to walk through that narrow gate first by faith. Once we truly recognize what the gospel is and that it's only through Jesus Christ, it opens up a ministry to the entire world. We can go out and proclaim that anyone we talk to has been forgiven and redeemed by Jesus Christ. We have God’s assurance and certain promise that He has reconciled the whole world to Himself. These are absolute necessities when it comes to mission work.
Too many people go out and make their determination of what Christ has done based on the response they get from the person. Does the person fit what I envision in my mind of how a Christian should act how or how a Christian should talk? Are they worthy of this message of reconciliation? Has the individual done enough good things in their life or is the person socially conscious of how they treat others? Is the person just a stodgy old Christian who's kind of a hypocrite and isn't really developed enough in their wisdom, intellect, or self-awareness to be worthy of the gospel? If people don’t fit our narrow parameters, we often exclude them from the message of reconciliation. Or it becomes personal - we think that someone who has really hurt us personally needs to show something to really earn my forgiveness - they can't just be given for free they need to show themselves that they have learned their lesson that they're not going to do what they did again that they recognize how deeply they hurt me and then I can extend reconciliation to them.
See how easily we play games with what God alone has done for us in Christ? See how easily we make the work of missions more complicated than God does? See how quickly we can detract from the one Savior who brought us all this and focus more on ourselves? True mission work means working with the true gospel – that involves centered around Christ, not us. We have comfort and peace in knowing and believing the one Savior who died for all; the fact that there is one way to heaven is a joy, and we know that one way through Jesus Christ. That will change the way we then recognize the height and the breadth and the width of the gospel namely, that God has reconciled the world to Himself and no matter who we talk to we can bring this message of Jesus to them and it applies to their life just as much as it applies to ours. And by faith in Jesus they too can have peace and joy in their Savior.