2 Corinthians 5:11-15
In this study we are going to bore down and go with Paul into his heart as he reveals the heart motivation that compels him, that controls him.
In the past few weeks we have seen Paul explain his boldness and courage and zeal for Christ in the midst of incredible difficulty by telling us what he believes:
- he believes that God has raised the Lord Jesus (4:14).
- he believes that God will raise everyone who trusts Jesus (4:14).
- he believes that God will present everyone who trusts Jesus to Jesus for joy and reward (4:14).
- he believes therefore that his body is comparable to a jar of clay, mortal flesh, a wasting away outer self. Even as he is afflicted he is not crushed; he is perplexed, but not driven to despair; he is persecuted, but not forsaken; he is struck down, but not destroyed (4:8-9).
- he believes that the pain in his life suffered for Christ is light and momentary and that it is preparing for him an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (4:17).
- he believes that if this tent that is his earthly home is destroyed, he has a building from God, eternal in the heavens (5:1).
- he believes that God has prepared him to be swallowed up by life and has given the Spirit as a downpayment of his full inheritance (5:4).
- he believes that he and every member of the church must appear before the judgment seat of Christ for a judgment and for joy(5:10).
And because he believes these things,
- he does not lose heart (4:1).
- he commends himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God by an open statement of the truth (4:2).
- he speaks, bearing witness to the truth (4:13).
- he looks to the things that are unseen not the things that are seen (4:18).
- he groans, longing for the fullness that is secured (5:2).
- he is always of good courage, Yes he us of good courage (5:6, 8).
- he makes it his aim to please Christ (5:9).
- he endeavors to persuade others (5:11).
So what Paul believes about the gospel of Jesus Christ is the source of his courage and zeal for Christ.
Now, why has Paul gone through all this trouble to explain the source of his boldness and courage and zeal for Christ in the midst of incredible difficulty? Remember that there were some who had come into the Corinthian community of faith and were calling Paul and his ministry into question (Paul, in this section calls his accusers, ‘those who boast about outward appearance’). So, Paul has written to the Corinthian church in order to, among other things, help them give an answer to these who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.
As we will see, Paul is not concerned about his own reputation; he is concerned about the glory of God and the good of His people. He wants to strengthen the church to think rightly about the nature of gospel ministry in this world and the message of the cross. And so we are so blessed to have this letter which instructs us about the nature of gospel ministry in this world and message of the cross – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For God and For you
So, this section really helps us clarify what Paul has been up to for the last few chapters of this letter. As he says in verses 11 and 12, “…what we are is known to God, and I hope it is also known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again…”
In other words, it is Paul’s hope that the true church at Corinth already knows that Paul is a genuine apostle of Christ. He has not been writing all of this to convince the true church of his credentials or message. Instead he has been helping the church give an answer to those who have come into Corinth boasting about outward appearances and trying to discredit Paul.
As he says, “We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearances and not about what is in the heart.”
Those who boast about outward appearances are no doubt those who have come into the church with external credentials and have been seeking to undermine Paul, perhaps claiming something like this: “a true apostle of Christ would not be so externally weak and persecuted. Paul is constantly in danger, he does not have letters to recommend him, he does not speak with eloquence – and the guy is a nut! He’s running around getting shipwrecked, lashed, beaten, stoned, and imprisoned. You think this guy is an apostle of the Lord of lords?” In response, Paul has laid out the true nature of New Covenant Ministry in this world and abundantly answered these accusations.
So when we come to verse 13 he is able to say that all his actions have only one of two purposes: “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” What does Paul mean by “if we are beside ourselves…”? I understand this to mean (following Charles Hodge) ‘if he exceeds the bounds of discretion’ and particularly (departing from Hodge) in zeal and devotion to Christ, which drove his accusers to think: ‘this guy is a nut,’ that zeal is for God. So, Paul says if I am a nut, it is for God.
And, Paul continues, if I am in my right mind, it is for you. In other words, if I am moderate, sober, and reasoned it is for the good of the church. Paul demonstrated his sobriety and reasonableness in the last few chapters where he clearly explained his motives and faith. So to sum up verse 13: in whatever I do, I do it for God and His church. Everything in my life can be explained by those two aims.
When people examine our lives, can we say, in whatever I do, I do it for God and His people? If people think you are a nut, is it because of your zeal for Christ? or If people think you are sober and reasoned and studied is it because of your love for God’s people?
Controlled by Love
Now, Paul adds verse 14 and 15. Paul is not yet done grounding his behavior. He wants this to be clear for both the believers in Corinth and his accusers. Paul has already given us ample grounding, reason, foundation for his behavior and he has given it in terms of what he believes, but Paul is not yet satisfied. He feels he needs to summarize it and say it again in different terms so that we are sure to get it. And I am so glad that he did. What compels Paul to behave as he does in this world?
He says in verse 14, “For the love of Christ controls us…”
This word controls indicates that he is restrained or constrained to do what he does for God and His church because of the love of Christ. The context will show us that Paul is here talking about Christ’s love, not Paul’s love for Christ. Christ’s love. The thing that controls all of Paul’s life and ministry is the love that Christ has for him.
What defines and compels you? What would you say controls your words and actions in this life? What moves you to get up in the morning? What moves you to work hard at your employment? What moves you to pray – for your loved ones and your enemies? What moves you to take risks in this world? What moves you to read and study God’s Word? What moves you to not forsake the assembly of yourselves together? What moves you to boldness and courage in evangelism and long suffering in church life? What controls your words and intentions in your home and among your family? What controls you in this life?
Can you say it is the love of Christ, Christ’s love, that controls me in everything that I do?
Charles Hodge makes the claim that what Paul says here is in fact the description of what it means to be a Christian. “…the love of Christ controls us…”
A Christian is one who recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, God manifested in the flesh, loving us and dying for our redemption; a Christian is so affected by a sense of the love of this incarnated God as to be constrained to make the will of Christ the rule of his obedience and the glory of Christ the great end for which he lives. Anyone who does this perfectly is a perfect Christian. Anyone who does it imperfectly, yet with the sincere desire to be entirely devoted to Christ, is a sincere Christian.
On the one hand, anyone who lives supremely for self, for family, for science, for the world, for mankind, whatever else he may be, is not a Christian. ‘anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me,’ says our Lord, ‘is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37). Anyone who does not ‘hate…his own life…cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). The great question is, what constitutes a Christian? It is being so compelled by the love of our divine Lord to us that we consecrate our lives to him.
Christians are not those who merely agree to facts about Jesus in their heads. Christians don’t merely agree to the fact that Jesus died for them. Christians are those who are defined and controlled and constrained by Christ’s love; the truth of Christ’s love for us shapes us and grips our hearts and compels our lives.
Controlled by a Definite Result
How does the love of Christ control the Christian? What is the connection between Christ’s love and our being controlled by it – how does that controlling happen? Verse 14 continues, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died…”
Paul says that Christ’s love controls him because he has concluded something specific about Christ’s death – that great act of love. Paul has concluded that Christ’s death actually accomplished something definite. The love of Christ does not control Paul because he believed that Christ’s death made something possible or potential, but because it actually accomplished something real – it actually did something. Paul has concluded that the death of Christ actually resulted in the death of everyone it was for. “…one has died for all, therefore all have died…” We need to feel the force of this argument. Christ died for a specific group (all), therefore that same group (all) have died. Christ’s death actually accomplished something: the death of all that it was for.
First of all what does it mean that those for whom Christ died have died? What was accomplished in Christ’s death? What does it means that everyone Christ died for have died? I think Romans will help to shed some light on that death which “all” have died.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus (united with Christ) were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
So in Romans 6, which very much appears to be a parallel idea, Paul is arguing that everyone who has been united to Christ has died and been buried with Him (6:4), the old self was crucified with Him (6:6), and the conclusion: for the one who has died has been set free from sin (6:7) and if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him (6:8).
So the death of Christ accomplished something definite for all it was for, namely that they all have died. That is, the wages for their sin that they deserved (their death), Christ has already died. “Through his own undeserved death, he died our well-deserved death” (John Piper). His death was our death.
Christ died for all, therefore all have died. That is, Christ’s death was my death. I have died. Paul says it this way to the churches of Galatia:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Why is Paul controlled by the love of Christ? It is because he has concluded this: that Christ died for all, therefore all have been crucified with Christ, all have died.
Now some of you might be scratching your head. This sounds like universalism, the belief that every human being will finally be saved and go to heaven. But we know from the rest of the Scriptures that not everyone will be saved. So what is Paul saying? Who then is it that has died? Who is Paul talking about when he says, ‘Christ died for all, therefore all have died?’ In other words, who is the group for whom Christ died?
As tempting as it is to want to assume here that Paul is referring to all human beings without exception, the force of the argument will not allow that option. If we think Paul is here saying that Christ died for all people without exception than all people without exception have died, they have all been crucified with Christ, they have all been buried with him into death. But if we say that than we must say that all people without exception have been united with him in a death like his, and they shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5).
How are we to determine who the ‘all’ is in 2 Corinthians 5:14? I think it becomes most clear as we make our way through Paul’s argument and finally come to verse 17 where he limits the ‘all’ to those ‘in Christ,’ just as in Romans 6 Paul is referring to all who are in union with Christ. In other words, he is speaking to the church, those united to Christ and says Christ has died for all, therefore all have died.
This is what Paul has concluded: Christ’s love accomplished something amazing. His death resulted in the death of all it was for. Paul was controlled by this love: Because Christ died, Paul died. Because Christ died Paul was free from the penalty of death because his death had already passed.
What about a universal offer of good news?
If this is true, how can we offer the gospel freely to all people without any distinction? If this passage is forcing us through its logic to conclude that all for whom Christ died, have died and will be raised how can we bring the free message of the gospels to all people? I believe that question is answered by three biblical truths:
- We are commanded to spread the gospel to all people without any distinction made about whether they are being saved or perishing (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 – Paul was a fragrance of Christ everywhere among the perishing and those being saved).
- The gospel message includes the necessity of faith. In other words it has an ‘if’ clause in it. The good news is the proclamation that Christ is Lord of heaven and earth and He is a mighty and powerful and perfect Savior who has beaten the power if sin and death AND the good news included that everyone who repents and believes will be saved – trust Him (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; Mark 1:15; Romans 1:16; 3:21-26; 1 John 1:9-10 )! Christ is the mighty Savior and Lord of heaven and earth, He has the keys of death and Hades and He has promised that if you will repent and trust him you will be saved.
- We who bring that message don’t need to know who will believe before we proclaim that message to every person, nor do those who hear need to know the secret councils of God before they believe – they simply need to trust that Christ is the only name given among men by which we must be saved. Believe in him!
Again, this is what Paul has concluded: Christ’s love accomplished something amazing. His death resulted in the death of all it was for. Paul was controlled by this love: Because Christ died, Paul died. Because Christ died Paul was free from the penalty of death because his death had already passed.
That Those Who Are Alive
Paul’s carried the argument to its logical conclusion. (v14) “…the [incredible, potent, saving] love of Christ controls [him], because [he] has concluded this: that One died for all, therefore all have died; (v15) and he died for all, that those who live (and here he is talking about those who live in the flesh, the jars of clay, the mortal flesh. In other words, he died for all, that those who remain alive in this world) might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
So this is his argument about how Christ’s love controls him. This is the foundation of Paul’s zeal and devotion to Christ. These are the grounds that explains why he does everything he does for God and for others: he has died with Christ and had been made alive.
Here also Paul tells us the object of his zeal and devotion: it is Christ who for his sake died and was raised.
So Christ’s love controls and grips Paul in these two distinct ways:
First, Christ’s love for him on the cross means that Paul is free from fear and guilt and condemnation; Paul’s well-deserved death is passed, and he is now alive and one day will be resurrected. In this way, Paul is who he is because of Christ’s love. He is no longer a dead corpse because of Christ’s love. He is a new creation because of Christ’s love.
And Second, Paul is controlled by Christ’s love in this way also: Christ who loved Paul has become the object of Paul’s devotion. Paul has been raise to newness of life and now he is devoted to Jesus who loved him and gave himself for him. In other words, Paul loves Christ, because Christ first loved Paul.
Does the Love of Christ Control You?
Does the love of Christ control you in these two ways? Have you been redeemed, forgiven, adopted, and remade, raised to newness of live by Christ’s great act of love on the cross – is that true of you, that your death is past and you are a new creation? And does that love shown to you move you to love and be devoted to Christ?
Are you controlled by the love of Christ?
Have you concluded that because Jesus died, you died? In other words are you united to Christ, believing that his death means that your sin, not in part, but the whole was nailed to the cross and you bear it no more – Praise the Lord? Have you concluded with Paul that Christ died for you therefore you have died? If so, who you are as a new creation, a citizen of heaven, an heir of glory, a precious chosen possession, a beloved child, a debt free saint, a washed and pure virgin – who you are is all owing to Christ’ amazing love for you. All that you are and all that you have is owing to the love of Christ displayed in his descending, humiliation, rejection, and crucifixion. Christian, do you realize this?
And if so, is then Jesus Christ, who is the great lover of your soul, who loved you and gave Himself for you, is He now the object of your love and devotion? Do you now live no longer for yourself but for Him who for your sake died and was raised? Are you so gripped by His love for you that you are now living for Him?
What Paul is describing here is the inner reality of his life – of his faith and joy and practice – he is describing the inner reality of a Christian. You want to understand the apostle Paul, you must understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. And if you want to be like the apostle Paul you must be gripped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And truly this gets to the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ, a Christian – that you are remade and shaped and gripped and controlled by the love of Christ.
Again, Charles Hodge,
A Christian is one who recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, God manifested in the flesh, loving us and dying for our redemption; a Christian is so affected by a sense of the love of this incarnated God as to be constrained to make the will of Christ the rule of his obedience and the glory of Christ the great end for which he lives. Anyone who does this perfectly is a perfect Christian. Anyone who does it imperfectly, yet with the sincere desire to be entirely devoted to Christ, is a sincere Christian…The great question is, what constitutes a Christian? It is being so compelled by the love of our divine Lord to us that we consecrate our lives to him… the Bible teaches us that if we share Christ’s death, we also share his life; if we have any such appreciation of his love in dying for us as to lead us to place our confidence in the merit of his death, we shall be compelled to consecrate our lives to his service. And this is the only evidence that our faith is genuine.”
In other words, if our faith in Christ, does not produce a life lived for Christ, we do not truly have faith in Christ. As James says, ‘I will show you my faith by my works’ (James 2:18). Does the love of Christ for us control us in this place – such that we are filled with love for him and for each other, and filled with joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness, and self-control, bearing with one another, forgiving each other just as Christ has forgiven us, filled with boldness and courage in a hostile world, filled with gentleness and humility among the harsh and unjust, filled with zeal for good works unto the glory of Christ? I pray that His love will control us more and more in this place as we behold His glory and grace.
About Andrew Murray
“Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.