The Constraining Love of Christ - Part 2
by Contributing Author Ryan Reynolds
"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 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 appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." (2 Cor 5:11-15 ESV)
Last week we saw that there is a real need in the world. People are sick and need a cure. The world in its present state stands condemned by God (Rom. 3:19). True improvement only comes through Jesus Christ and His message. Although physical needs are of great (and grave) concern in a lot of the world, the real issue lies at the core of every individual and our great commonality we all share, namely, sin and death. We all are sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we all will die (Heb. 9:27). This is truth. And only by believing it, and living as we believe it, are we able to understand the words of Christ when He says, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?" (Mar 8:36-37 ESV)
This reality is what compels Paul. In 2 Corinthians 2:10, just before Paul gets to our passage, he talks about the final judgment. Everyone will appear before the judgment seat of Christ; there is no escaping this. But there is great incentive for the Christian in taking to heart this inescapable reality. This should motivate them, therefore, to persuade men of the gospel (5:11), making it their aim in life to breathe out the breath of life.
We evangelize because we fear the Lord (5:11). This is a reverential fear that comes to us as we are given grace to comprehend the holiness and greatness of the mighty Judge, who is now our heavenly Father, His Son being our friend.1 Following this we saw that a way in which our evangelism becomes effective is by our godly character that we express as we carry the message that exclaims God's holiness, love, and redemption (5:12). If we proclaim that the cross of Christ changes sinners into saints, murderers into lovers, and thieves into givers, we better express our own sinfulness as crucified and our hearts as concentrated to God.
Now we come to what I believe to be the driving force of our text. Paul talks about the love of Christ that constrains him. But before we get to vs. 14, we must address vs. 13, which is a little obscure. It reads, "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, is for you." In the Greek, it literally reads something like this: "For if we are thrown out of our minds, it is for God. If we are of sound mind, it is for you" (my translation). Now, while there may be a couple ways one could properly interpret this, I believe there is one interpretation that is most plausible; one in which that doesn't do damage to the character of Paul or to the integrity of Scripture.
The word that gives the idea of "being out of one's mind" is ἐξίστημι (existymi). This is where we get our English word ecstasy. In English it can have the idea of being in a state beyond reason and self-control. In Greek there can be the sense of astonishment or amazement (Luke 24:22; Acts 8:9), or being out of one's mind (Mark 3:21). In our context it refers to the latter.
There are some who would say that in our text Paul is talking about his Apostolic revelations, as in 2 Corinthians 12:2 when he was caught up into the third heaven, whether "he was in the body or out of the body" being the governing idea that alludes to a state of ecstasy (ἐξίστημι). But one student of the Word correctly says , "This [his third heaven experience]…was essentially a private experience, not mentioned elsewhere nor commonly known, and concerning which he uses the most guarded and indeed cryptic terms".2 Paul would not include others into this experience (hence the 1st person plural pronoun, we); and, furthermore, being caught up into the third heaven is a place so marvelous that man is not permitted to speak about (2 Cor. 12:14), so he kept it very private, only mentioning it once.
A more plausible understanding is that this state of mind is referring to Paul's current disposition as viewed through the eyes of his opponents. Paul, like Jesus (Mark 3:21), was thought to be out of his senses. His message was foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). The unbelieving world around him viewed Paul and his message as ridiculous (nothing new under the sun!). When Paul was brought before king Agrippa to defend himself because of the message he was preaching, and after he finished explaining his conversion story and the task given to him to preach Christ as the hope for Gentiles and Jews, procurator Festus cried out against him that he was out of his mind (Act 26:24; μαίνομαι literally means to be insane). Why would he seem to be insane? Let me recap the Paul's message for you.
First, we start with the true condition of all people when they are born: totally depraved (Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:3). Man is so depraved that he can't obey God's command not to eat a piece of fruit.3 Therefore man becomes incompetent. Man is so incompetent that God decides to send His Son to live a life he couldn't. What does that mean God had to send His Son? That means God the Son, the second person in the Trinity, stepped down from His holy habitation and took on human nature, in which He will stay for all eternity (yet in a glorified state).
And that means, in simple terms, God walked the earth. Crazy? Well…not yet. He actually came to die. He died on a cross, the most gruesome death one can die. We like to think of a partly clothed Jesus with a few stripes on His back. Try an unrecognizable, naked Jesus with bone showing. Why did He need to do this? Because you're a sinner. Because we're sinners. That's stupid. That's crazy. Isn't there a better way? And so goes Paul's sanity, and everyone else's who preaches this message on deaf ears.
So Paul is saying that in whatever condition he seems to be in, whether mad to some and sound to others, it is not for his sake. His behavior is selfless. It doesn't matter what others say about him; he is preaching the message of the cross irrespective of other persons opinions concerning the content of its teachings. If the Bible says that the whole world has a sickness that can only be remedy by the blood of the Son of God (1 John 2:2), who rose from the grave (Matt. 28:6), who is exalted with the Father (Acts 2:33), who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), he will proclaim that message with all sincerity and truth, no matter how silly, how foolish it might seem to others.
This should be our objective as well. We should do all things selflessly, looking to benefit our brothers and sisters in the Lord; and when we are witnessing, looking to teach the truth unreservedly. There is a force so powerful, so constraining, that it will drive out all fear of man and praise of self, seeking only to glorify Christ and His cross. The love of Christ is such that it will constrain the hardest sinner to a ministry of love and, paradoxically, to a ministry of death. The ministry of love comes to us from the person of Christ. Once we have this love in Christ, the ministry of death comes to our old nature. We die. We realize that Christ died for us, thereby having love saturate us with a truth so powerful that it literally breaks us down. Yet though we are broken down, we are not crushed. The Christian has something everyone out of Christ does not have: a love so strong it literally holds them together.
Listen to the weight of what is being said. No other religion in the world claims such wonder. "For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor 5:14-15 ESV). The word used for control is συνέχω (soonecho). A better word would be "constrain," as in the King James Version. This main verb of vs. 14 has the idea of holding something together by force. Some people in the crowd covered (συνέχω )their ears so that they couldn't hear the message (Acts 7:57), and the Apostle Paul had conflicting desires (to be with Christ or remain in his ministry on earth), both being hard-pressed (συνέχω) against him as strong forces compelling him either way (Phil. 1:3). The idea of controlling is there, like a strong force controlling in what direction its object goes that its in possession over.
The love of Christ holds Paul together. And it is fitting that it does so. Him being out of his mind by some and in his right mind by others naturally created a lot of pressure on Paul. If he let it get to him—the opinion of man—he could have easily fallen into despair of having a ministry so difficult. This goes for all Christians. Preaching a message that proclaims the Son of God crucified is not appealing to a lot of people, and opposition will come in many different forms on that account. Telling others that they are held accountable for their actions to a God who is completely unique (holy), righteous, and just won't make you the likable person at your work place. Why? Because as soon as this revelation takes place they will realize the most horrible truth in all the world: they are sinners. Calling someone a sinner is the same as telling them they are not worthy of anything, they deserve only wrath, and should be punished for their mere existence. If you don't believe that's true, then think a while on why God had to die on a cross and not just another human being. Without preaching the cross, that Christ died for sinners of whom everyone is one, no one will come to Him and repent of their sin.
On the flip side, we have a love so strong that it holds us together. Our sin may be great, but God's love in Christ is greater. When a person properly understands their position as a sinner in relation to God, they break down and repent. When a sinner breaks down and repents, they condescend to a position where the love of Christ is so powerful that it picks them up and holds their life together. Not only that but that love controls them in their ministry to others.
The love of Christ in this passage is a plenary genitive. This means that Christ can be both the subject and the object. Christ is first the subject. This is Christ's love (He is the subject acting) that first comes to us that constrains us. And then because that great love is within us, Christ is the object (we are now the acting agent while Christ is the object) of our love, and consequently other people are recipients of this love, because we express our love for them under the revelation that Christ loves us.
But why is this so powerful? What is the reason for this understanding taking over and constraining us? "…because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (5:14b-15 ESV). Every believer has realized the significance of Christ's death for them.
The Christian knows that they cannot keep the law of God. Furthermore they know they have a penalty to pay because of sin. They need a substitute. Christ died on their behalf. When they realize this through the working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they repent, spiritually die, and our made into new creations (5:17). The purpose of this new birth is so that they will not live for themselves but for Christ, who died for them (5:15b).
The world is in great need. They are in need of the message of Christ's love. But they will never experience the weight of this love until they understand the weight of their sin. The holiness of God reveals sin. The holiness of God is revealed in the cross of Christ, for God pronounced His righteous anger on sin because of His utter holiness, thereby showing that the sacrifice for sin must meet the demands of justice. And nothing less than perfection could substitute for the crimes committed against a completely sacred Being.
The fear of the Lord is a good reason to witness, trying our utmost to persuade men that Jesus is the Christ. Our godly character, as its understood in the context of grace, shines brightly in dark places. The behavior of Christians has a powerful influence on the witness of Christians. More than anything we must have the constraining love of Christ control our actions, desires, and behavior towards others. May Jesus become the object of our affections, having Him satisfy everything within us, because everything satisfying is within Him.
1Some would say that the fear of the Lord for the Christian excludes the idea of being scared or terrified of God in a negative sense. I believe you can't rule out the idea of being scared of God completely, even if He is now our heavenly Father. If we believe what the Bible says about God, that "his greatness is unsearchable"(Ps. 145:3 ESV); that is, everything that God is He possess to the highest degree, then our finite frailty must recoil in some negative sense to this revelation and find God as majestically terrifying.
2Hughes, P. (1962). The New International Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
3However, we should and must not single out this one act of disobedience to the exclusion of all other responsibilities Adam had in the first covenant, the covenant of works. Robertson says, "All that Adam did had direct bearing on his relation to the covenant God of creation. The creational ordinances of marriage, labor, and Sabbath did not have a distinctive existence separated from Adam's responsibility to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. His life as a covenant creature must be viewed as a unified whole." And at the same time this one test was crucial in the turning point of history. Robertson says, "Yet the response to the particular prohibition concerning the tree was crucially determinative. The focal point of the covenant rested specifically on this single test." Robertson, O. P. (1980). The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., pp. 82-83.
Hughes, P. (1962). The New International Commentary: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Robertson, O. P. (1980). The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. .
Ryan Reynolds was born in Houston, Texas and has spent most of his life residing in Houston and the surrounding suburban areas. He grew up in a tightly knit family of six who have encouraged and helped push him along his desired path of advancing God's kingdom.
In a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ through the Word of God, Ryan was graciously saved at the age of twenty-two. Since then he has made it his aim to thoroughly understand the Bible, so that he can help re-insert sound teaching into a culture that has lost sight of godliness.
Ryan is a third year student at Sangre de Cristo Seminary in Westcliffe, Colorado. He is studying for a Master of Divinity, which he hopes to attain after completion of an undergraduate degree in biblical studies.
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