Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not 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 urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Paul’s Corinthian converts do not seem to have been particularly loyal to him or his message. A groundswell of opposition has been fomented by individuals who challenge his authority and introduce a rival teaching. Theirs is a theology of glory. They emphasise showy externals, they draw attention to their own power and authority rather than God’s. All is not well. This is a critical juncture in Paul’s missionary career; the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian Christians is on the line.
So in a passionate outburst of lyrical fervour, Paul pours out what he believes, and exhorts these converts to hear God’s message of reconciliation. This is not, they must see, an exercise in self-promotion on his part, as if he were setting out his stand in a leadership contest, but an illustration for them of what it means to be an ambassador for Christ. They are to recognise that at all times Paul stands in conscience before God. His motives are pure. He needs no other credentials. With that in mind, they must realise for themselves the truth of what Paul is proclaiming to them. This is the good news of God’s love, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus died for all his people, they in faith must die to self and live for God.
And so a new world is born and a new age, where men and women, their hearts renewed, are reconciled with God and with one another.
Is Paul’s exhortation timely? As we consider the church’s life and mission in the world today, are we also tempted to be self-focussed, absorbed in our own concerns, carried away by showy externals? If so Paul reminds us of the need to lay ourselves before God and align ourselves with God’s work of reconciliation in Christ.
All holy God, Create in me a pure heart that I might know the joy of your salvation. Give me grace to proclaim your reconciling power In Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord. Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC.
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