September 24, 2023
A Reconciled and Reconciling People
Text: 2Corinthians 5:1-21
This week, I was speaking with a friend. His job does not demand much physical activity. It is more “brain work,” per se. Recently, he found out that his shoulders needed strengthening. So, he is taking physical therapy to recover his thorough physical well-being.
In some way or another, we all try to do something to take care of our physical well-being. Between jogging and walking, I do about 12-14 miles every week. You see, we all make some effort to take care of the external aspect of our being, which is our body. But for many, concern for the external has gone to the extreme. It has become an obsession, an obsession with youth, beauty, accomplishment, credentials, productivity, or profit. That is because we live in a world that places worth on the externals. We are judged based on those qualities, how we look, and what we have achieved.
But the problem of being judged based on looks, productivity, and accomplishments is not only a recent one. That was exactly what Paul was facing when he wrote 2Corinthian, thus throughout the letter we hear him defending himself. In this letter, Paul uses the word sunistao, translated as “commend” seven times. The word means “to prove,” “to show,” “to compare with another,” or “to demonstrate.” Paul had been called “a religious huckster,” (2:17) “a conman,” (4:2) “a mad (crazy) man” (5: “weak, timid, and unimpressive” (10:1, 10). Those who opposed Paul’s ministry judged him solely on external factors. Therefore, in Paul’s defense, he insisted that God does not judge by external factors as men do because God sees the heart. He knows what is in the heart of people. And in the end, it is not the appearance that will be rewarded. God will reward each one according to deeds done in life. If those deeds pleased God the reward would be life everlasting, but if they did not, the reward would be eternal damnation.
In verses 1-5, Paul addresses the issue of his possible weak looks. He accepts the fact that he is getting old and wasting away. But he acknowledges that human life is always passing; it is temporary. It is like the time spent sheltered in a tent. But even so, God places high value on human life, regardless of its fragility and finitude. For us believers, however, our existence does not end when leave the shelter of the flimsy tent. There is an eternal building in heaven, not built by human hands, awaiting everyone who placed his or her trust in Jesus. But for that to happen, that is, to move from tent life to the heavenly life in God’s building, death must happen. That is because mortality cannot inherit what is immortal. But humanly speaking, no one wants to die. Even those who have been blessed to live well into their golden year, do not want to die. So, that poses a dilemma for the believer. Paul states it this way: “We know that being in this body means being away from the close presence of the Lord and being away from this body means being in the very presence of the Lord.” Paul expresses the conundrum we as believers have. On the one hand, we wish we were with the Lord, but on the other, we are so grateful we are still here. We are thankful for this life. It is everything we know. We have a family to love and who loves us. We have things to do, which gives us satisfaction. We have goals, which with the passing of each day we draw close to them. We have dreams we look forward to making reality. And even when there are bumps on the road of life, we are grateful for every day God gives us the privilege of the light of day.
For that very reason, Paul says, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”
Every morning, I begin my day with a prayer for my family, myself, and each of you: that Jesus is revealed through us in every encounter we have, either in person, by phone, through instant messaging, or any other form of engagement with others. In short, in everything we do or say we please the Lord and give others the possibility of seeing Christ in us.
Above every goal we have in life, to please the Lord should be our supreme goal. Thus, we must live mindful of everything we do or say. We should remember that every word spoken in kindness, every good intention behind what we do, besides being a blessing to someone, the Lord is also pleased and glorified by it. But there is another reason. Paul reminds us: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (v.10). Every word we speak, every deed we do will one day be rewarded, whether good or bad.
This supreme goal to please the Lord in every way, this acute awareness that every action and word will one day be rewarded is what Paul calls, living in the fear of the Lord. And fear is not in the sense of dread, but of reverence, of humility, and submission to the Lord. Thus Paul says: Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.
The desire to please God and to show reverence to Him are never out of selfish personal goals. As believers in Christ, we also try to encourage others to do the same. The love of God, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, compels us to encourage others to also please God. We do this because we are convinced that we should no longer care for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised again.
We do not live anymore just for ourselves. Something very powerful has happened to us. We no longer see each other simply “according to the flesh.” Thus, Paul writes: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (v. 16). But now we see Jesus and everyone from a divine perspective and it changes everything.
Let me remind you of something here. Paul must have been a contemporary of Jesus. From the accounts in the book of Acts of the Apostle, we can have a peek into Paul’s view of Jesus. Paul couldn’t see Jesus as being more than a regular man. Thus, Jesus’ claim of being the Son of God and more importantly, when the apostle proclaimed Jesus was God’s Messiah, Lord, and Ultimate Judge, Paul’s rage and religious zeal consumed him. He consented to the death of Stephen, the first martyr for the sake of Jesus. And in Acts we find this: But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison (Acts 8:3). Paul was at one point in time, a fierce enemy of Christ and his church. Paul saw how Stephen died. Paul must have dragged godly men and godly women by their hair into prison, simply because he regarded them according to the flesh. However, Paul’s perception changed the day the Risen Lord met him on the Road to Damascus. Since then, he came to realize that Jesus was not just a mere man, but Savior, Lord, and Ultimate Judge. With it, Paul’s perception of those in Christ also changed. They were not simply a bunch of confused and misled people. Thus he claims: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! Why? Because first and foremost, you have been reconciled to God. You are now in good standing before God. Through Jesus, God’s mercy of forgiveness has been given to you and me. Thus, we are a new creation.
In that light, we can no longer see each other in terms of how we look on the outside. We can no longer disregard each other based on social, economic, racial, or ethnic background. Every believer has been and is declared a new creation and for whom the old is gone and the new is here to stay. How beautiful is that! In Christ, we remain new even if we are getting old.
But God’s reconciling project is not over yet. God’s reconciliation project has been committed into our hands. The church is the place where we should see what God’s shalom will be like when the kingdom of God comes to its fullness. Reconciliation is more than just an impersonal idea. Real reconciliation should bring alienated individuals into true loving relationships. True reconciliation comes as a result of dealing with the frictions, grudges, and misunderstandings that have long been swept under the rug. You see, God’s reconciliation is not only vertical—us and God, but also horizontal—peace with each other. And it will be impossible to enter God’s shalom if we do not know that shalom amongst ourselves. As the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord (12:14). Sometimes, it’s sinful stubbornness or pride that prevents us from fixing things with one another.
But as ambassadors of Christ, we should also appeal to our friends, relatives, and neighbors who have yet to be made new to be reconciled with God. And, as Paul says, we should implore others to also be reconciled to God. We should implore God to touch the hearts of our friends and relatives, so that they may also experience God’s renewing power.
God has reconciled us to himself and sends us to plead with others to be reconciled to the Lord. That is who we are and what we are called to do. May the Spirit of the Lord empower us to both live as God’s reconciled people and to seek others to be reconciled with God. Amen!