June 28, 2020 The Ministry of Reconciliation

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Our scripture reading this morning is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

 

In verse 18 Paul writes, “All this is from God.”

 

“All this” refers to all the positive things mentioned verses 14 through 17.

 

  • It is God’s plan and work that Christ died for us.
  • It is God’s purpose that, because Christ died, we died in Him also.
  • It is of God that we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ.
  • It is of God that we no longer regard people according to outward appearance.
  • God is the one who made you a new creation.

 

Paul goes on to say that God, through Christ, reconciled us to Himself. The “us” includes Paul and Timothy. No matter how good people think they are, everyone is at enmity with God. That is to say, everyone begins in a broken relationship with God.

 

It doesn’t matter whether you were raised as a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew, an atheist, or as a Christian. We have all sinned and our sin makes us at odds with a Holy God. (Now, it does make a difference how we were raised as a youth with respect to having knowledge about the Savior and having a foundation to fall back upon when our spirits are awakened to our true condition. But, it makes no difference in avoiding the broken relationship we have with God at the beginning of our short lives.)

 

We must see that everyone we meet, everyone we speak with, is in a broken relationship with God unless they have already made peace with him through the cross of Christ. It doesn’t matter whether they are nice, friendly, and patriotic. Or, whether they are cranky, unfriendly, and unappreciative. Their sin, whether hidden or out in the open, places them on bad terms with God. The terms are so bad that, unless they repent and receive Christ as Lord and Savior, they will spend an eternity separated from God and in suffering.

 

So, God reconciled Paul and Timothy. Once they were reconciled, he gave them the ministry of reconciliation. This is the divine pattern. First, we need to be reconciled. Then, after we have been reconciled, we help others to see their need for reconciliation with the Living God. Paul is sharing his experience in reconciliation with the church so that they will understand that this is their calling, too.

 

It is abnormal for a follower of Christ not to be actively involved in a ministry of reconciliation. When a person first comes to saving faith they have the experience of great relief and joy in knowing that their sins are forgiven and that they are right with God. They naturally have a desire to share this good news with others. Often, they do that. Then, what usually happens, is that many cease sharing their faith. Partly because so many in the lukewarm church do not do so. In other words, they fall into the pattern they see around them.

 

 

 

We must resist this tendency towards lukewarmness and spectatorship. We must see ourselves in the triumphal procession as Christ’s captives, bringing forth the aroma of life to some and death to others (2:14-17). We must pick up the ministry of reconciliation.

 

Paul then makes himself clear in verse 19:

 

that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.[1]

 

The entire world needs reconciliation! There is no one who is right with God before they come to Christ. It is only through Christ that a person can be made right with God because only Christ died for the sins of his people. When a person comes to Christ God no longer counts their trespasses, their sins, against them! Praise Him!

 

Then Paul repeats himself: God entrusted the message of reconciliation to him and Timothy. In order to be reconciled you have to trust in the message. There is a message, a story, to be believed. Greg Koukl calls it the story of reality. I like that expression quite much! There is a message! We cannot get people reconciled by just being nice. We cannot get people reconciled by being a good example, even though we should be. We must tell them a message! This message of reconciliation was entrusted to Paul and Timothy. But it has also been entrusted to you. It has been entrusted to every follower of Christ.

 

Verse 20, in most translations, reads in the second half of the verse: “We implore you on behalf of Christ.” Or, something very similar. But, the word “you” is not in the original. Paul did not write “you.” It has been added by the translators. Therefore, I am going to use the Holman Christian Standard Bible in considering this verse[2]:

 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”[3]

 

What is an ambassador? He is an authorized representative of a sovereign. He speaks not in his own name but on behalf of the ruler whose deputy he is, and his whole duty and responsibility is to convey the wishes and words of the one he represents faithfully to whom he is sent.

 

Paul is saying that he and Timothy were commissioned by the Lord to represent Him. They were certain that they were ambassadors.

 

An ambassador is a privileged and honored position. Eight U.S. Presidents were ambassadors before they were President. Ben Franklin, Frederick Douglass, and Alan Keyes were ambassadors. Shirley Temple was ambassador to Czechoslovakia. To be an ambassador for the United States is honorable. But to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ is immeasurably more honorable!

 

Paul and Timothy were ambassadors for Christ! They are telling this to the Corinthians because they want them to know that they, too, are ambassadors. If you have received reconciliation, then your next calling is to be a minister of reconciliation. If Jesus is your Lord, then your next calling is to be his ambassador.

 

Someone is thinking, “I’m not good enough to be an ambassador.” Or, “I’m not capable enough to be an ambassador.” Do you. Know what? You are right! You are neither good enough nor capable enough! That is why the Lord didn’t just leave it up to you. This is why Paul asks in 2:16, “Who is sufficient for these things?” It was a rhetorical question. The answer is: “No one is sufficient!”

 

In chapter three he writes:

 

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [4]

 

You are not capable. But you will be sufficient because God will make you sufficient!

 

In chapter four Paul wrote:

 

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.[5]

 

The surpassing power of God will not only make you an ambassador, but a faithful ambassador!

 

Verse 20 of chapter 5 also tells us the main request of an ambassador: “Be reconciled to God.”

 

Verse 21 gives the main message of the one who is a minister of reconciliation:

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[6]

 

Verse 21 is one of the most precious verses in the entire Bible. It summarizes the core of the gospel message. In fact, it more than summarizes it. It explains it.

 

The truth that Christ died for our sins is found throughout the New Testament numerous times. But, in most instances, it is simply stated and not explained.

 

This verse describes what happened when Christ died for our sins. It shows us that there was a great exchange! Jesus was the one who “knew no sin.” He is the only person who ever lived that did not sin. The verse says that Jesus became sin. This is the strongest way that Paul could express the truth that Jesus took our sins upon Himself. The Father looked upon His Son and saw sin, our sin. Specifically, only the sins of those who trust in Christ.

 

What a blessed truth! What an encouragement! All our sins were taken by Christ if we trust in Him!

 

This verse does not tell us that we then receive the righteousness of Christ. Paul reveals that elsewhere, such as in I Cor. 1:30 and Philippians 3:9. What an exchange! Christ becomes my sin and I receive the very righteousness of Christ!

 

Wait a minute. Doesn’t the last half of verse 21 say that we become the righteousness of God? It does not. It says that we might become the righteousness of God. In Greek (the original language) the mood of the verb, become, is subjunctive. This condition of the verb means that it may or may not happen. It is an intention, but only a possibility.

 

In order to understand what Paul is saying here, we need to know one thing. When Paul uses the word, righteousness, he sometimes uses it in an objective sense and sometimes in a subjective sense. “Preacher, I don’t know what you are talking about. I heard those words in High School, but I didn’t know what they meant then and I don’t know what they mean now.” They are not that hard. Let me give you a simple refresher. “Objective” means it is outside of you in the sense that it doesn’t matter what you feel or perceive; it’s the way it really is. “Subjective means that it is inside of you. It is the way you are.

 

When it comes to righteousness (being right in the sight of God), objective righteousness means the way God sees us because of Christ. It is, simply put, Christ’s righteousness applied to us. Subjective righteousness is the righteousness that we have in ourselves – our own righteousness. We don’t have much of that and what we do have is only because of the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives.

 

If we have trusted in Christ then God has already given us His righteousness (Phil 3:9). However, he doesn’t leave us in our own condition. He desires to see us conformed to the image of His Son in a practical way. This is why Paul writes that in Christ “we might become the righteousness of God.”[7] We begin the life of faith in having all our sins taken away (Hallelujah!!) and receiving the righteousness of Christ (God sees us as holy.). Then we begin a process of sanctification, that is, being made different from the world and more like Jesus. This takes a lifetime and requires our cooperation.

 

God is calling you to become the righteousness of God!

 

[Conclusion] What are we to do with this wonderful knowledge? Paul has revealed marvelously good things to us here. If we only know these things and fail to act upon them then we are, of all men, most miserable.

 

First, we must be certain that we ourselves have been reconciled to God. We must be sure that we have trusted in Christ. The word “believe” is used in most translations of the Bible with respect to exercising faith in the Person of Christ. It is a good word but, regrettably, it has many meanings in modern English. It can mean a vague hope or it can mean simply intellectual agreement. But those are not the biblical understandings of the word.[8] Having a vague hope or simply believing some facts about Him does not save. To believe means to trust. In order to be reconciled to God we trust in Christ as both Savior and Lord. We understand that his sacrifice took away our sins because he bore them on the cross and we change our allegiance from self-allegiance to following Christ as our Lord.

 

According to revelation, there are certain evidences that we have been reconciled to God. Before, we spurned God’s law. After reconciliation, we love God’s law (Psalm 1:2; 119:97; John 14:24; 15:10; I John 5:3). Before, we found reasons to avoid meeting with God’s people. After reconciliation, we meet regularly with God’s people (I John 2:19; Hebrews 10:25; Mark 10:29-30). Before we loved little. After reconciliation, we love our brothers and sisters in Christ (I John 4). None of these things contribute one iota to our initial salvation, but they are the evidence that we have been reconciled.

 

Second, once we have been reconciled, we commit to the ministry of reconciliation. If you do not feel capable then you are in good company. Neither Paul nor Timothy felt capable. God makes you capable by His Spirit. There is only one thing that you have to do. Open your mouth. I know that you can do that. Your wife told me so. Your husband told me so. Your mother told me so. The Spirit will do the rest.

 

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 5:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Other versions that translate the passage without “you”: Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, Disciples Literal New Testament, International Standard Version, The Literal Translation (Jay P Green; Sovereign Grace Publisher), New Living Translation, New Testament for Everyone, Orthodox Jewish Bible, The Voice Translation, Weymouth Translation, Worldwide English New Testament, and Young’s Literal Translation.

[3] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (2 Co 5:20). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 3:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 5:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Some commentators will say that Paul is talking about objective righteousness even here. However, besides the mood being subjunctive, the voice of the verb is in the middle voice. This strongly implies that the subject of the verb (us) participates in the process. We do not participate in receiving Christ’s righteousness. It is wholly and exclusively the work of God.

[8] The Greek word is pisteuo.