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Sunday 13 June 2021: Trinity 2, Eleventh in Ordinary time, Proper 6

The compelling love of the Gospel of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

By Clive Burrows

Retired Minister, Church of the Nazarene; Cultural Consultant, Church of the Nazarene, Eurasia Region

Context: Morning Worship Service – medium sized congregation, mixed ages, some of whom are committed Christians and others who are new contacts and enquirers

Aim: to encourage hearers to confidence, commitment, and Christ-centred love even after failure, confusion and division

Paul, the founding apostle-pastor of the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1-18), endured a turbulent relationship with the congregation there. They had been too influenced by the standards of the prevailing culture; and too easily persuaded by the false teaching and prejudice of a group of infiltrators who had led them astray, confused them, and emboldened them to oppose Paul and reject both his teaching and his authority in the gospel.

On receiving an encouraging report from Titus recounting a change of mind in the Corinthian congregation Paul wrote the magnificent letter 2 Corinthians. This epistle expounds clearly the ‘Gospel of Reconciliation’, through the redemptive work of Christ, and spells out its implications for all disciples of Jesus. The letter is with thanksgiving, explanation (and defence), teaching, warning and exhortation, all flowing from his understanding of the reconciling work of Christ. The hostile criticism Paul had suffered in the past benefits us since, in the epistle, he articulates what is perhaps his clearest and most detailed account of his theology of ministry (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12 ff).

Our passage is lifted from the context of its preceding verses and following verses, so it is important to keep the theme of reconciliation in view, bearing in mind that Paul addresses a group that have been found wanting in their understanding of the gospel, their practice of discipleship and their relationship to him.

The gospel Paul expounds is one that brings confidence and assurance. The words ‘confident’ and ‘know’ are repeated (2 Corinthians 5:6,8,11 cf. 5:1). This confidence is assured by the conviction of God’s purpose for our being and the giving of the Holy Spirit to us as the deposit and guarantee of the fullness of life to come.

This gives the believer purpose and the supreme goal of pleasing the Lord whether in the present or the future life (5:9 cf. 5:5). This is possible when we live by faith and not by sight - when our confidence is in the Lord who is faithful even through the experiences of life where we do not discern his activity on our behalf (5:7). In our resolve to fulfil Christ’s purposes we are not to forget that Christ’s judgment is the necessary companion of his mercy and that we will finally be accountable to him (5:10). Our thinking, motives, speech, and actions are all fully known to God and ought also to bring such self- awareness within the disciple of Christ (5:11b), that creates a reverent fear of his righteous nature (5:11a).

Paul is not self-commending or boasting here, but explaining the ground of mutual understanding, which offers an answer to those who oppose this Gospel and Paul, whom God has appointed to proclaim it. The truth of Christ’s redeeming, sacrificial and triumphant love is at the heart of Paul’s ministry. The ‘compelling love’ of the ‘Gospel of Reconciliation’ commends him to proclaim its truth to all, so that they too will be the recipients of this reconciling love (5:14-15).

This ‘compelling love’ had transformed Paul’s worldview by removing the former limiting lenses which blinded him to the knowledge of Christ, and to the worth of individuals for whom Christ died, giving him a Christ-enlightened worldview after the scales fell from his eyes so that he could see clearly (Acts 9:3-18). This not only transformed Paul’s worldview, but it also transformed Paul the man and the world in which he lived. It remade Paul to become a new person in a new world. He was a new creation, everything that he formally knew and experienced had changed, the old – gone; the new – dawned! (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

The glorious conclusion comes in the verses which follow:

‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (5:18-21)

This reconciling love is not just for Paul, for apostles, pastors, and leaders. It is for everyone who will receive it. This compelling love brings confidence, commitment, and Christ-centred life to all, even to those who have failed in their discipleship of Jesus. In the words of an old gospel song:

‘Oh, turn to that love, weary wandering soul, Jesus pleading for thee.’

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