7. A Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (22:24)

Bernardo Daddi, 'St. Paul' (1333), tempera on panel, 233.7 x 89.2 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Bernardo Daddi, "St. Paul” (1333), tempera on panel, 233.7 x 89.2 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

This lesson is very much a continuation of the themes of the previous lesson. Paul has talked about Christ's love that compels us to persuade men of the truth of the gospel in light of the judgment. Now he turns to what this salvation looks like in an individual and our role in the process of God's program of reconciliation.

A New Creation in Christ (5:16-17)

Because Christ died for all, Paul now sees each person in a different light.

"16 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. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (5:16-17)

So often we judge people according to the various categories we have set up – male / female, hetero / homo, black / white /Asian / Hispanic, white collar / working class / unemployed, married / single / living-together, conservative / moderate / liberal, Republican / Democrat / Independent, child / teen / young adult / middle aged / old. We pigeon-hole people into our own categories and then can't see beyond them to what actually defines them as people. This is a worldly point-of-view.[203] Jesus sees them differently. He sees God at work in them.

Paul once regarded Christ as a heretical Jewish rabbi, thankfully executed for his sins, and his followers as dangerous subversives who must be stopped at any cost. But outside Damascus everything changed. Paul cried out, "Who are you, Lord?” And the answer he received turned his world upside down: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5).

Paul had what is called a "paradigm shift.” That is, the working hypothesis by which he evaluated his world was dramatically altered. Now he saw everything in a new light.

In the same way, Paul says,

"16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view..... 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (5:16a, 17)

People who find Jesus and are rescued by him don't just "get religion.” They are changed in some fundamental way. Paul calls them "a new creation.” "Creation/creature” is ktisis, "the result of a creative act, that which is created.”[204] The New Testament uses several other words to describe this, including:

  • Born again/anew/from above (John 3:3, 5; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9; 5:18)
  • Made alive, quickened (Ephesians 2:5; John 5:24; 1 John 3:14)
  • Regenerated, rebirth (Titus 3:5)
  • Washed (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5)
  • Renewed (Ephesians 3:10)
  • Sealed (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30)

We Christians believe that when Jesus saves us and puts his Holy Spirit in our hearts that a life-altering change has taken place. A new life has been formed by the Creator, which is being nurtured by the Holy Spirit.

If you are discouraged at the little fruit in your life or the little change, look to your Creator! He has put his life within you and set you on a new course. You have changed on the inside. Now just cooperate with him so that the inward change begins to affect and alter your outward life as well. It is a process. It takes time. But the beginning creative work of the Holy Spirit has begun.

This verse brings to mind a simple chorus:

"I'll never be the same again, oh no,
I'll never be the same again, oh no,
Since I found the Lord, I am not the same,
And I'll never be the same again!”[205]

Q1. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) What does verse 17 teach us about the nature of a new believer? What changes in a person when he puts his faith in Christ? Why don't old habits disappear immediately if everything has become new?
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Reconciliation (5:18-19)

We Christians are not members of an exclusive "born again” club. Far from it! We have a message that he can change anyone! Jesus can rescue and renew anyone! There is hope in Jesus! Now Paul points us to our own personal mission.

"18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (5:18-19)

To reconcile means to exchange hostility for a friendly relationship.[206] To restore to friendship or harmony.[207] Families sometimes have a falling out. Sisters no longer speak to one another. Husbands leave, wives and children are abandoned. Adultery and alcoholism and greed alienate people. Reconciliation is needed, to take what was broken and mend it, to heal a relationship. That's what God has done.

The problem is that many times it isn't just an unfortunate misunderstanding. It is caused and exacerbated by grievous sins. Unless the man is willing to forsake his philandering ways, his wife is unwilling to take him back. Unless the woman deals with her drug addiction, her relationship with her children can never be healed.

Now look at what God did about the sin that was at the root of our estrangement from God.

"God ... reconciled us to himself through Christ.... that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.” (5:18b-19a)

The reason that God could justly stop counting our sins against him is because he had laid those sins on Christ, "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In two other letters, Paul discusses this act of reconciliation that centers on the cross.

"For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10)

"But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Colossians 1:22)

Ambassadors of Reconciliation (5:18-20)

God is the chief Reconciler by sending his Son to bear our sins. But now he delegates to us a role in this reconciliation process.

"All this is from God, who ... gave us the ministry of reconciliation[208].... 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.” (5:18-20)

Paul discusses three roles that we have in his reconciliation program:

  1. Ministry of Reconciliation. "Ministry” is diakonia, "functioning in the interest of a larger public, service, office.”[209] We have an official capacity to fulfill. In America, the government usually has departments or agencies. But in Europe they're often called ministries. Instead of America's Secretary of State, England has a Foreign Minister. In the same way, we are official representatives, ministers of God's Ministry of Reconciliation.
  2. Message of Reconciliation. "Message” (NIV, NRSV), "word” (KJV) is logos, here, "a communication whereby the mind finds expression, word.”[210] This word or message has been "committed” (NIV, KJV) or "entrusted” (NRSV) to us.[211] The Message puts it this way: "God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing.” (5:19).
  3. Ambassadors of Christ. "Ambassador” is the verb presbeuō, "be an ambassador/envoy, travel or work as an ambassador.”[212] (We get our words "presbyter” and "Presbyterian” from this root.) Literally, this phrase would read, "On behalf of (hyper) of Christ we serve as ambassadors....” Hyper is a preposition indicating that an activity or event is in some entity's interest, "for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone or something.”[213]

An ambassador in a country's foreign service lives in a foreign country, but is charged with communicating clearly his president's or prime minister's words and positions. An ambassador cannot operate in silence, but is a constant voice who bears his kingdom's message. See how personal and direct this communication can be:

"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.” (5:20)

"Appeal” (NIV, NRSV), "beseech” (KJV) is parakaleō, which means here, "to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage,”[214] and is used in this strong sense also in 12:8. The word could be translated, "to beg.” It's that strong!

Dear friends, we may not be foreign missionaries like the Apostle Paul, representing Jesus abroad. But we are very clearly Jesus' personal representatives in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our families. There is a sense, when we share the good news with people, that we are conveying Jesus' own personal love for that person. We also convey his authority. This delegation of love, authority, and message is indeed awesome!

"Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

 "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16; cf. Matthew 10:40)

"I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” (John 13:20)

Perhaps we would prefer to be quiet rather than take upon ourselves this kind of responsibility. But if we remain quiet, then the Kingdom of God has a faithless representative in the workplace, in the family, in the community. We cannot bear the name of Christ with authenticity unless we are willing to represent him as his ambassadors, as inadequate as we may feel we are for this task.

Q2. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) How have we humans been reconciled to God? What did God do so that reconciliation could take place? In what sense are you an Ambassador of the Kingdom of God? In what sense are you a Minister of Reconciliation for Jesus Christ?
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Substitutionary Atonement (5:21)

Now Paul shares part of the essential message of reconciliation, that our sins no longer need to be a barrier between us and God.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (5:21)

This verse is one of the clearest statements in the entire Bible of the Doctrine of the Substitutionary Atonement (also known as penal substitution or vicarious atonement). This refers to the Bible teaching that Jesus bore the penalty for our sins and took our place, so we didn't have to die for our own sins. A "substitute,” of course, is "a person or thing that takes the place or function of another.”[215] Let's examine this verse carefully.

Jesus had no sin. In a number of places, the Scripture affirms that Jesus did not sin and had no sin in himself to atone for (Hebrews 4:5; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; 2:1; John 14:30; 1 Peter 3:18). This alone sets him apart from any other human, from any other founder of a religion. He uniquely is sinless.[216]

"God made him to be sin.” God is the subject of this sentence.[217] God "made”[218] Jesus to be sin. That is, Jesus became the bearer of sin, as would a sacrifice under the Mosaic Law.

"For us” (NIV, KJV), "for our sake” (NRSV) represents the preposition hyper (that we examined in verse 20), "for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone or something.”[219]

"So that is the conjunction hina, a very common marker used to denote purpose, aim, or goal, "in order that, that,” in the final sense.[220] God's action was for the expressed purpose to free us from sin.

"In him.” We are now looked at by God as fused to Jesus Christ. We are united to him.

"We might become the righteousness of God.” The verb is ginomai, "be, become,” here in the sense, "to experience a change in nature and so indicate entry into a new condition, become something.”[221] The verb is in the Aorist tense which suggests a sudden event, not a gradual process. "Righteousness” is dikaiosynē, here, the "quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness.”[222] Because Jesus took our sins upon him, we take upon us his righteousness which comes from God. It was this righteousness that Paul sought. Righteousness obtained by obeying the law could do nothing to atone for sins. Paul expressed the desire to:

"... be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

Though our passage teaches the Doctrine of the Substitutionary Atonement quite clearly, it is taught throughout the New Testament. Some of these passages include:

"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'” (John 1:29)

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, alluding to Isaiah 53:5)

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18a)

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

Q3. (2 Corinthians 5:21) In what sense did Jesus "become sin” on our behalf? In what sense do we "become righteousness”?
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Today Is the Day of Salvation (6:1-2)

You can hear Paul the Preacher in this passage. He is appealing to the Corinthian believers directly. Two verses previous he had said:

"... As though God were making his appeal (parakaleō) through us. We implore (deomai) you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (5:20)

Now he continues this appeal:

"As God's fellow workers we urge (parakaleō) you not to receive God's grace in vain.” (6:1)

To "receive God's grace in vain” would mean that though they had been pardoned and cleansed by God and had been given a responsibility to share the good news of this reconciliation and atonement, but that they did nothing with it. They stayed silent. Paul isn't implying that the Corinthians had received God's grace in vain. He only exhorts them that there should be good fruit through their ministry to others.

What's more, this is an urgent matter.

"For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.' I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” (6:2)

We aren't to put off sharing the good news to a more convenient time – or resist God's speaking to us for another time. Paul cites Isaiah 49:8 here to underscore his appeal. "Now” is the time. "Today” is the day. We aren't to put it off, or God's work in us could be in vain.

This has been a rich chapter. Paul has exhorted the Corinthians of the urgency of Christ's love to see people become Christians, and to experience the new creation of the Holy Spirit. This reconciliation was God's purpose in sending Christ and we are ambassadors of this message. It is a strong message, an urgent message, and one that God is still speaking to us today.

Q4. (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2) If you, then, are called to be an urgent agent of reconciliation, how is this likely to affect your daily life? How will it affect how people perceive you? How will it affect how God perceives you?
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2 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also available in e-book and paperback

Prayer

Lord, put in our hearts the compelling love for Jesus that will share his message, speak his words, become ambassadors and reconcilers on his behalf. Thank you for the great price you paid through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Use us, we pray, in your grand plan of salvation for those around us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

"God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

"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.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

"I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b)

End Notes

[203] "Worldly/human point of view” (NIV/NRSV) is literally "after the flesh” (KJV), the preposition kata with the noun sarx, "flesh,” here used in the sense of "the outward side of life” as determined by normal perspectives or standards. (BDAG 916, 5).

[204] Ktisis, BDAG 573, 2a).

[205] Author unknown.

[206] "Reconciled” is katallassō, "the exchange of hostility for a friendly relationship, reconcile” (BDAG 523, a).

[207] Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

[208] "Reconciliation” is katallagē, "reestablishment of an interrupted or broken relationship, reconciliation” (BDAG 523).

[209] Diakonia, BDAG 230, 3.

[210] Logos, BDAG 598, 1aβ.

[211] This is the common verb tithēmi, "put, place,” with meaning, "fix, establish, set,” here, "as he established among us the word of reconciliation”  = "entrusted to us” (Tithēmi, BDAG 1003, 4b).

[212] Presbeuō, BDAG 862.

[213] Hyper, BDAG 1030, A1aδ.

[214] Parakaleō, BDAG 765, 2.

[215] Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

[216] The Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that the Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain and therefore free of original (hereditary) sin or personal sin. This was declared a dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The doctrine goes back as early as the fifth century in Syria, but was not embraced by the Eastern Church. This doctrine is not based on Scripture, but elevated Mary and was thought to protect Jesus from the transmission of original sin.

[217] The subject of the verb "he made” is clearly God by context. The end of the previous verse is theos, "God.”

[218] The verb is the very common poieō, "do, make,” here (with a double accusative), "make someone or something (into) something” (BDAG 840, 2hβ).

[219] Hyper, BDAG 1030, A1a.

[220] Hina, BDAG 475, 1a.

[221] Ginomai, BDAG 198, 5a.

[222] Dikaiosynē, BDAG 248, 2.


Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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