The Love of Christ Controls Us (5:14)
What rules your heart controls your life. What you love most will determine your behavior. Primary relationships always get the most mental air time. Day dreaming reveals your current life dream. These are all different wordings of the same answer to the ultimate question, “Why do we do the things we do?” Answer: we do what we do to serve who we love. That is as true when we sin as when we obey. It is as true when we are angry as when we express affection.
Paul is asking the Corinthians to assess his words and ministry based upon Who he loves most. It is important to note, Paul is not doing this as a tactic to get them to excuse an outburst or moral indiscretion. That would contradict his entire point and a horrible abuse of this passage. Paul is referring to his personal loving sacrifice as a way for the Corinthians to consider the accusation levied against Paul’s ministry—it was not outwardly impressive (assumedly, Paul’s opponents were flashier or had more charisma).
Reflection: Is it the love of Christ that controls you? One way to determine this is with the same dilemma that faced the Corinthians. When you are faced with two options (choosing friends, church/pastor, books, etc…), do you choose the more outwardly impressive or the Christ loving option? Paul made his appeal to the Corinthians on the basis of what should be “attractive” to a Christian. Paul trusted genuine conversion would influence them to the right choice.
Might No Longer Live for Themselves (5:15)
“But doesn’t God want me to be happy?” many people have asked as they struggle with a temptation that they are struggling to even call a temptation (after all that word sounds so negative). To which God replies, “Yes, I do want you to be happy, but as the Author of happiness and the Creator of you, I know what makes for true happiness.” This question is ultimately not about happiness, but trust.
Either we think we know best (and therefore live for ourselves), or we trust that God knows best (and follow His ways). Either way we are pursuing happiness, but it’s just a matter of whose map we trust to get us there. Jesus was very clear that this battle between trusting self and trusting God is foundational to happiness, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’ (Luke 9:23-24)”
Reflection: When are you most tempted to trust your definition of happiness more than God’s? What expressions does this false trust usually take? In these moments what is it that you are after that appears more satisfying than God? These are hard questions to be honest about. Yet until we are honest about our God-replacements we will not replace our idols with God. As you struggle to be honest with yourself and God, rely on the Gospel for the courage to see what is there. Remember, Christ became sin so that we would be defined by His righteousness not our failures or foolishness (II Cor 5:21).
New Creation with a History
In Christ we are a “new creation” (II Cor 5:17), but we still have a history. We have habits, preferences, relationships, and a fatally-wounded-yet-living-flesh as baggage in this new life. It does us little good to deny these things exist. As we seek to reconcile these two realities without succumbing to the temptations of shame or defensiveness, it is important to ask two questions.
What does it mean to be a new creation?
- Salvation is secure – when we become a new creation we die to death. Christ bore our sin. We are no longer the person who was damned to hell.
- Residual guilt is false – there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Rom 8:1). Guilt over past sin is a tool of our adversary not our Father.
- New gifts have been received – a transformation has occurred which should make us expect changes; namely, a heart for God’s kingdom and gifts to serve God.
What role does our history play in our life as a new creation?
- We are exploring redemption – with the curiosity of a child we are to explore our new life. Our history gives us a basis of comparison for the superiority of what we have in Christ.
- Our history gives a platform for ministry – we are a rescued captive called to rescue the captives. Our history gives us insider information about the enemy’s lies and traps by which we can express more clearly the message of redemption.
- God is greater than [our particular sin] – without history we have no basis of comparison. To know that God offers the most love, freedom, hope, peace, or joy we need something to measure by. Our past is “ground zero” by which we begin to measure the vast superiority of the Gospel (and our growth in grace) to anything else that could be offered.