Friday, February 16, 2018

THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

To reconcile is to make peace, to bring an end to hostility. We live in a hostile world. The root of that hostility is bound up in man's rebellion against God which leads to hostility towards others. Paul wrote, Now all these things (the new creation, vs.17) are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and who gave to us the ministry of reconciliation, that is God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting against them their sins, and having deposited in us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

Reconciliation begins with God and ends with man. God is no helpless victim of man's hostility. The hostility goes both directions. Humans rebelled against God and God is angry at humans. If we do not take the wrath of God seriously, then the cross becomes a cruel and unjust exercise of a petty deity. God, on the cross, poured out His wrath upon Christ to reconcile us to Himself (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.205). God takes the initiative in reconciliation. The verb translated "reconciled" (καταλλάξαντος) is in the active voice. Paul always uses the active voice of this verb to indicate God's actions while the passive voice indicates our response. God reconciles us. We are reconciled to God (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, p.396, fn. 14). The voice of the verb is theologically important. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God. Only God can reconcile us to Himself because only He can remove His hostility toward us.

The structure of these two verses in the Greek text is significant. God made peace with us by not counting against us our sins. How? He made peace with us because Jesus became sin for us (v.21). The cross is the foundation for our ministry of reconciliation. Vertical peace with God precedes horizontal peace with others. The cross is the basis for all peacemaking on earth.

God reconciled us to Himself through Christ
                        and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself
          not counting against them their sins
                        and having deposited in us the word of reconciliation.

Two parallel clauses describe our peacemaking service in this world. God gave, and God deposited. God gave (δόντος) to us the ministry of reconciliation. God acted unilaterally to remove His hostility toward us by paying for it on the cross. Reconciliation is His gift to us, so the ministry of reconciliation is also His gift to us (NIDNTT, 3:166). Ministry or service (διακονίαν) is a gift even as it is a deposit. God deposited (θέμενος) in us the word of reconciliation. The verb translated "deposited" is an Aorist participle of the verb τίθημι which means to put, place or lay something (BAGD, p.815). God put in us the word of reconciliation.

The ministry (διακονίαν) and the word (λόγον) are parallel. The ministry of reconciliation consists of the word of reconciliation. We announce peace. We proclaim the end of hostility. We speak reconciliation. As has often been said, the gospel is not good advice. It is good news. Our job is to announce the good news. We must be careful not to turn the good news into bad news by adding qualifiers to the word of reconciliation deposited in our lives. Our lives should reflect the reconciliation we received.

Vertical peace with God paves the way for horizontal peace with others. Paul is writing to a divided and conflicted church. The Christians were quarreling with each other and with him. Such fights are inconsistent with Christianity. We are given the ministry of peace talking. Peace talking is deposited in our lives. We are called to be peace talkers. The ministry of reconciliation is inextricably bound up in the apostolic preaching of the cross. We cannot at the same time announce peace with God while living in enmity with men!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A NEW WORLD DAWNING

The dawn of a new world has broken over the horizon of darkness. We, Christians, are the vanguard of God's new creation which will someday wholly replace the old world order. Paul wrote, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the entire old order has passed away, behold the new has come to be (2 Corinthians 5:17).

There is no verb in the opening clause so we must supply one. A common interpretation is to make this into a statement of personal regeneration. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The noun (κτίσις) can mean "creature," and it is certainly legitimate to supply "he is" as the verb. The verse would be understood as an explanation of regeneration. The form of the expression is similar to Rabbinic language for proselyte conversion and the forgiveness of sins (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p. 534). Paul uses similar language when he writes that we are created (κτισθέντες) in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). 

However, I think it best to understand the verse as speaking about a new creation that Christians inhabit when we are placed into Christ. Do the words "new creation" (καινὴ κτίσις) explain the person (anyone, τις) or "in Christ" (ἐν Χριστῷ)? The emphasis falls on "in Christ." The new creation defines "in Christ" more than personal regeneration (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p. 152). We become part of a new creation in Christ. The old world order has passed away for us, and we are now part of a whole new world that has dawned. We certainly must be new creatures (by regeneration) to be part of the new creation, but I think the emphasis is on what it means to be part of the new creation for three reasons.

1) The noun κτίσις is more commonly used for God's creation whereas the noun κτίσμα is more commonly understood as creatures (NIDNTT, 1:378). James 1:18 says that God brought us forth ... so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures (κτισμάτων). The Qumran sect used the concept of a new creation (κτίσις) to refer to a new world order that the righteous would inhabit after the old world order disintegrated (NIDNTT, 1:383).

2) The following clause explains the new creation. Paul says the old order has passed away. The neuter plural adjective (τὰ ἀρχαῖα) means the total of everything old (Robertson, Grammar, p. 654). When combined with the verb "passed away" (παρῆλθεν) the sense refers to an old world order (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p. 534). The verb translated "passed away" is used elsewhere for the passing away of an old world order (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p. 203, fn 42). Peter uses this word in 2 Peter 3:10 to describe the Day of the Lord when the heavens will pass away (παρελεύσονται) with a roar (cf. Mt. 24:35). John uses a similar verb in Revelation 21:4 when he describes a world without death, mourning or pain because the first things have passed away (ἀπῆλθαν). 

3) The opening word of the verse (ὥστε) ties verse 17 directly to verse 16. Verse 17 is the result of what he has said in verse 16. Our relationships with one another and with Christ have been completely changed because we are part of a whole new creation. We no longer recognize others according to our physical connections, but we relate to one another in a new and spiritual way. The prejudices of the old world have passed away in this new creation. In Christ, we practice a new way of relating to others because we are part of a new creation.

A new world order is dawning. Because we are new creations in Christ, we are part of a new creation of Christ. One day we will see the new world in all its glory. We will see a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away (ἀπῆλθαν). We will finally and fully experience our new creation relationships with God and with others in ways we can only glimpse today (Revelation 21:1-4). Awesome!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

HOW DO WE KNOW WHO WE KNOW?

Relationships are forever changed when we become Christians. We do not regard each other the same way in Christ as we did before Christ. Paul wrote: "For this reason, we, from now on, know no one according to the flesh. Although we have known Christ according to the flesh, but now we no longer know Him in this way" (2 Corinthians 5:16). The old order of life has passed. Earthly distinctions no longer matter. A new way of life began in Christ. We can no longer evaluate each other according to the worldly criteria of social status, achievements or success. We must not bring those standards into the church because we have been changed.

DID PAUL KNOW JESUS DURING HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY? The word translated "although" literally means "even if" (εἰ καὶ). The condition is assumed to be true (Rienecker and Rogers, Linguistic Key, p.469). It is very possible that Paul did see Jesus during His earthly ministry since he came to Jerusalem to study under the Rabbi Gamaliel during his teen years when Jesus was alive (Witherington, The Paul Quest, p.307; F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p.43). Some have gone so far as to suggest that Paul might have been the rich young ruler who interviewed Jesus (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.198). Whatever Paul's knowledge of the historical Jesus, he is drawing a sharp contrast between his former attitude toward Jesus and his current attitude toward Jesus (Bruce, Paul, p.99). The line separating the two attitudes cuts through the heart when anyone comes to Christ. We are forever changed by Christ to see Christ differently after regeneration.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO NO LONGER KNOW CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE FLESH? The prepositional phrase "according to the flesh" (κατὰ σάρκα) is adverbial, modifying the verb "have known" (ἐγνώκαμεν) not the noun "Christ" (Χριστόν). The way we know is according to the flesh or not according to the flesh (Witherington, Conflict and Community, p.394). The standard for measuring our knowledge is fleshly or not fleshly. If we know Christ by the superficial standards of this world - who He is, what He did, what He said - we are no different than many. Crowds followed Jesus but they did not know Jesus in a spiritually regenerate way. Many today claim to know Jesus because they know about Jesus, but to know about Jesus is not to know Jesus at all (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.201). Our conversion changes how we know Christ. True Christians no longer know Christ by the superficial standards of the world. True Christians no longer know Christ "according to the flesh" (κατὰ σάρκα). We know Christ by "the Spirit of the Living God" (πνεύματι Θεοῦ ζῶντος, 2 Corinthians 3:3).

HOW DO WE KNOW NO ONE ACCORDING TO THE FLESH? Paul starts with this assertion. We evaluate others and are evaluated by others according to an entirely new standard of knowing. We no longer judge others or are judged by others according to the world's standards of success. Being in Christ changes how we relate to others in Christ. External, superficial, outward measurements should not determine how we relate to one another. Wealth, status, position and achievement are not the yardsticks for our relationships in Christ. We know no one by these standards. We judge ministry by different standards as well. We died in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14), so we live by the standards of the cross. The crucified life marks our relationships forever. We know who we know at the foot of the cross.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

LIFE'S PURPOSE

The death of Christ generates our purpose in life.

Paul wrote, He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again for them (2 Corinthians 5:15).

He died for all repeats what Paul said in verse 14 in order to expand the idea of Christ's substitutionary death to our purpose for life in verse 15. Some have argued that the preposition ὑπὲρ cannot be equated with the preposition ἀντί (Meyer, 1-2 Corinthians, p.530). The latter means "instead of" while the former means "on behalf of" so here Jesus died on our behalf and not in our place according to some. The idea that the preposition ὑπὲρ can never carry a substitutionary sense is erroneous (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.193, fn.24). The context determines the usage of the preposition, and here the context clearly makes the preposition substitutionary. Paul says, One died for all, so then all died (v.14). Christ's love for us motivates us by His death in our place. The "all is the "us!"

The atonement is effective only for those who are regenerated to new life.They who died are they who live. All who died Christ's death, live Christ's life. Jesus died so that (ἵνα) the living ones (οἱ ζῶντες) might no longer live (ζῶσιν) for themselves. The present tense subjunctive verb is used to express continuing purpose (Rienecker & Rogers, Linguistic Key, p.469). Believers (the living ones) no longer live for themselves (ἑαυτοῖς). The pronoun is a dative of advantage. We no longer live for the advantage or benefit of ourselves once we have died to live again. We died to life for our benefit and live now for His benefit.

Regenerated people live for the one who died and rose again (τῷ ἀποθανόντι καὶ ἐγερθέντι) for them (ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν). It is possible that the prepositional phrase "for them" (ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν) should only be connected to the dying (ἀποθανόντι) and not the rising (ἐγερθέντι) because of word order. However, it is best to take both Christ's death and resurrection for us (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.196, fn.33). The article (τῷ) governs both participles. He died our death and rose again for our life. Our sanctification is built on a substitutionary foundation just as much as our justification.

The "one who died and rose again for us" is also a dative of advantage. The two datives are parallel in the structure. Regenerated people no longer live for the advantage of themselves but live for the advantage of Christ who died and rose again for us. We live for His benefit. Life's purpose is bound up with life's origin.

The words on my coffee mug remind me of my purpose.

Lord, I have nothing to do today but to please you!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

MOTIVE FOR MINISTRY

Love moves us to serve Jesus. Paul wrote, "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (2 Corinthians 5:14). Is it our love for Christ that motivates our ministry or Christ's love for us? His love or our love, that is the question.

The expression "love of Christ" (ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ) can be either a subjective or an objective genitive. The use of the genitive (Χριστοῦ) can only be determined by context (Robertson, Grammar, p.499). The phrase could be understood as an objective genitive meaning Christ is the object of our love. However, the better interpretation is a subjective genitive meaning that Christ is the subject of the love. Christ's love for us is the basis of our love for Christ (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.128).

God establishes the relationship. He initiates the love. Our love is a response to His love. Paul explains the statement by pointing to Christ's love on the cross which is why we should take it as a subjective genitive. Paul is talking about Christ's love for us "having concluded" (κρίναντες) that He died for us. The cross is on Paul's s mind. Christ's love is the motive for his ministry. Christ's love is faithful. Our love is fickle. If our love for Christ motivates our ministry, our ministry will be like riding a roller coaster. Our love for Christ has highs and lows. Our love is inconsistent. The only solid foundation for our ministry is Christ's love for us proven on the cross. Because He loved us enough to die for us, we are moved to love Him enough to live for Him.

Christ's love "controls" us. There are 3 basic meanings of the word συνέχει, 1) to hold together, 2) to enclose or lock up, and 3) to oppress or overpower. The third meaning derives from the second. To enclose or hem in leads to controlling or ruling (TDNT, 7:877-879). The New Testament does not use the word to mean hold together. Luke commonly uses the word with the sense of to enclose or to close. Paul seems to use the word to mean dominate or overpower (TDNT, 7:882-883). Christ's love controls us not so much in the sense of urging us to serve but in the sense of hemming us in on all sides or pressing us into service. He locks us up in love. Christ's love confines us, limiting our choices. It may even be said that Christ's love harasses us so that we have no rest until we do all we can for Him (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, 6:528).

The love of Christ controls us like a narrow pipe restricts the flow of water. The velocity of the water increases as the flow of water is restricted. The intensity of our ministry increases as His love for us constricts our service for Him. We are squeezed by His love on the cross until we can do nothing else but serve Him in response. The verb (συνέχει) is a present tense indicative. Christ's love for us dominates us continually in life.

Oppressed by His love we are pressed into His service.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

PREACHING: Style or Substance?

Sophistry was popular in Paul's day, and, in Corinth, it had infiltrated the church. Preachers focused on manipulating people through style without substance, superficiality, and self-promotion. Persuasion was the purpose of rhetoric, and these oratorically skilled preachers were highly successful persuaders. They ridiculed Paul because he did not employ the techniques and styles that were successful in the world. Paul, too, sought to persuade people (2 Corinthians 5:11) but he did not place emphasis on the showy skills of the sophists. He tried to persuade people in the fear of the Lord. Paul used rhetoric carefully and ethically.

We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart (2 Corinthians 5:12).

The sophists of Paul's day practiced four kinds of rhetoric. Epideictic rhetoric honored rulers with flowery words. Deliberative rhetoric used arguments to persuade people in a public assembly. Forensic rhetoric defended people in court settings. Declamation or ornamental rhetoric emphasized form over substance, eloquence over content (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.392). Paul used mostly deliberative rhetoric - the language of the assembly. He rejected the showiness of sophistic rhetoric commonly used by the preachers traveling through Corinth.

Paul says we are not commending ourselves to you even though he is obviously commending himself to them. He is rejecting the kind of commendation that the sophists used. The word "commending" (συνιστάνομεν) means to present or recommend someone to someone (BAGD, p.790). There is some evidence to suggest that when Paul wants to disapprove of self-commendation, he places the pronoun before the verb as in this case (ἑαυτοὺς συνιστάνομεν cf. 2 Corinthians 10:12). When Paul wants to approve of self-commendation, he places the pronoun after the verb (συνίσταντες ἑαυτοὺς, cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4). Paul seems to make a distinction between good and bad self-commendation in this way (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.393, fn.5).

Paul's goal in good self-commendation is to give the Christians an "occasion" (ἀφορμὴν) or opportunity for "boasting" (καυχήματος) about him. He would use rhetoric so that others could speak positively about his ministry because such "boasting" was boasting in the Lord, not in Paul. He qualifies the boasting as a way to answer those who boast in appearance, not in heart. The sophistic preachers put their faith in the latest methods and approaches to attracting people, but Paul was more interested in using rhetoric to get to the heart - the content - of the truth.

We don't want to embarrass Christians by how we look, talk and act so we preach in culturally appropriate styles. Whether we preach in jeans and a t-shirt or a three-piece suit is a matter of style, not substance. We use the style that fits the cultural context to give people a reason to be positive about our message. However, these are all matters of appearance (προσώπῳ), literally the "face" of the matter (BAGD, p.720). Styles are external. By themselves, they are all show but no substance. Styles and methods are not "heart" (καρδίᾳ) issues. Matters of the heart are matters of substance. We must not compromise content to achieve persuasion. Such persuasion is manipulative and deceitful. Emphasizing style over substance to reach people may be popular but leads to a superficial faith.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

PERSUASIVE FEAR

Fear is highly persuasive as long as we can see an effective solution. Fear boomerangs when fright outweighs the credibility of the solution. Healthy fear sees God as the holy solution. The "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," the psalmist wrote (Psalm 111:10, cf. Prov. 1:7). Paul, too, knew the fear that moves our minds to know God and our wills to serve Him. "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God" (2 Corinthians 5:11).

"Therefore" (οὖν) points us back to verse 10 where Paul spoke of standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account of his life. We will stand exposed, stripped naked, before the eyes of Jesus on that day. Our thoughts, actions, and motives will be revealed to us by the one who loves us more than anyone. We will know and be known. The fear of His piercing vision drives us to serve Him. The fear (τὸν φόβον) is not the terror of damnation but the reverence of love (BAGD, p.864). We will not go to hell because of His grace, but we will face His judgment because of His holiness. We fear the Lord (τοῦ κυρίου). This is an objective genitive (Robertson, Grammar, p.500). The person of Christ is the focus of our fear.

"Knowing" (Εἰδότες) the fear of facing Jesus we persuade men. The perfect participle is used of completed action that results in a state of existence contemporaneous with the time of the main verb (Burton, Moods and Tenses, p.71). The main verb, to persuade (πείθομεν), is in the present tense, so the state of our knowing is now. We know the fear of the Lord because we have been made known to God. The perfect passive verb (πεφανερώμεθα) means to be revealed or made visible (BAGD, p.852). Already exposed before God, we know the fear of final exposure which drives us to persuade others.

The verb translated "persuade" means to convince or appeal to others (BAGD, p.639). It is a conative present. The persuasion is incomplete. A conative present emphasizes the attempt while leaving the result unknown (MHT, Grammar, 3:63). Living with the knowledge that God will judge us for how we invest our lives, we try to persuade men. We make every attempt to appeal to people. We constantly seek to convince people.

What do we try to persuade others about? What is the objective of our persuasion? Paul leaves the objective unspoken. There are at least a half-dozen options that interpreters have proposed over the years (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p.523).  Perhaps the most popular interpretation is evangelistic. We are trying to persuade others to become followers of Christ - to become Christians. However, the context is not evangelistic making an evangelistic emphasis suspect. The better understanding is to see the persuasion in terms of Paul's own motivation expressed in verse 9 (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p.524). Our ambition is to please God, a form of fear, so we seek to persuade others to fear God, and so to please Him.

Motivated by the fear of the Lord we persuade others to fear the Lord.