Verses 11 to 13
Have you ever been in this kind of situation. You’re in a meeting or you’re with a group of people. And some of the people in the group are attacking another person in the group. They’re not attacking this person physically, but they’re attacking this person verbally. They’re criticising him and they’re complaining about him and they’re accusing him. This person, their target, is under pressure. He feels put-upon by the others. He feels surrounded. He feels under attack. And what he’s wondering while he goes through this, is not only ‘Why are these people attacking me?’, but he’s also wondering: ‘Why won’t anyone defend me? Why won’t the other people in this group who are being silent not stand up for me?’ Have you ever been in that kind of situation? Perhaps you’ve been the target of that kind of attack? Or perhaps you’ve been one of the attackers? Or perhaps you’ve been one of the ones who remained silent? Well, that’s one way of thinking about the opening verses of today’s passage.
Remember Paul is having to defend himself and his ministry. This will be familiar to you by now, because I’ve mentioned it every week for several weeks. The members of the church which Paul had planted had begun to doubt him and to criticise him. They had begun to doubt him because he had changed his travel plans more than once. And so, it seemed to them that he was an unreliable man, always changing his mind, saying one thing one day and another thing another day. He can’t be trusted. And they criticised his ministry because he didn’t seem very impressive to them compared to some of the other preachers — those ‘super-apostles’ — who had come to Corinth and who boasted about themselves and their credentials and their abilities.
So, Paul was having to defend himself and his ministry. And I’ve said this before, but Paul had to defend himself and his ministry, not because he cared about his own reputation, but because the gospel was at stake and the members of the church in Corinth were in danger of being led astray by these new preachers. Paul was worried that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent in the beginning, so the believers in Corinth were being deceived by these new preachers. And later in the letter, Paul will describe these new preachers as deceitful workmen and as those who masquerade as apostles. They masquerade as apostles because they’re not true apostles and they will only lead the people astray. So, Paul needs to defend himself and his ministry so that the people will listen to him and will not be fooled and taken in by these new preachers.
So, Paul has been defending himself and his ministry. And in verse 10 of chapter 5 Paul referred to the coming day of judgment when we will all have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body. Everyone will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and all those who never believed in Christ will be condemned for all that they have done wrong and they will be sent away to be punished forever. On the other hand, all who trusted in Christ in this life will be declared ‘not guilty’ of all the charges against them. And they’ll be declared ‘not guilty’ and ‘accepted’ not because they never did anything wrong, but because Christ took the blame for them when he died on the cross and he paid for their sins with his life. And so, he satisfied God’s justice for them in full, so that they will not be condemned, but will be pardoned and accepted when they stand before the judgment seat.
However, the Bible also teaches that not only will the Lord pardon his believing people on the day of judgment for the sake of Christ who died for them, but he will graciously and freely reward his believing people for what they have done in this life. Just as a parent will reward her child for tidying up his room, which is something he was supposed to do anyway, so the Lord promises to reward his believing people to encourage us to do what we’re supposed to do anyway, which is to live our lives for his glory.
And so, Paul has just been writing about the day of judgment. And therefore it’s makes sense for him to go on in verse 11 to refer to the fear of the Lord. Since he is going to have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day, Paul doesn’t want to displease the Lord now in this life. He doesn’t want to offend the Lord by the way he conducts his ministry. He wants to ensure that he fulfils his calling, which the Lord has given to him. And what has the Lord called him to do? The Lord has called Paul to carry out this gospel ministry which he has been writing about which includes trying to persuade men and women of the truth of the gospel in the hope that they will repent and believe the good news.
And whereas the new preachers who have come to Corinth were deceitful workmen who masqueraded as apostles, there was nothing deceitful about Paul and his fellow preachers. What we are, he says, is plain to God. And, he adds, ‘I hope it’s also plain to your conscience’. He’s saying to them: We’re an open book. We’re not hiding anything. We’re not pretending. We’re not trying to fool you or mislead you in any way. He refers to their conscience, because that’s the part of our mind which is able to distinguish good from evil. It’s the part of our mind which is able to make moral judgments. So, he’s saying to them: Think about these things and make a judgment about me and my ministry and whether you think it’s good or evil. And, of course, he’s hoping they will see that there’s nothing wicked or underhanded or shameful about his ministry and the ministry of his fellow preachers.
And that’s when he appeals to them to defend him. He’s hoping there are some in Corinth who will be persuaded by what he has said and who will come over to his side. And he wants them to stand up for him and to defend him. So, when anyone in Corinth begins to criticise Paul and his ministry, when anyone begins to complain about Paul and his ministry, I want you to stand up and defend me. That’s what he’s saying in verse 12.
He doesn’t want to have to commend himself. Who wants to do that? If a person has any sense of humility, he doesn’t want to have to stand up and commend himself or even to defend himself, even when the charges against him are false. And so, Paul says in verse 12 that he’s giving them the opportunity to take pride in him and his fellow preachers so that you’ll be able to answer those who were opposing him and his colleagues. So, when people criticise me unfairly, he’s saying, that’s your chance to stand up for me and to defend me on my behalf.
And they should defend Paul and his ministry because hasn’t he now explained to them what his ministry is? Hasn’t he explained to them that the gospel ministry he has received by the mercy of God is a glorious ministry, far more glorious that the ministry of Moses, because whenever the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, the glory of God is revealed and sinners are transformed by it and are renewed in God’s image. And hasn’t he explained to them that while there are many who don’t believe, it’s not because there’s something wrong with his ministry, but it’s because the Devil is blinding those who don’t believe? And hasn’t he explained to them that despite the darkness in our hearts, God is able to let his light shine in our dark hearts to enable sinners to see his glory in the gospel? And hasn’t he explained to them that while preachers are ordinary and weak, like a jar of clay, and they’re liable to all kinds of suffering, nevertheless God works through the preaching of these frail and broken men to give everlasting life to those who believe? And hasn’t he explained to them that our present sufferings in this world will pale in comparison to the glory to come when all who have believed the good news of the gospel will receive a new, immortal body at the resurrection to come? And hasn’t he explained to them that the end result of his gospel ministry is thanksgiving and praise to God for his kindess towards sinners?
Paul has been explaining his ministry to them. And he adds in verse 13 that whatever he does, he does for the glory of God and for the good of God’s people. Do you see that in verse 13? Some people may look at us and think we’re out of our mind. Some people may look at us and think we’re in our right mind. Whichever it is, we’re doing it for God and for you.
There are times when we have to stand up and defend the truth. I’m not referring now to those times when we have to defend the truth of the gospel before unbelievers. I’m talking about what can happen in the church. There’s a chapter in our church’s Confession of Faith about synods and councils. Think of the courts of the church where decisions are taken about the church and its doctrine and its ministry. And the Confession says that all synods or councils since the time of the Apostles may err and many have erred. They may err, because they’re made up of fallen sinners who get things wrong from time to time. So, they may err. And in fact many have erred. That’s what the Confession says. And, of course, all over the world there are church denominations and individual congregations which were once, faithful and Bible-believing, but somewhere along the line, they went the wrong way. And I wonder? On those occasions when errors have been made, were there people in the room who knew that they were making an error, but for whatever reason they did not stand up and defend the truth? As I’ve said before, when Paul was defending himself and his ministry, it’s wasn’t because he was concerned with his own reputation. He knew the gospel was at stake. He knew the believers in Corinth were in danger of being led astray. And so, he was writing to appeal to them to come back to a knowledge of the truth. And he was appealing to his readers to answer those who were leading them astray. Very few of us like to get into a fight. But when the truth is in danger, believers must be prepared to stand up and defend the truth. And they must do it for the glory of God and for the good of his church.
The Love of Christ
Paul mentioned the fear of the Lord in verse 11 as a motivation for his ministry. Because of the fear of the Lord, because he did not want to displease the Lord, before whom he must one day stand, he carried out his ministry to persuade others of the truth of the gospel. In verse 14, however, he mentions the love of Christ. So, he was motivated by both the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ. In fact, he says that the love of Christ compels him and his fellow preachers. Other English translations say that the love of Christ controls them or constrains them. The translation ‘compels’ suggests that the love of Christ pushed them forwards. The translation ‘controls’ suggests that the love of Christ directed them. The translation ‘constrains’ perhaps includes both ideas at once, because they’re both pushed forward and directed by the love of Christ. So, the love of Christ has taken hold of them. It’s gripped them. And it’s driving them on and it’s directing them in what they do and say.
And when he refers to the love of Christ, he doesn’t mean his love for Christ, but Christ’s love for sinners. The love of Christ for sinners, which is what the gospel is all about, governs all Paul now does and says. So, when he thought about the love of Christ, and how Christ first loved him and gave up his life for him, then Paul felt compelled to live his life for Christ. Because of Christ’s love for him, Paul was prepared to devote all his energies to serving Christ. And you and I would have to have a heart of stone or iron not to be feel any love and gratitude to Christ for what he has done for us.
And how did Christ display his love for Paul and for sinners like Paul? Well, Paul goes on to explain that to us in the rest of verse 14, where he tells us that one died for all and therefore all died. And when he says that one died for all, he’s referring to the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus is the one person who died for all.
And that little word ‘for’ is only a little word, but it’s very important. And it’s very important because Paul is making the point that Christ is our substitute. Everyone knows what a substitute is. A substitute takes the place of someone else. The substitute comes onto the pitch and takes the place of another player who goes off. And what Paul is saying is that when the Lord Jesus died, he died for or he died in the place of or he died as the substitute for others. Others were meant to die, but he died for them and in their place.
And this idea is found throughout the New Testament, because in Mark’s gospel the Lord said he came to earth to give his life as a ransom for many. That is, he gave up his life in the place of many others. Paul in Romans 5 tells us that Christ died for us. That is, he died in our place. The Apostle Peter tells us in his first letter that the Lord Jesus died, the just for the unjust. That is, he died in our place. The author of Hebrews says he was sacrificed to take away the sins of many. So, he did not die for his own sins, but for the sins of many others.
And to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus, who would die in the place of others, the Lord God gave his Old Testament people the sacrificial system. Someone would come to the tabernacle or temple with an animal to offer to the Lord. And he would lay his hand on the animal to signify that this animal was taking his place. And after he laid his hand on the animal to signify that it was taking his place, the animal was slaughtered in his place and for his sins. He deserved to die, because he was a sinner and the wages of sin — the penalty for what we have done wrong — is death. So, the sinner deserved to die. But the animal died in his place. God — who is merciful and who does not treat us as our sins deserve — was willing to accept the animal’s death in place of the sinner’s death. The animal died and he was spared.
And all those animal sacrifices were for the time being only. They were to make do until the Son of God came into the world as one of us to offer himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And so, he died for others. He died in the place of others. He suffered the punishment which we deserve — which is death — so that we might be spared. And so, one died for all and therefore all died. And all died when he died, because he died in their place. Here’s how one commentator has put it:
Christ’s death was the death of all, in the sense that he died the death they should have died; the penalty of their sins was borne by him; he died in their place.
But what does Paul mean by ‘all’? Did Christ die for every single person who has ever lived without exception? Some people believe that; and so they say that in the end every sinner will be saved, whether they believed in Christ or not. Every sinner will be saved because Christ died for every sinner. But that makes no sense, because the Scriptures are clear that in the end there will be a day of judgment when a great separation will take place and those who believed will be brought in to eternal life and those who did not believe will be condemned forever. And so, while there are some who believe that Christ died for everyone without exception, in the reformed churches we have always said that Christ died for his elect people only. He died only for those who were chosen in Christ before the world was made. And so, when Paul says that one has died for all, it means that he died for all of his people. And he died for all of his people in order to take the blame for all that they have done wrong. By taking the blame for them, by suffering the punishment they deserve, by dying instead of them, he has satisfied the justice of God, who has declared that the wages of sin is death. And so, because Christ died in their place, they are pardoned and accepted by God through faith and receive the free gift of eternal life.
Think of Barabbas: that man who was due to be executed in Jerusalem all those years ago when the Lord Jesus was arrested and tried. We don’t know much about Barabbas, except that he had committed murder in some kind of insurrection. The apostle John says he was also a robber. So, he was a robber and a murderer. And so, he is a man who deserved to die, because of what he had done. And yet, what happened? He was set free and the Lord Jesus was taken away and killed in his place. The guilty man was set free; and the innocent man died in his stead. And I often wonder whether Barabbas looked at the Lord Jesus on the cross and did he think to himself: That should have been me on that cross. That’s the good news of the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one who died for all of his people. They all died when he died, because he died in their place.
All of that is related to what the Bible calls our justification, which means we’re pardoned and accepted by God for the sake of Christ who died in our place. What follows in verse 15 is related to what the Bible calls our sanctification, which is the way God works in us to renew us in his image and to make us more and more willing and able to do his will here on earth. Paul says in verse 15:
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Why did the Lord Jesus die for all his people? One reason he died for all his people is so that we would be justified: pardoned and accepted by God. But another reason the Lord Jesus died for all his people is so that we would live a new kind of life. And it’s a life of service to the Lord Jesus, because instead of living to please ourselves, we now live to please the Lord Jesus who died for us and who was raised. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, when we first believed in Christ, we died with him to our old way of life: the life of sin and unbelief; the life of shame and selfishness and disobedience; the life of a lawbreaker who does not care about the law of the Lord and has no interest in doing God’s will. When we first believed in Christ, we died with him to our old way of life. That old life died and was buried with Christ. However, when we first believed, we were also raised with Christ to live a new kind of life: a life of grateful obedience to Christ our Saviour who gave up his life for us.
And so, you should think about the love of Christ and how he first loved you and was prepared to leave the glory of heaven and to come down to earth as one of us to seek and to save you. Think about the love of Christ who was prepared to live a life of sorrow and suffering here on earth so that you could have a life of joy and peace in the presence of God above. Think about the love of Christ who was prepared to give up his life on the cross so that you could have eternal life. Think about the love of Christ who suffered the wrath and curse of God in your place so that you could have peace with God forever. Think about the love of Christ for you, because the love of Christ is able to take hold of us just as it took hold of Paul; and it’s able to change us; and it’s able to govern all we do and say. And think about how he died for you and was raised so that not only would you be pardoned and accepted by God, but so that you would be changed and would live less and less for self and more and more for Christ and his glory.
And so, here we are at the start of another week. What difference will this make to your life this week in the way you treat one another at home with your family; in the way you treat the people you work with; in the way you treat your friends and neighbours; in the way you treat the stranger you encounter this week? One way to treat them is to put yourself first and to think that they’re there to serve you. The other way to treat them is to put Christ first and to think that Christ has brought them into your life so that you will love and serve them for his sake.