A NEW CREATION

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV].

This is probably the best known and most quoted verse of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians. The verse begins with the word “Therefore” linking it to the verses that go before it. In the previous verses Paul made it clear that everything he and his companions did was to honour God. Christ’s love now controls our lives. Because Christ died for us, we also are dead to our old lives. Like Paul, we should no longer live to please ourselves, but to please Christ [verses 13-16]. This is the background to today’s verse.

The comments on this verse in the Application Life Bible are very helpful: “Christians are brand-new people on the inside. The Holy Spirit gives them new life, and they are not the same anymore. We are not reformed, rehabilitated, or re-educated – we are re-created [new creations], living in vital union with Christ [Colossians 2:6-7]. At conversion we are not merely turning over a new leaf; we are beginning a new life under a new master.”

We have a new nature! We are no longer controlled by sin. The old sinful nature is dead. We were crucified with Christ. Paul writes, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20] I have noticed that often when a person comes to Christ they are full of new life, but after a while, so many seem to lose that first love, that shine, that first thrill of knowing Christ? We are a new creation but the world and the devil want to persuade us otherwise. The words “he is” in “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation,” are alternatively rendered in the margin of some Bibles as “let him be”. Yes, old things have passed away and all things become new, but we need to be what we are, and not believe lies that tell us otherwise.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” [Ephesians 4:22-24]. Even though we are a new creation we have to put off those old things that would pull us down and think with a renewed mind.

Elsewhere Paul also says, “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened” [1 Corinthians 5:7]. In simple language, you are a new creation, now be who you are!

Questions:

What part does the mind play in maintaining the new creation that we have become in Christ?

The lies of the devil and the spirit of this world would seek to turn us away from the truth that in Christ we are a new creation. How can we maintain our life in Christ?

AMBASSADORS OF JESUS CHRIST

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Yesterday we looked at the ministry of reconciliation and the importance not just of our being reconciled to God but also being in right relationship with others so that we could model the meaning of reconciliation to the world.

Paul continues this theme and says, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT]. An ambassador is an official representative on behalf of one country to another. In a similar way we are ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom and sent to the world. When we speak, we speak what He speaks. When we act, we act as His representatives. David Jeremiah says, “Christians are His head [the mind of Christ], hands [the works of Christ], and heart [the love of Christ] to those who need Him. And their message is this: be reconciled to God” [Taken from the margin of the Jeremiah Study Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:20].

In this context as Christ’s Ambassadors we are expected to represent Him well. As His ambassadors they will think more or less highly of Christ based on the effectiveness of His ambassador’s service. I often wonder how much the Lord might be grieved when Christians are often seen to do things with less excellence than the world. There are many fine Christian people in the market place and in business, but I have heard on various occasions an employer say that they don’t want to employ Christians again. That is a sad indictment. We dare not take the responsibility of being an ambassador of Christ lightly. For Paul it was his passion. Not only did he model reconciliation in the way he lived, but he also pleaded for people to be restored to God.

Paul says that God makes His appeal through us – he doesn’t say that he speaks for God but rather that God speaks His word through us. Here is a paradigm shift especially for preachers who think that they are speaking for God – actually we need to understand that it is God who speaks through us!

We are simply ambassadors through whom our King speaks His word. Christ’s ambassadors are those who are sent out into the world to represent Christ. He is the one who sends us to be His ambassadors, and nowhere is this clearer than when he spoke with His disciples after His death and resurrection. He said to them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” [John 20:21]. We go in the same way that the Father sent Jesus.

Questions:

Where has Christ placed you as His ambassador? How are you serving Him?

Do people around you know that you are different from the world?

Why is working in the market place full-time Christian ministry? How can we best serve Jesus Christ in our place of work?

In what way did the Father send Jesus? How is that applicable to us to today as His ambassadors?

PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR MINISTRY – 4

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favour, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favour with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favour)” [2 Cor. 5:18-19 Amp. Bible Classic Edition]

Paul writes that God has gave to us a ministry of reconciliation. The word ministry is the Greek diakonia. Our English word deacon comes from diakonia and can be translated as service. In a sense, everything that benefits others is a diakonia. Reconciliation is the Greek word katallagē. It is only used four times in Bible, once translated as atonement and elsewhere as reconciliation or reconciling. The word atonement is very apt because it can be understood as AT-ONE- MENT – one with God. The word literally means a change, so that instead of a state of enmity between two parties there is harmony and friendship. In the Biblical sense God took the initiative to reconcile us and make us one with Himself when He sent Jesus to redeem us. He restored us so that we enjoy oneness with Him and His favour.

Once we have been reconciled to God we are called to minister to others so that they too will come into a right relationship with God. One of the ways in which we do this is to model the meaning of reconciliation. Just as Christ reconciled us to God, so we also are to be reconciled with one another. As we model His ministry of reconciliation, the world will be impacted. “All this comes from God who settled the relationship between us and Him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other” [2 Corinthians 5:18 Message].

Before we left for Indonesia there was a Christian man who told me that we were not real missionaries, and he really made life difficult for us as a couple.

Living in Indonesia there was a fellow missionary who made life miserable for us, and almost destroyed us. It was only by God’s grace that we survived. In both cases the Holy Spirit challenged me to be reconciled to them. I cannot even begin to tell you the joy and the peace that came when I did this. How can we speak about being reconciled to God whom we cannot see, if we are not prepared to be reconciled with our brother whom we can see? We don’t have to be best friends but we do have to have right relationships.

Questions:

How would you explain in simple terms to a pre-believer the meaning of being reconciled to God?

Is there anyone in your own life whom you have not forgiven and sought to be reconciled with? Why is this so important in terms of our relationship with God and with others?

What do you intend to do if there is someone with whom you are at enmity?

PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR MINISTRY – 3

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” [2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NKJV]

The word compels is translated in various ways in the different English translations of the Bible. These include controls [NASB], and constrains [KJV].

J.B. Philips translates this as, “The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ.” It is not our human love upgraded but God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given unto us [Romans 5:5]. Love for Christ and love for His people should be the motive of our ministry for Him.

Paul had experienced very powerfully God’s love reaching down and saving him. He recognised that all men were dead in sin, and that One Man, Jesus Christ died humanities death to die to save them all. More than that he recognised that having received God’s love in Christ that it was incumbent upon him to share that love with others. He was saved by God’s love and that same love became his motivation to reach out to others who were lost and dead in sin. Speaking of this verse Matthew Henry writes, “We should not make ourselves, but Christ, the end of our living and actions. A Christian’s life should be devoted to Christ. Alas, how many show the worthlessness of their professed faith and love, by living to themselves and to the world!”

I constantly find myself coming back to the evidence of love in Paul’s writing to the Corinthians – love is patient, kind and not proud. It does not behave rudely, and does not seek its own – it is not selfish [1 Corinthians 13:4,5]. It is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me – love lives in me!

I have been deeply challenged over the years by the story of the Moravian Church and its missionary movement. The Moravian Community of Herrnhut commenced a round-the clock prayer watch that continued nonstop for more than 100 years. Then, 65 years after the commencement of that prayer vigil, that one small community sent 300 missionaries to the ends of the earth. Two of them worked in leper colony, but no one would listen to them, until the missionaries themselves became lepers, and then many of that colony came to faith in Christ. Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian Community said, “I have but one passion – it is Christ, it is Christ alone. The world is the field, and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ.”

Questions:

Why are the words Christian and selfish a contradiction of terms?

In what practical ways are you compelled by Christ’s love to serve Him and to let Him love others through you?

Is it true in your life that the very spring of your actions is increasingly love for Christ? If this is not the case what will you do about it?

PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR MINISTRY – 2

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Cor. 5:11].

We have seen that Paul’s first motivation for ministry was the desire to please God. We now turn to his second motivation – the desire to see lost people rescued from a terrible eternal destiny.

The word terror here is the Greek word phobos from the word phěbŏmai meaning to be put in fear, alarm, or terror. It is not fashionable in today’s generation to speak about God’s judgment. Perhaps it is because of hard, hell-fire preaching that has showed little love and grace. Nevertheless the fact of judgment on sinners is a very real and clear Biblical teaching.

Elsewhere in God’s Word we read, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. Jesus spoke about two roads [Matthew 7:13-14], two trees [Matthew 7:15-20] and two foundations [Matthew 7:24-27]. Judgment is clear – the broad road led to destruction. The tree that did not bring forth good fruit was cast into the fire. The house built on sand fell down.

The word translated as hell in our English Bible is the word gehenna. This is an English transliteration of the Greek word γέεννα, which in turn comes from the Hebrew word gê’ hinnom, literally the valley of Hinnom. Traditionally the Jews considered this as the place of the final punishment of the ungodly.

Historically it was a burial place for criminals and for burning garbage, but in the New Testament it was clearly a reference to the everlasting state of the wicked. Every reference to gehenna apart from one in the book of James came from the lips of Jesus. He was very conscious of the judgment that sinful man faced when they rejected or neglected God’s salvation When Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31], we read that the rich man was tormented in fire.

Why would a God of love allow people to suffer eternally? Actually they condemn themselves to this punishment by rejecting the salvation that God offers in Christ. There is no other salvation [Acts 4:12].

Many years ago a missionary in India by the name of Amy Carmichael had a vision of multitudes of people walking on a broad road and falling off a cliff into a Christless and lost eternity. This vision totally changed her life and she became passionate to see lost people rescued.

This was Paul’s motivation. Knowing what it means to go into a lost eternity he sought to persuade men.

Questions:

How should we respond to the Biblical truth that our loved ones who are outside of Christ face a terrible and eternal judgment?

Why should this be a motivation for us to pray and seek to bring them to Christ?

Why is it important to understand that God is both love and just?

PAUL’S MOTIVE FOR MINISTRY – 1

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

The second half of chapter five tells us a tremendous amount about the passion and motives for Paul’s ministry. Over the next few days, we will look at some of the things that motivated Paul.

Firstly, Paul was motivated by a desire to please God [verse 9]. Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase, “to be accepted by God.” The phrase in Greek is euarestoi einai meaning to be well pleasing; and then acceptable, or approved. To be well pleasing to God is not to obey a list of rules and regulations, but to live in communion with Him and let Him have every part of us, so that the Holy Spirit can work through us. What most pleases God is when He sees His Son Jesus increasingly formed in us, and that we become like Him. God’s plan for us is that we should be “conformed to the image of His dear Son” [Romans 8:29]

The songwriter summed this up in the following words:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, All His wonderful passion and purity.

O Thou Spirit divine all my nature refine, Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

Jim Elliot, one of the five missionary martyrs to Ecuador, wrote some remarkable statements in his diary. It was Jim Elliot who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He prayed, “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” Jim Elliot said that the degree he most coveted was an A.U.G. – standing for Approved unto God! [Quotes taken from Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot]. In a very real sense what motivated Paul was that desire to be approved unto God!

One of the most remarkable novels ever written was In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon. First published in 1897, it sold more than 30 million copies. It was the story of a group of committed Christians who resolved to ask themselves whenever they had hard decisions to make, “What would Jesus do?”. This led them to a dedication that avoided easy choices, and instead opting for difficult but spiritually rewarding projects in service of others.

Questions:

What does it mean to be approved unto God?

Has there been a growth in the last year in your relationship and walk with God? If so what have been the main reasons for this? If not, what can you do about it?

Would it be helpful to you to make a habit of asking the question, “What would Jesus do” before each thing that you do?

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD WORKS

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-11

“Therefore, whether we are at home [on earth] or away from home [and with Him], it is our [constant] ambition to be pleasing to Him. For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives—the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].” [2 Corinthians 5:9-10 Amplified Bible]

According to Paul our eternal ambition is to be pleasing to God [verse 9]. This is our desire whether on earth or with the Lord. This is a clear distinguishing mark of a Christian believer – the ambition to please God.

It is impossible for us to come to know God as a result of our good works. We cannot earn the love of Jesus by the things we do. That is a settled fact. Salvation is a gift, and if we do anything to pay for it then it is no longer a gift.

Paul also writes in this passage that every believer must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive according to the things that they have done, whether good or bad! While good works cannot save us, good works are the evidence that we are saved. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” [Matthew 7:20]. Although salvation is not a reward for good works, once we become God’s children we will be rewarded for our good works.

The foundation for life is Jesus Christ, but on that foundation we have to build. Paul makes this clear in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.   If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]. How we build and the works we do are important. Yes, we are saved, but it could have been so much better if we had done the works that God wanted us to do.

Perhaps one of the loveliest stories in the Book of Acts is about a woman named Tabitha [Acts 9:36-43]. She was full of good works and charitable deeds. She died but all the widows showed Peter the tunics and garments that she had made for them while she was alive. Peter prayed and she came back from the dead. God has special honour and rewards for His children who are full of good works.

Questions:

Good works cannot save us but good works are very important. Why are good works so important?

Read James 2:14-26. What does James say about the relationship between faith and works?

MIND THE GAP

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:5-8; Mark 11:20-26

There is often a time gap between claiming a promise of God by faith and its fulfilment!

In our Bible verses today Paul uses the word confidence twice. The Greek word is tharrheo and is only found seven times in the New Testament, two of them in these four verses. Remarkably it can also be translated as to be bold, or even to exercise courage. Paul is literally saying, “I am confident, I am encouraged and I am bold.” The enemy of our faith trades in the opposite of these characteristics using discouragement and timidity to destroy our confidence in God. So often this happens after we claim one of God’s promises.

Jesus’ words about faith that moves mountains immediately follow an incident where he cursed an unfruitful fig tree. The next day the disciples found that the fig tree had withered up. It did not happen immediately! There was a gap between the word and its fulfilment. Two verses later Jesus says, “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain… and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, and he will have whatever he says” [Mark 11:24] Again there is a gap between what was said in faith and when it actually happened.

This time between the speaking of faith, and the fulfilment of what you believe for is critical. That is when the enemy will attack. He will use the negative words of people to discourage you, cause you to doubt and try to destroy your confidence. The battle is in the thought-life. The writer to the Hebrews said,

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” [Hebrews 10:36-37]. In that gap period the danger is that we do not endure, that is stand firm, but instead cast away our confidence.

Many years ago God spoke to John Wimber and told him to pray for the sick and believe for their healing. For 18 months they prayed for sick people and not one was healed. The temptation was to give up, to doubt and to lose confidence, but instead they pressed on until someone was healed. After that, healings became very regular in his ministry. It was so good that he did not give up, doubt or became discouraged. If you are trusting God for something guard your heart in the time between claiming the promise and experiencing its fulfilment.

Questions:

How can you stand firm and not doubt and become discouraged if God has given you a promise and you still awaiting its fulfilment?

Why do you think it is that God doesn’t always give immediately what He has promised but allows our faith to be tested?

Why is patience such an important part of seeing God’s promises fulfilled?