There is a lot of teaching here in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 from Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul covers three main topics in these verses: a statement of why they are doing what they are doing, a point-of-view adjustment for the letter recipients and finally a note on what the church’s role is in this world.
So, looking at the three sections in pieces, Paul starts this selection with his statement about what his true motives are. He says that it is their (the church and himself) responsibility to work hard and that God will see how sincere their hearts are in searching. He says that if they seem crazy, it’s only to glorify God and not to draw attention to their own actions. Paul then draws a parallel between the Christian life and the life and death of Jesus. He says that since Christ has died for the entire world, they believe that all Christian believers have died to their old lives and are re-defined as living for Christ. This moves into his second section in which he says that, as Christians, we have to look at our lives as new in nature and in purpose. Living with this perspective on life will keep us from evaluating things from a human perspective. He ends chapter five with a section that functions as a replacement identity for the church in Corinth. He basically says that God’s whole point in sending Jesus was to reconcile people to him; in the same way, Christ is sending us to continue the work he started in bringing God and people back together. He says “we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us” (NLT v. 20).
This passage was extremely important for the church in Corinth as they were dealing with all types of immorality and non-Christian traditions penetrating the church there; as people who were fairly new converts they were slowly losing their mission focus without a solid Christian leader living among them. This passage gave them a point of reference on how they should be assessing ideologies and traditions that were leaking into their church. This portion of Paul’s letter also gave them a sense of purpose and belonging in that he gives them the title of “Ambassadors for God”; they are the one’s pleading with people to come back to God through accepting Jesus and what he did to bridge the gap between man and God.
This message is just as applicable in our lives as it was to the church in Corinth. We all too often as materialistic, western Christians forget that evangelism and calling people back to God is a central mission accepted by us when we accepted Christ and that in deciding to become disciples, we are also deciding to make disciples. It is all too easy in this age of communication and technology to forget that we are dead to our materialistic selves and our identity is now in Christ as the continuation of his message of love. Paul also gives a word about directing glory to God and not bragging about how spectacular our ministry is, but rather having a sincere heart for lost people. This charge for this ancient church is the same charge for our church.
My reaction to this passage was that of a student listening to a teacher. Paul writes in such a direct way (this being a letter) that everything he says is instruction for my life. All we have to do is place his instruction in current day terms and settings which, strangely, is similar to the sinfulness of the church of Corinth. I know I can learn something from Paul and I think that any Christian can also grow by applying Paul’s instruction based on its validity and not on his reputation.