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Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What the text says
This text, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, is about the reconciliation with God accomplished in Jesus Christ, which serves as the hope which the faithful proclaim. The text can be divided for study into three parts: 1. verses 11-13: how Paul serves; 2. verses 14-17: how the love of Christ is the basis for the apostle's service; 3. verses 18-21: how the faithful serve.
1. Verses 11-13
It is Paul's knowledge of the Lord which defines his service as an apostle. Only because he fears the Lord does Paul try, as a witness, to persuade people and win them over to God, not for his own benefit (verse 11). Paul wants to give the church in Corinth reason to rejoice in their apostle and to show their loyalty to him with conviction, over against those who are working against Paul in the Corinthian churches (verse 12). Paul's efforts in every situation are for God alone, and it is in this sense that he is thinking and working to build up the church. Love for God and care for the church, these are the two poles which govern the apostle's service (verse 13).
2. Verses 14-17
The governing principle for the apostle Paul, and for Christians in every age, is the love of Christ, which is revealed in his suffering and death on our behalf (verse 14). The atoning death of Jesus Christ opens the way to new, eternal life. The faithful no longer live for themselves, but rather for him who died for them and was raised again. The power of Jesus Christ's resurrection gives the new and genuine chance to live (verse 15). Through Christ's act of love on the cross Paul overcomes the knowledge of Christ "from a human point of view". The encounter with Christ leads to a new, "spiritual" way of knowing. A person who lives for Christ sees every person through the eyes of Jesus Christ, as someone whom Christ loves and redeems, someone for whom Christ died (verse 16). Through the death of Jesus Christ, what is old has passed away. Through his resurrection, new life is present. When the faithful no longer live for themselves but for Christ and the people around them, their sisters and brothers, there is truly new life. The eschatological hope for a new creation has now been accomplished in Jesus Christ (verse 17).
3. Verses 18-21
Because of sin, "wanting to be like God", human beings and the world live at enmity with God. But this enmity is overcome, "from God's side". God's action of reconciliation is accomplished through the cross and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. The reconciliation which has taken place must be proclaimed as the living hope for humankind and the world. It is God who performed the service of reconciliation for us, through Christ (verse 18). It is God who accomplished the reconciliation with the world, in Jesus Christ. The apostle, and the faithful of every age, have the mission to continue proclaiming this message of reconciliation (verse 19). The word of God, of reconciliation in Christ, is given by God to preachers to deliver. For Christ's sake, the apostle and the faithful serve as messengers of God's act of reconciliation. For Christ's sake, they call upon others to be reconciled with God (verse 20). Jesus Christ endured death for our sake, for the sake of our sins, to call us out of our death in sin into "life in Christ". Thus God makes us righteous in Jesus Christ. He becomes our sins, and only in Jesus Christ will we experience God's righteousness. When the faithful allow themselves to be seized by this reconciliation with God, they live as justified persons (verse 21).
Instructions for Bible study
All participants should read the text and reflect upon it. To make practical use of the message of the text, the leader can ask the participants the following five questions. The additions to the questions can be brought in as aids to the questions. All participants should share their own reflexions and experiences with one another. At the end of the study, all participants should pray together in the name of the Holy Spirit.
Questions on the Bible study
1. What is the purpose of my service to my church congregation? (verses 11-13)
- for God or for myself? (verses 11 and 13)
- for my own inner certainty or for an outward appearance? (verse 12)
2. How do I know Jesus Christ, myself and other people? (verses 14-17)
- according to "a human point of view" or according to "the Spirit"? (verse 16)
3. What is "reconciliation" according to the Bible, and how does it take place? (verses 18-21)
- who is at work? (verses 18-19)
- what is the basis of reconciliation? (verse 21)
- why do we need this reconciliation? (verse 21)
4. With whom should I be reconciled, and how? (verses 18-21)
- with God in Jesus Christ?
- with myself?
- with other people around me (concretely) and the world?
5. What should my service be? (verses 18-21)
- to what am I called?
- am I to proclaim reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ? (verses 20-21)
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