2Cor.5:12-15 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 5:12-15


Heart Religion

Some people spin prayer wheels, others go on pilgrimages, and others talk endlessly about what duties they carry out or what unusual ecstatic experiences they have enjoyed. Still others insist on their abilities and talents, their profound understanding and so in some way give the impression of belonging to some inner circle of the spiritual elite.

But Paul knows what really counts and here he writes to tell the Christians in Corinth what that is.

Paul knows that what is really important is to be found in the heart. God isn't duped by appearances: he looks at the human heart and examines what he finds there. True religion is a matter of the heart: if a man or a woman is to be religious in a God-pleasing manner he/she must have a heart-religion. The heart is the command-centre of an individual's life and if that command-centre is not yielded to God then no amount of religious activity will compensate.

When we think of the heart as the command-centre of a person's life the heart we mean that is the place where decisions are taken and where the whole orientation of that person's life is determined. We are not to think of the heart in purely sentimental terms as though the heart is just the seat of feelings and emotions – these are of course involved but are to be driven and informed by the decisions of the will that are taken here.

It is only Christianity that penetrates deep into a person's heart bringing life and vital energy – no other religion can do this and versions of Christianity that do not do not do this are perversions of the true faith.

What do you know of heart religion?

Paul's Concerns
Paul has been writing in a very personal way about his life and his ministry and realises that some in Corinth might think that he is trying to put himself forward and that he is trying to somehow sell himself to them. He strongly rejects this interpretation:

v.12 "We are not commending ourselves to you again..."

In fact as we'll see Paul isn't bothered about commending himself. He has his ministry from God and God has made his ministry fruitful. The very church in Corinth is the fruit of his labours and evidence that his service for Christ is genuine.

So then what was his purpose in writing in this intimate manner?

Well Paul knew that he was addressing a situation in which there was a group of people who were boasting about all kinds of outward matters but were silent as to what lay in their heart. He wanted to enable his friends there to be able to confidently resist these false emphases.

Paul expected his readers to understand what he wrote and he told them that if they were to truly evaluate Christian leaders they couldn't rely on external appearances they needed to consider something much deeper, much more significant than that.

This is really very practical. If we move home and need to choose a new church to attend this is what we are to consider. Don't be swayed by a man's eloquence, style and panache in the pulpit. In fact don't allow yourself to be swayed by any outward appearance but rather consider (as far as you are able) what lies in his heart.

I had one pastor who no-one would be tempted to describe as a great orator and he had a pulpit style that really wasn't that attractive. When he preached there was little or no eye contact – in fact at times he seemed to have his eyes completely closed while he grimaced at the congregation. You might wonder why I chose to go there. Well I went there with great profit to my soul because this man was genuine and his heart was sincere. He had a passion for God and a passion for God's Son Jesus Christ. He laboured in the preaching of the Word of God because not only did he love God he loved his congregation and he loved me too.

That pastor wasn't interested in commending himself any more that Paul was interested in commending himself – neither was seeking his own self-advancement both were concerned for God and God's people!

You can see this in the text as Paul explains further.

Heart religion will make itself known by the activity it produces. Paul is not talking about a religion that has no effect upon life as though true religion can be keep a private affair – heart religion will out and issue in behaviour and behavioural change. In Paul's case it expressed itself in different ways in different circumstances and he was criticised for it (2Tim.3:12 "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted")

At times as he ministered and served Jesus Christ with a passion and an enthusiasm that landed him repeatedly in trouble he was accused of being out of his mind. That was what Festus said to him during one court hearing wasn't it?

Acts 26:24 "And as he was saying these things in his defence, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.""

Paul didn't back off but continued to proclaim Christ:

Acts 26:29 "I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains."

was his reply.

No, Paul's response to this type of accusation that he was mad was to declare that if he was it was for God that is for God's honour and glory.

v.13 "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God"

Do our lives prompt any like reaction from those who know us? I'm sure that for many of us that would be true as friends and family think we've become or are in danger of becoming fanatics. Christians have often been labelled in this way by those who don't understand how wonderful the free grace of God is and how glorious the good news of Jesus Christ really is! Enthusiasts, fanatics, puritans, methodists, fundamentalists, Bible-bashers, members of the God squad etc. etc.

And of course just this sort of assessment was made of Jesus himself:

Mr.3:22 "And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He (that is, Jesus) is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons."

And Jesus was about his Father's business!

Now you may be insulted because you are foolish but if you're insulted because of your commitment to God in Jesus Christ then you are in very good company indeed!

But Paul wasn't always accused of being a firebrand sometimes he was patronised for the quiet and peaceable way he went about the regular steady work of teaching and building up the people of God. Did Paul need to defend himself against at this point? Was he really working now to build his own personal empire? Not a bit of it:

v.13 "if we are in our right mind, it is for you"

In both cases Paul declares that he has not been self-serving in any way – all that he has done in ministry terms has been for the glory of God and for the well-being of others!

When we see some of the tele-evangelists and the advocates of the prosperity gospel with their extravagant lifestyles we may well wonder who they are really serving. But the problem of self-serving is certainly not theirs alone.

Paul's Constraints
If someone were to ask us to explain why the apostle Paul lived this way what answer would you give? Do you understand what it was that drove Paul to go on and on serving Christ when his service brought him a seemingly never-ending series of hardships and difficulties?

He wasn't doing all he did in a desperate attempt to secure his own salvation. He wasn't knocking on doors to merit a place in heaven. He wasn't trying to do good in order to efface the wrongs he had formerly committed. No, none of that. He was serving because the love of Christ constrained him:

v.14 "For the love of Christ controls us..."

This term is slightly ambiguous – it could refer either to Christ's love for Paul or Paul's love for Christ. In context the first interpretation is to be preferred (though the second is by no means excluded as Paul's service is loving – "we love because he first loved us"1Jn.4:19.

Christ's love for Paul then has become the dominating influence in Paul's life. Paul's life has been totally transformed by this love. At one time as Saul of Tarsus he went about burning with hatred for the name of Jesus. But, ever since that meeting on the Damascus Road, Paul's life had been revolutionised. He had come to understand the Christ whom he had previously mistrusted and rejected. So entire had been the change wrought in his heart that this arch-persecutor was now the foremost missionary. Since he had come to understand the love of Christ, Jesus was now everything to Paul – he was the subject of his preaching:

1Cor.2:2 "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

1Cor.1:23 "but we preach Christ crucified"

Jesus had become the absolute goal and prize of Paul's life:

Phil.1:21 "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

Phil.3:8, 10, 14 "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ...  that I may know him... I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Paul doesn't leave us in any doubt whatsoever as to the profound impact that the love of Christ had had upon him and continued to have upon him. The love of Christ was the determining factor for what did and how he lived his life!

Could the others who were troubling the church in Corinth truthfully say the same? Can we?

But what was it that brought about this transformation in the life of Paul? How did he come to be so dominated and directed by Jesus' love? Let us turn to that now.

Paul's Convictions

vv.14-15 " because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."

There came a time as Paul thought about the death of the Lord Jesus that his thinking was totally altered. At one time he had thought of Jesus as a guilty man and a man under the curse of God – after all didn't the Scripture declare that "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" Gal.3:13 quoting Deut:21:23?

But Paul now no longer viewed Christ as a man who justly bore God's curse because of his own wrong-doing; the curse Jesus bore was real but he bore it on behalf and in the stead of others!

Paul had come to understand that Jesus' death was for all types of people who themselves did deserve to bear the curse of God because of their sin. No-one would or could be saved unless Jesus died in their place.

When Paul saw this he was quite simply bowled over by it – what love!

Graham Kendrick wrote these words to celebrate this wonderful love of Jesus:

MY Lord, what love is this
that pays so dearly,
that I, the guilty one
may go free!

Amazing love! O what sacrifice,
the Son of God given for me!
My debt He pays
and my death He dies
that I might live,
that I might live.

And so they watched Him die,
despised, rejected.
But O, the blood He shed
flowed for me!

Isaac Watts put it like this in words you know so well:

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Jesus' death upon the Cross was a tremendous demonstration of his love for us. This death was not designed merely to impress us or to set us some sort of an example it was a redemption. By dying in our place Jesus dealt with the problem of our guilt as sinners giving us a new status with God. This means we will never need to undergo the separation from God that he experienced. But that is only part of the story – Jesus' death was and is meant to ensure that we might enjoy new transformed lives.

Jesus himself declared this to be the case:

Jn.10:10-11 " I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

This new life was something that Paul both lived and referred to again and again in his teaching.

Rom.6:4 "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

Col.2:13 "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,"

Eph.2:4-5 "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved"

And here, writing to the Corinthians Paul talks about this new life. The fact that sins have been dealt with at Calvary is no excuse for the Christian to live a life of licence and licentiousness. The Christian has been set free from his former lusts that used to dominate him and dictate to him that he should think only of himself and his own interests. Now, as a justified man/woman, the Christian can live to the glory of the One who has saved him. He is free to become ever more like his Lord and Saviour as he learns and perseveres in walking in a manner worthy of his Lord!

Everyone who is thus reconciled to God by the death of his Son Jesus Christ now says "No" to self and "Yes" to Christ. Of course that obedience isn't yet perfect and there is always room for progress but the whole tenor of his life has definitively changed – the Bible knows nothing about a cheap grace that leaves a man or a woman to go on wallowing in the mire of their former Godless and Christ-less lives.

Well it is time to conclude. Let me do so by asking just a few questions.

1. Are there areas in your spiritual life where you are paying too much attention to outward appearances to the detriment of the internal realities of the heart?

If there are then confess them to our Lord and ask for his forgiveness. Then trust him for his help as you move forward not to go on in the same old way.

2. Do you have heart religion?

If you do then rejoice! If you fear that your heart religion is flagging then remind yourself of Jesus' wonderful love in giving his life for you and ask him to fan the dying embers into a flame once more.

If you don't have heart religion then you need to be converted. Go to God about this as it is a most serious matter and plead with him to save you by his grace.

3. Is sin spoiling your life and witness? Have you stopped waging war against it and find it occupying more and more ground in your life?

Is this you? Then again you need to repent and confess your sin. Remind yourself of what it cost your Lord to save you and think again that his determination is to save you from your sin and not to let you go on wallowing in it. Resolve by God's grace to live in a manner worthy of the Lord.

And may God graciously be with us all.


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