2Cor.5:20-6:3 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 5:20-6:3


God's Fellow Workers

In June of this year Mrs Kirkaldy died at the age of 103. As a young woman in the 1930s she worked as a secretary for Winston Churchill. She worked for him at his London home and also at Chartwell where Churchill would often dictate his books to her. On the occasion of her 100 th birthday Mrs Kirkaldy recalled her time as one of his secretaries and said: "It was a great honour to work for Winston Churchill. He treated even juniors like myself as family."

During the Second World War many others also considered it an immense privilege to work for this man.

If men and women can consider it a great honour and privilege to serve flawed men such as Winston Churchill how much more should Christians thrill in the privilege they have of being able to "work together with God"!

That is how Paul understood his calling to be a Christian minister – he wasn't left to get on with things on his own he had become God's co-worker. What a privilege!

Paul knew that he had received salvation as a gift and it was a gift which changed his life forever. Further Paul knew that his salvation was no dead-end but rather he had been saved in order that he might live for his Saviour. This once proud Pharisee had been reconciled to God and now he realised that he really had had nothing to be proud about – he was in his own estimation the chief of sinners. But having been reconciled to God Paul also knew that he had now been given a "ministry of reconciliation". The message of reconciliation had been entrusted to him and his task was to pass it on to others.

Paul writes about this ministry in the following ways:

  • He is an Ambassador for Christ

  • God makes his appeal through Paul and the nature of that appeal is described

  • What characterises the way in which he carries out his ministry

Ambassadors for Christ
In describing himself as an ambassador for Christ Paul is making it very clear to his readers that he is not setting himself up to follow his own interests and ideas for an ambassador is not free to do any such thing.

The fact that Paul is now an ambassador is totally dependent upon the work that God has already carried out in his life. V.20 begins with a link word such as "therefore" or "so then". It is because Paul has been himself reconciled to God and entrusted with the message and ministry of reconciliation that he is able to describe himself as an ambassador.

In our own day we are familiar with the concept of an ambassador. He is an accredited diplomat sent by a state as its recognised envoy to a foreign country. The ambassador reflects the official position of the sovereign body which sent him and which gave him his authority. An ambassador is not free to do whatever might take his fancy – indeed his status as an ambassador would be revoked if he were to abandon the policies of the body that sent him.

Paul's position as a Christian minister is both an honourable one and a humble one. He serves the greatest of all possible sovereigns – he is an ambassador for no ordinary king for his Master is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. As such when he speaks with great authority for he is acting as the mouthpiece of his Monarch.

On the other hand his role is a humble one. He must not get carried away and imagine that his authority is somehow due to his own qualities or his own importance. His task is to pass on and to explain the thoughts of another. His task is to explain the offer that his King is making  - he is not free to add or to subtract from the message entrusted to him. His ask is to faithfully communicate that which has been entrusted to him.

It follows from this that any attempt to alter the message to make it more acceptable or more agreeable to men and women whoever they might be is an act of the utmost seriousness, we could perhaps suggest that it to alter this message is an act of treason. Does this explain why James could write:

Jam.3:1 "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."

Paul would later instruct Timothy to take great care over what must be taught in the name of Christ.

2Tim.2:1-2 "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

Jude too wrote of the unchanging and unchangeable nature of the Christian message:

Jude 3 "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints."

This being the case the true task of the Christian minister functioning as an ambassador for Christ is to hold fast to this message that the church received at the very beginning of the Christian era. To the extent that he fails to do so he fails to be Christ's ambassador. We must do all in our power and ability to make this message clear, to explain its meaning, its implications and its ramifications but it is no part of the ambassador's role to obscure, to hide or to alter what that message is. The gospel message we must proclaim to men in the 21 st century may well need to be explained using images and illustrations and language that would have been foreign to Christians in previous centuries but it must remain fundamentally the same message. It is only in proclaiming this same message that we can dare to consider ourselves as God's fellow workers.

God-Making his Appeal
Paul explains what he means by saying that he is an ambassador for Christ and he is very specific – God uses Paul to make his appeal.

Do you see how important it is for Paul to get the message right? How will God make his appeal if his message is perverted and twisted?

But what a privilege it is to be God's fellow worker! This is the normal way in which men and women are brought to faith in Jesus Christ, by hearing.

Here Paul describes God's appeal as including two related calls:

  • "be reconciled to God" 5:20

  • "do not receive the grace of God in vain" 6:1

From this twin emphasis we should realise just what God's analysis of our human predicament really is:

Firstly, we are not naturally at peace with God. We naturally live our lives at enmity with him and we need to be reconciled to him, whoever we are.

Secondly, if we are to be reconciled to him then it can only be by means of his grace which is freely offered to us. And this grace comes to us in and through Christ.

Paul doesn't simply tell us about our need and God's answer in general terms rather he explains in detail exactly what God has done in order to provide a remedy and a solution for our sin problem that has brought about our enmity. We see this in:

5:21 "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 a wonderful sentence of rich theological fare this is!

God the Father took the initiative and acted in our favour. This action was at great cost to himself and to his Son. The problem was all of our own making (sin) but the solution was all his! It involved treating his pure and spotless, innocent Son as the sin-bearer. He did this because he knew that there was no way for us to bear the weight and responsibility of our own sin and emerge unscathed. Were we to carry the responsibility for just one sin we would be found to have fallen short of God's glory and so have been forever condemned. So another way had to be found and God's way was for the Son to act as our substitute, he would carry the sin that we could not carry and pay the penalty that we could not pay. And more than that he would not leave us naked but he would clothe us in exchange with that righteousness that came from his Son!

Isaiah, centuries earlier, had seen this coming:

Is.61:10 "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness"

This is the Great Exchange that Christian theologians and preachers love to talk about – our sin is laid on Christ and his righteousness is attributed to us! Isaiah's reaction was certainly right – who can properly understand such a wonderful transaction without being deeply moved to rejoice and praise God for his wonderful, gracious generosity?

And the privilege of sharing such news is ours. God makes his appeal through us!! Might we be ready and willing to be his co-workers.

How Paul Carried out this Ministry
We might perhaps be tempted to argue that because the message did not originate with Paul and because his responsibility was simply to pass on the message he had received that it would be sufficient for him to do so in a cool or detached manner. We might be tempted to think that Paul could acquit himself of his responsibilities in presenting the gospel with a "take it or leave it" attitude, as though he himself were uninvolved or disinterested.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

If God were to use Paul as a channel through which to make his appeal, Paul would nevertheless be fully and passionately involved with that appeal. It is not enough for Paul to explain man's predicament and God's solution he will also with every ounce of intellectual ability and warmth of passion "implore" men to heed what he says and to act upon it.

A preacher's job is not done if he stops short at this point. Paul was a co-worker with God and he would add his own appeal to God's appeal through him.

The reaction the preacher looks for is not a merely emotional one that responds to his passionate pleas but he adds as much weight as he possibly can to his pleas by explaining as much as he can about the urgency of the matter and the appropriateness of the response and by describing God's willingness to receive returning sinners crying out for salvation.

Let us pray that the Lord give to his church men who are passionate about the truths of God and the souls of men. Let us pray to the Lord that he give men to the church who understand the seriousness of man's plight and the wonders of God's provision. Let us pray to the Lord that he give to the church men who are unashamed to invest themselves wholeheartedly in their ministries with an eye to pleasing God alone without pandering to the pressures brought to bear by mere men.

And so Paul speaks of the proclamation of this message of reconciliation that is fully focussed on Christ. It can be proclaimed with confidence because it is now just the time when salvation is available. Now is the day of salvation cries Paul, quoting from the Servant Song found in Is.49. As soon as men and women hear the message of reconciliation it is the time for them to respond, for you to respond. There will come a time when the day of salvation draws to an end. We must be saved before the day closes because when Christ returns there will be no second chances. Now, now is the day of salvation.

Paul is fully involved with the message he has to proclaim. He does everything he can to make the message understandable, he does everything he can in the way he carries out his own ministry not to hinder the understanding and the reception of this most wonderful of messages. In fact he will put up with all kinds of things in his life if only he can thereby show himself to be a faithful servant of God.

He lists out, in vv.4-10, the lengths to which he had already been prepared to go in the proclamation of this message of reconciliation. Should we not demonstrate these same qualities in our own service of our God?

Endurance – purity – knowledge – patience – kindness – the presence of the Holy Spirit – genuine love – truthful speech – the power of God – weapons of righteousness etc.

If we are left unmoved by all of this could the reason be that we have not yet ourselves been reconciled to God? If that be the case then we implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God!

Or perhaps you've simply allowed yourself to drift and the ardour of your first love for Christ has waned. Well, remember that it is still a day of salvation, it is still a favourable time: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first... He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev.2:5,7)

And to God be the glory.


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