Reconciliation: Seeing Like Our Father Sees
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
We all have points of view. From where you are sitting you can see the front of this room and I can see the back. We have different points of view when we look at people. The Apostle Paul identifies two different ways we can look at people: spiritual and worldly. From a worldly point of view a doctor might look at a person as a complex machine that needs to be fixed the way a mechanic fixes a car. A lawyer looking at a person from a worldly point of view might see them through their legal problems on complicated documents. A judge may see people as offenders who have appeared before because of problems in their lives. A counsellor might see broken relationships. A banker might see a person as wealthy or heavily in debt. The fashion designer might scan a person’s body and notice their make-up, clothing, and shoes. We might look at neighbours based on their house, their cars, and their lawn service. These are worldly ways of looking at people.
Paul identifies similar problems at the church in ancient Corinth as you can see in our reading in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. He notes those who “take pride in appearance and not in heart” (5:12). Literally, these people are boasting in the face, the outward superficial appearance, rather than in heart. The Greeks were proud of their appearances. You can see this in their sculptures and the emphasis on the human body in, for example, the Olympics. We have similar tendencies today. We live in a very visual culture. We see people’s appearances and possessions rather than their hearts. A famous model commented that even she does not recognize herself on the cover of magazines because her face had been so “doctored.” This shows the emphasis our society places on outward beauty.
Paul says that some people in Corinth “live for themselves” (5:15). People had a tendency to get what they could for themselves over what they could give for others. This reflects the presence of selfishness and sin (5:21). Instead of a state of grace, they lived in sin. Thinking about sin and looking from a worldly point of view, it is very interesting to note that Eve “saw that the tree was good for food” (Genesis 3:6). She saw that it was “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, “their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). The first fashion statement was the clothing of fig leaves that covered their shame.
Paul and others once looked at Jesus from a worldly point of view, “even though we have know Christ according to the flesh” (5:16). What could this mean? They might have just thought of Him as another person from “up north,” from the insignificant town of Nazareth. Nathaniel asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46). They might have seen him as poor preacher who could not support Himself but needed the help of others. They might have thought of him as a good man or a moral teacher, although he was a social disturber of the status quo. He made some people comfortable and others uncomfortable. Saul saw Him as an enemy of God. Some might have seen him as a young man in the prime of His life who came to a tragic end, dying on the cross like so many others had.
This is a “horizontal” view of people. It doesn’t consider the “vertical” view of God. If we could look at the church in Corinth from God’s point of view, what would He see? He would see Corinthians wrapped up in themselves. He would see division, pride, jealousy, envy, strife, sexual immorality, law suits, debauchery at the Lord’s Supper, selfishness, and pride. God looks at the heart, some Corinthians looked at outer appearances. God gives life to others, some people live for themselves. God is one. They are divided. God is holy. They are not.
If you ruled the world, what would you do about this? God does rule the world. What is He doing about it? He created this world. In a sense, it is His dilemma. We need a solution. God needs a solution too. He needed a way to reconcile Himself to people. He is holy and completely free of sin. People need forgiveness, God needed a way to satisfy His justice.
As Creator, God is in a position to deal with His creation. But we create things and sometimes don’t feel lasting attachments to them. There is a deeper level that we can view this dilemma on from God’s point of view. That is, from His perspective as Father, as a loving Father. Notice Paul’s emphasis on the Fatherhood of God, “for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). When Paul speaks of God to the Corinthians, many times he is thinking of God the Father. He mentions God 152 times in his two letters, seven times directly as the Father (referring to Jesus 37 times, Christ 99 times, Spirit 33 times, and Lord 86 times). A father is always a father. It is a life-long commitment. God our Father is the most responsible father of all and He cares for His children. In opening both Corinthian letters Paul mentions that grace and peace come from God (1 Corinthians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:2). He closes the books by wishing the love God of be with them, along with the grace of Jesus and the fellowship of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:15).
Let’s see what our Father is doing for the Corinthians. “God was in Christ” (5:19). Jesus says many times in the Gospel of John that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. This is what Saul and so many in Palestine missed, God was in Jesus. They saw Him only from a worldly point of view. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (5:19). In 2 Corinthians 5, we get a vision behind the cross. God reveals what is going on in His heart and in the heart of Christ as He died for us on the Cross. God was in Him reconciling the world to Himself. He was bringing together the two that had been estranged, at a distance, that is His holy self with the sinful world. His making the enemies of God friends of God. He found a way to reconcile them. When we read about the estrangement of David and Absalom, we see that “God does not take away life, but plans ways so that (3) the banished one will not be cast out from him” (2 Samuel 14:14).
Notice in verse 19 that God was “not counting their trespasses against them.” If God was a banker keeping a ledger, we could see our tremendous debts and our inability to pay. Christ paid our debts. How did He do this. Paul says that “One died for all” in verse 14 and that He “died and rose again on their behalf” (5:15). Jesus died in our place. The payment of our debts was not free. It was the most costly payment ever made. It cost Jesus His body and blood. It cost the life of the Son of God. God puts us into the death of Christ (5:17). We die with Him in baptism by immersion and we are raised with Him who “rose again on their behalf” (5:15). God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (5:21). God made Jesus what He did not deserve to give us what we did not deserve, the righteousness of God in Him. God places us in Jesus by faith, through repentance from sin, confessing Him before men, and being immersed into Him in baptism.
Where does all this lead for the Corinthians and for us today? Let’s move through this beautiful passage and notice the benefits we receive and the work that God has for us to do, our mission. First, notice that Paul begs the Corinthians to “be reconciled to God” (5:20). Wait a minute Paul. We thought they were reconciled to God and so are we. What do you mean? Paul is not only concerned about the initial reconciliation of Christians to God at conversion, he is concerned about the ongoing reconciliation of the church to God. It is like forgiveness, we don’t just need it at conversion, we need it every day. So Paul wants to keep the church reconciled. He wants to do more than convert people. He wants to “proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). He wants to present a whole and perfect church to God. The church in Corinth was not completely reconciled. They still had division, strife, and moral issues to resolve, to reconcile. Like balancing the books. He begged them to be reconciled to God.
Next, instead of being in sin, we are “in Christ” (5:17), “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, new things have come.” The old, “archaic” things as the passage says, have passed away. New things have come.
We see spiritually, like God. We see God and Jesus in heart and spirit. We see others as living souls, “Therefore, from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have know Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (5:16). We see God in Christ reconciling people to Himself. This is hard work. This is your homework. It is a life long practice. You work at it everyday, when you fill your care with gas and pay the attendant, when you talk to the clerk at the grocery store, when you face difficult people at work, and when you visit with your neighbour. You try to see them spiritually, as souls Christ died for.
Instead of taking pride in, or boasting in, appearances, we can boast in what God has done through His Son Jesus and through His Apostles. As Paul says, “We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance, and not in heart” (5:12). We can boast about the grace of God about which the Apostles bring us knowledge in the Word of God. We have an answer for those who boast in appearances. We can help direct their hearts toward God. We can help them see from His viewpoint.
Rather than living for ourselves, we can live for God. Jesus set us the greatest example of selfless service to our Father, “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (5:15). God gives us a purpose in life. He gives us focus. We are alive to know Him and serve Him. How many people are searching desperately for meaning in their lives? Coming home to God our Father means finding meaning and purpose in this life.
We share the ministry and word of reconciliation. Certainly this passage occurs in the context of Paul’s defence of his ministry as an Apostle. Certainly it is about his strong desire for the church in Corinth to be reconciled to God. Notice the passive voice. God is the one reconciling us. We allow Him to do it and submit to his love. We can also follow Paul’s example by letting the love of Christ control us as we try to persuade people of His love for them. Through the Word, Paul still speaks today. God is still seeking people to be reconciled to Him. Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of the nations and teach them everything He had commanded the disciples. This includes take the good news of His death burial and resurrection on our behalf (5:15).
In a moment, we will sing “This is My Father’s World.” This beautiful hymn expresses the viewpoint that the world belongs to God not to us. It is His. Notice that last two lines, “This is my Father’s world, The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and heaven be one.” The reconciliation of the world to God is possible because of Jesus died for us. If you would like to be reconciled to God and have Him place you in Christ, please come forward during our invitation hymn.
Let’s revisit the viewpoints we saw at the beginning. How do we look at people like our Heavenly Father sees them? A doctor would see as Jesus does. He is the Great Physician. He sees the whole person, a precious soul needing healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. A lawyer would see them as Jesus our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). He comes before God to defend people who believe in Him. As a judge, God looks at people through Christ and pardons them on the basis of Jesus’ payment for their transgressions. As a counsellor, God seeks to reconcile, to bring people together with Him. How is God like a fashion designer. He clothes the fields in lilies in splendour that excels Solomon’s finest clothing (Matthew 6:28-29). He clothes us in priceless garments, with righteousness in Christ. As a banker would look at ledger, God also can calculate our debts but He wipes them out. But the payment for our debts was costly, it cost the blood of the Son of God. When we look at our neighbours from a spiritual perspective, we see precious living souls like our Father does. We see our neighbours as precious living souls that He wants to reconcile to Himself.