We Regard No One According to the Flesh

August 14th, 2017

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:16-18 ESV)

If there were one passage of scripture that I would speak to many Americans today it would be this one. We are becoming an increasingly divided community, with harsh political, social, and ideological divisions. The terrible display of racial hatred from this past week in Virginia is just one recent expression of this reality.

The majority, of course, are not of this mindset. The majority of Americans, of all races, are united as one nation. Yet increasingly I seem to see Christians taking sides against others, giving up hope, condemning and judging with harsh and cruel words. We need to hear afresh these words: “We regard no one according to the flesh.”

To regard according to the flesh means to see everyone as intractable, unchangeable, unalterable, and, thereby, to pronounce them hopeless. They are on the “other side” of the matter, regardless of what that other side might be. They are “over there” and we are “over here,” and we will have nothing but contempt for them.

Paul said that in Christ they no longer saw anyone like that, rather their entire message was an invitation to everyone to come to Christ, to come to reconciliation, to life, to a new foundation. And this invitation was not to come to agree “with how I see things,” but rather for all to come to Christ, to God through Christ, for a new life.

The ministry of reconciliation: Paul had at one time viewed Christ that way - that Christ and His followers were “over there” and Paul the Pharisee was utterly opposed to Him. But on the Damascus Road all of that was radically changed. What Paul had feared, perhaps, was that if he believed in Christ that he must then hate his fellow Pharisees, just as he had as a Pharisee hated Christians. But to his surprise he received not hatred but love, not a ministry of destroying them but a ministry of reconciliation that they too may become new in Christ.

In Christ we all become new creatures. The one who was raised in a conservative environment, politically and socially and spiritually, does not enter into more conservatism at his conversion - if he did, then that would be mere legalism. Rather he enters into life, into a new reality that the old is passed away and behold everything is new. His spirit is reborn, his heart is new, his direction and hope are all new, and he is given a new heart of love for others.

And the one from a liberal back ground, who sees the excessive narrowness of the ultra-conservatism, likewise finds not an argumentative edge to use against the ultra-conservative, but rather than God call all to a new reality, to a new life. Not to a new synthesis that is merely man made. Any argument or philosophy that is man made will fail eventually, but Christ calls us to a new life, a new spiritual reality of His Lordship.

In His Lordship all human differences disappear and what we see is the incredible love and compassion, the hope and new life that Christ calls all people to. None of us, in His Lordship, stands upon our “rightness” and their “wrongness.” Rather we come together under His Lordship, to be ruled by Him, to love each other, to seek to know Christ better and to help one another.

And all of this is merely a prelude for eternity, that there it will merely be Christ and Him alone that is the focus of heaven. And in praising and serving Him we will find our safeguard as a new and redeemed people. Not that “I am right” and “you are wrong” but that Christ is all.

2 Corinthians , , , ,

Fearing and Loving the Lord

August 11th, 2017

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is 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 controls us, 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. (2 Corinthians 5:11-15 ESV)

How are we to balance these two values that seem to conflict - the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord? In this text Paul takes both of these ideas - fear and love - and enlarges them to the point of principles. But upon examination of these two we find not a conflict but a support for one another.

If we live in the fear of the Lord then we live in the realization of who Christ truly is, of His spiritual authority, of His power to determine the salvation of the saved and the lost, and His authority to assess the rewards of those who believe. We should stand in awe of who He is, and bow in humble adoration and admission of this fact.

We have too often cast Jesus as some weakling, who entrusted Himself to God and still threatens no one. While this is partially true, it is not wholly the correct picture of Christ. He temporarily laid aside His mantel of authority to come to this earth, according to the will of God, and allowed His own mistreatment by sinful men so that He might become the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. However, God has exalted Him to the highest place. He possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11 ESV)

In Revelation Christ is described as holding the keys of “Hades and death” (Rev. 1:18) - the word in Greek is not gehenna, which is specific for hell, the place of the punishment of the wicked. Rather the word is hades which is the general abode of all the dead - the righteous and the unrighteous. Christ here is stated to have the keys to release people from death into eternal life. And the authority to imprison souls for eternity as well.

So, He is to be feared in the sense of the utmost respect and reverence for who He is, for His authority and position. Christ is not to be pitied as some eternal weakling, but to be worshiped for the all powerful Lord He truly is. Fear here is the healthy respect for this reality.

But we are also to live in the reality of His love. The Christian acknowledges who Christ is, but also knows that He is the Lord who loved us and gave Himself for us. His love is the greater of these two traits, at least this is true for us on a personal level. Whereas sin abounded, grace super abounded.

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 5:20-21 ESV)

So the judgment of God influences us to see that all the human race is under the judgment of being sinners, but the love of Christ influences us to see that Christ loves all and wishes them to repent and receive His forgiveness and gift of new life. So though we are in awe of Christ for His authority, we are in even a greater sense of wonder and worship by the realization of the greatness of His love.

It is the love of Christ that “controls us” (ESV) or “constraineth us” (KJV). The word in the original here is sunecho or to “press together,” or “to compel.” It has the idea of the hand of God coming down into our consciousness and scooping up all the details and relationships of life into one heap and over that heap placing the phrase “The love of Christ,” identifying the chief spiritual truth and impetus of our living.

What does this mean for us today? It means that we never see another human being except those who are loved by Christ. We never deal with a single earthly situation but that is influenced by the love of God - all of earth’s business exists under Christ’s authority and will ultimately be shaped, whether lifted up and exalted or judged and destroyed, by His love and holiness. And the love of Christ, even more surely than His authority to judge, is the hope of the future. It is His love the will shape the future, that will bring a redeemed people into existence, and that will bring peace and order to the created realm.

How we today need to remember this! Grace outweighs judgment. Love outweighs fear.

I heard a testimony today by a high school friend of mine, who came to Christ and received a call into the ministry as a young man in his twenties. He was on drugs and rebellious when Christ found him, but he was saved by Christ and discipled, along with other friends like him, by a pastor with a heart to redeem others. He now has a large and fruitful ministry in Texas, simply because he believed in Christ and in His grace - both in his life and in the lives of others.

There is a spirit among Christian today of impatience, of wanting to exclude the sinful and the rebellious. But our calling is to let God deal with their failures, not us, and let our focus be on the love of God for them. This is not easy, and neither is it an excuse to be naive and foolish - Christ knew what was in the hearts of mankind (John 2:25), as did the apostles, but they also knew that God could change anyone.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:27-29 ESV)

So do not be afraid of either of these truths - Christ’s authority to judge and His power to save - for they compliment and support one another. Yet the greater of these realities is His love which calls us to see every person on earth differently. His love shapes the future. Judgment excludes people but love transforms people. If loves shapes us, then we will be of use to Him, lettingHim use us to reach out to others.

2 Corinthians , ,