Sermon for Sunday, March 22, 2009
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
What is the basis we have for peace with one another? Have you ever wondered? Paul’s reputation and integrity as an apostle was under attack in the church at Corinth. He wrote the letter of 2 Corinthians in part to remind these new believers about the truth of his ministry as well as the core of the Gospel. In chapter 5, we read about the bedrock foundation for being at peace with God and with the people around us.
2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I recently came across this South African children’s song. I promise not to sing it to you. But the words teach us a lesson about life.
Boo hoo hoo, I’m a lonely croc,
Lying all day on a sunny doc,
I want friends, oh, with all my might,
But nobody likes my appetite.
Down in the river, deep in the grass,
I wait for someone nice to pass.
I’ve eaten all the friends I’ve ever known,
Maybe that’s why I am so all alone.
This poor crocodile was all alone because he kept eating all his would-be friends. There was no peace with him. Are you ever like that crocodile? Am I? We can become so prickly and hard to get along with, can’t we? At times we can become ornery, or perhaps even gobbling people up in ambition or in using them for personal benefit. Being like that crocodile leads us down that pathway to the prison of loneliness. Sometimes we find our lives filled with conflict all around; often it is of our own making. Being at peace with other people can be challenging.
Not only do we have conflict with others, we may find we don’t have peace within ourselves. Do you find it easy to sit alone in the quiet? Or do you keep yourself busy and distracted? Is the TV on as background noise at home all the time? If you can’t bear the thought of being alone and quiet with no one or thing there but you and your heart, could it be that you have no peace within yourself? At times we can’t stand the quiet because we begin to hear the voice of our hearts, our fears, our longings, our deepest thoughts. They seem the loudest when the world around us is quiet. Can you stand yourself?
God made us to pursue peace. It is at the core of his design for this world, a world in harmony with him and with one another. But the truth is that we can’t make peace without if we refuse it within. Peace with others is genuinely possible because God has made peace with us. To face the evil in the world around us, we must look squarely at the evil that lurks within our own hearts and deal with in through the reconciling power of God in Christ.
If we have no peace with others and no peace with self, at the root it is frequently because we struggle with our peace with God. Think about it. When your most basic relationship (whether you recognize it or not, we all have a relationship with our Creator; even if you are here and do not believe, you have a relationship with God) is disrupted, then others follow suit. When the foundation is off kilter, the whole house is askew.
Turn it around. When we have peace with God, we are able to pursue genuine peace with others. The Bible calls this reconciliation. The enmity we have between God and us has been set aside by the work Jesus did. We are by faith restored to a perfect Father-child relationship. That foundational relationship that is restored, fills us with peace and gives us the strength to pursue peace with one another.
Reconcile means to restore a relationship, to renew something that was broken. Many times throughout the Bible we are called on to pattern our lives after Jesus. He tells us to love one another as he has loved us. You and I are called to pursue love and peace within his family because he has provided peace for us on the cross. He reconciled us to himself and calls on us to live as agents of reconciliation.
Our passage this morning instructs us just how God has gone about making peace with us while providing for us a model as to how to pursue peace with one another.
How has he done it?
I. God took the initiative.
It is all His idea and His work. That may seem obvious, but let’s not lose how startling that is.
2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
Who is the subject of the reconciling activity? It is God. We have peace from God that is given by him to us. He did it in the past tense. The event has been accomplished. God reconciled us to himself; His initiative. His power, His plan. The obstacle that stood in the way of our relationship with God, our sin, was viewed by God not as being simply our problem. He viewed our sin as His problem. He handled it. He pursued us.
There is nothing we offer to God to affect a peaceful relationship. Why? Without Christ, we are in a state of being God’s enemies. We’ve offended Him by our sin and rebellion. The work of Jesus removes us from that state and grants us peace and favor.
We have a problem with God on two fronts. Both must be dealt with for reconciliation. God can’t stand our sin, and we can’t stand His holiness. We have stuff against one another. Yet God considered solving that breech to be His problem to solve. He took the initiative.
Do you believe that for reconciliation to be real, the animosity on both sides must be handled? I have a friend from out of state who recently experienced a broken relationship with a co-worker. He had said and done things that were sinful, and his co-worker had done the same. Both were Christians and determined to work it out.
My friend began the conversation by apologizing for the things he’d said and done. He named them, acknowledged them and asked for forgiveness. The co-worker replied, “Yes, I forgive you.” Then the silence was deafening; he could almost hear the crickets in the background. No further response was offered. The co-worker wouldn’t acknowledge any of his faults or sin in the broken relationship. They can’t really be reconciled without both acknowledging and dealing with the animosity. That’s just how it works in human relationships.
That is what makes God’s reconciliation with us so amazing and surprising. He handled both problems. Our Father considered our sin that we committed and continue to commit to be His problem to heal. He pursued us in His grace. Through this reconciliation, His rescue plan for us, His enmity toward us is terminated and our fear and repulsion toward His holiness is terminated. It was His initiation to come to us that overcomes both our sin and to change our hearts of hatred of his holiness.
God initiates reconciliation with us. He comes after us, pursues us with his life-changing love. Have you felt that love in your life? Have you felt loved by a God who would envision and enact a rescue plan for people like you and me? He has pursued us in love, chased us down at great cost to Himself. We must respond in faith and trust…but it is God who has initiated love for people like us. Our Father loved us enough to send His only Son to raid hell to bring us out! I implore you, if you don’t know this Jesus who loves in the deepest way we could ever imagine, come to him; be reconciled to God. He has done the work to restore a friendship. By faith, our Father has become our advocate. He delights in us as his children.
This is the way God has loved us, pursued peace with us, and as His children and followers, it is the way He calls us to pursue peace with one another. Ask of your own character whether you are the type of person who is willing to initiate reconciliation with another, even if you are the person who has been offended. Do you go to the person who hurt you and offer to work through the problems in order to have a real peace? That’s what God has done with us. He’s reconciled us to Himself so that we become “reconciled reconcilers.”
We must not be indifferent toward one another when we’ve sinned or hurt one another. Wounds must not be allowed to sit and fester, unaddressed and ignored as if they may go away. As reconciled reconcilers, loving one another means pursuing one another. It means going to one another. It means taking the risk of initiating reconciliation.
Please don’t hear me try to make a blanket rule for every situation. There may be particular situations where reconciliation and loving a person well means making them bear consequences for action and staying away, particularly in the case of abuse.
But more broadly, is your character one that initiates reconciliation, or do you sit back and wait for someone to come to you? Jesus clearly teaches us in Matthew 18 that if we have sinned against a brother or sister, we must go and repent. And if someone has sinned against us, we must go to them. We are called to be reconcilers, to pursue one another because we’ve been pursued by Christ. We should not backbite, not slander, not recruit factions to get people to agree with us. We are called to go personally and seek to be reconciled!
Who is the hard person in your life to love? Who is the one that seems risky to pursue in reconciliation? Will you go to them? Is God shaping you to be like Him - a pursuer to reconcile where there is offense?
On the other end of the conflict, when our brother or sister comes to us, pursuing us, we are called and freed to respond when reconciliation is initiated. Don’t turn them away in pride or in a desire to hang onto some injustice. Respond in grace to the grace that is offered. If you’ve been extended forgiveness by Christ, extend that forgiveness to those who have hurt you.
God didn’t wait on you or me because we were dead in our trespasses and sins. We couldn’t come to Him. So He came after us. He loved us unto the death of His own Son. He reconciled us to Himself. Let us love and serve one another as Reconciled Reconcilers.
I. He Removed the Cause of our Alienation.
Being reconciled to God is not just dealing with the feelings of enmity or alienation. When God planned and implemented our reconciliation, He dealt with the actual grounds, the cause of our alienation. The thing that causes separation has been removed. The thing standing between us, our sin, has been removed in Jesus. How?
“He did not count our sins against us” (v. 19). He refused to make us bear the burden of our own sin. He did not credit (or count) our sins against us. Credit is an economic word. It’s like our contemporary situation of amassing billions of new debt. Our sin is an enormous debt against God; we‘ve offended Him with our lives. But God says the debt in our account is removed and put somewhere else.
If not against us who committed them, then where did they go? There is no justice in simply wishing them away; they must be paid for. Everything we’ve ever done wrong, thought and nurtured in opposition to God’s ways; all the things I’ve loved that have taken me away from God must be paid for. Every single sin deserving a guilty verdict. All the hell that you deserve is not credited to you! Where did they go?
They were laid upon Jesus. Look again at v. 21: 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
There was a great exchange. Jesus bore our hell, it was laid on him, credited to him as if he deserved it because of sinful behavior. Our sins were nailed to the cross and we bear them no more. His righteousness and perfection in the eyes of God have been given to us as if we done it! We’ve been united with Jesus by faith.
God didn’t just deal with the feelings of enmity between Him and us. Jesus paid for the real enmity, the real, actual offenses one by one. The cause of our alienation from God has been removed by Christ, taken away. Now we are reconciled to God by faith, believing in what Jesus came to do on our behalf.
In the eyes of God, by faith you are clean! Take refuge in Christ when your conscience accuses you, or someone points out the truth about some sin in your life! Luther said, “Devil, you do not frighten me when you call me a sinner. But you bring me great consolation when you drive me to my Jesus.”
Does a reminder of sin in your life drive you to Jesus? When we are driven to Jesus, we begin that lifestyle of repentance. God dealt with the source, the cause of our alienation, by making peace through Jesus. By faith, let us take refuge in him.
We are called to follow and make peace with those around us as ministers of reconciliation by first making the appeal to be reconciled to God (v. 20) and also with one another.
When reconciling with one another, we are called, as God has done with us, to deal with the real cause of alienation. Making peace means really dealing with the issues that separate us. This isn’t playing nice with people, pretending that there is peace, when there is no real peace. This isn’t calling a truce with sin or accusation. It is actually dealing with the sin or the cause of separation between us. It means working through the hard things, the sin that we hang onto that separates us.
I once heard a man speak who lives his life by the motto FIDO, Forget It and Drive ON. When someone hurts you or you hurt someone else, FIDO. Just leave it. You can’t change the past, so just FIDO. If a friend hurts you, FIDO. If you hurt someone else, FIDO.
What a terrible way to live life! Why? Because when we won’t go to one another and deal with the sin between us we are losing an opportunity for the Gospel of Jesus to actually do its work in our hearts. We lose the way the gospel shapes our hearts. We lose the gift of repentance, that beautiful work of God.
We must seek to be honest enough with one another and love one another enough to tell the truth when we’ve sinned against and hurt one another. And remember God’s great sacrifice for us as we confess our sins in humility to receive grace. Let’s not take out our frustration on someone else, murmuring, spreading dissension or embarking on a critical letter-writing campaign. Instead, go to the source. Because Jesus has loved us, let us love one another enough to deal with the sin between us.
Be specific about how you have hurt another. And if offended, be specific in offering grace to the particular wounds. Meet in person so that you can look eye to eye and have the grace flow between you. When we face a difficulty, let us not turn and walk away from the problem. Rather, armed with the love of Christ who has reconciled us to our Father, let us move toward those with whom we have conflict so as to love them with this same love we’ve received.
Some of you may feel like you are drowning in loneliness, feeling a deep chasm between yourself and another person. You may even be thinking of that broken relationship in your mind right now. It is not too late to deal with it, to go to the one with whom you have broken fellowship, and invite a discussion about the sin between you that you may be reconciled. If our sin has been nailed to the cross and we bear it no more, that same reconciling power may be at work within us to reconcile brokenness between the King’s children.
In our marriages, when we hurt our spouse, we must deal with the specific thing done, and own it in order to be reconciled. Talk about the specific wound, and give the gospel the room to work. Offer grace to one another about that specific wound. Parents, when you speak harshly to your children, repent. Ask your kids to forgive you. Why? Because in Christ, God has removed the cause of our alienation and has welcomed us to the Father. We are reconciled in Christ.
I. He Appeals Through Ambassadors.
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
What is an ambassador? J.I. Packer writes, “He is an authorized representative of a sovereign. He speaks not in his own name but on behalf of the ruler whose deputy he is, and his whole duty and responsibility is to interpret that ruler's mind faithfully to those to whom he is sent.”1
An ambassador is a representative not of his own resources, but the King’s resources. He has the privilege of bringing the King to bear on a problem. He’s charged with representing the King’s wishes and desires, to see an issue through the King’s eyes.
When we proclaim the gospel we do so as ambassadors, speaking in the name of Christ. It is His power that is at work to change hearts; we simply speak.
When you have conflict with people are you viewing your work in that conflict, seeking to repair it, as the work of an ambassador? Are we working to see the issue through the eyes of the King?
How do you see the person on the other side of the conflict? Do you see the other person as God does, as valuable, gifted, full of beauty? Can you see them as worth the effort of being reconciled?
As ambassadors who ultimately represent the will of a higher authority, we must not forget that there are more than two parties to any conflict we have. We are engaged, the other is engaged, and let’s not forget that God is there. God is present with us, as a King to go to great lengths to break down the walls of hard hearts, whether ours or the other person’s. We appeal to one another through the King’s perspective, through the King’s eyes.
It is so easy to forget this piece, making winning the argument about scoring verbal points or getting in a zinger, as if life with another person is a grand debate. I forget this, too.
As a pastor, my life is often one of dealing with conflict in marriages, in families, between people in the church. And at times, if I’m honest with you, I find myself seeing a situation as one to manage, to figure out how to work it. Occasionally an issue will seem intractable, and then I’ll pray. Are you like that too? We pray when something seems too big for us. But can you see that as ambassadors, when we pray over a conflict or a problem (better pray with the person), we are actually inviting the King to participate, to reign, to rule in this problem, to give us His eyes?
Prayer is a means of connecting with the God who reconciles, calling in His power to do the thing that He uniquely can do. Prayer is a way to attempt to see through the King’s eyes and entrust our problems into the arms of the One who loves us best.
We are ambassadors, making the appeal for reconciliation with God and with others. Let us not forget that God is involved as a loving heavenly father, willing and able to reconcile what was irreconcilable.
Are you a lonely croc here this morning? I am. The beauty is that when were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. He pursued ornery and rebellious people like you and me and loved us. He took us and made us his own. We’ve been loved by the King. May that love we’ve received from him be freely given to one another.
1 Packer, J.I. Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.