Big Idea: To keep loving God and serving others, get a bigger view of God and the gospel.
At the age of 23, Charles become the pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England. As a student at Cambridge, he’d often walked by the church and dreamt of becoming the pastor there.
But when he became pastor, he wasn’t popular. The congregation wanted another man, the associate pastor, to become their pastor.
And so they opposed him.
- The church was almost empty when he preached his first sermon. The people in the church wouldn’t let anyone sit in the pews, and so Charles bought chairs and put them in the aisles. The church took those chairs and threw them outside.
- They refused to let him speak at the church’s second service for 12 years. When Charles started another service, they locked the doors and wouldn’t let anybody in.
- They started rumors about him. When he tried to visit people in the community, most people wouldn’t open their doors to him.
- One time a group of students waited outside the door of the church with a plan to beat him up as he left the church after the service, but missed their chance when he went out a different door that day.
People hated Charles, and he felt lonely and discouraged. And yet he never flinched. He stayed at the church for 54 years and won people over. Over his lifetime that church grew, and Charles had a profound impact not just in his own church but throughout the entire country.
What would possess someone to keep going with so much opposition? What would keep someone going for so many years when experiencing so much opposition and misunderstanding?
I’m asking this question for a reason. Sometimes it feels like following Jesus is relatively easy. I love when it feels like we’re picking up momentum as a church, when there’s a sense of expectancy as we gather. I love the days when I wake up hungry to read the Bible and to follow God in everything I do, and my life seems to be going well.
But sometimes serving God is hard, and there’s little to show for it, and we feel like giving up.
What motivates us to keep loving God and serving others when it would be easier to quit?
That’s the question that Paul answers in the passage we have in front of us. We’re in the middle of studying Paul’s letter to a church that he started. Paul is very honest about the difficulties he’s faced. He said back at the start of the letter, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He’d experienced beatings, hunger, slander, and opposition from inside and outside the church. People opposed him even in the church in Corinth. And yet Paul kept going, even though some people thought that this indicates that he was out of his mind, as we see in verse 13. And in the passage before us, Paul is going to explain what motivated him to keep going.
What motivates us to love God and serve others when it would be easier to give up? We need a big view of God and the gospel.
We Need a Big View of God
We read in verse 11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” Paul had a big view of God. Fear of God means an appropriate reverence and awe because of who God is and what he has done. It’s not just an idea. It’s a bigger picture of his greatness, a knowledge of his glory, a sense of the bigness of God, and a resulting healthy fear in your life as you think about God.
We tend to think that fear is a negative motivator. But the reality is that fear is a perfectly good motivator. We use all the time. We fear losing friends, so we pull modify our behavior. We fear losing our job, so we put in extra time to make sure our boss is happy. We fear losing money, so we lock in our debt when interest rates go up. Fear is a very healthy motivator when we use it the right way.
And so Paul uses this fear of God as a positive motivator. Paul has such a big picture of God that he is more afraid of what God thinks than he is about what other people think. He had such a big view of God that it squeezed out his other fears. Paul knew that one day he would stand before God, and God would scrutinize his whole life and ministry. Paul understood that this would be the most important day of his life. And so Paul cared more about what God thinks than what other people think.
How is your view of God? The bigger your view of God, the more he will determine how you live rather than setbacks and discouragements. A big view of God will set us free from other fears. Oswald Chambers once said, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” You need a big view of God!
I love what Drew Dyck writes:
People are starving for the awe of God.
Most don’t know it, of course. They think they’re starving for success or money or excitement or acceptance—you name it…
I believe that once you strip away all our shallow desires and vain pursuits, it’s God we’re after. And not just any god. We have enough friends. We need a great and awesome God. A God worth worshipping. (Yawning at Tigers)
We need a bigger view of God.
But that’s not all.
We Need a Big View of the Gospel
In verses 14 to 19, we have one of the most detailed and amazing explanations of the gospel in all of the Bible. It’s worth taking a few minutes to look at it.
Paul says in verse 14, “For the love of Christ controls us…” Paul was motivated by a big view of God, but he was also motivated by a big view of Jesus’ love shown most powerfully in the gospel. Jesus’ love changed his life.
Paul explains exactly what Jesus did that changed him so much.
What Jesus Did
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 5:14-15)
We are the objects of Jesus’ love. Out of sheer love, Jesus died on behalf of all believers. Because of sin, humanity is condemned before God, and subject to death. Jesus died that death in our place. He gave his life for us. Paul says that because Jesus loved him so lavishly, he’s controlled by that love. He too must live not for himself but to serve others.
Paul unpacks two things that changed when Jesus died.
Jesus made us new.
We usually evaluate ourselves and others by externals. But Paul evaluates things differently, by whether or not we know Jesus. And if we know Jesus, then none of the old standards matter. He says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
You are not ultimately a husband or a wife, a mom or a dad, single or married, widowed or divorced. You are not defined by how you look, by what you wear, by what you do for a living, by how much you make, by where you live, by who you cheer for. Your identity is not found in your gender, your ethnicity or your socioeconomic status. You are not defined by your past as an addict or an alcoholic or a victim of abuse in this way or that way. You are not what counselors would say you are defined by—your genetic make-up or your past history. You are not what bosses might tell you you are defined by—your present performance. You are not what parents and teachers might tell you that you are based on your potential in the future. No, you are in Christ. Christ is in you. He is your identity.
Do not let this world steal that away from you. Christ in you—Christ in you now and Christ in you forever. This is your identity forever. You have an entirely new identity, which leads to an entirely different perspective. (David Platt)
That’s the first things that’s changed, but here’s another:
Jesus has made it possible for you to be reconciled to God by taking your sin and giving you his righteousness.
We had a broken relationship with God. Humanity exists in a state of hostility to God. But Jesus took the initiative in overcoming that hostility. It’s his work, not ours. How did he do that? Through the greatest exchange that will ever take place in history: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God provided Jesus to stand in the place of sinful humanity. Even though Jesus was sinless, God treated him as if he was a sinner by letting him die in our place. As a result, God treats us as if we had never sinned. Jesus took all of our sin and gave us all of his righteousness.
This is the best news you will ever hear! It changed everything about Paul. If you want something that will keep you going even when things get hard, this is it. Get a big view of God and the gospel.
Therefore, We Must Respond
But friends, Paul doesn’t just give us this as information. He asks us to respond in two ways.
First: if you have trusted Jesus, join Paul in telling other people about this. Paul says in verses 18 to 20: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re also an ambassador. You’re a representative of Jesus to everyone you meet, and you’ve been authorized to speak on behalf of God to invite them to be reconciled to him. Don’t waste that. It’s why you’re here.
Second: if you haven’t trusted Jesus, then do so today. Verse 20 says, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
I began today by telling you about Charles Simeon, who just wouldn’t give up in telling people about Jesus even though so many opposed him. Why? Because he had a big view of God and the gospel.
When Simeon died, one of his obituaries carried this remembrance of calling his hearers to faith:
And after having urged all his hearers to accept the proffered mercy, he reminded them that there were those present to whom he had preached Christ for more than thirty years, but they continued indifferent to the Saviour’s love; and pursuing this train of expostulation for some time, he at length became quite overpowered by his feeling, and he sank down in the pulpit and burst into a flood of tears.
I haven’t been your pastor for thirty years, but some of you have been listening for a while and have not yet responded. And so implore you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God today by trusting in what Jesus has done for you.
This is the message that kept Paul going. It’s the message that kept Charles Simeon going. It’s the message that will keep you going too. Get a big view of God and his gospel. Trust Jesus today.