2 Corinthians 5 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Christ's Love Compels Service

A further reason for preaching the gospel is found in verse 14: For Christ's love compels us. Conviction (4:14), fear (5:11) and now love motivate Paul to pursue his call. The text is literally, "the love of Christ." The genitive can be objective, "our love for Christ," or subjective, "Christ's love for us." Although we might instinctively incline toward the former, the latter is preferred by most modern translations. This is because Paul goes on in verses 14-15 to speak of Christ dying on our behalf--the ultimate demonstration of love. The basic sense of synecho (to compel) is to hold something together so that it does not fall apart. From this we get the meanings to "hold fast" (that is, to not allow to slip through one's fingers) and to "surround" or "hem in" (that is, to not let escape; Köster 1971:883). The idea is that Christ's love completely controls and dominates Paul so that he has no option but to preach. The hymn writer George Matheson knew of this kind of constraining love when he penned the words "O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; / I give Thee back the life I owe, That in Thine ocean deptes its flow may richer, fuller be."

It is not the mere fact of Christ's death but a conviction about it that leaves Paul no choice but to carry out his call to preach the gospel. We are convinced, he says, that one died for all, and therefore all died (v. 14). We are convinced is actually "we have judged this" (krinantas touto). The basic meaning of krino is to "separate" or "sift," and it is commonly used of a conclusion drawn after thoroughly evaluating the facts. Here it emphasizes a carefully considered judgment as opposed to accepting something on good faith. Paul has assessed the evidence and come to the carefully thought-out conclusion that one died for all, and therefore all died.

Much effort has been expended on determining the theological import of the second half of verse 14. It is important to notice that Paul does three things here. He states a conviction, (one died for all) he draws a conclusion, (therefore all died) and he articulates a rationale (that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again, v. 15). Paul's conviction is that one died for all. But by all does he mean all believers or all people? The contrast betoeen one and all suggests that the term is to be taken in the broadest sense. Even so, while Christ may have died for all of humanity, it is only believers who reap the benefits. This is why Paul can say elsewhere that "Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8; 1 Thess 5:10) and "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor 15:3). The scope of Christ's redemptive work may be all-encompassing, but the application is particular.

A second exegetical problem is the force of the preposition hyper (for). Does it mean "instead of" ( anti; that is, Christ died in our place) or does it bear its usual sense, "on behalf of" (that is, Christ died as our representative)? Paul routinely employs hyper where anti would have been expected, so too firm a distinction should not be drawn betoeen the too prepositions. In most instances, one who acts on behalf of another takes their place (Moule 1959:64). Galatians 3:13 is a case in point, where Paul states that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse in our place" (hyper hemwn). This may well be the primary idea here. Just as Christ took upon himself the curse that should have been ours, so too he died the death that we should have died.

A number of years ago, a young couple, knowing that a tornado was upon them and not having time to take cover, laid their baby on the floor of their living room and covered him with their own bodies. The tornado struck with devastating force and leveled a row of homes, including theirs. The next morning, as rescue workers were rummaging through the destroyed homes, they heard a muffled crying. They came upon the lifeless bodies of the young couple, with their baby still safe beneath their bodies. They gave their lives for their child. This is what Christ did for us.

The conclusion (therefore) Paul draws from the conviction that one died for all is that all died or, literally, "the all died." The article + pas emphasizes the whole as opposed to the part. The notion here is one of corporate solidarity. In placing our trust in Christ as Savior, we become united with him and all that he accomplished on our behalf. This is the idea behind Paul's statement in Romans 6:3-5 that "all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death . . . buried with him" and "will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." What is the nature of this death? Is Paul thinking of a physical death? The aorist indicative, "all died," suggests something other than this. Paul can hardly mean that we all died physically as a result of Christ's death. Some suggest spiritual death due to sin. Yet it was this very condition that necessitated Christ's death. It was while we were yet sinners and dead in our transgressions and sins that Christ died for us (Rom 5:8; Eph 2:1-2). The most plausible alternative is to understand all died as a death to our old way of life. This is supported by the sequence all died . . . those who live (vv. 14-15). It is also suggested by the shift from aorist (apethanen) to present tense (hoi zontes). Death to sin and self is a familiar theme in Paul. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (or a similar statement) is found in virtually every one of his letters (Gal 2:20, compare Rom 6:6-14; Eph 2:1-5; Col 2:20). When Augustine returned to his hometown after his conversion in Milan, his former girlfriend called to him: "Augustine, Augustine, it is I!" He turned to her and said: "Yes, but it is not I." Where there is no radical change of attitude toward life and self, there is no conversion.

Christ's self-sacrifice had a particular goal in mind. He died that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (v. 15). The aorists died and was raised point to too historical facts. The active voice he died (apothanonti) denotes a voluntary action on Christ's part. It is followed, however, by the passive voice, he was raised, the deed in this case being performed by God. It is on the basis of these too facts that believers are constrained to live no longer for themselves but for Christ.

But what does this mean? In the first instance, it means that our life is not our own. We have been bought with the price of Christ's death and therefore are called to serve not self but Christ (1 Cor 6:19-20). Freedom is an illusion. We like to think along the lines of William Ernest Henley: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." The fact of the matter is that ours is to serve, not to be served. If we are not serving Christ, we are serving another master. To live for self is to serve sin. To live for Christ is to serve him--or as we say today, to allow Christ to be Lord of our life. The difference is betoeen treating Christ as a houseguest and serving him as the house owner. Robert Munger in My Heart--Christ's Home (first ed. 1954) pictures the latter in terms of going to the strongbox, taking out the title deed to our life and signing it over to Christ for eternity. The central thought is a transference of ownership. Frances Ridley Havergal appropriately expressed this transfer in a hymn:

Take my will and make it thine,

It shall be no longer mine;

Take my heart--it is thine own,

It shall be thy royal throne.

From time to time we hear someone say that a particular experience has given them a whole new outlook on life. Changed convictions should result in changed attitudes. It did for Paul. His conviction that one died for all, and therefore all died (v. 14) changed irrevocably how he looked at people. Seneca once said, "I do not distinguish by the eye, but by the mind, which is the proper judge of the man" ("On the Happy Life" 2.2). It is all too easy to judge people by outoard appearances--what kind of clothes they wear, how much education they have had, what neighborhood they live in, what kind of car they drive, what schools they went to, and so on. Paul had judged Jesus in this fashion and decided that Jesus could not be the Messiah because he did not fit the messianic mold. It was expected that the true Messiah would deliver Israel from the hand of the nation's Roman oppressors and restore the Davidic monarchy, thereby ushering in the eternal kingdom of God. Jesus did not do this. Even worse, he died on a cross, which was considered the ultimate sign of God's disapproval. The law-abiding Jew would know that anyone "who is hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deut 21:23). So, to all outoard appearances, Jesus was a messianic pretender who justifiably died a criminal's death.

Paul's encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus forced him to do some reevaluating. He realized he had been wrong in his assessment of Jesus. Jesus died a criminal's death, but the criminal was actually everyone except Jesus. In short, one died for all. Paul initially came to a false conclusion because the standards he used to form his judgments were wrong. We once regarded Christ, he says, from a worldly point of view (NIV in this way; v. 16). The NIV is a free translation of ei kai egnokamen kata sarka Christon: "Even if we knew Christ according to the flesh." Some have understood Paul to be rejecting knowledge of the earthly, physical Jesus in favor of the risen, spiritual Christ. But this is to take the verse out of context. He has just distinguished himself from those who form their judgments of a person on the basis of external appearances ("what is seen," v. 12). In particular, he is thinking of the Corinthian intruders who presented themselves as power evangelists and polished speakers, emphasizing the outoard display of the Spirit in the working of miracles, revelations, ecstatic experiences, knowledge and charisma (see the introduction).

Being driven to reconsider his judgment of Christ also caused Paul to reassess the place of the non-Jew in salvation history. From now on, he says, we regard no one from a worldly point of view. From now on is probably calculated from the moment Paul became convinced that one died for all (v. 14). The emphatic position of we in the clause we regard no one may well indicate that others (like Paul's critics) do judge in this fashion (Murphy-O'Connor 1991:59). "To regard" translates too different Greek verbs that are virtual synonyms. Oida (perfect of horao) is to see with the mind's eye (that is, "to know by reflection"), while ginosko is to know by observation. Both oida and ginosko, when used of persons, mean "to have knowledge of," "to be acquainted with." Here the sense is to have enough knowledge to form an opinion or estimate of someone. Formerly, Paul based his estimates of people "after the flesh" (kata sarka), a favorite phrase that occurs toenty times in his letters. The term sarx (flesh) can refer not only to what is physical but also to what is human or worldly. Thus to know someone "after the flesh" is to form an estimate of them on the basis of human standards (regard . . . from a worldly point of view). Yet human standards are faulty because they are based on externals like heritage, intelligence, wealth and social status (2 Cor 11:22; 1 Cor 1:26).

Paul's new estimate is that Christ died not only for the Jew but also for the non-Jew. Caiaphas had advised the Jewish leadership that it would be good "if one man died for the people" (John 18:14). Paul's judgment is that one died for all--for the Jew and non-Jew alike. This was a radical shift for a Jew to make. Because of non-Jewish heritage, the Gentile's place in the kingdom was thought to be at best that of a second-class citizen. Now "in Christ" there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28). Indeed, Paul can go even further and claim that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (v. 17). Kainos (new) denotes what is fresh or newly made. Kaine ktisis can mean either "there is a new creation" (RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, JB) or "a new creature" (KJV, NKJV, TEV, LB, Phillips, NASB, NIV). The former has to do with the dawning of a new age, the latter with the creation of new life within. Ktisis is normally used in Paul's letters of creation in its entirety (Furnish 1984:314). But the previous verses speak of a new estimate of people, not things. It is the world's way of evaluating people that will no longer suffice; for if someone is "in Christ, he becomes a new person altogether" (Phillips).

The values of the world were evidently still having their way in the Corinthian community, influencing their judgments (5:12) and their behavior (12:20-21). Critiqued by the world's standards, Paul comes out looking like the underdog of humanity instead of the servant of Christ. In part, this is the fault of rival missionaries, who reasoned from outoard conformity to the world's standards and values to ministerial credibility. Paul calls this way of viewing things the old way. Archaios, when used of things, as here, means "old-fashioned, "antiquated" or "worn out" (ta archaia). This old way of thinking about things, Paul says, has gone (parelthen). The aorist points to something that has passed out of existence.

In its place the new has come. Paul's pronouncement is prefaced by idou ("look"; translated as an exclamation point in the NIV), a particle frequently used to arouse the attention of the listener or reader (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich 1979). The word new (kainos) denotes that which is qualitatively better as compared with what has existed until now (Haarbeck, Link and Brown 1976:670). A better way of looking at things has come. The tense is perfect (gegonen)--a new set of standards and attitudes "has come to stay" (M. J. Harris 1976:353) so that a person is now to be judged in a completely new light. Paul has in mind specifically the person in Christ. This is a favorite phrase of his that more often than not means "to belong to Christ."

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