2 Corinthians 5:11

2 Corinthians 5:11

Fear-fueling Persuasion

Should we fear? Some say that all fear is bad. Others say that there’s a kind of fear we ought to imbibe. My answer (which I believe is the biblical answer): that depends on whom/what you fear. We’re not even examining a whole verse today, but it relates to this fear question. We’ll spend our time just on the first sentence of v. 11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” The word “others” ought to be either “people” or “men” (ἀνθρώπους/anthrōpous). Hence the title: persuading others comes from the fear of the Lord. Although the phrase “fear of the Lord” appears all throughout the Old Testament, its occurrence is rather scarce in the New Testament (though the concept, if not the phraseology, of fearing the Lord still pervades the NT).

What is Paul talking about by saying that he has a “fear of the Lord”? And who is the Lord? Is it God in general? The Father in particular? Christ? The Spirit? The previous context makes it clear that it is before the judgment seat of Christ that all men must appear (v. 10). Because the fear of the Lord has to do with the coming judgment upon all people, it’s natural to deduce that Paul had Christ in mind. So, Paul could be translated as saying, “Therefore, because I know what it means to fear the Lord Jesus Christ, I persuade men.” Paul the apostle is keenly aware that “every day in the life of the apostolic minister is judgment day” (Paul Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 281). Paul’s ministry is an open book to the one who knows all (4:2;  5:11b). There’s nothing in Paul’s ministry that is hidden from his Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, he submits all his evangelistic activities and efforts of persuasion to the judgeship of Christ. Paul wants to hear from Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23). He’s seeking the commendation from Christ his judge. Paul knows that it is a weighty and serious calling to be an apostle, to be a teacher commissioned by the Lord (cf. James 3:1). As an undershepherd, he will be giving an account to the good Shepherd-Judge soon enough for how he lived his life and taught the sheep of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-2). Indeed, in his first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses the apostolic ministry (the very thing he defends in his second letter) and where he fits in. He straightforwardly says, “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Therefore, Paul admits that his life is being clearly perceived by God the Son. Indeed, his life and ministry are known to God even now (2 Cor. 5:11b). And it’s that kind of life lived coram Deo that fuels his persuading men.

When we talk about persuading others, we’re talking about seeking biblically grounded, Christocentric, and Spirit-empowered ways of converting an unregenerate mind to faith in Christ. Obviously, only God can take a stony heart, a hard-hearted mind, and bring it to loving, faith-filled submission to the authority of Christ. But the Lord uses his servants, as we’ve seen, as instruments in his hands for this very Spirit-wrought activity.

Read the verse again, and notice that it does not say, “Fearing men, we persuade the Lord.” It says, “Fearing the Lord, we persuade men.” I know that’s an obvious point, but failure to see and apply this truth results in a failure to love the Lord truly and be obedient to him. God doesn’t call us to fear men. He calls us to persuade them. God doesn’t call us to persuade him (what an odd thought!). He calls us to fear him. Too often, however, our persuading men (or lack thereof) is fueled by a fear of man, not a fear of the Lord. Too often we fail to be faithful in speaking about Christ for fear of what others will say to or about us (or do to us). We think, “If I share Christ with this person, I could lose her as a friend. I could be seen as intolerant, narrow-minded, and not ‘with it.’” Or even the reverse could be true for you: we seek to persuade others because we would be looked upon favorably by our church family. We long to hear others say of us, “He’s quite the evangelist, so bold! Look how many people have been persuaded by his evangelistic efforts! He sure knows his Van Tilian apologetics.” However, what God is saying to us is this: “You fear me. Love me. Seek my kingdom. Seek my righteousness. Proclaim my name and leave the rest to me. Persuade others; don’t fear them. I’ll take care of the process.”

That’s the attitude under which the early church operated. Look at Acts 9:26-31, perhaps the very text Paul had in mind when he penned v. 11, because it was about his reception into the church. In Jerusalem he was (understandably) feared by the Jewish Christian brothers and disciples. This was so because of his past as the terrifying persecutor of Christians. But he had been changed on the road to Damascus, and Barnabas vouches for him. He had preached boldly in Jerusalem (fearing the Lord, persuading men), and the brothers were on his side, even rescuing him from Jewish opposition (from Greek-speaking Jews) by sending him away to his hometown, Tarsus, for a time. Acts 9:31 offers us a summary statement of the state of the church at the time: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” Wouldn’t you love to see more peace in the church? Wouldn’t you love to see greater multiplication of the people of God? To some extent, and in some areas, we see both peace and multiplication. That’s what we earnestly desire, isn’t it? That’s a goal of every church, right? It ought to be anyways. How do we get there? By walking in the fear of the Lord! By depending on the Holy Spirit’s comfort in the face of opposition. There’s a reason Paul had to preach boldly. He was persecuted and opposed at every turn. What a model for church growth. A simple one, even: just fear the Lord. Walk in a daily trust in, love for, and obedience to the Lord. Seek his kingdom and righteousness. Focus on advancing the gospel in your area. Entrust yourself to his cause, not to the approvals or disapprovals of others. Focus on Christ. We all could use more fear of the Lord.