2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Solo Christo Gloria
What have you recently been searching to buy on the Internet? What have the TV and social media advertisements been trying to persuade you to purchase? Most likely, it has something to do with a greater version of what you already have: a self-moving vacuum that takes the chore out of the chore, a new app that makes online banking easier, a newer systematic theology that charts the past and looks at present issues in the light of the Bible, a faster computer that makes playing games more user-friendly, ad infinitum. There’s no shortage of new ways and devices to improve our lives. In our consumeristic culture, we have gadgets and gizmos a-plenty. Whozits and whatzits galore. Even thingamabobs. Isn’t it neat? In these two powerful verses, Paul gives us the latest and ultimate way to live. Are you looking for the best motive for persuading men of the good news of Christ? Are you looking for the best motive for killing your sin? What Christian isn’t? Every year books come out that help us to have greater focus on persuading others. Every year books come out that help us to have greater focus on living rightly before God. And if they’re any good, they have in common what Paul says in vv. 14-15: Let Christ be that motive.
Recall that Paul in this section (vv. 11-21) writes about the New Covenant ministry of reconciliation of which he is an apostolic, commissioned minister. He faced opposition, persecution, rejection, even accusations of being out of his mind. What controls him in his ongoing fight against the world, what fuels him for the hard work of persuading darkened men, is the fear of the Lord (v. 11). He is referring to that fundamental presupposition or guiding principle when he says in v. 14 that it is the love of Christ that controls him. The English word “of” is multifaceted, and in the phrase “love of Christ,” it can mean one of two things: the love that Paul has for Christ, or the love that Christ has for Paul. Which one is it? It’s both, actually, even though one takes priority over the other. Chronologically and foundationally, Paul has in mind the love that Christ has for him as someone saved by the grace of Christ. God in love moved first to Paul and us. We can think of two common texts from John the apostle: John 3:16 (“For God loved the world in such a way that he gave his only-begotten Son”) and 1 John 4:19 (“We love because he first loved us”). God is the original lover. He’s the first mover. Christ loved Paul before Paul loved Christ. It was Christ’s illuminating and blinding love that knocked the threatening and murderous Paul to the ground on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). Paul, therefore, has in mind, first and foremost, the loving initiative of Christ his Lord.
Built on this foundation of Christ’s love, however, is Paul’s love for Christ. We cannot be loved by Christ and not love Christ in return. We cannot be set free and saved by the power of Christ and not respond with loving servitude to our new Master. Paul truly does love Jesus. If we’re in Christ, we likewise truly love Jesus. Imperfectly, but truly. Paul, then, in a secondary sense, says that he is controlled to follow Christ because of his love for Christ. Paul, as a new creation in Christ, as a servant of the Lord, is moved to persuade men and kill his own sin, because he loves Jesus, his all in all. Herman Bavinck reminds us of Christ’s love for us and of our unworthiness: “Christ was not ashamed of us at his incarnation. To be sure, he had many reasons to be” (The Sacrifice of Praise, 80). Those truths should amaze us. We were in every way shameful when the Son came to earth. There was nothing in or about us that moved the Son of God to descend from his glory, become incarnate, and live a shameful, humiliated life for us. God had an infinite amount of reasons to hate and reject us forever. God in Christ, however, moved toward us. And now we by his Spirit move toward others to persuade them to come to our lovely and loving Christ.
What does it mean for Paul to be controlled by the love that Christ has for him? The word “control” is used many times in the NT, mostly by Luke, Paul’s travel companion. It is normally associated with a besetting and irresistible sickness (fever or dysentery: Luke 4:38; Acts 28:8). Or it refers to someone gripped by fear (Luke 8:37), or even demons (Matt. 4:24). At times even it is used to speak of enemies surrounding or hemming God’s people in (Luke 19:43; 22:63), or Paul would say that he is hemmed in or hard-pressed between living on earth and living with Christ (Phil. 1:23). Christ himself uses the word to express how he was seized by his impending cross-baptism (Luke 12:50). Clearly, this word has the idea of being overwhelmed or acted upon by some outward or inward force, disposition, or agent. It means to be restrained or confined, to be held together or held fast to something by another. And I think Luke gives us a parallel in Acts 18:5 to our text. There Luke speaks of Paul in Corinth. How fitting that we would have a parallel with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians! In Acts 18:5, Luke tells us of Paul who was so occupied “with” the Word (I prefer, “by the Word”) that he testifies to the Jews “that the Christ was Jesus.” There it is. He can’t but preach Christ. He is so compelled, controlled, and directed by God that he moves toward others, even those hostile to the Messiah (Acts 18:6). Paul is moved by Christ’s love to persuade men (v. 14a).
Likewise, Paul is moved by Christ’s love to kill sin (vv. 14b-15). It’s that same motive but now applied to the mortification of sin. Christians are in the killing business. It’s our Spirit-empowered duty and privilege of destroying the sin that still remains in us. He says that Christ has died for all. The “all,” when we read Paul in light of Paul, means “all in Christ.” Christ has died for all who are in him, all those who are a new creation (v. 17), and all those who live for him (v. 15). Only new creatures in Christ live for Christ. Paul has the elect in mind here, not all people generally, nor all people universally (“every single person”). He uses similar language in Romans 5 to speak of two categories of “all”: all in the first Adam v. all in the second Adam (v. 18; cf. also 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
Since Jesus has died for all who are and will be in Christ, “therefore all have died.” To what have all the elect died? To themselves! To sin! To all self-seeking! To the fear of man! This is no different from what Paul says elsewhere. In Galatians 2:20, he tells us that he has been crucified with Christ. His old man has died and been replaced by the new man. Look also at Romans 6:11: We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God because of the work of Christ Jesus. Paul has abandoned and even killed self because of the love of Christ. You are not your own. One of the common phrases my toddler twin boys hear from me is, “No, you do not get to do that, young sir. No, you do not.” They’re daily reminded of the things they get to do and the things they don’t get to do. In a similar but better way, because Christ loves us, he has given us his Word to show us the path of righteousness. And that means that there are some things in our lives that we might want to do, but our Lord Jesus Christ says, “No, you do not get to do that.” Jesus knows best. And because of our love for Christ, we submit, “Yes, Lord. Thank you for your Word.” ‘Twould be great if that were the way our lives always happened, wouldn’t it? Alas, it is not always so! Do you love your sin more than your Savior? Consider yourself dead to sin. Consider Christ’s love for you. Love him. Kill sin.
This is not all that the text says, of course. Paul gives us a purpose statement. Christ died for all his elect, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (v. 15). We’re called not to merely die to ourselves, but to live! Live for whom? Live for ourselves? Surely not! We just died to ourselves. We can’t now live for ourselves. We seek to live for our resurrected Lord Jesus. John says something very similar in 1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” God gave us his Son, that we might live. We live for him. Here, then, is a slight twist on one of the Solas of the Reformation. Instead of Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone), we now have Solo Christo Gloria (“Gloria to Christ Alone”). Again, our lives are not our own. We live for Jesus. We make it our aim in all things, death or life, to please Christ (5:9). Jesus didn’t die for us to merely be forgiven, as great as that is. Forgiveness was a means to an end. The end is man’s chief end, God’s original design: to glorify and enjoy God. Are you looking for the right motive for your sanctification? Pick Paul’s. Be compelled by Christ. Be gripped by his love for you. To be sure, he had many reasons to be ashamed of you. But thanks be to Christ that, rather than hating you, he died and was raised for you, that you might live for him. Solo Christo Gloria!