2 Corinthians 5:6-10
We Aim to Please
Whenever I read this section, in particular v. 9, I often picture a lowly servant simply doing his duty, and saying to his thankful master, “I’s aim’s to please, sir” (with a British accent normally). And that picture isn’t too far off the mark from what we read of Paul in these verses (except for the British accent, of course). This letter to the Corinthians is full of Lordship language (the word “Lord” occurs 29 times in this letter alone: 12 times “Lord” is coupled with “Christ,” and 18 times “Lord” is coupled with “Jesus”). Clearly, Paul views himself as a slave to the Lord Jesus Christ (4:5). He owes his very life to the God of the living. He works for the Master, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Away with the idea that a believer can accept Jesus Christ as Savior but not as Lord. Paul knows of no such blasphemous bifurcation. Jesus is either Savior and Lord to you, or he’s neither. How would that even work anyway? How could someone other than the Lord save you and me? And wouldn’t this Lord who saves reveal himself as both? And wouldn’t we, who’ve been given faith, acknowledge Jesus to be both Savior and Lord? Romans 10:9 anyone?
Another theme pervasive in 2 Corinthians is being of good courage, not losing heart, having confidence, being bold, etc. There’s a cluster of courage in chapters 4 and 5 (4:1, 16; 5:6, 8). Paul assures himself and others that he’s of good courage even though he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. How can he be courageous in the presence of Christ his Judge? Whence cometh this courage? He’s told us already. From God himself. The Spirit of Christ is his guarantee (v. 5). And his life is one of faith in Christ. He walks by faith, not by sight (v. 7). If he trusts in himself, there’s no hope, no inherited heavenly dwelling (vv. 2, 10). But if he lives his life by faith in Christ whose perfect righteousness has been imputed to him by God the Father (v. 21), then he can appear before Christ with good courage. Of course, the same is true for us as well. Living a life of faith in Christ and his imputed righteousness and a life of confidence in the Spirit as our guarantee casts out all fear of a punishing judgment (1 John 5:17-19).
Putting the two themes together, what is Paul’s and our good-hearted, courageous duty? To aim to please God with the confidence that we are his, and he is ours. Whether we are in the body or out of the body, whether we are at home in the body or at our new home with the Lord—we aim to please the Lord. Our chief end, our most fundamental raison d’être, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q1). When we say that it is our aim to please God, we’re saying that we are pleased when God is pleased. We love to please God! Like a child who loves to please his parent, we desire nothing less than the glorification and pleasure of our Father in heaven. That’s why we exist. This aim is not just for the “big stuff,” like keeping a marriage faithful, not living a life of drunken debauchery, etc. It’s also for the most ignored or taken-for-granted activities of daily living: eating and drinking (1 Cor. 10:31).
The word for “aim” (φιλοτιμέομαι) means to aspire to or be ambitious about doing something (Rom. 15:20; 1 Thess. 4:11). Our aim is our aspiration to please God. Our aim is our ambition to please God. We get to spend our days being all about God and fulfilling his will, being a part of his sovereign good pleasure. That’s what Paul says. Is that your aim as well? Paul says that it is our aim to “please” God. Literally, Paul says, “we aspire to be well-pleasing to him.” It’s a verb of being directly, and only one of activity indirectly. This is a word Paul uses many times. He speaks about Christians presenting their lives as acceptable sacrifices, and servants of Christ as being acceptable to God (Rom. 14:18). He also uses it to speak of our ability to discern the pleasing will of God (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:10). Finally, he reminds covenant children that their obedience to their parents is pleasing to God their Father (Col. 3:20; cf. Titus 2:9 in relation to slaves being well-pleasing to their earthly masters). The word, therefore, relates to persons and actions of which God approves, because they fall in line with his will and righteous standard.
How, then, can it be that Christians are well-pleasing to God? There’s only one way. We’re in union with the one with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). There’s no other way to be well-pleasing. Our only hope to be approved by God is to have the imputed righteousness of the well-pleasing Son (2 Cor. 5:21). And the comfort we receive is that not only do we have Christ’s righteousness credited to our accounts (what a monumental blessing!), but we truly can be well-pleasing to God. When Paul says that it’s his aim to be well-pleasing to God, this is no wishful thinking. This is no needle-in-my-eye hope. He’s not on a fool’s errand. It’s more than a mere possibility. ‘Tis reality! Because we are in the well-pleasing Son, we are well-pleasing. And it’s the aspiration, the ambition, the heart’s desire of every believer to avail himself of the spiritual resources at his disposal, so that his life would be in increasingly greater conformity to the life of the one who perfectly pleases the Father.
Isn’t it your desire to seek the pleasure of God? Isn’t it your aim to do all things for the glorification of the name of your Lord and Savior? Should your present trial be a stumbling block to the pleasure of Christ? Must suffering get in the way of pleasing Christ? Should your present joy be overlooked and taken for granted at the expense of the pleasure of Christ? Doesn’t everything fall under the lordship of Christ? Shouldn’t you, therefore, be actively seeking the pleasure of Christ whether your life has just begun, or your life is about to be taken away from you by the Author of life? To paraphrase biblical counselor and medical doctor, Charles Hodges, do you aim to please Christ more than you aim to live? Now that’s a question to ponder.