This sermon was historically significant for me because it was my first explicitly Barthian message. Specifically, it was the first time I have preached on unlimited atonement (against my Calvinist heritage). One primary hesitation for me in getting fully on board Barth’s theology is the fact that I have yet to hear a good Barthian sermon preached (whereas I have heard literally hundreds of sublime messages from 5 pt Calvinists like Tim Keller). Nevertheless, I felt convicted enough to preach this passage in this way. It was on 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 delivered at Ambassadors Presbyterian Fellowship, Edison, NJ.
2Cor 5:14 (ESV) “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 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. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I’d like to go over this passage in three parts.
I. The Problem – what makes us ineffective ambassadors for Christ?
II. The Solution to that Problem.
III. The Application of that Solution – what does an ambassador for Christ look like in every day life?
I. The Problem – “worldly point of view”
I used to work with an adoption agency at a Chinese orphanage. The interesting thing about my time there was just how bad a representative for this adoption agency I was. Yes, I was very sympathetic with these poor kids who needed parents. And yes, I thought it would be great if other people could adopt these kids. But I really was not motivated in helping to get these kids adopted.
Now I mention this because the reason why I was not a very good adoption representative is the same reason why many people are not very effective ambassadors for Christ. Look at verse 16. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” You see, before the apostle could become an effective ambassador for Christ or before I could become a good adoption representative, we first had to stop regarding people according to the flesh.
Another translation for the word “flesh” is “a worldly point of view” (NIV) or “a human point of view” (NRSV). What’s a worldly point of view? It’s the common sayings, the proverbs that are widely accepted by culture but that nevertheless contradict Scripture. Clichés like “God helps those who help themselves.” Or, “birds of a feather flock together.”
In my case, the worldly cliché that I had lived by was the idea that “blood is thicker than water.” I honestly did not think people could love an adopted child as much as they could love a natural born child. I saw family only in terms of blood relations. So of course, how could I persuade anyone to adopt if I myself didn’t believe adoption was as good as natural birth? That’s an example of a worldly view that prevented me from being an effective adoption representative.
Now what are the worldly points of view that prevent us from being an effective ambassador for Christ? Or maybe a better way to ask this is, when you walk into a public place, how do you usually relate to people? What is your criteria for developing relationships? Is it by race? Sociologists say that one reason why churches are so racially segregated today is because people primarily relate to each other by race. People also relate to others by age, or with people who have the same politics, or with those who have the same educational or income level.
Of course, the Bible has nothing against relating to people by these shared interests. But what if you don’t share any interests with another person? What if he is white and you are Korean? What if he is young and you are old? What if he is rich and you are poor? What if he is a liberal and you are a conservative? What if he is highly educated and you are not? What if you have no shared interests? For most people, by their definition of relationships, that would mean virtually zero possibility of having any relationship with that person.
But that’s the problem that our Bible passage is getting at, that’s the problem of regarding people according to the flesh, of living by clichés like “Birds of a feather all flock together”; “it’s all about the Benjamins”. They end up dividing people by race or class in contradiction to Scripture.
If you don’t have any friends outside of your own race or income bracket, or if you can’t remember the last time you prayed for someone with the opposite views as yours, if you can’t remember being outside your comfort zone, then how can you be an effective ambassador for Christ?
Because Jesus Christ is all about leaving the comfort zone (heaven) to make friends (Philippians 2). Jesus Christ integrates the races (Galatians 3:28). Jesus Christ breaks down walls of social division (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus Christ opposes showing favoritism (James 2:1). How can you be an effective ambassador for the Christ who does all these things if you yourself only live in relationships marked by division, favoritism or segregation?
So, number 1, what hinders us from being effective ambassadors of Christ? We regard people according to the flesh. We base our relationships only on worldly measures of relatedness.
II. The Solution – “I love my kids/Leslie”
Number 2, so how do we stop doing that? How do we stop regarding people according to the flesh? For example, when you go to the grocery store, and you see the cashier, how do you realize that this person is profoundly related to you even if from every worldly standpoint you have nothing in common?
Look at verse 16. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” How did the apostle no longer regard people according to the flesh? The “therefore” in verse 16 points to verse 14: “because we have concluded this: that one has died for all.”
When you come to the conclusion, that Jesus has died for all, the way you relate to people will never be the same. When you realize that Jesus has died for that grocery store cashier – that realization alone – will make you feel deeply related to that person.
To illustrate, about two years ago there was an article in the LA Times about a big train wreck. Amidst the dead bodies and the twisted metal, a firefighter found a message written in blood on the back of one of the seats. The message said, “I love Leslie. I love my kids.” The guy who wrote this message was severely bleeding so he wrote these final words to his family with his fingers dipped in his own blood.
Now let’s suppose you were that firefighter who found that message on the back of that seat. And let’s say that the guy’s wife, Leslie, you found out worked at a local grocery store as a cashier. She doesn’t know what just happened. Only you know about that message written to her by her husband. Now even though you and this cashier have nothing in common, wouldn’t you feel deeply connected to this person? Wouldn’t you feel like you owed telling her about this message?
That’s what every ambassador for Christ is like. They’re like this fireman. They feel a deep connection with all people – not simply because they might have something in common in a worldly sense – but because we know that “one has died for all”. We know that Jesus has written a message of love in his own blood for all people.
So, number 2, how do we stop regarding people according to the flesh? Verse 14: we come to the conclusion that Jesus has died for all. That Jesus has written a message of love in his own blood for your local grocery cashier, for your co-workers, for your parents and kids. And then you’ll find yourself deeply connected with all people because Christ’s message of love is addressed to all.
III. The Application – “the love of Christ controls you”
Lastly, how do we apply all of this? What does being an ambassador for Christ look like in our day to day living?
I earlier mentioned the reason why I was not an effective adoption representative. Because I had believed the worldly lie that blood is thicker than water. But do you know how I overcame that lie? The breakthrough came for me soon after I got married.
When I realized that the person I loved most in the world was not blood related to me (my wife), I just had to give up that worldly view that adopted kids are somehow loved less than blood related kids. And soon I became a much more zealous advocate for adoptions. You see, the change came when the love of my wife controlled how I looked at every other relationship including adoption.
Something very similar happens with the love of Christ. When you realize that Jesus has written a message of love to everyone in his own blood, that kind of love will control you (verse 14). It will control how you look at every other relationship in your life.
It changes the way you relate to even the most unrelated people just like it changed that fireman’s relationship with Leslie. You will find yourself becoming more open to strangers, definitely more prayerful for them, and more interested in them, even if the world ignores them. You’ll feel a greater sense of responsibility for them; you’ll feel that you owe telling them their names have been written in Christ’s blood.
When the love of Christ controls you, it changes your attitude toward unbelievers. You won’t sound condescending or judgmental. Instead, you’ll be more driven by compassion. That’s the sense we get from verse 20: “we implore you”; “we beg you” (NASB). “I have something so wonderfully moving to tell you about somebody who loves you so much that with His dying breath He wrote I love you in His own blood.”
II. Solution – verse 14: Christ died for all.
III. Application – the love of Christ controls you. The message of love written in Christ’s own blood guides every relationship of yours.