2 Corinthians 5:11-15
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 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. 
Paul has been informing the Corinthians what ministry under the new covenant should look like. In our last two texts, he has been focusing on the end result of such a ministry: more and more people being added to that vast number of worshipers who will live with God face-to-face upon a new, material sin-free earth under a more glorious heaven. Paul’s hope is fixed firmly in the “More Beyond” rather than the “here and now.”
In our text this morning, Paul reveals a deeper layer to his motivation for ministry. What drove him to live and die as he did? What motivated his radical revolutionary life? As it turns out, his motivation was not simply to add more and more people to the coming resurrection Kingdom. He was motivated by two seemingly paradoxical things: fear and love.
FINAL JUDGMENT (11-13)
The apostle Paul finished the last portion of his letter by announcing the inevitable post-resurrection appointment for all humanity: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (v. 10). The reason Paul is motivated by fear is NOT because he himself is worried about the outcome of Christ’s judgment of him, as some teachers wrongly claim. Paul is not afraid of his standing before the judgment seat of Christ! He wrote in 3:4-5 that:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant….
Again, in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, he wrote:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 
Paul has written at least three letters, including this one, defending his doctrine, his methods, and his character. It would be hugely inconsistent for him to now argue that he fears his standing at a final judgment, particularly in light of the scandalous grace he so consistently preached. Whatever “fear of the Lord” involves for the believer, it is NOT being afraid of God’s judgment, and it is NOT a fear of missing out on all the “potential rewards” he could possibly earn – like a larger heavenly mansion or more “stars in his crown” since such ideas are not supported by scripture.
Three things are happening in this short passage. First, Paul is defending himself to the Corinthians (“to you”) against outsiders (“those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart”—v. 12c). These shadowy opponents are claiming that Paul is self-commended (v. 12a), and that his ministry is in some way inferior (v. 12b). Second, Paul sets out his ministry in relationship with God. He is known to God (v. 11). His ecstatic behavior (v. 13a) is for God who knows the heart (v. 12c). Third, Paul is arguing for the legitimacy of his ministry, not directly – for that would be self-commendation – but indirectly, in terms of the character of his ministry. He devotes himself to the persuasion of people in view of the fear of the Lord’s judgment; and he does so in a self-controlled way, for the benefit of the Corinthians.
He writes here in verse 11, “11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” Bishop Paul Barnett explains in his commentary:
The message of the first sentence is clear. If Paul’s apostolicity will be revealed before the judgment bench of Christ (v. 10), he also understands that his ministry stands revealed to God now (cf. 2:17; 4:2; 12:19). Let the Corinthians understand that Paul exercises his evangelistic ministry knowing that all he is and all he does is “open” to the omniscient One. “As a man is in his conscience, so is he before God.” Every day in the life of the apostolic minister is judgment day.
Paul is not afraid for himself nor for his ultimate salvation or rewards. He fears for the Corinthians and for the false teachers who soft-peddle a mix of human works plus Christ’s works as the means of right standing with God (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Such false teaching will be consumed by the judgment of God as quickly as wood, hey, and stubble. Paul’s “fear of the Lord” is his constant and consuming awareness of God as “a Being so holy, so morally superior, so removed from evil that in his presence all human boasting, all human pride, and all human arrogance would vanish as he stands in speechless humility before the One beyond understanding ….”
So, Paul was utterly driven to “persuade others” of his gospel and the integrity of his new covenant ministry and of his person as an apostle. This was eschatological fear working its way out as a drive to be a conduit of God’s grace to the lost and the confused. Paul knew the verb “persuade” was a loaded term, carrying the idea of the persuasive techniques of the Greco-Roman rhetoricians he has already rejected. He wrote in 1st Corinthians 2:1-5:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 
Paul rejected the persuasive techniques of the rhetoricians, but he did not reject the need to persuade. In fact, Doctor Luke uses the same word (persuade) several times in Acts to describe Paul’s evangelizing (17:4; 18:4; 19:8, 26; 26:28; 28:23). Here in our text, Paul uses this loaded word, persuade, to represent both his intense evangelization and his ministry integrity.
Paul had no concerns about persuading God. He immediately says, “But what we are is known to God (v. 11b). Paul’s character had been dismissed as inferior by those Corinthians who had been poisoned by the slurs of the Judaizers. So, Paul adds the comment, “and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (v. 11c). Barnett explains:
Implicit here is a defense of criticism against him, that he used questionable methods of ministry when present with them. In this regard Paul is here, in effect, making the plea that they call to mind the character of his ministry when he was present with them, that is, that he “persuaded men” to “turn to the Lord” (cf. 3:16; 4:5; cf. 8:5), or to be “reconciled to God” (5:20), and that he did so with sincerity and integrity (2:17; 4:2; cf. 1:12–14). Perhaps, too, Paul is expressing the hope that even now some of the Corinthians will, by accepting the truth of the gospel, come to recognize his genuineness in their own consciences.
Writing like this, Paul knew his enemies would accuse him of boasting in the same way as did the Greek rhetoricians. So, he writes, “12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.” His words are ironic. His detractors bragged about their outward appearance (literally: “in the face”) – a reference to God’s statement to the Prophet Samuel, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance [LXX: “face”], but the Lord looks on the heart.’” 
The Judaizers boasted in the face, the externals of oratory skills, appearance, extravagant letters of commendation, large speaking fees, impressive displays. But Paul offers the Corinthians his heart, not his outward appearance. What was important to Paul was what the Holy Spirit wrote upon hearts of flesh. Those things were the true distinctives of new covenant ministry (3:3, 6; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26, 27).
Though Paul’s tone has a strain of irony to it, it is also a sad truth that human flesh loves outward appearances. From the moment of Adam’s rebellion, God’s elect people have gathered around men and women and made their boasts in them. Too often, such boasting is merely “in face,” not “in heart.” We want to follow those with obvious gifts, accomplishments, and distinctions that reflect outward splendor – things entirely irrelevant to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We can see that the Corinthians didn’t need television or the internet or the evangelical-industrial complex to fall for the celebrity pastor trap.
Paul concludes this line of thought in verse 13, “13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” Paul’s critics, loving the outward appearance, gave great weight to ecstatic gifts that Paul took care not to display. Paul could have boasted about his own prophetic experiences. He will write in chapter 12, “2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”
He wrote in 1st Corinthians, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”  For Paul, the mark of true ministry was not ecstatic experience but public ministry in his “right mind” (5:13). He persuaded others with a passionate, sober, Biblically-based message. Paul’s problem was that he was too religious for the “religious leaders” who moved into the Corinthian church. He refused to add human works and human methods to something that is entirely a work of God – the divine re-creative efforts of the Holy Spirit!
On the road to Damascus, Paul had experienced a dramatic re-creation of his thinking, his goals, his personality, his ethics, and his mission. He not only saw the risen, glorified, and ascended Christ on the road, Paul visited with him in the highest realms of Heaven! This radical shift of his entire existence was what drove Paul to ecstasy before the face of God and to sober conduct before the faces of his people. He feared for the spiritual state of the false teachers and, particularly, those who followed their false teachings. The certainty and finality of the final judgment drove Paul to persuade others without human embellishment or gimmickry.
The focus of the Apostle Paul’s life was outward, not inward. He labored in his right mind to focus others on the person and work of the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ rather than retreating into some cloistered monastery of inward ecstasy.
CHRIST’S LOVE (14-15)
So, Paul was motivated by fear of the Lord for all who appear before Christ the Judge dressed in the rotting fig leaves of human effort and false teaching (vv. 10-11). But in verse 14, he introduces his second deep motivation for new covenant ministry: “14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died….”
To Greco-Roman readers, this would have sounded bizarre and illogical – though not to the Jews who understood something about sacrificial substitutionary atonement. A seemingly more logical statement would have been, “One died for all, therefore all did not die” or “therefore all lived.” The spiritual math of such “more logical” statements makes for an easy sum. But Paul’s statement, “one has died for all, therefore all have died,” seems to be mystical calculus.
Paul is using the math of scripture which is both logical and fantastic. It summarizes Christ’s representative, substitutionary death for his people. Just as the First Adam was our union head when he plunged humanity into sin, Christ (the Last Adam) was the representative of all humanity when he lived the perfect life we can never live and died to pay the wages of sin. As the representative of humanity, when Christ died outside the walls of Jerusalem in the shadow of the Jewish Temple, all may have been said to have died on the cross with him. Christ died for all who, by the recreative work of the Holy Spirit, are willing to die to their own self-sufficiency and live for his all-sufficient salvation. Out of nothing but his unfathomable love, Christ died our death, so we all died.
Paul writes that Christ’s love is a controlling force. It holds us within its bounds, it hems us in, it constrains us. The overpowering love of Christ displayed at Calvary compels us to pray to be used by and for the work of Christ in us. He wrote in Romans 8:31-32, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
How does Christ’s life and death control, constrain, compel, and drive us? Paul answers in verse 15, “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.” What does “therefore all have died” mean? It means that those who come to understand who they truly are and who God truly is (which is the sum of the phrase “the fear of the Lord”) “no longer live for themselves.” The fact that Christ, in perfect, eternal, unshakable love, died our death gives us a high and ultimately-impenetrable hedge on our journey through this crumbling world. We are graciously hemmed in by Christ’s love.
We are not constrained (“chained up”) so that we can do nothing. We are constrained from wandering off and abandoning the good works God has prepared for us to do. We are kept from curving completely inward upon ourselves and doing only evil so that we might do things God considers good.
In reality, there is nothing really constrictive in this. It is the true freedom for which Adam was created, freedom from slavery to our sin natures. Those who trust into the perfect life and sacrificial blood-shedding death of the risen, ascended, and glorified Messiah Jesus will be denied no good thing (Rom. 8:32). We are on the path of true freedom and Godly joy in spite of worldly, temporary circumstances!
Hear how Paul sums up this teaching to the congregations of Rome:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 5:11–15.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 3:4–6.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 4:1–5.
 Barnett, 278.
 Barnett, 280–281.
 Hughes, 2 Corinthians. Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 2:1–5.
 Barnett, 281.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Sa 16:7.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:2–4.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 14:18–19.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:31–32.
 Hughes, op. cit.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:1–11.