Sending People on Mission: Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ, sent out with the message of reconciliation, the gospel. Motivated by the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ, we are sent. Some of us are sent across the world, others across the street, but every Christian is a missionary. Recorded on Jan 22, 2023, on 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 by Pastor David Parks.
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This message is part of our DNA, a sermon series on our core values that define who we are and what we’re trying to do. Our core values include inviting people to worship, connecting people in community, training people for ministry, and sending people on mission. These values provide a wonderful source of power, meaning, and joy for the Christian life.
All year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus. And today, we’re finishing a 4-part sermon series called DNA, focusing on our identity and the core values which define who we are and what we’re trying to do here. Our core values [Values slide] include inviting people to worship, connecting people in community, training people for ministry, and sending people on mission — our topic for today. At the most foundational level, worship, community, ministry, and mission are the basic building blocks of the Christian life. Today, we’re considering the surprising truth that God has given us the responsibility of bearing the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth. And he has entrusted to us the responsibility of making disciples of all nations. Last week, I said that responding to the call of ministry and that every Christian is a minister is a huge part of finding your God-given purpose in life. But the realization that God has called us to participate with him in his work of salvation in the world, and that every Christian is also a missionary, is the other half of discovering your God-given purpose in life. The reason why God doesn’t zap us into heaven as soon as we’re saved is because we have a mission; we have a job to do. Every Christian is a missionary. If you have a Bible/app, please open to 2 Corinthians 5:11. We’ll read through this and unpack it together. (v.11)
2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (NIV), “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So 2 Corinthians in the Bible is an epistle or letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth in the first century AD. Actually, it’s one in a series of letters back and forth between them, of which we only have two preserved in the canon of Scripture. The Corinthians had division/misunderstandings/sin within their body, all of which needed to be addressed and corrected with grace and truth. Here, Paul has already dealt with most of the issues and comes back to his motivation/mission to/for them. And this is what we need to unpack today. Because the mission of Paul, and the gospel motives which drove him are the same mission and motives that ought to drive us today in following the way of Jesus. (v.11)
2 Corinthians 5:11-12 (NIV), “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.” Ok, let’s pause here. So the first motive that Paul gives for his ministry/mission among the Corinthians is the fear of the Lord. We say this often, but the fear of the Lord doesn’t mean that Christians should be afraid of God. Rather, it refers to a reverent awe. The fear of the Lord is the recognition that God is God, and we are not. The Proverbs say that this recognition is the basis for all wisdom/knowledge and is a fountain of life. But Paul says since we know what it is to fear the Lord since we understand that God is God and we are not, we try to persuade others. Persuade others about what or to do what? Later, it becomes clear that Paul is referring to the work of persuasion regarding the person and work of Jesus. Because Paul has recognized that God is God and he is not, he’s motivated to help persuade others to know God and love/serve/worship him with their heart/soul/mind/strength. Put another way; Paul is motivated in the mission of God because he knows God and wants others to know him as well. This is where wisdom is found; this is where love/joy/peace are found; this is where eternal life is found. A personal relationship with God is what not only motivates Paul, but is also the only credentials he needs to have before the Corinthians. One of the issues was that the Corinthians tended to judge people according to external appearances or values. But this is a worldly way to assess the true importance or value of something or someone. Remember, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1Sa 16:7). Paul’s outward appearance and his way of speaking or doing ministry may not have been very impressive from a worldly perspective. But think about the ideas that have most influenced the world in the last 2,000 years. After Jesus, the Apostle Paul is one of the most influential people in human history. Just because he didn’t seem that impressive from an external perspective doesn’t matter in the mission of God and the ministry of the gospel. What truly matters is that Paul knew God, and (far more importantly) the Lord God Almighty knew our brother, Paul, and had chosen him. So Paul was more than qualified to speak with authority about God. Why does Paul put up with the nonsense of the Corinthians? Because he knew the Lord, he knew the fear of the Lord, and he was compelled to persuade others as well. He couldn’t help it. His relationship with God was the most important thing in his life. It defined his life. It gave him life. How could he not tell others about that? (v.13)
2 Corinthians 5:13-16 (NIV), “If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” Let’s pause here. So, first, Paul knew the fear of the Lord, and he knew the wisdom and life that came from the recognition that God was God, and he was not. Second, here, we see another motive for Paul’s mission, and that is the love of Christ. “For Christ’s love compels us…” And what a beautiful statement! Christ’s love compels us (why?) because we’re convinced (Paul had been fully persuaded) that Jesus died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Christ. This is very similar to what Paul says to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20). If Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I might live even though I die, then my life is his. No longer am I my own; I am Christ’s. No longer is my agenda my own; my agenda is his agenda. No longer am I the sovereign lord over my life; Jesus is Lord. Paul is motivated in his mission because he knows God and lives in the healthy fear of the Lord. But he is profoundly motivated; in fact his entire life was turned upside down, by the gospel and the good news that Jesus, the Son of God sent from heaven in the love of God, lived and died and rose again so that we might be saved. Paul isn’t just influenced by the gospel; he’s compelled by it. If the gospel is true, then everyone needs to hear about it! So from now on, Paul says, we regard no one from a worldly or external point of view only. It doesn’t matter if someone is outwardly beautiful or wealthy or powerful or smart or funny. Every single person needs to hear the good news about what the love of God has done in Jesus. Paul says at one point, he had a worldly perspective on even Jesus. Paul sympathizes with the Corinthians. He very much understands them and the way that they tend to think. He’s just saying that now, he has a totally different perspective because of the gospel. On paper, the person and work of Jesus doesn’t immediately appear to be that successful. Jesus was relatively unknown most of his life. He grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. He wasn’t a prince or a governor; he learned the trade of carpentry from the family business. For a few years, he drew attention in a small, out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire. Not in Rome, but in little Jerusalem. But then he was arrested, tried, and crucified, which presumably brought an end to his movement. So why are we talking about this man, Jesus, 2,000 years later? Because from a worldly perspective, what might look like a tiny blip that happened a long time ago, was actually the most significant event in human history. It was the moment that God entered his creation to seek and to save the lost. It was when the Son of God broke into the strongman’s house and liberated we who were held captive in a kingdom of darkness. It was the greatest victory and the turning point of all time. Why? Because in Jesus, God accomplished everything needed for our salvation. Jesus lived the life we were supposed to live, a life without sin. But then Jesus died in our place on the cross to pay the penalty under the law for our sins so that we might be forgiven and freed from the power of sin. Jesus was buried, but on the third day, rose again from the dead breaking the power of death for all who would repent and believe in him. And Paul gives us the result of this stunning news in v. 17.
2 Corinthians 5:17-20a (NIV), “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” In Jesus, God is making all things new, starting at the heart level of those who believe and working his way out from there. In Jesus, we discover the healthy fear of the Lord, both in knowing God in a personal relationship with him but also as our loving Father in heaven, whom we can approach in boldness because of his abundant grace and mercy that we see in the gospel. In Jesus, we also discover the depths of the love of God and see what God was willing to give in order to be reconciled to us. In Jesus, we are being made new; we are a new creation. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The old has gone; the new is here! What good news is that?? Who you were and what you have done (or what has been done to you) doesn’t define you in Christ. Your sins and struggles are a part of your story, but they are not your identity in Christ. Your failures and your shortcomings might still be in your memory, but they are not who you are in Christ. All the ways you have tried to save yourself over the years, all the ways you tried to coerce God into accepting you or blessing you, are done in Christ. He said it on the cross, “It is finished.” The old has gone; the new is here! You have a new heart/identity/purpose/family/Lord/mission in Christ. And all this is from God, not something we earn or later pay for. The gospel is a gift of God’s grace, costly for Jesus to give but free for us to receive by faith. And again, if this is true, then everyone needs to hear about it! But for some crazy reason, God has specifically entrusted us, his children/disciples/people, with this message and ministry of reconciliation. I could think of other options for getting the word out about the person and work of Jesus, but God has entrusted this work to us. We are, therefore, ambassadors of Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us. Whether you fully understood it or not when you trusted Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, you are now in his royal service. You have been conscripted as his ambassador. You have been reconciled to God through the person and work of Jesus. And you have been given the ministry of reconciliation, which is accomplished by sharing (in word and deed) the message of reconciliation, which is the gospel. As we share this good news, God is making a very real and powerful appeal through us. The gospel is not just information. It’s a call to action. It isn’t an action we need to do in order to be saved. Jesus has already done everything needed. So it’s a response of faith. Of hearing and believing in him. Paul gives an example of this call to action at the end of this chapter. v. 20 continues…
2 Corinthians 5:20b-21 (NIV), “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you want to be made new? Do you want to become the righteousness of God? Do you want to know God and be known by him? Do you want to finally be forgiven and freed from the power of sin? Do you want to be able to face anything, even death, without fear? You need to be reconciled to God. But the good news is that God has already done everything needed for you to be reconciled with him in Jesus. This is why the invitation to respond is to repent and believe the good news. Repent, turn from your way and turn to the way of Jesus. And believe, believe in Jesus, and trust him with your life, past/present/future. If you do, you will experience the great exchange of the gospel. Jesus will take your sin and death, and you will get his righteousness/life.
But what does this mean for us today? Well, last week, we saw that every Christian is a minister, with spiritual gifts designed to produce spiritual fruit — called to minister to one another in the church so that the body of Christ might be built up in faith, knowledge, unity, and in love. Here, we see that every Christian is also a missionary. Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ, representing King Jesus to the kingdoms of this dark world. Our calling isn’t just to do ministry within our church but also to join the mission of God out there in the world. Now some of us, like the Apostle Paul or like one of our other mission partners we support as a church, might be sent out as a missionary to a foreign land. Sent to a different culture/language/people. And that might be the case for some of you today. The Apostle Paul was sent out from the church at Antioch with Barnabas to bring the gospel to other people/places, but particularly to the gentiles or non-Jewish peoples around the northern half of the Roman Empire. Even though he was Jewish, Paul became known as the apostle to the gentiles because the Holy Spirit sent him to them. But many, if not most of us, have been sent by God to the people/places where we already are located: to our neighborhood/school/workplace or to our current friend group or extended family. Holly and I were called by God and sent out from the church where we grew up, where Holly was on staff, and from many people we deeply loved, to start a new church here in the city where we grew up. In hindsight, it’s easy to see why. We know the people here. We understand how the gospel impacts life here. And many people who knew us when we were young can see how Jesus has changed our lives in so many ways. But our story is your story. Every Christian is sent — sent by God with the gospel so that men and women everywhere might hear and believe and be made new in Jesus. Every Christian is a missionary, whether you’re sent across the world or across the street. And we are sent out to share the good news of Jesus, in word and deed, with a world that is lost without him. This is our DNA. This is who we are. So let’s get after this wonderful work of God because we too fear the Lord, and we too are compelled by the love of God and we too, just like the Apostles and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ down through the ages, are ambassadors of the king who we love and his kingdom which is our true home. But also, the only reason we are here is because others, maybe a pastor or Sunday school teacher, or our parents, were faithful to the work of the gospel. So we are only sharing what we have first received as a gift of grace. May we be faithful to this calling and find and enjoy our God-given purpose in sharing the message of reconciliation in Jesus’ name and for his glory. Let us pray.