A few years ago I shared the message below at a church in the Northeast. Some recent conversations and events brought this text back to mind and I thought perhaps it would be an encouragement as we turn the page to a new year.
It has been a year filled with excitement, with challenges, with loss and with growth. It has been a year where the biblical foundations of morality and truth have seen increased attack in the governments and societies around the world. It has been a year of incredible turmoil in the world, Paris, the Middle East and even here on our own soil. The level of fear and anxiety has increased for many this year as the threat and reality of terrorism and persecution has become more widespread. But we remember the promise of God found in Isaiah 41:1
“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
As we come to the end of 2015 and look forward into 2016 (and now 2019) many of us go through the annual process of making New Year’s resolutions. It is also a time of year when folks might do a bit of a self-evaluation and ask some pressing personal questions…you know…questions like:
Why did I eat so much at Christmas? Or perhaps… How on earth am I going to pay my credit card bills in January? More seriously…in light of all the changes around us, we might ask ourselves questions like: What is God’s purpose for me? or What is His will for me?
Let me draw your attention to some truths in scripture that deal with the old and the new…passages that deal with how we look at life and what our purpose really is especially in light of all that is going on.
The passage of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:11-21. The text is found in a letter that Paul is writing to the church at Corinth to respond and address some attacks on his ministry, his character, his motive and his credentials. After leaving the church at Corinth false teachers had crept in and in addition to twisting the truth of the gospel, they were maligning and disparaging the work and ministry of Paul. In chapter 5 Paul is going to remind people about his ministry and his passion and then reminds them about who they are as believers, their ministry. He then declares the truth of the Gospel to those that would read and hear his letter.
Paul writes in verses 12 and 13 “For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you.”
The false prophets of Paul’s day were in it for the money…for the glory…the accolades. Their hearts were not right and therefore their motives were wrong. The motivation that drove these false teachers was not righteous…it was not done for God…it was done to boast in themselves.
Paul says “...if we are beside ourselves…it is for God!” They thought that he was crazy…he had declared truth about God and his zealousness, his passion for the truth of Jesus caused the critics to believe that he was crazy. Paul goes on in verse 14 of his letter and he gives the reason for his zeal…his insanity…
“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
The love of Christ…the truth of salvation, Christ’s birth, life, death on the cross, and resurrection COMPELS him to speak the truth. That love drives him to preach, to teach, to pray, to serve, to live, and to love.
What compels you? What drives you to live and speak the way you do every day? For Paul…it was the LOVE OF CHRIST that compelled him in everything he said and did.
What is that love of Christ…well…it is the love that only a true believer can know and understand. It is a love that results from a changed life. A transformed person that is in Christ is a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” It is a tremendous truth of our faith that in Christ we are made new.
But I skipped a verse…and in that verse we find one of the most amazing and compelling verses in Scripture. You see, when we become a new creation we often think of our heart being changed…and it is. We also think about our mind being renewed…and it is. But did you ever consider your eyes being changed? Did you ever think that when you are in Christ you don’t see people the same way anymore?
In verse 16 Paul writes “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”
Paul had known Christ and others “according to the flesh” before he was saved. He saw Jesus and others with a worldview that was governed by an unchanged heart. Those “old things” and old ways provided the filter through which he saw others. Paul had known Christ “in the flesh” but now he regarded Christ in that way no longer. His view of Christ had changed and so had the way that he viewed others.
When Paul writes “from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh” he is saying that he not longer sees people as rich or poor, young or old, by the color of their skin or their position in society. Now he sees them the way that Christ sees them. He sees them with the love of Christ that is concerned about their relationship to Jesus.
Paul says that the love of Christ that has changed the way he sees others compels him to continue the work that he was called and equipped to do…the ministry we are called to do…the ministry of reconciliation.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
As believers we have been reconciled to Christ. Our sins have been paid for by the blood of Christ, and our relationship to God has been reconciled through Jesus. But God didn’t stop there. He has given to Paul and to us, the ministry of reconciliation and the “word of reconciliation”. Paul describes in vivid detail what this looks like…
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
Paul is saying we are ambassadors, emissaries, representatives of the Lord Most High. We are ambassadors for Christ himself…as if God were using our lives, our actions, our speech, to plead with people to be reconciled to God. And we use the Word of Reconcilation…His Word, as we do that ministry.
Paul goes on to say “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The truth in this verse is so enormous and unthinkable that it leaves me humbled, thankful, and transformed. ALL of my sin was charged to Christ on the cross AND at the very same time ALL of His righteousness was credit to me. What an incredible truth. All of my sin is washed away and God now sees me in the righteousness of Christ.
God wants people to be reconciled to himself; He longs for it. God has given believers the ministry of being his ambassadors to help fulfill that ministry of reconciliation and to share with those that are not reconciled this incredible truth so that they might come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and be reconciled to God.
If you are a believer, someone that has known the incomparable joy of being reconciled to God through Christ, I would challenge you to think about a few things:
- Are you so zealous for the things of God, speaking the truth of the love of Jesus and bible to friends and family that folks think you have lost your mind? I know my zeal could use some work.
- Does the love of Christ compel you each and every day to love Him and to love your neighbor?
- How do you see others now? Do you see them through the righteous eyes of Christ wanting desperately to know if they are going to spend an eternity with God or separated from him by their sin? Are you actively participating in the ministry of reconciliation?
If you do not yet know the joy of salvation…of declaring and knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and being reconciled to God, I plead with you right now to come and know the joy, peace, and assurance of forgiveness and love that is found in Christ alone.
John 3:16-17 may be familiar to you…it says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
We have all sinned, all of us, and the cost, the penalty of that sin is death…an eternity of of separation from God. But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ alone. You cannot get to heaven through good deeds or acts of kindness. No amount of money, combination of activities or anything else that you can do on your own or in your own strength. There is only one way to be forgiven and be saved from an eternity separated from God. The bible says that “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified (our sins are forgiven) and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
If you are reading this and you do not know Jesus as your Lord, and if your heart has been moved by the Holy Spirit after reading these verses from the Bible, then I encourage you to pray and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior today.
If you have trusted and confessed Jesus as your Lord and Savior today I would love to hear from you.