Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. (2 Corinthians 5:11-15, NLT)
This paragraph begins a section of 2 Corinthians that is typically subtitled, “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” By way of introduction, Paul established his overarching value for his purpose in missionary endeavors, that being his deep reverential fear of the Lord. This reverential fear is not rooted in cognitive theory. Rather it is based on his personal experience with Christ. Having encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, and continuing his close relationship with Him, allows him to speak of spiritual subjects with authority. It is not his gospel, nor is it his message. It is God’s gospel ministry to which he has been called.
Having set the tone for his missionary work, Paul returns to a familiar theme within the book. That, of course, is the unnecessary need for him to defend his apostleship. Imagine a moment of conflict in your church, where relationships have become messy and misunderstood, and you have been accused in some way of lacking integrity in the issue. You are puzzled by the accusations as you feel your ministry has always been above board. You are further confounded that those you have served and benefited from your service do not step forward in your defense, leaving you in the awkward position of defending yourself when others should be stepping in to vindicate you. You may not need to imagine it, for you may have actually experienced it. One of the most painful experiences in ministry leadership consists of unfair accusations against you being met by silence from those to whom you have poured your life.
Paul’s purpose in defending his apostleship is not to play the lone ranger. He is attempting to model a behavior that others can emulate. He wants to exemplify how to answer critics within the church, even when the critics attempt to invalidate you with accusations of being “crazy.” Invalidation is often the last resort of those who cannot cite biblical reasons for their spiritual abuse. In today’s culture, we would call this “gaslighting.”
Paul did not allow the critics to slow his work. He had a second value, which was Christ’s love for him and the church. He cannot be distracted because the love of Christ holds him in its grip so tightly that he has no alternative but to live a life of service to others.
He concludes the section with two convictions about Christ’s love. First, he came to learn the widespread effect of one single death, meaning that Christ died for all. Christ’s love is compelling because Christ had died in his place, engendering an undying gratitude.
Second, the death of Christ had brought significant transformation, ending an old way of life devoted to the power of sin and self and ushering in a new life where Christ is lived out in him and through him. It is this new life that caused Paul to forego personal gain and glory in favor of a life of loving service to human kind.
Whether you are in vocational ministry serving in church leadership, or in avocational ministry serving as a volunteer leader, always beware that the genuine ministry of the gospel will bring criticism. Sometimes the criticism is defended by those who lovingly support you and share the same purposes and motivations. Unfortunately, there may be times when you find that you face the criticism and invalidation alone. If we aren’t careful, we find ourselves in a position like Elijah, who felt as though he faced the prophets of Ba’al alone while Israel silently observed. It is in those times we must return to our calling and remind ourselves of who and what ministry is about. And when we do, we discover maybe we aren’t as alone as we think. (1 Kings 19:18)