2 Corinthians



About Us


Devotions from Second Corinthians


Paul's Ultimate Motivation for Life and Service  (16)

2 Corinthians 5: 11-16   (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson


Paul continues the common theme of motivation of life and service. He has touched on the secure and blessed future (5:1-4), the walk of faith and the enablement of the Spirit (5: 5-9) and then anticipates with confidence the Judgment Seat of Christ when his life and service will be tested by fire (5: 10). What confidence and joy as Paul looks forward to the final reunion with Christ! Truly "for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

Paul's Overarching Ambition Is to Please God, Not Men   2 Corinthians 5.11 - 13

Paul has just stated clearly: "We make it our aim, (ambition) whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him" (5: 9). Every other ambition serves only to reinforce his passion to please his Lord alone.  It may appear to be paradoxical that Paul flatly declares in view of the Judgment Seat of Christ (10): "Knowing, therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . . ." We don't generally consider the terror of the Lord to be a motive for life and service. Often our casual way to refer to God bespeaks our ignorance of his eternal deity. "The fear of the Lord is that fear or reverence which the Lord excites, or of which he is the object. Hence it so often stands in Scripture for true religion."[1]

Suffice it to say that Solomon states it directly: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). In the early church: "Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied" (Acts 9.31). To the Corinthians, Paul will later say: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord" (2Corinthians 7: 1).  Paul does not apologize for the element of reverent and heart obedience grounded in God's transcendent nature.

Paul is speaking directly not only to his converts whom he loves deeply but also to his critics whose withering criticism he will face and answer later in 2 Corinthians 10-12. While Paul resists his own justification, he feels it necessary to account for his zeal in service which some might judge to be extreme. On the contrary, his all consuming dedication to God in life and service was to try to persuade men of God's infinite love and the peril of their rejection of his grace. Far from being a personal instability, it is rather a testimony to critic and friend alike of his overwhelming passion for God in Christ. "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you"

Paul's Briefest Exposition of the Message of the Cross 

These two verses under the inspiration of the Spirit set forth the very quintessence of the ultimate motivation not only for service also for life in its fullness.  It deserves a minute analysis. Within the context Paul is summing up all the previous motivations of life and service and now puts it in the context of the Message of the Cross.


Please remember when I mention the Message of the Cross, I am including the fullest definition and application of the sinless life of Christ offered as a substitute for our sins and the Judge's declaration of a full forgiveness. Christ's resurrection stands as a testimony of God's dual acceptance of his death, his vicarious and ours judicial. The work of the Cross also includes the coming of the Spirit, the other Comforter who as the Spirit of Christ now lives in us.

A Closer Examination Displays its Depth of Meaning   2 Corinthians 5: 14, 15

"The love of Christ constrains us" This love must be the unwavering expression of the Father's love for us revealed in the cross; it could never be our wavering love for him.  Of his love there can be no limit, hence Paul is constantly constrained to serve without measure. It is a constant constraint that yields persistence and faithfulness. The revelation of his love began to destroy any self serving.

The verb in the present active tense speaks of constriction water under great pressure. My family and I were traveling in the beautiful Canadian Rockies and witnessed what water under pressure can sound like.  We were driving alongside the Athabasca, a broad, quiet, peaceful, slow moving stream. We were absorbed in the surrounding absolute magnificent majesty of the mountains. We saw a sign: Look Out Ahead Athabasca Cataracts. We began to hear an ominous sound. It grew louder and louder and suddenly we found ourselves at the lookout site. We stopped as a family of six and at our feet the small stream was forced through a very narrow rocky strait; the tremendous pressure of the rocks literally expelled the water in violent whitewater. What potential energy and driving force!  Hence Paul's constraint so to serve his Lord.

"Because we judge thus" That divine love led Paul inevitably to a personal decision expressed in the past aorist, a distinct and final conclusion.  Possibly in Arabia early in Paul's encounter with Christ (Galatians 1:17), the Holy Spirit revealed the dual death of God's son and ours which Paul now states so clearly.  This truth seldom grasped in its entirety becomes the very basis of the Christian life, forgiveness (justification) and freedom from sin (sanctification).

"that if One died for all, then all died" What can this mean? Paul uses identical words: verb and tense. It must mean as never so clearly stated elsewhere that Christ's death was a dual death, his and ours. The two deaths, however, should never  be confounded; his was a vicarious death, he took our place, the ground of the Judges declaration of our perfect judicial standing - justification ( Romans 3:25.26). Our death in him was a judicial and spiritual death to the power of sin. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Romans 6:6).

In Romans 6:10 Paul explains:"For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Here is where Paul applies that vicarious death to our judicial and spiritual death making it the basis of our faith obedience. The word "likewise" makes the comparison legitimate and necessary.   

"and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves" Paul states so clearly that the purpose of this union in death and in resurrection is that there should be a real "death to self" in all its multiple expressions. There has been a real change of focus, direction and goal. It is "no longer I but Christ".  Paul reveled in the fact that he was a slave. His favorite expressions were: "it is I no longer who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2: 20), "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10), "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

Few realize how radical our union with Christ in death to sin really is! Simply stated no allowance for "self' expression, the ego, the promotion of our interests and the advancement of our ministry kingdom. How many Christian workers find the basis of their worth in their ministry, its longevity and the "success" of ministry!  So often we don't want others to invade our territory, question our service. Some have great difficulty in accepting the end of a given ministry. Ministerial jealousies are not infrequent. We find it pleasant to move up the ladder with "extra humble" words but painful to step down or be replaced.

"but for Him who died for them and rose again"  We may pay little attention to this last phrase. It re- appears in Galatians 2:20 "who loved me and gave Himself for me". But it is this final statement that is an expression of his supreme love for us. In delivering us from the albatross of our selfishness and giving us the grace of his holiness, God has done us the greatest service possible.  Paul's condensed statement of the message of the Cross began with God's love (5:14) and ends with God's love (5: 15). Can there be a greater motivation to live for him and serve him selflessly?

There is no gain but by a loss;/You cannot save but by a cross.

The corn of wheat, to multiply,/Must fall into the ground and die.

Wherever you ripe fields behold,/Waving to God their sheaves of gold,

Be sure some corn of wheat has died,/Some soul has there been crucified;

Someone has wrestled, wept and prayed,/And fought hells' legions undismayed.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E Johnson

Read more: www.kneillfoster.com  Click on my name, studies in Spanish and English appear.

  (correspondence)   gejohnson1928@gmail.como  (sending of studies)

[1] Charles Hodge, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, An Exposition, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust), p.128. Hodge give a most excellent exegesis of the book.