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The Gift of Ministry

Don't Lose Heart

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Here we are in this world of infectious diseases, school shootings, domestic violence, and radical ideologies.  How do I live as a Christian in this world and not lose heart?  Sometimes you may find yourself asking the question, what in the world is God doing?  And what can I do that will make a difference in this world?

 

I want very simply to remind you of the ministry God has given to us, and then to make three observations about it.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (5:18)

God was reconciling the world to himself… entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (5:19)

Therefore…we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (5:20)

 

There is no doubt about the theme of these verses.  God has reconciled us to himself.  He is reconciling the world to himself.  He has entrusted to us the ministry and the message of reconciliation.  So it is really important for each of us individually and for all of us together that we understand it well.

 

The ministry of reconciliation presupposes a conflict

Reconciliation only happens when there has been a fight, a dispute, a falling out.  If someone were to ask me, “Are you reconciled to your wife?”
I would say, “What in the world are you talking about?  We have never been apart!  I love my wife, and she loves me.”

 

Reconciliation presupposes a problem.  So what is the problem that needs to be dealt with for us to be reconciled to God?  Is the issue that needs reconciling on God’s side?  On our side?  Or both?

 

On our side, there were our sins, our doubts, our fears, our resistance to God, our distrust, our unbelief, our self-interest, our lack of faith, hope and love.  All of these things put us at a distance from God, so that by nature we don’t want to talk to him, we don’t want to come to him, and we don’t want to submit to him.  Even with all the problems on our side, we still haven’t got to the heart of what needs to be dealt with for us to be reconciled to God.

 

Suppose for a moment that all the problems on our side were put right.  If it were possible for you to deal with all the reluctance and all the distrust and all the self-interest and offer yourself without reservation to pursue a life of loving God, trusting God, and serving God, would that bring about a reconciliation?

 

The answer is no, and here’s why: There’s a bigger problem.  At the very beginning of the Bible, God tells us the story of how our human rebellion against God began.  Eve wanted to be her own god, and Adam wanted to be his own god too.  They disobeyed God, and so God sent them out from his garden.

 

They found themselves in a different world, the world that we know: A world of pain, where work was hard; a world where their own children would fight, and one would kill the other; a world of violence, disease, greed, and self-interest; a world of loss, under the curse of sin.

 

Suppose one day Adam had said, “I think I made a mistake.  I thought it would be better being my own god, but the truth is, this is not nearly as good as Eden, so I am going to go back.”  The problem is he could not go back.  Here’s why:

 

[God] drove the man out, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen. 3:24)

 

If you were to overcome every problem on your side, you would still be left with the flaming sword on God’s side.  What are you going to do about that?  A flaming sword that turned every way – you can’t get past it!  So Adam is outside of Eden, living in a world that bears the marks of the curse of his own sin.  He is alienated from God and there is no way back.

 

Understanding this will help you speak to others about why Jesus came into the world.  Why did he have to go to the cross?  What is the really big problem that needs to be dealt with, and could only be dealt with in this way?  The answer is the flaming sword, Divine justice, the condemnation that lies on our world as a result of our sin.  It is a much bigger problem than your doubts or questions about God.

 

The Ministry of Reconciliation Is…

…From God

All this is from God. (5:18)

God was reconciling the world to himself. (5:19)

God making his appeal through us. (5:20)

 

God is taking the initiative.  God was reconciling the world to himself.  God gives us the ministry of reconciliation.  God makes his appeal through us, “Be reconciled to God.”

 

God is not the helpless victim of human sin and rebellion.  He is not wringing his hands, shaking his head, and saying to himself, “What in the world am I going to do?”

 

Everything that Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection is from God.

 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. (5:18)

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. (5:19)

 

You find the same thing in the book of Romans and in John’s Gospel:

 

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. (John 3:16)

 

Jesus did not die on the cross in order to make God love us.  Jesus died because God loves us.

Jesus is God in the flesh.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

 

Jesus Christ is God the Son, and since there is only one God, in him, God offers himself.  God not sparing his Son, means God not sparing himself.  In Christ, God gave himself and bore the whole cost of our reconciliation.  In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).  Spurgeon says this in a way that is helpful (author’s paraphrase):
Never fall into the idea that God is vengeful and angry and that the death of Jesus Christ, His Son was necessary to pacify the Father.  Beloved, you know him better than this, you know that God was love before Jesus died, always love, always full of grace and truth towards His people.  God was in Christ.  God came on earth to reconcile men.  God made the atonement for us.

 

All this is from God.  He is relentless in his activity to reconcile sinners to himself.  God reconciled us.  God gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

 

God was reconciling the world to himself.  God is the One who does not count men’s sins against them, and he appeals to sinners through us.

 

…For the World

God was reconciling the world to himself. (5:19)

 

This is a marvelous statement of what God was doing at the cross.  God was removing every barrier to peace on his side.  In Jesus Christ, God put away his own condemnation and wrath, and he sends the people he has reconciled to himself to tell the world that it is done.

 

The message of reconciliation is not, “God hates you, but if you clean up your life, then he might love you.”  No!  The message of reconciliation is much better than that.  God has put away every barrier on his side in Jesus Christ.  He offers himself to you in love, and he invites you, wills you to receive this reconciliation.

 

Here is the good news:

  • In Christ, God’s wrath has been put aside. Spent!  Exhausted!
  • In Christ, God does not count men’s sins against them.
  • In Christ, God reaches out in love to every person.

 

For you to refuse the reconciliation and move towards the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, when the door to heaven is open to you and the arms of God are stretched out to you in love would be your greatest folly and your ultimate loss.

 

If that were to happen, you would have no one to blame except for yourself.  You certainly could not blame God.  He has dealt with every barrier on his side, and even now reaches out to you in love.  Receive the reconciliation!  Be reconciled to God!

 

…Through Us

God making his appeal through us. (5:20)

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (5:20)

 

How does this ministry and message of reconciliation come to the world?  How does God speak to people?  How does God reconcile people to himself?

 

The astonishing answer of these verses is that God does it through us!  He uses the people he has already reconciled to himself to bring the message of reconciliation to the world.  God reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

 

God makes his appeal through us.  When you speak about Jesus, Jesus speaks through you.  When you reach out to people, Jesus reaches out through you.  So Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:1 that we are God’s fellow workers.

 

Earlier this year, I was at a conference with about 7,000 Christian leaders from around the world – most of them young.  The conference started with a “getting to know you” session, in which we were all asked to stand and then sit in response to various questions.

 

Everybody stood and then those who had come to faith through an open-air meeting were asked to sit.  A few did.  Those who had come to faith through being given a tract were asked to sit.  Again, a few did.  Then, “If you came to faith through the influence of a friend or family member,” and the vast majority of the 7,000 people from around the world sat down.

 

It was a striking reminder of the truth of this verse: God uses his people to bring others to himself.  He places his people like lights in schools, hospitals, businesses, and worksites.  He places his people in families.  Each of us has a sphere of influence.  And God did not place you where you are by accident.

 

Notice that Paul speaks about the ministry and the message of reconciliation.  We pursue the ministry as we speak the message.  Christians are the only people who can do this.  How we do this matters, and these verses give us both direction and encouragement.

 

a. Serve with humility because you are a sinner reconciled to God.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. (5:18)

 

  1. H. Spurgeon is so helpful here:

 

Are you sinful?  So were we.

Are you rebellious against God?  So were we.

Are your hearts hard?  Ours were too.

We do not look down on you from an elevated platform of affected dignity, for we recognize our own nature in yours, therefore we come to you as fellow sinners. [1]

 

There is a tenderness, a sympathy that knows our whole existence rests on the mercy of God.

At our best we are sinners saved by the unfathomable grace and mercy of God.

 

We live on the message that we speak to others: Be reconciled to God.  Time and again I need to come back to this.  I am in Christ.  That means that nothing stands on God’s side to keep me from him.

 

b. Speak from the heart because God pleads with sinners through us.

God making his appeal through us. (5:20)

We implore you on behalf of Christ. (5:20)

 

You would think it would be sinners who are appealing to God!  We should be coming, holding out our hands asking, urging, and pleading with God to receive us.  But it is the other way round.

 

Here is God, the Almighty, the Sovereign, the Creator, and he is holding out his hands appealing to us!  God never comes to us with his arms folded.  He comes to us with outstretched arms.

 

God wants you.  You matter to him.  He is reconciling the world to himself.  It matters to him that you should be reconciled.  It is not just that God did something a long time ago.  He appeals to you today.  Every barrier on God’s side has been taken down.  His arms are stretched out.  His door is open to you.

 

Jesus told the story (see Luke 14) about a man who was preparing a great banquet.   He sent his servants out to gather those who had already been invited.  But one-by-one they began to make excuses as to why they could not come.

 

So the man said to his servant, “Go quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor the crippled the blind and the lame.”

 

The servant said, “We already did that and there is still room.”

 

The master told him, “Go to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that my house may be filled.”

 

I love the word compel.  Urge people to come to this banquet.  Tell them they don’t know what they’re missing.  Make the case for them to come: “God’s house will be full, why should you not be among the guests?  Why choose another path when right now heaven’s gate is open to you?  Why would you walk away when God himself is reaching out to you in love?”

 

In that same spirit, Paul uses the word implore here.  We implore you on behalf of Christ.

The word here can be translated beg.  It is used in the context of prayer.  Jesus says to Peter, “Satan wants to have you but I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:32) – implored.  We implore God on behalf of people, and we implore people on behalf of God.

 

Here is something worth giving your life to.  If ministry was simply me doing my best to get people to believe, I would soon lose heart.  But this tells me that God is at work, God is speaking, God is reconciling, and he does it through people like us.

 

  1. Reconcile with others as God has reconciled with you.

 

I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people. (Is. 65:2)

 

God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  And it is really hard to pursue that ministry while actively pursuing conflict.

 

Reconciliation isn’t always possible.  God knows what it is to hold out his hands all day long to rebellious people who refuse to reconcile with him.  But he does hold out his hands.   God stands ready, willing, and eager to reconcile.  This is God’s posture, and if we would be like him, we must do the same.

 

I want to end today with a remarkable story from our own congregation, the story of Roise (sounds like Royce) Abraham and his wife Annley.

 

Roise was offered a position in Boston and so in February last year, Roise and Annley left Chicago and began their journey to a new life in on the east coast.

 

They were traveling on Interstate 90 when they skidded on some black ice and their car crashed into the embankment.  They got out of the car only to find that another car hit the same ice and collided into them, injuring Roise and taking Annley’s life.

 

What happened afterwards is the part of the story that I want to share with you today (in Roise’s own words).

 

On Feb 4th 2013, the second day after the accident, I had gone to the tow yard to collect some documents from the car that was wrecked.  As I was waiting in the small room, I saw the driver of the second car (that crashed into us) walk in.  This was totally unplanned and I believe it was a God-ordained moment.

 

As he walked in, I recognized him (I remember vaguely seeing him at the accident spot since I was also unconscious most of the time).  He came over to me crying and repeatedly saying “I am sorry.”

 

I really felt the Spirit of God upon me, giving me strength.  Though I was broken and crying, I shook his hand and hugged him.  I told him, “I want you to know that I have forgiven you.  God has a purpose through this.  I am a believer in Christ and my wife was also a believer.  I know that my wife is with the Lord and I know that I am also going to be there.  I want you also to know Christ.  I don’t know what purpose God has in this, but I know He has a purpose in all what has happened.  I don’t want you feel guilty.  I want you to know that I forgive you and God has forgiven you.”

 

He said “I used to be in church but now I am far away from God.  It is very difficult for me to face my girlfriend and my son after all that has happened.”

 

The man wasn’t far from God at that moment.  God was reaching out to him, speaking to him, through Roise!  Continuing Roise’s story…

 

A few minutes before the accident, my wife had read a psalm to me and that Bible was one of the items I wanted to retrieve from the car.  I had that Bible in my hand while I was talking to him.

 

I gave him the Bible and said, “This Bible is very precious to me as my wife read it few minutes before she went to be with the Lord.  I want to give this Bible to you.  I want you to read this Bible and know more about Jesus.  I want you to know Christ.”

Reconciliation: It’s from God.  It’s for the world.  And it’s through us.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, from the sermon, God Beseeching Sinners by His Ministers:  July 27, 1873.