The Love of Christ Compels Us

Stuart Briscoe is a British preacher who traveled to South Africa years ago.  He was met by a woman at the airport who said, “Would you like to see the hole?”  He had no idea what she was talking about, but he was trying to be polite so he said, “We would love to see the hole!  Thank you so much!”

            And so, they set off to see “the hole.”  She was obviously excited about this hole.  She talked nonstop about it.  She said, “This hole is the biggest man-made hole in the world.”  Dug with primitive tools, the hole was hundreds of feet deep and one mile in circumference at the top. People came from all over the world to dig.  Then she said, “It used to be a hill, you know?  It used to be a hill.”

            Briscoe still had no idea what they were talking about.  Eventually, they arrived at the hole.  It was, just as she said, hundreds of feet deep, one mile in circumference, with slimy green water in the bottom.  In a nearby hut, there was a display of photos showing all kinds of people digging furiously in the biggest man-made hole in the world. 

            Briscoe turned to the woman and he asked her, “Why would people come from all over the world to a place like this to turn a hill into the biggest man-made hole in the world?”

            She said, “One day, some little boys were playing on the hill, throwing pebbles at each other.  A gentleman walking past noticed the sun reflect off of one of those pebbles.  When he got a closer look at it, he recognized it as a diamond.”

            So, that is how you get people to come from all over the world with primitive tools to turn a hill into the biggest man-made hole in the world!  It’s called motivation.

            It’s amazing how certain things will motivate certain people to do some incredible things.  And I’m convinced that motivation is extremely important for us who are Christians.  We spend a lot of time talking about methods and materials, money and manpower.  But without motivation, you don’t have much at all. 

            One of the responsibilities that God has given those of us who are preachers is to motivate the church, to get you fired up, to get you to where you want to do more in service to God, to get you more motivated to worship and to show love and to give and to serve people who are in need.

            And I have to say that I find this to be one of the most difficult parts of being a preacher.  I have heard motivational speakers and I’m confident in saying that I am not a motivational speaker.  As hard as I try to motivate Christians, I have often found that, despite my best efforts, Christians aren’t any more involved in the work of the church, they aren’t any more interested in doing anything more than just coming and sitting in a church building for an hour a week.  So, much of my time is spent considering the question, “How can I do a better job of motivating people?”

            Different preachers have different methods of motivation.  Some preachers motivate with fear.  Their sermons tend have a focus on what happens to you if you don’t serve God faithfully.  We often call these fire and brimstone sermons.  If you don’t go to church on Sunday morning, and Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, you’re going to be lost and you’ll go to hell.  If you don’t read your Bible every day and pray a lot and talk to people about their salvation, you’re going to be lost.  And that kind of motivation can work.  There are many Christians who serve God because they’re afraid not to.

            There are other preachers who try to motivate with reward.  You want to go to heaven, don’t you?  Then you need to be faithful in attending, you need to give more, you need to read your Bible and pray and talk with people about their salvation, because that’s how you get those pearly gates and that street of gold.  We’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop, but it’s reserved only for those Christians who do enough, so get busy.  And that kind of motivation can work.  There are many Christians who serve God because they want that reward.

            But there was something different about the motivation of early Christians like the apostle Paul.  In 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NKJV), Paul said, “The love of Christ compels us.”  His understanding of the love of Christ became a powerful motivation.  Very few of us have the same abilities that Paul did, none of us will have the same opportunities that he had, but all of us have the same message that he shared with others and we need to have the same powerful motivation that he did.  My prayer is that every single one of us can say with all sincerity, “The love of Christ compels me.”

            The Greek word translated “compel” means “to take away the options; to give no way out; to back into a corner.”  It’s the word that’s used in Luke 22:63 where men were holding Jesus under guard.  It’s the word that’s used in Luke 19:43 where Jesus said, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side.”

            Paul said we are hemmed in by the love of Christ.  Sometimes we think the love of Christ leaves us with certain options.  Paul would disagree.  He said the love of Christ takes away our options, it backs us into a corner, holds us firmly on all sides, and gives us no choice.  

            The love of Christ compelled Paul because he understood that while we were still sinners, God demonstrated his love for us in Christ’s death on the cross.  This was the greatest love we can imagine.   God’s incredibly gracious love loved us even while we were sinners.  God didn’t demand that we straighten out our lives before he would love us.  And God’s love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling.  It took Jesus to the cross.

            And…“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

            Paul said when Jesus died on the cross, there was a transfer that took place.  Let me try to explain it using a banking illustration.  It used to be in the old days that banks used these big ledgers to keep track of everyone’s assets and debts.  Now, it’s all electronic and we can access our accounts online which I personally happen to love because it makes it so easy to move money around.

            So, let’s just imagine that I pull up my bank account online and it says that I currently have $36 in my checking account.  This is not an unusual thing for me.  I’m used to seeing a puny amount in there.  But my bank doesn’t just list my assets.  It also lists my debts.  Here’s how much I still have left to pay off my house.  Here’s how much I still have left to pay off my car, my medical bills, my student loan.  All in all, it’s a pretty depressing sight.

            But, as I said, the nice things about having an online account is that it makes it so easy to move money around.   So, this morning, I pull up my online account and I find that every single one of my debts is gone.  The richest man in the world, Bernard Arnault took all of my debts and transferred them into his account – my house, my car, the medical bills, the student loan, all of it.  You have to agree with me that that would be incredible.  But, wait, there’s more.

            Bernard Arnault not only transferred my debts over to his account, he also transferred $50,000,000 from his account over to my account.  So now my checking account shows $50,000,036.  That would be incredible!  To take everything I owe and put it in his account and then to take his riches and put them in my account.

            Suppose, further, that Bernard Arnault calls me and he says, “Alan, I’ll like for you to do something for me.”  I’d be like, “Just name it.  Whatever you want.  I am so grateful for what you have done for me.”  And he says, “I just want you to tell people about me.  A lot of people have never heard of me.  And then tell them what I’ve done for you and let them know that I’m willing to do the same thing for them, too.”  Do you suppose I would be willing to do that?

            But, as amazing as that would be, something even more amazing has happened to all of us.  In our heavenly bank account, we don’t have much, just a few good deeds here and there, but they don’t amount to much at all.  But we sure do have a lot of debt.  Because of all the sin we’ve committed over the years, what we owe is death.  We deserve to die, to be eternally separated from the presence of God.

            But Jesus comes into our bank account and he not only removes all of our sin and transfers it over to his account, which would be awesome enough, but then he also takes all the righteousness out of his account and he transfers it over into our account.  That’s incredible!

            And now, Jesus comes to us and he says, “I’ll like for you to do something for me.”  Our response ought to be, “Just name it.  Whatever you want.  I am so grateful for what you have done for me.”  And Jesus says, “I just want you to tell people about me.  A lot of people have never heard of me.  And tell them what I’ve done for you, and let them know that I’m willing to do the same thing for them, too.”  Do you suppose we would be willing to do that?

            That’s what Paul means when he says, “The love of Christ compels me.”  I am so overwhelmed by how much Christ loves me and how much he’s done for me that I can’t help but share him with others.  Paul never recovered from his realization that all the unrighteousness of Saul of Tarsus had been credited to Christ and taken to the cross.  And all the glorious righteousness of Christ had been credited to Saul of Tarsus.  That kind of love left Paul with no choice.  It took away all his options.  “The love of Christ compels me.”

            I want to look this morning at three things Paul says about being compelled.

1.         We are compelled because we are convinced.

            In 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NIV), “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”

            We are convinced.  We know what Jesus has done for us, and so we are compelled.  Os Guinness once wrote that one of the problems in our culture today is that sentiment has taken the place of conviction.  It’s more about how we feel than it is about what we know to be true.  And perhaps one of the reasons for that is because sentiment is nowhere near as challenging or as costly as conviction.

            Let me give you an example.  In 1988, some of you may remember, there were three gray whales that were trapped under the ice in Alaska and people were concerned.  All kinds of money was raised.  The media covered the story in great detail.  Rescue equipment was flown in from all around the world.  People volunteered to help.  

            Now I don’t have anything against whales, but what bothered me was this: at the very same time those whales were demanding so much attention and so much help, there were tens of thousands of people starving to death in Africa, and no one could get anybody interested.  It was easier to feel sentiment for those whales than it was to have a conviction regarding a much bigger need.  You see, being sentimental about starving people doesn’t help. It’s conviction that’s needed.  The conviction to actually do something about it.

            Notice the conviction by which Paul has been compelled – “We are convinced that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV)

            That was Paul’s solid conviction.  He said, “I know that Jesus Christ died for everyone, and I know that there is a sense in which all of us have already died.  And we have been raised to life with Christ, which is the beginning of something totally new.”  Paul’s conviction is simply this: he has been crucified with Christ; nevertheless, he lives. Yet the life that he lives, he does not live in and of himself.  He lives because Christ lives in him.  That was his conviction, and he is absolutely, totally convinced of this fact.

            A lot of people feel they have the freedom to ask Jesus Christ to die for them so that they can continue to indulge themselves.  But Paul would have none of that.  Paul’s conviction was that if Jesus died for me, then I no longer have the freedom to live in those things that it was necessary for Christ to die for.  And so when we come to Christ, it is so we might come to newness of life. Paul put it this way – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.(2 Corinthians 5:17)

            God is looking for transformed lives, he is looking for real conversion, he’s looking for people who are willing to walk away from their old life, and live in newness of life.  If we are convinced of what Jesus has done for us, then we understand that we don’t have the freedom to live the way we used to live, we only have only freedom to be new creatures in Christ.

2.         We are compelled by a new perspective on people

            Verse 16, “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Corinthians 5:16, NLT)

            Paul reached the conclusion that he is no longer free to look at people from a purely earthly, human perspective. If the love of Christ was made available to all and if Christ died for all, then it’s obvious that if Christ loved all these people enough to die for them.  And so I no longer have the freedom to look at them any differently than Christ looks at them.  I’ve got to look at people from God’s point of view. 

            Paul gives us a dramatic illustration of the change that took place in his attitude toward people, it’s the way that Paul changed his mind about Jesus.  Early in his life, Saul of Tarsus, the brilliant rabbi who was well-versed in the Old Testament, had reached a logical conclusion.  Saul the rabbi believed everyone who hangs on a tree is accursed.  Jesus of Nazareth hung on a tree.  Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is accursed.  That’s simple logic.

            Then Saul went a step further.  Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  The Messiah cannot be accursed.  Therefore, Jesus is not the Messiah.  Saul of Tarsus now takes his logical conclusion one step further and says that Jesus got what he deserved.  He was a blasphemer; he’s accursed; he deserves that curse, and his misguided followers must be stopped.

            Saul devoted considerable energy to exterminating the followers of the Way, until he had an encounter with the risen Christ.  In that encounter, Saul suddenly noticed something.  He had been convinced that Jesus was wrong and he was right.  Now he realized, “Uh oh! Saul is wrong, and Jesus is right!  Jesus is not accursed; Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God who has all authority, proven by his resurrection from the dead.  And I am the chief of sinners.” That was a dramatic change of mind. 

            So now, Paul says that since he understands that Christ’s love for people was such that he died for all, he no longer has the freedom to look at people the way he did before.  He is compelled look at people through Jesus’ eyes.  That means he needed to have as radical a change of mind about people as he did about Christ.   He says, “We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.”

            Throughout our married life, Sueanne and I have always shared a common interest, something we enjoy doing together.  There was a time that what we enjoyed doing together was cross stitch.  We enjoyed working together on large projects.  But those projects required a lot of different colors of thread, so we had to figure out a way to organize all the different colors.  We bought several items to help us to sort, label and organize our thread.

            When you think about it, we all do a lot of sorting, labeling, and organizing.  We organize our books, our tools, our dishes, our Pokemon cards.  We name and save files and folders on our computers.  We organize our schedule on smartphones.  We can all identify with the human propensity to sort, label, and organize all kinds of things in life.

            But while that might be good for thread and books, baseball cards or computer files, it’s not good to do that with the people in our lives.  But we live in a culture where we judge each other by outward appearances and first impressions.  We look at the outside of people rather than the inside.  We sort, label, and box people into categories of race, gender, class, politics, religious beliefs, age, physical and mental abilities.  We segregate.  We build walls between people groups.  We label people and keep them at a distance, because we evaluate people from a human point of view.

            But if we are compelled by the love of Christ, that will mean that we see people in a different way.  The love of God in Jesus Christ calls us to love others as God loves them.  That means that we need to view others based not on outward appearances or circumstances, but as people who are loved by God and have value in God’s eyes.  We need to see people from God’s point of view.

3.         We are compelled to share the message of Christ

            Verse 18 reads, “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)

            Paul says we are ambassadors for Christ.  I want you to think for a moment about that means.  What exactly does an ambassador do?  An ambassador is someone who lives in a country other than his or her homeland, and they live in that foreign country in order to represent the government at home. 

            There are a couple of ideas that are connected to the responsibility of an ambassador, so let me give you two words.

            First of all, belonging.  An ambassador belongs to another kingdom other than the place where he or she lives.  Those of us who are Christians belong to another kingdom other than the place where we live.  We are citizens of heaven first, and citizens of this country second. To be an ambassador means that we belong to the kingdom of Christ, not to the kingdoms of this world.

            Now, there is a sense in which we have a dual citizenship.  Even the apostle Paul, who said he was an ambassador for Christ, at times would claim the rights of his Roman citizenship. But he understood that he belonged to Christ and his kingdom first and foremost.

            To use another metaphor that Peter used in his letter, we are exiles. We are strangers in a strange land. This world is not really our home.  And we need to fully understand that if we are going to understand our role as ambassadors of Christ.

            Here’s one of the implications of that.  It means that we actually have more in common with an Iranian Christian than we do with an American non-Christian.  Do you believe that?  If you belong to the kingdom of Christ, you have more in common with a fellow believer who lives in a completely different culture, who belongs to a different country, has different citizenship, whose beliefs in many ways may be very different from yours, but you have more in common with him or her than you do with your next-door neighbor who is an American citizen but is not a Christian.

            And if you don’t believe that’s true, if you don’t feel that we have more in common with a Christian in another country than we do with an American citizen who’s not a Christian, then you are probably more immersed in secular American culture than you realize.

            But the reality is that if we belong to Christ, we belong to his kingdom first and foremost, and that trumps every other concern.

            There’s belonging, but then there’s also representation.  It’s not just that we belong to another kingdom, it’s that we represent the king.  If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you represent him.  It is our responsibility to live in a way that represents God himself.  We live on this earth representing heaven, living among people to give them a vision of what God is like, sharing the message that God has given us to share.

            You and I are given the responsibility to speak on God’s behalf.  An ambassador’s job is to deliver the message entrusted to him or to her. An ambassador’s job is to represent the kingdom of which he is a part, not to speak his own opinions but to faithfully deliver the message that has been given to him.

            The same is true for us. We are to deliver the message given to us by Christ.  And that message is this – it is a message of reconciliation.  It is a message that God wants us to be reconciled with us, and he wants us to be reconciled with one another.

            It is my desire to motivate you this morning to share that message of reconciliation with as people as possible.  But I’m not much of a motivational speaker.  So, all I can do is to remind you about the love that Christ has for you, and pray that the love of Christ will compel you.

            We ought to be compelled because we are convinced of what Christ has done for us.  And because of what Christ has done for us and for all people, we are compelled to see others not from a human perspective, but from the viewpoint of Christ who loved everyone enough to die for them.  And we ought to be compelled to serve as ambassadors of Christ, living as representatives of God, sharing the message with everyone that God wants to be reconciled with them.

            I pray that the love of Christ will compel us all to glorify God and extend his kingdom in this world.

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