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2 Corinthians 5:16-21 1
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Background

Paul was the founding pastor of the church at Corinth, a cosmopolitan city on the Isthmus of Corinth (an isthmus is a narrow strip of land that connects two land masses) connecting the mainland of Greece (Northern Greece) with the Peloponnese (Southern Greece). Paul spent approximately eighteen months in Corinth on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:1-11).

After leaving Corinth, Paul traveled extensively (Acts 18:18-23), settling in Ephesus for an extended period of time (Acts 19). During that period, he wrote at least four letters to the Christians at Corinth. His first letter has been lost to us (see 1 Corinthians 5:9). His second letter is the letter that we know as 1 Corinthians. He wrote a third letter—a severe letter—”out of much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Corinthians 2:4) so that when he visited Corinth he “wouldn’t have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice” (2 Corinthians 2:3). He wrote a fourth letter, which we know as 2 Corinthians. He visited Corinth again after writing this fourth letter (2 Corinthians 12:14).

In addition to their wealth, Corinthians worshiped Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. The worship of Aphrodite is believed to have started around the 8th century B.C. and fully developed by the time of classical Greece (510 B.C. – 323 B.C.) with the temple of Aphrodite atop the Acrocorinthus, the mountain overlooking Corinth. The temple of Aphrodite operated with a culture of promiscuity. There were at least eleven other pagan churches in Corinth.  To fully appreciate the letters of Paul to the church in Corinth, there are two important points to keep in mind:

  • First, Paul is responding to problems, disruptions going on in the new Christian church. By Paul’s letters, we can deduce that the leaders of the new church wrote Paul asking for his advice.  However, we do not have these letters.  So what we have are the answers but no questions, a difficult way to fully understand Paul’s writings.
  • Second, the new Christian church was literally surrounded by pagan churches practicing prostitution.  Their priestesses were no doubt upset at a doctrine preaching to avoid them because their practices were sinful. It might be safe to conclude that leaders from those other churches were part of the disruption.

With this environment in mind, we should read Paul’s advice as specific to Corinth, for leaders to take hold and bring God’s order to the church. Underlying much of 2 Corinthians is the fact that “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ’s apostles” (11:13) have mounted significant opposition to Paul’s ministry. For the Apostle Paul, “flesh” (sarx) is not simply a “human point of view.” Paul defines this “flesh” as power that is diametrically opposed to God’s Holy Spirit. According to Romans 8:1-17, to live according to the flesh is to have a mind that is hostile to God and a life that displeases God. Living according to the flesh leads to death (Romans 8:6, 13).

For Paul, the desires of the flesh are in no way in alignment with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:16-24). In Galatians 5-6, the fruit of the spirit is the very sign of God’s act of new creation — God’s act of transforming and redeeming and calling all people into newness of life. In 2 Corinthians 5:16, when Paul says that he no longer knows anyone “according to the flesh,” Paul is again acknowledging his life in Christ and that the Holy Spirit is at work within him. God is the one who has granted Paul this new perspective (5:18). God has rescued him from the power of the flesh and enabled him to walk according to the Spirit.

The renewed person acts on new principles, by new rules, with new ends, and with the company of new people. The believer is created anew; their heart is not merely set right, but a new heart is given them. They become the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. Although we are the same  person, our character and conduct is new. Our old self offended God so God has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. By the inspiration of God, the Scriptures were written, which are the words of reconciliation; showing that peace has been made by the way of the cross. Christ knew no sin yet He was made Sin; not a sinner, but Sin, a Sin-offering, a Sacrifice for sin. The end and design of all this was, that we might be made the righteousness of God through Christ.

Christ’s death and resurrection represent God’s victory over all the powers that stand between humanity and Himself. God is reconciling the world through Christ. Therefore, humanity no longer has to be enslaved to sin’s power (see also Romans 5). Rather, as Paul says in Romans 5:10, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” As a recipient of God’s acts of reconciliation, Paul is committed to being an ambassador of this new age (5:20).

Being reconciled to God indicates that God’s Holy Spirit is at work to sanctify the reconciled into vessels of God’s righteousness. It is amazing that Paul can say to this church in Corinth, a church that has bickered with him and challenged him, that God is powerful enough not only to reconcile them to God Himself, but also to transform them into “the righteousness of God.” God’s righteousness is on the loose. God’s kingdom has dawned. There are glimpses of God’s new creation even in the struggling church at Corinth. God’s power to rectify simply cannot be contained. For a world held captive to all manifestations of sin’s power — to fear, anxiety, social injustices, war, starvation, and exploitation — this is good news, indeed, that God is winning.

Items for Discussion

  • After reading these verses and commentary, how would you describe a righteous person?
  • We live in a world filled with sin–How does one keep from being pulled into it?
  • In what ways do people “masquerade as false apostles, deceitful workers?”
  • What are the ways you have found to tell if the “gospel” you hear and see is the REAL Gospel of Christ?
  • What are the ways that each of us can keep focused on the “New Person in Us” that Paul says we become through Christ?

Discussion Challenge

  • Righteousness is a choice: How should we be helping our world choose God?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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