The Ministry Of Reconciliation 2 Cor. 5. 19-21
E W Rogers, Oxford
Reconciliation—Another Familiar Word. Those who wish to be “ambassadors for Christ” will be grateful for this valuable exposition of an important passage.
IT is regrettable that in both the A.V. and R. V. the pronoun “you” is inserted in v, 20, for it gives a wrong impression, of what the Apostle wrote. Paul is not here intreating the Corinthian saints, to be reconciled; rather he is informing them of the nature of the message which he, as an ambassador, delivered to men pursuant to his “ministry of reconciliation.” The inclusion of the word “therefore” (v. 20, R.V.) should have prevented the translators from adding the word “you.”
It is not to be supposed that the message “Be ye reconciled to God” implies that God is reconciled to man. God cannot change. “I am Jehovah, I change not.” If reconciliation is to be effected, it is necessary that man should return to his original attitude of believing God. The first man fell through unbelief and disobedience to God. If man is to be restored, he must believe and obey God. In other words, he must change his mind.
One essential part of Paul’s ministry was that
THE AGGRIEVED APPROACHES THE OFFENDER.
In the ordinary course it is the offender who makes overtures to the aggrieved with a view to reconciliation; but in the gospel it is God, against whom man had sinned, who approaches man with the view of reconciliation. It is not man who approaches God. The first step is taken by the God of all grace. “God was in Christ”; “God did intreat by us”; “God made Him to be sin.”' By these means God makes plain His attitude toward the sinner. He comes to him in the Person of His Son. He intreats the sinner to change his attitude toward God because a righteous ground has been provided whereby the guilt involved in man’s indifference and hostility can be righteously pardoned. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Another feature of Paul’s ministry was that
RECONCILIATION APART FROM NATIONAL OR OTHER CONSIDERATIONS IS MADE POSSIBLE.
“Reconciling the world unto Himself.” The fact here emphasized is that it is “the world” which is afforded the opportunity of reconciliation. This was God’s purpose in sending His Son into the world; for He so loved “the world.” In the gospel, legal and national conditions are set aside and “done away” with in Christ. The “middle wall of partition” has been broken down once and for all. The heart of God could not be restricted; it goes out to the whole human race and to every sinner. It was this which led Paul to Europe and urged him to enter “regions beyond,” and moved him to yearn for his own fellow countrymen and also to turn to the Gentiles.
Another aspect of Paul’s , ministry was that
THE RETRIBUTIVE DEALING WITH SIN IS SUSPENDED FOR THE PRESENT.
If God were “to impute unto men their trespasses” to-day, they would everywhere be summarily punished; but He has found a righteous way of granting an amnesty, and of thus affording rebels an opportunity for acknowledging the claims of the rightful King. Retributive dealing with sin is not cancelled; it is merely suspended. Sin must be followed by punishment, and unless a valid substitute is found the penalty must be suffered by the sinner himself. To the “glory of God” that Substitute is found in the One “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
AN ABSENT CHRIST.
Although God was in Christ, Christ was despised and rejected, and crucified and has now been received back into heaven. Yet the purpose of God in regard to sinners has not been defeated. “On behalf of” an absent Christ there are ambassadors going about who intreat; sinners; so that it is as if God, who was in Christ, were intreating by those who plead on behalf of or “in the stead of” an absent Christ. This is of vital importance, for Paul refers to it twice (see v. 20), “On behalf of Christ” (R.V.). The evangelist in his ministry speaks on behalf of Christ who, were He bodily present, would proclaim the same message, but, being absent, works through His ambassadors who themselves have responded to this ministry of reconciliation (v. 18).
They “intreat”—indeed, they “beseech” men to be reconciled to God.
THE RIGHTEOUS GROUND.
The offer to sinful man of reconciliation can be made with assurance because a valid ground now exists on which God can be merciful. Man is sinful: Christ was sinless: but God made Him to be sin, and the believer becomes “the righteousness of God in Him”; that is, “in” virtue of Him; or, “in” association with Him. “In Christ” man becomes a new creation: all things are changed. Christ took the place of the sinner who repents and believes so that the believer might enjoy all that Christ has secured.
“For us,” i.e., “on our behalf” (the pronoun is emphatic) He was made sin; “we” (also emphatic), though erstwhile rebels, are become righteousness. When a condemned, criminal has suffered the due penalty, the law thereafter has nothing against him. He is judicially righteous, because his crime has been expiated. In the believer’s case the expiation was effected by a valid Substitute.
All believers are not filled with the same enthusiasm which characterized Paul. The Corinthians certainly fell short in this regard. Hence Paul, does not exhort them to be reconciled, for they had been reconciled already, but he urges them “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6. 1). That is, he exhorts them that being indebted to the gospel they should not be negligent in making it known. He exhorts them to “work together,” seeing that “now is the acceptable time,” that is to say, now is the time when God is accepting sinners and imparting to them salvation. To-morrow may be too late for saints to serve and too late for sinners to be saved.