For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one [f] according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ [g]according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, [h]he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a car accident.
I’ve been in a few – obviously none of them fatal, though of course it’s hard to know just how close to fatal some of those road accidents might have been. What I do know for sure is that all such accidents are scary!
Most of my scary automobile moments have been on dirt roads. I’ve been driving alone for a while – normally for an hour at least – and my mind has wandered from its appointed task. I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next when I arrive at the place where I am going, or I’m thinking about the conversations that I had with the people I just left behind or, most likely, I’m trying to think up some new ideas for the sermon that’s encroaching on me from the following Sunday!
And then all of a sudden I realise I’m going too fast! And there’s a sharp turn coming up and I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it round that turn!
And so the body tenses up as I try to rapidly apply whatever expertise I have to trying to find that magical balance between just enough brake and just enough turn and (as the wheels start to skid) just enough slide, such that I can keep the vehicle on the road.
And, thanks be to God, I’ve thus far been successful in terms of maintaining ultimate control of the vehicle. I’m yet to topple it or drive it off into a ravine or anything like that. I did blow a tire once on one of those dirt roads, though that may have been the bursting tire that caused the skidding and swerving on that occasion. I couldn’t be sure. The whole thing was all just one chaotic blur!
I had a fully-laden car trailer in tow on one of those occasions. That was scary! You can’t afford to drive too fast, you know, when you’re towing a fully-loaded car-trailer on a dirt road? Who would have guessed, but you can take my word for it!
The first indication you get that you’re going too fast is that you realise the vehicle that you are towing is swaying from side to side – a phenomenon that I was subsequently told is referred to by those in the industry as ‘the death wobbles’. Thankfully I survived the death wobbles.
Now I don’t know if car accidents are the first thing that you think of when you read Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 – “For the love of Christ controls us” – but they were for me, as in both cases the issues is control (or the lack of it).
“For the love of Christ controls us”, Paul says, and we know what he means, and we know what a wonderful thing it is to feel that our lives are being controlled by the love of Christ, but it’s also a bit scary too, as we know that yielding control to Christ inevitably means losing the control that we had to some extent, and most of the time we work really hard to stay in control!
‘Control’ is such a strong word, and while I confess that I’m not normally one for doing detailed analysis of the Greek text when I prepare for a sermon, I did on this occasion take a look at the original text as I really wanted confirmation of what was on St Paul’s heart when he spat this one out!!
“The love of Christ controls us”, Paul says, and the Greek word he uses – ‘sunecho’ – normally means to ‘seize’, such as when the police might seize somebody they are arresting. And indeed the word can even be used with reference to being seized by an illness!
And again, that is a disturbing image!
Indeed, I know that sense of losing control when being seized by an illness even better than I do the parallel experience with the car accident, as I remember very well the experience I had a few years ago where I collapsed and lost control, and where it seemed that my body was hurtling down some unwanted path towards a destination of its own choosing, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it (until the doctors in the hospital correctly diagnosed it as a staff infection in the kidneys, and were able to prescribe the correct form of antibiotics)
Now I appreciate that ceding control to Christ is not really like being overcome by an illness. It’s more like being overcome by health! Even so, the ‘out of control’ aspect is the same, and there’s something very paradoxical about that because the truth is that a lot of people take up religion in order to gain greater control over their lives!
Isn’t that the truth? Religion provides people with stability. It provides us with answers. When we’re not sure what’s happening or where we are going, religion functions to reassure and comfort us.
Well, perhaps it depends on what brand of religion you take up? They say that churches always grow during times of war, but only fundamentalist churches – only churches that seem to provide you with all the answers.
My experience of faith in Christ isn’t like that, of course. My personal experience has been that while Jesus has been the answer to so many of life’s fundamental questions, that same Jesus has raised more questions for me that He has answered!
I suspect this is our common experience – that while Jesus gives us absolute clarity about key elements of life – the mercy of God, the beauty of faith, and the everlasting nature of love – He sullies the water enormously in other areas.
I mean … we thought we had people figured out, didn’t we? We thought he had people categorised and classified into the good, the bad and the ugly! We thought we knew who were our friends and who were our enemies and who was our neighbour and where our responsibilities started and where they stopped, but “from now on”, St Paul says, “we regard no one from a human point of view.”
From now on, because of Christ, we can no longer look at people or things in the same way, and indeed, we can’t look at people any more the way we look at things.
We thought we had people all worked out, just as St Paul thought he had people all worked out. Paul knew who his friends were, who his family was, who he could trust and who he couldn’t, and it could be worked out entirely along racial lines!
Your fellow Jews were your sisters and brothers, your friends and neighbours – those you could trust and those you needed to make an effort for, and everybody else was the great unwashed, “but from now on” he says, “we regard no one from a human point of view.” (vs.16)
Why not? “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (vss. 14-15)
The one – Christ – died for all, and so now we can regard no one from a human point of view. For he died for all – not just for the Jews, not just for the rich, not just for the straight, not just for the righteous.
He died for all, and so now we can regard no one from a human point of view any longer. All are loved by Christ, all are those for whom Christ laid down His life, all have been judged worthy of the offer of eternal grace, and therefore all are our sisters and brothers. We cannot regard anybody in any other way any longer!
That’s what happens when the love of Christ controls you – you start seeing other people as Christ sees them, and that’s a bit scary because we thought we had everything under control. We had our budgets worked out and our retirement planned and we knew exactly where our responsibilities started and where they stopped, and then Christ came along and mucked everything up for us!
Sisters and brothers, it’s a simple message today, based on a simple passionate outburst from St Paul. There’s no esoteric application of divine law involved, and no real need for further intricate analysis of the original text. There’s just a simple exhortation: let go of the steering wheel and yield the control of your life over to Christ, and then let the magic happen!
I remember when I was younger in the faith, I read something written by a more mature brother, whose name I can’t remember. And I can’t remember his exact words but I remember the gist of it very well. He said,
“When I was a young Christian I used to think that the walk of faith was about having Christ at my side to help and support me in my work. When I got a bit older in the faith I realised that it wasn’t about Christ helping me in my work but about me helping Christ in His work. More recently I’ve realised that it’s about neither of those things. It’s just about me getting out of the way so that Christ can do His thing!”
And I remember when I first read that I thought, “That’s a very pious thing to say”, but the further I get down the track the more I realise how spot on that is!
The further I get down the track the more I realise that I am not the answer to the world’s problems!
I am not the one we have been waiting for! That’s a disappointing realisation to come to but it has to be said. I am not the person people need. I am not the answer. The answer is Christ, and the most significant thing I can be in this life is simply to be some sort of conduit, as best I can, for the love of Christ.
“For the love of Christ controls us”, says St Paul. Christ has taken control of us. He has us in His grip, so that now we can no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and was raised for us! And that’s a bit scary if you want to remain in control, as it’s a path that is full of risks and uncertainties, but it’s a great adventure!
I’ve mentioned my ambiguous record as a driver already today. Something that I seem to be much better at, at least in terms of avoiding accidents, is running (probably because I never run the risk of going too fast).
At any rate, I’ve been running for about an hour each day for most of the days this year, and I run a lot at night, wearing a headlamp, as the Cooks River run from Dulwich Hill to Homebush contains a lot of very dark patches.
And as I’ve run I’ve often reflected on how much my night runs mirrors my walk of faith, chiefly because I can never see more than a few steps ahead at any one time.
Life with Christ is like that, I find. I can’t see exactly where the path is leading. I know it has a good destination, but most of what lies ahead is completely obscured in darkness. I can only see the next two or three steps ahead, but that’s enough!
And so we find ourselves hurtling down this track, constrained, controlled, compelled by the love of Christ, who has us in His grip and so drives us forward!
For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
First preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill on June 17, 2012. To hear the audio version of this sermon click here.