This is the THIRD week in a five week series on ENCOURAGEMENT. Which is how we can ALL speak God’s word to each other in love, so that we grow in maturity.
We’ve seen how GOD is a speaker. How he communicates with words. And how his words are POWERFUL.
And we’ve seen that God’s words have changed US. And that through US, they can change OTHERS, TOO.
And that’s what we’re going to look at in a bit more detail TODAY. How God can use US to change other people.
It’s the BEST THING about this job. I get FRONT ROW POSITION to watch God’s word CHANGING PEOPLE.
(DEAN gets front row position to watch HOUSES change. Walls go up and roofs go on. Windows and bathrooms and light fittings go in. That’s pretty exciting change. But, as good as Cape Cod extensions are, it’s change that’s not THAT IMPORTANT.)
(Gordon and Jo get to watch people grow in their ability to speak English. Which is EXCITING! And people’s lives REALLY CHANGE for the BETTER. But it’s not THAT IMPORTANT.)
But I love MY JOB because I get FRONT ROW POSITION to watch God’s word CHANGING PEOPLE. And I get to be PART OF IT.
But it’s not just ME who gets to watch it, and be part of it. We ALL do. We get to see God’s word changing US. Or our kids. We see it changing us in home groups or youth Group or Kids church. We see it changing non-Christians into Christians. We see it changing people sitting NEXT TO US here in church from week to week.
Sometimes it’s slow and gentle and small. Like a tree growing bigger. And the changes in people are GRADUAL. And you can only see them over the long haul.
Sometimes it’s change that’s violent and fast, like a tornado. Or an earthquake. RADICAL change, where God turns someone’s life on its head.
And, unfortunately, sometimes, like Jesus promised, it’s THE OPPOSITE. Sometimes, God’s word LOOKS to be powerful, but just like a seed that’s fallen on rocky ground, or among weeds, the change doesn’t LAST. And people go back to their old lives. They fall away.
And that’s the TOUGHEST part of the job.
But in OTHER spots, the seed lands in good soil. And the seed GROWS. It PRODUCES FRUIT. The roots of the message grow DEEP into people. And they’re convincingly, thoroughly, and lastingly changed. And there’s nothing more exciting than THAT!
Right in the middle of the section we just read, Paul puts it like this. 2 Cor 5:17.
if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the OLD has gone, the NEW has come!
A new creation!
The old worry and fear about THE FUTURE is replaced by a new ACCEPTANCE AND PEACE.
The old temper and anger replaced by a new gentleness and humility.
The old idols of work and money and acceptance and pleasure replaced with a deep joy in knowing Christ and being known by him.
Selfishness replaced by love.
Pride and self-centredness replaced with servant-hearted sacrifice.
Foolishness in decisions replaced with a balanced, godly wisdom.
An insecure shyness replaced by a quiet confidence in Christ, and a willingness to give new things a go.
Attitudes of thinking you were good enough for God replaced with a genuine recognition of sin, of repentance, and an grateful amazement at the wonder of grace.
I could embarrass some of you by naming you. But I won’t. But I can honestly look around at you this morning, and see each of those changes in people out there.
And that’s EXCITING! But it’s also encouraging and challenging, too. Because as I look at all of those things happening, I’m challenged to look at MYSELF. To ask whether I’m displaying those same changes. Those same attitudes and actions.
So what’s the powerful Word God speaks that can bring about change like that? It’s THE GOSPEL. The message about Jesus. About his life, his death. About his resurrection. And about our response to that. That’s the gospel.
And that’s not something you hear ONCE, and then move onto something else. It’s not like the key that opens the front door of the house. You get in, and then you put it in your pocket and forget about it. It’s not like that .
You can’t say “I heard the gospel at a Billy Graham crusade in 1977. That’s when I became a Christian. I don’t need to hear that anymore. That’s for non-Christians.”
The gospel is a message we need to keep speaking to each other over and over again. To keep REMINDING ourselves of who we really are. Of how helpless and hopeless. How UNDESERVING we are of grace. And how GOOD grace is. Of how GLORIOUS Jesus is. And how everything is for HIS glory.
1. The message
Let’s see how Paul puts that message. As he speaks to the Corinthians. It’s a message that he speaks to NON-Christians. But it’s also a message he CONTINUES to speak to the church. And to US. WE need to keep hearing the message of the Gospel. Because that’s what God uses to CHANGE us. Pick it up in the middle of v14.
…we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore all died.
One short sentence. But it summarises what Jesus did. And then what WE do to respond to that. First, Jesus. And the point he’s making is that there’s been A SUBSTITUTION. ONE person dying IN PLACE OF many. One died FOR all.
We’re sinful people who deserve judgment. Eternal separation from God. But rather than leave us where we DESERVE, God bridges the gap himself. He sent Jesus who willingly gave himself as a sacrifice. In obedience to his Father. To take the punishment we deserved.
That’s what it means that ONE died FOR ALL.
Like what happened with Sergeant Michael Lyddiard in Afghanistan in 2008. He’s a bomb disposal specialist who was called to examine a roadside explosive device. He made sure the area was evacuated. Then began to disarm it. Risking his life to save others.
But the bomb suddenly exploded. He was seriously wounded. Apparently losing an eye and a leg. But because he’d cleared the area, everyone else was saved. He bore the brunt of the explosion. TOOK ITS DESTRUCTIVE FORCE ON HIMSELF. SO THAT OTHERS WOULD LIVE.
Same with Jesus. He died in our place. To take the destructive force of God’s wrath on himself. So that we might be saved its effects.
Down in v18, Paul puts it a different way. God’s made us new (v17) by RECONCILING us to himself. Making us his friends. Through Christ. God’s the one who bridges the gap caused by our sin. Jesus takes the wrath, so we can move from ENEMIES to FRIENDS.
That’s what JESUS does. Then back up in v14, we see OUR RESPONSE. (One died for all) and THEREFORE ALL DIED. Somehow, our response is TO DIE. Which is explained in v15.
15 (And he died for all), that those who live SHOULD NO LONGER LIVE FOR THEMSELVES BUT FOR HIM WHO DIED FOR THEM and was raised again.
Our response is to LIVE FOR HIM. To no longer live for ourselves. To DIE to that person. And, instead, to LIVE FOR Christ. That’s what it means to be CHANGED. To be a NEW PERSON (v17).
And that’s the gospel. The message we need to keep speaking to each other.
The second point in the outline is to do with THE MESSENGER. Paul’s the one in view here. But what he says about himself is no different from what’s expected of ALL CHRISTIANS. Because God’s preferred method of delivering his message – his offer of a fresh start – is through ONE person telling ANOTHER person. There in v18- we’ve already looked at the FIRST half.
18 All this is from God, who reconciled US to himself through Christ and GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION:
Whoever’s been RECONCILED, is given the MINISTRY of reconciliation. It’s part of the deal. It’s “US” who’s been reconciled. So it’s “US” who’s been given the MINISTRY of reconciliation.
Ministry sounds like a fancy word just for professionals. Like a government portfolio – minister of reconciliation. But it’s actually just the word for SERVANT. Or even SLAVE might be a better translation. God gave ordinary people the job of being SERVANTS. Slaving away, offering his message of reconciliation to OTHERS. SERVING them in that way.
Is that how YOU think about yourself?
V20 gives it a different title.
20 We are therefore Christ’s AMBASSADORS, as though God were making his appeal through us.
An ambassador’s an officially-appointed representative. That’s what Christians are –GOD’S OFFICIAL SPOKESMEN AND WOMEN. “As though God were making his appeal through us!” That’s a heavy responsibility.
Many people’s only experience of what GOD is like is by looking at YOU. By listening to YOU!
What sort of ambassador are you?
The same word that’s used of Christ standing in OUR place. Is used of US standing in Christ’s place.
“One died FOR all (that’s v14 and 15). And in v21, God made him who had no sin to be sin FOR us”. That’s Jesus standing in OUR place.
But then v20 says this. We are ambassadors FOR Christ. Same word. (Our versions don’t have the word FOR). As though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you ON CHRIST’S BEHALF (it’s same word again- FOR Christ) – be reconciled to God.
Christ has stood up for US. OUR job is to be standing up for him. He made the tough decision – took the hard road – for US. Let’s do the same for HIM.
And if you’re tempted to take that for granted, listen carefully to Jesus’ warning. Lk 9:26
26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
He’s stood up for US at the cross. We’re to stand up for him in THIS life. And then he promises to stand up for US on judgment day.
We’re AMBASSADORS. Let’s do our job of representing well.
The THIRD description Paul uses of the messenger really flows from the SECOND. If we’re ambassadors for God, then that makes us his FELLOW-WORKER. There in Ch 6:1.
6:1 As God’s FELLOW WORKERS we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
God’s got a message to get out. And he’s given the responsibility, in normal situations, to US. He’s making his appeal through us. We implore people ON Christ’s BEHALF.
Just stop for a moment, and THINK about that. Working alongside the God of all the Universe! God’s CO-WORKER! How WEIRD that an infinitely powerful God would choose to use people LIKE US to work WITH him. Surely, it would be much more EFFICIENT if he did it all himself. But he’s chosen to work with US.
It’s a great comfort – that all of the resources of heaven are backing us. God’s Spirit guiding us, giving us courage. Giving us the words to say. Opening the eyes of people we talk to, helping them understand.
We don’t HAVE to get the whole message out every time. We don’t HAVE to push the point. Close the deal. We don’t HAVE to stress over whether we’ve used the right words. We might sow the seed, but only GOD can make it grow.
It’s a COMFORT. But it’s also a great CHALLENGE. That God wants to work WITH you and THROUGH you and ALONGSIDE you.
But to DO that, you need to start WORKING. To pick up the tools. To take your light from under your bushel. To open your mouth. To break down barriers. To build bridges. To mend fences.
God’s waiting. With all the resources of heaven. To help you. But you’ve got to take the step to SPEAK. God uses words, and he works when WE use words, TOO.
Do you recognise the WEIGHT of that responsibility? You may be the only Christian some of your friends and acquaintances WILL EVER KNOW!
Or with CHRISTIANS. People here at church. Are you sitting back, waiting for OTHER PEOPLE to say those encouraging things? Perhaps NO ONE’S doing it. Perhaps there are people here this morning who are close to walking away from it all, and they’re hanging out for someone to NOTICE. For someone to ASK. And then to actually look like they’re INTERESTED in LISTENING TO THE ANSWER.
Are you sitting back, only talking to the same people each week? The people you feel most comfortable with? Or sticking to the TOPICS OF CONVERSATION you’re most comfortable with..
Go on. Toughen up. Take a risk. Go out on a limb. Build a bridge. Don’t risk Jesus being ashamed of you, because you’re too embarrassed to speak up.
Write the card. Make the phone call. Pull out the Bible at the dinner table with your family. Remind someone of what’s so good about God. Tell them what you’ve been reading in the Bible. Invite them to pray.
Get below the surface. Open up about yourself. Be vulnerable, so someone else will be more confident to open up about themselves.
Introduce yourself to someone new. Invite someone to lunch. Or out for coffee. Or a beer.
Say thank you. Give reasons. Make a list of what you appreciate in someone. And TELL them. TELL them you’re praying for them. And PRAY.
How well are you DOING at that? Individually? How well are we doing that as a church? How can we be doing that better?
What do OUTSIDERS say about us? Or maybe more importantly, what do people who’ve been here for YEARS say? People who are part of the furniture? Would THEY say we’re doing well? That we’re working hard? Or would they say we’ve dropped the ball? Got soft and flabby?
And let me give you the encouragement to do it by sharing Paul’s MOTIVATION. What put the fuel in his tank to live the life he lived. And see if it can motivate YOU TOO.
Paul was certainly PASSIONATE about his message. V20. He IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. It’s a strong word. We PLEAD with you. Or Ch 6 v 1 – we “URGE you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.
Paul knows the danger. And rescuing people is a matter of life and death. Like surf life savers on the Gold Coast. The swell is huge. Rips on both sides of the flags. And overseas tourists are just playing around in the water, unsuspectingly. Then suddenly, they’re dragged out to sea by the rip. And before they know it their lives were in danger.
They didn’t realise it. But the lifesavers can see exactly what the surf was doing. What the danger was. And they’re PLEADING with the people. URGING them. Stay between the flags. Get out of the danger zone. They’re blowing whistles. Waving arms. Helping people out of the water.
Same with Paul. As a minister – a servant – of reconciliation Paul IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. BE RECONCILED TO GOD. As Christ’s ambassador, he PLEADS with people GET RIGHT with God.
That’s a NEGATIVE motivation. So people DON’T end up in judgment. But the CLEAREST indication of Paul’s motivation comes from v14. Have a look at it with me.
14 For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that one died for all...
Paul’s driving motivation was the unshakeable confidence that Jesus had died FOR HIM. Taken his place. Died HIS death. Simply out of LOVE.
That’s because he’s SPEAKING THE GOSPEL to himself.
And so he spoke the gospel to OTHERS, TOO. His whole life DRIVEN by the desire to see OTHERS rescued. From the moment he was converted. The instant he’d received his fresh start, he wanted OTHERS to get that same chance.
He was COMPELLED by Christ’s love.
James Johnson was on board the ship Dunbar when it tried to enter Sydney Harbour in 1857. But, in the fierce storm, the captain mis-judged his approach. By the time he saw the sheer cliffs of South Head looming out of the mist, it was too late. The ship smashed against the rocks. Absolute tragedy – 121 people on board died.
But James was the one person who survived. He was plucked from a tiny ledge on the cliff he was clinging to.
But that experience MOTIVATED James Johnson to be the FIRST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER for the lighthouse that was eventually built on that spot.
He was a man who knew the danger. But he also new the WONDER of being saved. He was filled with gratitude for having life. And so he was motivated to want to save others as well.
If you’ve known the wonder of a fresh start. The delight of experiencing Christ’s love and God’s forgiveness. If you’re CONVINCED of the reality of being God’s friend. If you’ve spoken the gospel to YOURSELF.
Then let that motivate you, energise you, to implore people on Christ’s behalf… be reconciled to God. Speak it to OTHERS so they might be encouraged. Built up. So they might walk more closely to Jesus, and follow his purposes better.
One of the passages in the study this week was Ephesians 4. And I’ll finish with these verses. About how Christ gave gifts to his people – gifts of prophets and apostles and teachers and pastors and evangelists. And the point of gifts like that (V12 of Eph 4) was
12 to prepare GOD’S PEOPLE (that’s ALL of us) for works of service, so that the body of Christ MAY BE BUILT UP (that’s the goal in EVERYTHING we do) 13 until we ALL reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and BECOME MATURE, ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (In other words the goal is that we’ll all be STABLE and SOLID) 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, (all of us) we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.
What a picture! What a goal! May God work that in US. Amen.