2 Corinthians 5 – What St Paul really said!

Posted: February 13, 2012 by J in Bible

This is the first of two posts trying to interpret that extraordinary passage, 2 Corinthians 5, and in particular 2 Cor. 5:21 – God has made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him!

Here we’ll give a reading of the whole passage. The trick in this passage is cluing into what Paul is actually talking about. I’ve paraphrased everything except the verse we want to discuss, 5:21. Didn’t want to pre-empt the discussion. Here’s how I see the argument’s flow:


What kept the apostles going? They’re such a miserable lot, always in scrapes. Paul describes what stops them losing heart, in 2 Cor 4-6:

Though our outward body is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed, as we look forward to the glorious future that is ours in Christ. Even if our body is destroyed, we won’t be left disgraced. It’s like a tent covering us, but we’re waiting for the building. This building is the future life, the resurrection body that God has promised us in Christ. He has given us the Spirit as a guarantee of the new body that is coming.

So when we feel demoralised, we don’t lose heart, in fact we know that as long as we’re in this home – our corrupt ‘fleshly’ body – we are away from our new home with Christ, who has gone ahead. We would rather be at home in our new bodies, face to face with the Lord, and away from this corrupt ‘flesh’ home.

But whether we feel ourselves to be at home or away from home, we have it as our aim to please Christ. For we apostles are directly answerable to him: we will be rewarded according to how we carried out our commission in this fleshly existence.

Since we will have to face Christ in this way, we are motivated to carry out our job as ambassadors faithfully, persuading people about Jesus. But we don’t need to commend ourselves to people – God knows what we are. No, rather we are wanting to give you ammunition to use when someone criticises us in front of you. We want you to be proud of us.

But our motive is not for ourselves, it’s for our role as ambassadors. Ultimately, it’s because of the love Jesus has shown at the cross that we push on with this persuading, even when it’s difficult and the personal cost is high.

For we are convinced that Jesus’ death changed everything. Mankind as we know it came to an end, put to death in Jesus our representative, at the cross. We see our race as effectively dead now. But the death was not the goal, not the whole story. Rather, the death-for-all led to resurrection for all, so that now humans might have life, not in themselves but in the one raised for them – in Christ who loved us so much.

This is such a fundamental change for humanity, that now we see everyone in a different light. We no longer relate to people as though corrupt flesh is all there is to them. Though we once related to even Christ that way, since his resurrection all that has changed. And not just for Christ: in fact anyone united to him is also new creation. The old has been replaced by new things – and all from God, who has reconciled us apostles to himself through Christ and by his Spirit has given us this ministry of reconciliation. We announce what God is doing in Christ: reconciling the world to himself. He isn’t holding people’s sins against them, but has actually brought (through us) this word of reconciliation.

On behalf of Christ, then, we serve as ambassadors, God appealing to the world through us. On Christ’s behalf we plead in this way: ‘Be reconciled to God! God has made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him!’

And as co-workers with Christ, we also appeal to you: don’t receive God’s grace in vain! Those troublemakers who slander us – don’t link yourselves to them. Open your hearts to us instead…

– and so on.


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