2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

The apostle Paul is considered to be one of the great Christian leaders of his time. Indeed, his travels—at least his first three missionary journeys—dominate much of the book of Acts. And his letters—which were bound together and circulated amongst the early churches—form a major part of the back half of the New Testament.

Having said that, however, the Apostle Paul was not always seen in such glowing terms. Indeed, he came into the New Testament story as one who openly persecuted the church. After his conversion—and whilst undertaking his missionary journeys—he was often chased out of town by people who believed his teaching was a threat to their beliefs. And even in the churches where he established his ministry and teaching, he faced some very serious opposition.

But despite that—and even because of it—in this particular passage from 2 Corinthians, his theme is: reconciliation. And bearing in mind Paul’s history, we might well have expected him to immediately launch into an appeal for reconciliation between his detractors and himself. But interestingly, that is not the situation in this case.

And the reason for that, was that Paul believed he was a messenger of reconciliation. He believed that God had called him to be his instrument in the reconciliation of people with God. And as a consequence, no matter what Paul’s personal troubles were, Paul began this section of his letter in terms of the need for reconciliation with God.

In other words, first and foremost, in Paul’s mind was the need for the people at Corinth (and elsewhere) to appropriate by faith the reconciliation bought about by Christ’s death. And that superseded any need for any reconciliation between human beings.

But Paul was ever the realist. And so he then talked about the depth of that reconciliation.

Paul was very aware of the tugs and pulls on the members of the Corinthian church. Paul had lived in Corinth for about two years, and during that time he had been arrested and taken to court for preaching the Christian faith. So not only was Paul concerned that the people should be reconciled with God, but that they should have the depth of faith to stay reconciled with God too.

Paul’s readers had accepted the gospel and had experienced something of the grace of God of which it speaks. But Paul was concerned that their faith should be more than just superficial. Paul was particularly concerned that they could stand up to the influence of others on their lives, particularly those who were lurking in the background of the church, whose influence could be so destructive.

And then, having raised the issue of the need for quality reconciliation with God, only then did Paul go on to deal with his own personal issues: the need for reconciliation between him and certain members of the Corinthian church—reconciliation with those who were openly criticising him and his ministry. And as a consequence, he listed some of the things that he and his fellow workers had been through, in order to bring the Corinthians (and others) the message of the Gospel.

Throughout this section of Paul’s letter, then, the whole topic is on the need for reconciliation.
Despite his own problems with members of the Corinthian church, he saw the need for people to get their relationship right with God first—and not just in a superficial way, but in a way that was grounded in a strong faith and able to withstand the pressures to think and act otherwise. For then, and only then, having got themselves right with God, could anyone go on to be reconciled with others.

Now, of course, this whole teaching of Paul has certain ramifications.

After all, how often do we hear calls for peace in the world, for people and countries to cease from war, or to share resources with one another, and yet they have not first been asked to become reconciled with God? And how many people have we met who just cannot forgive someone else, and who has not been faced with the need for reconciliation with God either?

The importance of getting the order right: reconciliation with God first, then reconciliation with others, cannot be overstated. Because without reconciliation with God, true reconciliation with others is just not impossible.

Indeed, there are tribes and countries throughout the world who have, at times, pursued reconciliation with each other. But every now and again, old wounds are reopened and the fighting begins again. Yes, they may have been reconciled to each other once, but there is no depth to their commitment. Similarly, there are individuals who have pursued forgiveness, only for it all to blow up again.

Getting the order right then is one thing, but having that depth of commitment to reconciliation is another thing altogether. And that depth of commitment is just not possible without first having a meaningful relationship with God.

But once we have that solid commitment to build up a relationship with God—once we have accepted the idea of reconciliation with God first—then true reconciliation with others is possible. Indeed, it is no longer an optional extra, but should be part and parcel of every believer’s life.

Indeed, part of our commitment to God is to treat others in the same way that God treats us. As a consequence, we need to take the idea of being reconciled with our fellow believers very seriously. And we would do well to look at the extent to which the apostle Paul was prepared to go, in order to be reconciled to God, and for Christians to be reconciled with one another. And how seriously Paul took his ministry of reconciliation is indicated in the list of things he said about himself at the end of this passage.

The Apostle Paul, then, knew all about the need for reconciliation with God. And as an opponent of the Christian faith, he faced that need when he came face to face with the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road. From his travels, he also knew that any reconciliation—any commitment to others—needed to have solid foundations, because any superficial response would just not last.

For despite all his travels and efforts, and despite all his teaching, Paul knew what it was like to have people opposed to what he was saying and doing. And yet, he quite clearly knew that it was no good trying to reconcile with each other, without first laying the foundations by becoming reconciled with God first.

Posted: 26th May 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis