Newness and reconciliation

This Sunday I’m preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

One of the things that jumps out immediately to me is this: we are reconciled and given the ministry of reconciliation. The “new creation” is given a new “job”. “Therefore” says Paul, since we are reconciled we are ministers of reconciliation. Not we can be. Not we should be. Not some of us are.

I’ve always rejected the title “minister” for clergy. Frankly, it’s a cop-out; outsourcing ministry to the few who are ministers on behalf of the church, who tithe, pray and cheer him on. We baptists adamantly defend the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, yet seldom apply it well. Many use it as a weapon- “the clergy can’t tell me what to do. I answer to God directly, without clergy intercession.” True as that may be, the leaders of the church are called by God to lead (not be intermediaries, doling out absolution). But the priesthood of all believers means we all perform priestly functions. ALL OF US. Prayer ministries, hearing confession, sharing the Word, discipling/mentoring, teaching etc. That’s what the spiritual gifts are all about; different functions, equally divinely appointed.

The other side of this which is a bit tougher for some Evangelicals is the “new creation” is a new identity given by God which includes a call and responsibility (free, but not really)- salvation is not just me without sin. Jesus died for my sins, but there’s a lot more to it. We aren’t given a clean slate, but a new self, a new birth, a new life in which God forms who we are. Jesus didn’t die just to take away my sin, instead, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We become the righteousness of God- living testimonies and reflections of who God is. Grace is paradoxically both freeing and demanding of everything.

Of course that leaves us with the whole reconciliation thing. What is that all about? Here’s an excerpt from the IVP New Testament Commentary (Linda Belleville. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 1996, available free online through http://www.biblegateway.com):

Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the noun katallage(reconciliation) and verb katallasso (to reconcile). The basic idea is to change or make otherwise. In Greek social and political spheres the term denoted a change in relations between individuals, groups or nations, while in the religious arena it was used of relationships between gods and humans. In Paul’s writings, God is always the reconciler. Those in need of reconciliation are hostile human beings (2 Cor 5:18-19; Rom 5:10-11). This is the reverse of Hellenistic religion, where it is the human being that seeks restoration of the gods’ favor, and also of Judaism, where confession of sin and repentance are the means by which reconciliation with God is sought (as in 2 Macc 1:5; 7:33; 8:29, Vorlander 1978:167). The initiative now is with God who changes a relationship of enmity to one of friendship.

We are ministers of reconciliation because God, through Christ is pursuing this new creation. We become a link in the chain, a cog in the Kingdom, which is working to move, renew, recreate, redeem and bless the world. Reconciliation is about God “reassigning” us to the Kingdom design. It seems odd that Paul rarely uses Kingdom terminology (“kingdom of God” or it’s equivalent is used only 8 times in the surviving Epistles of Paul, whereas it appears 50 times in Matthew, and 39 in Luke). But the fact that he speaks of ambassadors implies a kingdom mentality. We speak on behalf of the one who reigns. We are part of the work of the Kingdom, taking the priorities of God to a place where God is not recognized as ruler.

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