Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Have you ever tried to persuade someone into doing something? You know what I mean, someone you know, maybe a good friend, your spouse, or even your children, you are trying to get them to do something. But they aren’t too keen to do it. What do you do?
Well, you might try sugar-coating it. “Won’t it be fun?” or “You’ll like it I promise!”
You want them to make their own choice, but you sure are going to try to get them to make the choice you want them to make.
If that doesn’t work, what do you do?
Well, sometimes it depends on who your dealing with. If you’re dealing with your friends, you may start begging a bit. “Would you please do this with me?”
Or if it’s your children, you may opt to make the decision for them. “You’re coming, and you’ll like it!”
If it’s your spouse… well it could probably be either of those depending on the situation.
If someone has their mind set against something we want, it’s hard to change their minds. They are, after all, their own person, capable of making their own decisions. But when it’s something we really want, it’s hard to take no for an answer.
God has given us the ability to make our own decisions. That’s one of the great things about God. He gave us free will. We can pretty much do as we please. Which includes the decision whether or not to come to church, for instance.
However, with this decision making ability, while we try and make good decisions, we sometimes make bad decisions. Sometimes we might even make those bad decisions on purpose, knowing it’s a bad decision.
I’m not saying that’s any of us here, but there are people in this world who make bad decisions. 99.99999% of the time we never hear about it. It’s that tiny percentage who make the news which scares us as we see people do terrible things through the decisions they have made.
I’m not trying to scare anyone today, but I’m just wanting to highlight that we all make decisions, many, many decisions on a daily basis. We start making them as soon as we wake up in the morning.
“How much longer should I lie here before getting up?”
“What should I have for breakfast?”
“What do I need to do today?”
It on it goes from there, all day long. Now, most of the decisions we make are good ones, only occasionally we might make a bad one… I hope.
It’s the same with our relationship with God. We make decisions every day which impact our relationship with Him. Most of the time it’s probably pretty small stuff. But we also have the ability to decide to not be in relationship with God.
I’m assuming we’re all here because we have made a decision to at least explore the possibility of a relationship with God, if we haven’t already decided to do so.
Counter that with the fact that most of the people in this town have chosen to not explore this relationship. They have chosen to not go to church this morning, or any morning. They have chosen to not be in relationship with God. Some have even chosen to not believe in God.
We all have faced these options at some point in our lives. Some of us may have struggled with it far more than others. But I think, if we’re completely honest with ourselves and with one another, we’ve all questioned why we should bother to have a relationship with God.
You wouldn’t be the first. And you won’t be the last either.
I’m reading through the Old Testament right now, and I’m with the Israelites as they are walking with Moses through the wilderness. A number of times people come to Moses to complain that God isn’t with them and they were better off as slaves in Egypt. All of this WHILE THEY ARE FOLLOWING A PILLAR OF SMOKE AND FIRE!!! Like this is a common occurrence or something in their day.
God isn’t with them? Then who’s driving the stagecoach? Who’s the one moving the pillar of smoke and fire in the direction God said He was going to take them?
And they want to choose to leave God in the desert?
That’s just one example of many from the Old Testament where people chose to not be in relationship with God. It’s a recurring pattern really. Adam and Eve did it in the garden of Eden. They chose a life apart from God when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, knowing full well there would be punishment if they ate from it.
So if these people who had clearly visible signs of God couldn’t make it, what chance do we have to get it right all the time?
This is where Jesus comes into the picture.
People just weren’t getting the message. People kept figuring it had to be the rules which were most important. Like if they could go down the checklist and see all they did right, and avoided the things listed as bad, then they would be ok. It didn’t really matter in the end about the relationship, it’s about the rules.
Rules are good. Rules help us know immediately right from wrong. If a cop pulls me over because I was speeding, then I pay the consequences (not that it has ever happened, honest!).
But rules can’t comfort us. Rules don’t give us hope. Rules are just a list of things to follow. Relationships are what have a real impact on our lives.
Could you imagine if you were getting married and all through the ceremony all you heard about were the rules you had to follow? Instead of promising to love each other through the highs and lows of life, you decided who was going to take out the garbage each week, and who was going to make dinner every night.
God gave rules to people in the Old Testament, yes He did. But the rules weren’t meant to be the “most important thing.”
The 10 Commandments weren’t a list of rules, they were how to live in relationship with God and with one another. Break those rules and relationships get hurt.
But people misinterpreted what the rules meant and how they were to be implemented. They thought those rules, and the many others that were created, were meant to be a means of control. Which then meant many other relationships were hurt, both between people and between people and God.
God wanted to get the true meaning across. He really wants people to understand the importance of relationship. This is where Jesus comes in.
Jesus, the Son of God, came to the earth to show how real relationships are meant to be. How in these relationships we’re supposed to love one another, just as God loves us.
When two parties are separated, when there is division, where love is not the primary motivation for communication, then relationships are broken, and people are broken.
Jesus came to show us it’s not about the rules themselves, but the reason behind the rules. And he came to show us the importance of relationship, between ourselves and between us and God.
In the passage of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we are looking at this morning, he wrote this,
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
In Christ, that is we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of our lives, we are reconciled to God. This is how God brings us back into relationship with Him. A relationship which was broken when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree.
To be reconciled with God is to be healed in our relationship with Him. We become one with God. Or maybe as Jesus put it in John 15:15,
“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
Servants serve. They are hired hands who do work, following the orders… the rules… put in place by their masters.
Friends don’t act in this way. Friends share. Friends walk together, sharing in the stories of the journey.
Jesus calls us friends when we allow him to come into our life and renew us in our relationship with God, when we allow Christ to reconcile us to our Father in heaven. Because when we are reconciled, when we are made new, when we are brought back into agreement with God’s ways, then we have a Father in heaven. A Father who loves us. A Father who longs to be part of our lives. A Father who shares with us in our journey, rejoicing when we rejoice, comforting us in our pain, and always being near.
When we are reconciled to God in Jesus, we then know our Father in heaven.
In Matthew 11 Jesus says,
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:25-27)
It’s through Jesus that we get to know our Father in heaven, because Jesus is the one who reveals him to us. Not as adults, not as people who are seen to know it all, but as children.
What is one of the greatest things about children? They ask questions. They want to learn and grow. They want to figure out how the world works, and they want to do it with people they trust and love.
Are we willing to be children to God?
Are we willing to put aside our strongly held beliefs, to drop the guards we use to protect ourselves and open ourselves up to the wonder of seeing what our Father in heaven has to offer us?
That’s what it takes.
We like to think we know it all. We’ve seen a lot in this life we’ve lived. We’re pretty sure at times we have it all figured out. We’ve learned as we’ve aged, and we’re pretty sure we know what it takes to make things work.
That’s what Jesus describes in Matthew 11 when he said God hides things from the wise and intelligent.
God doesn’t want people who think they know it all and will try and boss Him around. God wants us to be His children. He wants us to trust Him and explore the world with Him. He wants to show us the great wonders of the world, which for Him is based in love.
Our Father in heaven wants us to feel His love as we become His precious children. And He wants us to share that love with others, just as Jesus showed God’s love to the people he met.
When we are reconciled to God through Christ, we are more than just His children. We are His church. And what does Paul have to say to those who represent God? He says,
… in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us… (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)
We become ambassadors for Christ. We don’t brag about our relationship with our Father in heaven, we share it. We now have a ministry of reconciliation.
God is reconciling the world to himself, as Paul puts it. God isn’t counting our sins, He is showing His grace and mercy through this reconciliation He offers through Jesus Christ.
This amazing gift, one we could easily argue we do not deserve because of many decisions we have made in our lives, the many mistakes we have made, the many sins we have committed… this gift is freely offered in grace and mercy.
Some people like to shy away from the letters of Paul. I am drawn to them. Paul writes so passionately about what it means to have faith. He spells out what we need to do so clearly, and what the benefits are in knowing Christ as the Son of God. For some people I suppose the words are too strong, too challenging, too hard.
But Paul speaks the truth. Paul names what he sees and knows what it mean when it comes to being faithful people of God and disciples of Jesus Christ.
He sees it as full submission, giving up everything in service to God in the name of Jesus Christ. It means we come to know our Father through His Son, and the sacrifice he made on the cross so that we might become the righteousness of God.
It’s not about who we are, it’s about who God wants us to be. It’s about learning from our Father and letting Him raise and guide us to be His children.
This is who we seek to be.
We aren’t to be like stubborn, set in our way people, we’re invited to be in awe and wonder in the presence of God, like children, learning and growing. Being molded into His likeness showing traits of our Father, naturally like most children pick up traits from their parents.
I see in my kids how they have picked up habits from Bev and I. Some I’m happy about, others they could have skipped. But I see how there are skills and abilities that Bev and I have which our children now exhibit.
From Bev they got the brains, from me they got a love of sports. One of which will get them a long way in life. I guess it’s a good thing I married Bev then, for their sake.
If we become children of God, we are renewed by our heavenly Father. God will help us to grow as His children. As we grow, we will see His traits develop within ourselves. And the first of these will be love. When we experience the love of our Father there’s no way we can hide it. His love changes lives, and people take notice. And when they take notice, they will want to know His love too.
We won’t even have to say anything. People will notice the change in us without us even speaking a word about God. We won’t need to preach, we won’t need to be amazing evangelists knowing just the right words to lead someone in prayer to know the Lord. It will just be natural.
Our actions, our lives will reflect the love of God we receive to others. Our joy in knowing our Father, being in relationship with Him will impact more than just our own lives. It will impact our families and it will impact our communities.
Am I lying to you?
No. I know this because it happened to Paul and it happened to me. And I’m still learning as I grow in relationship with my Father. He is still working on me. He is still working on my weaknesses and my sins. He is still leading me and guiding me, on those days when I choose to listen. In His grace and mercy, I am still being reconciled. I am still being transformed, I am realizing I still have so. Much. More. To learn.
Submitting ourselves to God, becoming His children and giving up the control of our lives that we so badly want… it’s not an easy thing. But it’s the right thing.
It’s also not a one time thing either. We must fight the temptation each and every day to take back that control we so badly want.
We must be our Father’s children, and we must be willing to be obedient children so that God can raise us up to be just like Him.
What more could we ever want? What more could we ever need? If God wants us, who are we to say “no”?
Come back to God again today. Come back to your Father and know His crazy love for you, despite all the wrong you may have done in your life.
He loves you! He really does!
Be His precious child. Know our perfect Father, and be made new in and through Him.
Amen and amen!