Good morning everyone. As you have heard this morning we’re thinking about our involvement in world mission and our support of those who have been sent out from this church to play their part in God’s work throughout the globe. We’re also continuing our series in 2 Corinthians and as we come to God’s word we need his help I’m going to ask him for that now.
Every so often in life something happens that makes you stop and think: “Who am I really, and what is my purpose in life?” Maybe it’s when your life begins a new chapter – moving to uni, getting married, having kids, starting a new job, your youngest child moving to uni, losing a spouse, retirement. But it’s a question for every one of us to grapple with – whatever our stage of life. There’s a classic film from the 1980’s called Ferris Beullers Day Off (worth seeing if you haven’t). In the film, there’s a well-known bit where the main character says “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” Well, the pandemic has slowed most of us down, restricting choices and limiting busyness. All of us have had our ordinary made abnormal, our familiar unfamiliar, routines disrupted, dreams and plans interrupted, and relationships made difficult. Perhaps now is a good time to stop and think: “Who am I really, and what is my purpose in life?”
Let’s turn now to 2 Corinthians 5. In today’s passage Paul, who wrote this letter, makes the point that if you are a Christian then that is going to massively effect your answer to those questions. Have a look at 2 Corinthians 5.17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Although Paul was deeply religious he hadn’t always been a Christian. He had heard of Jesus but he thought Jesus was a weak man who chose to do crazy things with his life. The fact that Jesus was killed so brutally, as a criminal on a cross only confirmed to Paul that Jesus could not be part of God’s plan. But then he met the risen Jesus – in fact while he was on his way to persecute and kill Christians. And meeting Jesus changed the whole direction of his life. It changed his view on who he thought Jesus was. It also changed how he viewed himself– and what he lived for. Look back to 2 Corinthians 5.15:
…he [that is Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Paul now sees that the weakness he saw in Jesus and the things Jesus did that Paul used to think were crazy were actually part of God’s plan to rescue people who were as good as dead and bring them new life. He has become convinced of a certain truth: Jesus died and was raised. For their sake. He died for all. That wasn’t crazy – it was life-giving. Paul was now a new creation. He no longer lived for himself. Instead he now lived for the one who died to save him. And he now had a totally different perspective on who Jesus is and why he came. 2 Corinthians 5.16:
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.
This was a radical transformation – and it changed his goals and aims in life, influenced every decision he made. It’s what drove him and what really matter to him. It also changed how he viewed others. In these verses he refers to his viewpoint before he became a Christian as ‘according to the flesh’. And so now there are two changed perspectives. First who Jesus was and second his view of others.
That matters because among the reason Paul wrote this letter was to show up as false the teaching of some (even in the church at Corinth) who were downplaying who Jesus was and what he came to do. Those same false teachers were also saying that Paul was hardly worth listening to – after all he was clearly weak, and lived in a way that most sane, ordinary folk would regard as unbalanced, unhealthy and possibly unhinged. It’s the behaviour of an extremist and a fanatic. This was evidently what the Corinthian Christians were thinking. Was Paul really a genuine apostle and man of God? Do truly ‘spiritual’ people behave in this excessive, almost lunatic, fashion?
However, says Paul, we can tell those who are a new creation because of their view of Jesus and when that is accompanied by a radical, Jesus-centred lifestyle, which measures the value of things in a different way. He goes on to make it clear that these changes are nothing he or they can take credit for. All this is God’s work. 2 Corinthians 5.18:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…
This is the heart of the gospel. That reconciliation was needed between every man and women on the planet and the one who created them. Why? Because our desire to live for ourselves comes from not trusting him or his plan for our lives. Our desire to live for ourselves – our sin - has caused a separation between us and God. The initiative, the momentum and the purpose are all from God. He sent his son, Jesus to reconcile us to himself. How? 2 Corinthians 5.21. Incredible verses!
For our sake he [Jesus] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We’re so used to evil, we can easily become desensitized to how awful it is. But God is not like that—our sin offends him, grieves him, alienates him. Yet he offers to forgive us. But reconciliation cannot just mean forgiving us but ignoring the sin that destroyed our relationship with God. While God is merciful and forgiving by nature, he is, at the same time, the holy one who cannot simply say of evil, “It doesn’t matter; let’s forgive and forget.”
The solution? God made him…to be sin. This is about the crucifixion of Jesus. The event that Paul once saw as evidence of Jesus’s failure was in fact God’s masterplan. The darkened sky when Jesus died is powerful sign of what was going on. God treated Jesus as a sinner. Jesus bore the punishment that should have been mine. And me? Well I get treated as one who knew no sin – I receive a righteousness that is mine if 2 Corinthians 5.17 I am ‘in Christ’. I am now a new creation – the old has gone and the new has come. I am forgiven and all that is true of Jesus is true of me! 2 Corinthians 5.19:
…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…
That’s was the incredible message that turned Paul’s life upside down – that transformed him from rebel against God into a beloved and forgiven son of God. And that meant living a new life in Christ that reached into every corner of his daily existence. It wasn’t just one extra ball in his life to juggle, as just one of the responsibilities or interests competing for his precious time and resources. Rather it transformed everything he did in life, and determines how he thought about every aspect of his life. As the song we just heard put it:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
There’s one final point from these verses we need to see and that is that God’s work in the world is not finished. He continues to reconcile men and women to himself in Christ, and he has a role for us to play in that. Look at 2 Corinthians 5.18-20:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
Paul of course had a special role in God’s plan as an apostle. But he’s not just talking of his role here. When God reconciles us to himself in Christ he also puts us to work – as ministers, as messengers as those who ‘work together with him’ as it says in 2 Corinthians 6.1. Remarkably, God uses ordinary people like us—people who speak his word to others, and people who pray for his Spirit to work in other people’s hearts. If anyone is in Christ, they’re not just a new creation they are ‘Ambassadors for Christ’. That at least is part of the answer to who am I? You may not think of yourself as a channel for God’s powerful word. Perhaps you think that’s best left to the ‘professionals’ (to the pastors and theologians and evangelists and missionaries). They’re the ones with the training, after all. But weak and inadequate for the task that is what we are – ambassadors for Christ.
For Paul the good news about Jesus wasn’t an academic topic or simply a case of you do you and I’ll do me. Paul language is deeply emotional and passionate. You see him at work here as an ambassador for Christ in 2 Corinthians 5.20:
…We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
He’s talking to you! He’s told you all that Jesus has done for you! How are you going to respond he asks? Will you enter into a relationship of reconciliation with God? All this is from God – he has done it all. All that is required is for you to ask God for the forgiveness he has provided for you in the death of his Son. God will surely forgive you; there is no doubt about it. But you must ask, simply acknowledging your need for forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 6.2:
…now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
The task of the church has always been to take the good news that reconciliation with God and forgiveness of sins is now possible through Jesus to everyone. We see that all over the Bible —that God uses not just ‘professionals’ to speak his word, but all of his people. So, think through your week and the places that only you go to and the people that only you meet. Are you there by accident? Not at all! God has put you there. If someone is going to tell those people about Jesus it is going to be you. So why not pray for wisdom in learning to ask questions, opportunities to extend loving service and hospitality, and for God’s help to listen and imaginatively speak and live out the gospel with a creativity that might intrigue those God brings into our path.
But we also need to deliberately and intentionally take that message to the whole world so that everyone might know the good news. There are many millions of people who have never heard the good news of Jesus. Many who are unreached with the news of the good news that we can be reconciled to God. Paul had a passion to take the gospel message where it had not been heard before. And that is what drives those who have gone out from this church to serve as mission partners. They work together with God to take that message to the ends of the earth.
What about you? Might it be possible that you too could deliberately move to a different place so that those who are not currently reached can hear the good news about Jesus? That will not be for everyone. And those who do this are not more important or more spiritual than those who don't. But it is an important question to ask it because one of the things the church can and should do in response to those unreached people groups is to help identify, send and support those who can invest in a lifetime of intentional cross-cultural missionary work. Please get in touch with me if you’re even just beginning to think that might be a possibility – I’d love to chat and pray that through with you.
Or perhaps you can play your part in making the most of the incredible opportunities we have in the UK to reach students and others from across the globe many from unreached people groups. Or by strategically moving somewhere else to do what you’re doing now - living and work – but in in a part of the world where there is no Christian witness and so as to help start a new church in that area.
What part can you to play in order to get the good news about Jesus to everyone in the whole world? It won't look the same for you as it will for others - God has gifted us differently and at different stages in life we have different pressures and opportunities. But we all have a part to play. And I’m praying that God will help us to love and value what Christ has done for us more and more – because there’s no way we will extend ourselves to share the gospel with others if we don’t cherish it ourselves.
I’m so grateful to God for the generous and consistent support for world mission that I see at our church. And right now there are a team of us reviewing this area of our church life and looking at how we can further strengthen and develop this area – and I look forward to sharing more with you about that over the coming months. But let me mention two further ways you can support world mission at JPC:
1. Probably most crucial of all is in prayer. It's part of our church culture that every time we meet on Sundays or midweek meetings we pray for God's work across the globe. And each one of our home groups has a link to one of our mission partners - and you’ll be hearing more about that at our next home group on 11th November. Let’s keep in touch with and praying for those who have gone out from our church – I suspect that when we get to heaven we’ll realise how significant that was! And it would be great to make prayer for gospel growth worldwide a regular part of your own prayer life – so if you don't do this already, why not make contact with one or two of our mission partners and pray for them regularly? If you use the church prayer diary, there are always prayer updates from our mission partners.
2. As well as praying, you can also give financially. The Bible encourages us to give regularly a proportion of our income for God's work and our suggestion is to give half of that to JPC and half to world mission. Yu can find details of our giving scheme on the website if you need it. Your money can help to spread the gospel to all the world. So have a think about that and let the office know how you’d like us to distribute your giving. We also give to world mission at services of holy communion and once a year we have a special gift week. This year it will be to support Ryan and Lulu Muir who are moving to work among mandarin speakers in Hong Kong. I’ll be emailing more details to you all on Tuesday – so look out for that.
Well, we began with a question: Who am I really, and what is my purpose in life? For those who are ‘in Christ’, that is our identity – we are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! And what is my purpose in life? we no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us. We grow in maturity as God works in us to make us more and more like Jesus and we as ‘ambassadors for Christ’, working together with prayerfully speaking God’s word to them that they too might be reconciled to God.