Category Archives: suffering

A New Creation: Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:17

My most favorite verse as a kid was 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,” (ESV). As a kid, that verse stuck with me more than any other, even John 3:16. However, I did not fully understand that verse at the time, and only recently did I seek to know really what Paul was writing. I found it insightful and helpful to examine the context, and so I quickly want to show you what I discovered. Like any other verse in the Bible that is so easily plucked from the roots of context, it shrivels. It isn’t all that it was ever meant to be. The context of this verse goes way back to chapter 4, though there is an immediate context just before Paul penned the words.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote that the god of this world has blinded the people from seeing the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus (cf. v. 4). In essence, the unbeliever is much like the beginning of this created universe. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deed,” (Genesis 1:1-2a, ESV)… In his original state, the unbeliever is empty and dark. However, at any moment God can illumine the unbeliever just as he did creation. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV).

What we then see is a new work of creation. We are re-created from dark and empty to full of light and meaning. That means all of life is different! Look at what follows. It is not that life is grand all the time, but life takes on new perspective. “But we have this treasure [the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV)… The reason for having this treasure is for us to show God’s surpassing power. God is glorious; not us. God’s power is glorious; not ours. Thus, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies,” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, ESV). One of the greatest differences that comes with moving from death to life–darkness to light–is that we realize that life is not about us, but about God and Christ. All of life is about them. We exist for their glory and their adoration.

That doesn’t mean that we do not feel the effects of this mortal life. Affliction is real. Perplexity is genuine. Persecution happens. Martyrdom occurs. “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV). How we long to move from our temporary residence of this body to a permanent one.

When I was 8, most of my family and I moved from Indiana to Georgia. We had planned on buying a newly-built house and move in the same day as signing. However, after packing up all our belongings and driving down, we found out there was a little known law that made it illegal to buy a house while making payments on another house in a different state. We couldn’t close on the new home, and so my parents, thinking our Indiana house would sell quickly, went and bought a tent. We lived–yes lived–in a tent at Jellystone Camp Ground for a few weeks. Then we “moved” to High Falls Camp Ground. For six weeks, we lived in a tent. It was clear that our house wasn’t going to sell, so my parents upgraded to an Airstream trailer. For a year we lived at KOA campgrounds. After a year, my dad became pastor of a small church that had a parsonage. It was ok living in a tent, better living in a trailer, but great to live in a house. We could not wait to move from the tent to the trailer, but then again from the trailer to the parsonage. In the same way, Christians who know their permanent dwelling, cannot wait to get there even in the midst of being content where they are.

Again, this contentment comes from His light shining in our hearts. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him,” (2 Corinthians 5:9, ESV). Because we have the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we seek always to please him. But beyond that, we seek to bring others to him so they too can live in such glorious knowledge. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others,” (2 Corinthians 5:11a, ESV). But the climax comes in verses 14 and 15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (ESV). The love of Christ controls us. The question though: is Christ the object of love or the subject of love? Is it Christ giving the love or is it Christ receiving the love. It’s ambiguous and probably purposefully so. Christ’s love for us and our love for Christ controls what we do. When we love someone, we find ourselves doing things for them that we never thought we’d do. When someone loves us, the same thing happens. It is no different with Christ. Why? Because we have concluded (there’s that idea of knowledge again) that he died for us and so we are to live for him.

That’s what Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 5:17. All that we have gone over (and more!) is summed up in this one little verse. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” The interesting thing is that “he is” in this verse is added. The RSV adds “there is” and is probably right because it is not simply that the believer is a new creation (though he is), but there is set before him a new creation. He is a small part of something newer and grander. The old (creation/order) is passed away. Behold! Look! Understand! The new (creation/order) has come to the one whom God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” He has and is making all things new.

The Discouraged Pastor

I remember hearing in Bible college what many a student going into the ministry has heard. “Look around the room. In five years, half of you will quit the ministry; in 10 years 90% will have quit.” Why? Various reasons. Some would have moral failures. Some would realize that pastoring or the ministry wasn’t really what they were called to do. Some would either burn out or get so discouraged that they simply quit. As is often the case, many have come out of the seminary or Bible college gate running hard. Their plans, their hopes, their dreams, their conquering hell with the gospel spirit following fast behind. Soon though, reality happens. Ministry is hard, hard as a brick wall. People turn out to be stubborn–even Christian people! Preparing sermons week after week is more difficult than expected. Visitors come and go, never to return. Some come for a while, then disappear without a trace or explanation. Church members get angry and hurt. Soon those hopes and dreams turn to despair and discouragement. What does one do at that moment? In that moment, I would give the advice that the writer of Hebrews said, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith,” (13:7, ESV).

So let’s go back to certain leaders in the Bible. As I was studying Deuteronomy this past week, I was reminded about Moses’s not being allowed into the Promised Land. Except somehow I had missed this tiny bit of information: “And I pleaded with the LORD at that time saying, ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon,'” (Deut. 3:23-25, ESV).  Moses pleaded with God to let him go into the Promised Land. How have I missed that!? He had spent 40+ years with the Israelites and wasn’t able to enter into the land with them. God refused his plea. In fact, God told him never to ask again. The case was settled. His ministry would not turn out the way he wanted or planned.

But it wasn’t just Moses. David also could not do what he so longed and hoped to do. What did he desire? To build God a house, to build Him a temple like no other. And here is the thing. He received encouragement from a godly man, a prophet named Nathan. “And Nathan said to David, ‘Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you,'” (1 Chron. 17:2, ESV). The problem is that Nathan spoke too soon. God was not with David in his plans. Nathan had to take a step back, going to the king with egg on his face so to speak. He had to report God’s message: “When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever,” (1 Chron. 17:11-12, ESV). While God honored David’s plans, thus there was nothing wrong with them, David was not the one to fulfill that dream.

But there is more. Elijah, the greatest prophet outside of Moses, was anxious to see revival in the land of Israel. He had proven that God is God and that Baal was a figment of the people’s imagination. God had consumed the altar, burning even the dust beneath. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God,'” (1 Kings 18:39, ESV). Revival! Not so fast. Jezebel would have none of it. Her threats sent Elijah fleeing from the place, dejected and discouraged. Upon the Mt. Horeb (the very mountain Moses received the law), God came to Elijah displaying wind, fire, and an earthquake. This was a replication of Moses’s experience. Yet this time, God told him that He was not in those things. In other words, there would be no revival. My favorite sermon of all time is from Ligon Duncan on this passage. I am including it in this post. I would encourage you to watch it. If you’ve already watched or heard it before, watch it again.

Two of these men accepted what God had told them: Moses and David. Elijah did not. Moses continued on, though death was near to lead and to help Israel even though he could not take them all the way home. David continued, making plans for Solomon, leading the kingdom, and trusting in his God. Elijah was dejected and for all intents and purposes quit. Ministry is difficult. Yet, let us trust God and continue on. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his step,” (Prov. 16:9, ESV). It is good to plan within the ministry, but trust God to establish your ministry and plans as He sees fit. I do not pretend to never have been discouraged and downhearted. I absolutely have. I need to remember this just as much as anyone else.

Incidentally, this goes for life as well.

Ligon Duncan: 2012 Sermon from T4G.