Exegetical Notes: 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2

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.

“From now on, therefore” – Places strong emphasis on on the content of verses 14-15. Christ’s death is the foundational act/event that controls our actions: 1) that we would be controlled by his love, 2) that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him [14], and who we are, namely, a new creation [17]. 

“according to the flesh” – NIV translates this as “from a worldly point of view”.

APP: As believers, we should not assign value to individuals based on worldly measurements of worth (i.e. money, power, fame, beauty, etc.). Instead, Christ’s love as demonstrated in his reconciling death (Rom. 5:8) places each person on equal footing. Through Christ, each of us has become “a new creation”. 

“we regard him thus no longer” – God’s regenerating work changes our perspective on the nature of who Christ is. Take note of Jesus’ conversation with the disciples in Matthew 16:13-17. See also 1 Corinthians 1:22-24. 

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

See v 15. The regenerating power of God allows us to live for Jesus, not for ourselves. It impacts the decisions we make (v15) from selfish sinner to sacrificial saint. It impacts the mission of our lives (v 20).

“in Christ” – This phrase, “in Christ,” can mean several things that are not mutually exclusive: that one belongs to Christ, that one lives in the sphere of Christ’s power, that one is united with Christ, or that one is part of the body of Christ, the believing community. Paul’s assumption is that being in Christ should bring about a radical change in a person’s life. David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 286.

A simpler way to view this term (which occurs some 25 times in Paul’s writings) is to understand it as the intimate fellowship Christians experience with Christ.

“creation” – to make or create something which has not existed before—‘to create, creation’ (in the NT, used exclusively of God’s activity in creation). Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 513.

APP: This theological truth works itself out in our lives in the fact that once we encounter the indwelling Holy Spirit, believers see the world in a new way.

“the old” – Meaning the old self, the old thing we were.

“has passed away” – Aor. Act. Ind. 3. S. this verb carries with it the sense of finality of passing.

“the new has come” – This verb tense (perfect) emphasizes something that happened in the past, but has continued significance or action in the present and future.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

“All this” – The act of becoming a new creation (the change in our relationship with God, the change in our attitude toward the things of God, and the change in our actions toward God) is a work of God himself.

ILL: Where I grew up, it wasn’t uncommon to occasionally see a turtle on a fence post. You may not understand the reasoning behind it, or who did it, but one conclusion was clear. He didn’t get up there by himself. Our salvation and spiritual transformation is much the same. We may not understand the particulars, but one thing is for certain. We didn’t do it ourselves.

“who through Christ reconciled us to himself” – Several important theological truths emerge from this phrase. 

1) God’s saving work occurs through Christ.
2) Reconciliation implies a relationship which needed repair.
3) God took the initiative to repair his relationship with people. Ironically, the offended (God) took action to restore the offender (man). See Romans 3:23-26. 

“gave us the ministry of reconciliation” – What God has done for us is meant to be shared with others. The word “gave” implies that what we have been given: 1) the gospel, 2) the ministry of reconciliation have great value. 

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.

Paul clarifies God reconciling of mankind to himself.

1) God did it
2) through Christ
3) by not counting their trespasses against them.
4) and now using the reconciled to share how others might experience their own reconciliation.

“reconciling the world to himself” – As Beck rightly comments, “There is no reconciliation when one side is willing to put the past behind them and the other side merely takes advantage of it.” He notes that reconciliation requires both sides to acknowledge the wrong, and for the injured party to let go of the pain. God has confronted us with our transgressions but has taken the initiative in Christ to resolve the problem they have created. God has let go of the pain of our wilful rebellion and does not count our trespasses against us. But it remains for us to accept that we have done wrong, to repent of it, and to accept God’s offer of friendship. Not all will do so; some will defiantly continue to snub God. David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 293.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

“ambassadors” – to function as a representative of a ruling authority. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 481.

The basis for our position as ambassadors is because God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.

What an amazing thought that God uses us!

the great purpose behind why we are called jars of clay. It is to show the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are weak, we are frail, we are lame — and yet, we are chosen. We are loved. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28).

Our only boast is in Jesus our Lord who is for us our wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption (verse 30). He is our perfect righteousness, who not only meets us in our weakness, but covers our every sin and deformity by his blood. – Trillia Newbell. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-s-good-to-be-a-jar-of-clay

He does not act on his own authority but under the commission of a greater power and authority who sent him. Paul therefore understands himself to be divinely authorized to announce to the world God’s terms for peace. David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 295.

Are we the kind of ambassador that is believable? Do we possess the ongoing testimony that the lost would listen to us? – BE AUTHENTIC. TAKE CHRIST SERIOUSLY.

QUES: Do we give a bad taste to family, friends, co-workers, strangers…?

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.

In this verse Paul’s goal is to clarify how a holy, just, and righteous God could get away with “not counting their trespasses against them. 

see also Colossians 2:13-14.

“For our sake” – There is no font bold enough or big enough to lay proper emphasis on these three words.

“him to be sin who knew no sin” – The need for the substitutionary death of Christ is made clear in this verse. Christ became something he was not (sin) so that we could become something we are not (righteous). Through the death of Christ, a divine exchange occurred, whereby, God takes our sin by bearing it on the cross and giving us his righteousness in exchange.

6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

“Working together with him” – We share the gospel with God, not apart from him. See Revelation 22:17. It is a combined effort of the Holy Spirit and the redeemed proclaiming the gospel and awakening others to their need for salvation.

“in vain” – see 5:15. In Paul’s thought, to receive salvation and in turn, live for one’s self would be to “receive the grace of God in vain”. We have been given the gospel and the ministry of reconciliation. In short, the gospel should be lived out in believers lives and shared with others.

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

“now” – by repeating this word twice within verse 2, Paul lays emphasis on the urgency to 1) share the gospel and 2) accept it into one’s life personally. 

All of us are under time constraints concerning the gospel. There is no salvation after death. If must happen within this life. The fragility and uncertainty of life (“jars of clay”) should cause us to lay hold of the gospel now.