What Compels You Back to all sermons

Date: September 11, 2015

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:14–6:2

Tags: missions, gospel, motivation, love of Christ

Synopsis: The title to this message from 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2 is What Compels You? What are the driving forces in your life? And how do they compare or contrast with that of the Apostle Paul? The message includes an interview with ECC missionary Pastor Moses Undru.

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When Jesus left the earth to return to heaven he left behind only a small band of committed followers. In total, they only numbered around 120 people. Yet within a generation, their message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ had penetrated to Rome and the corners of the Roman Empire. What drove those early followers of Jesus? What motivated them to risk hardship, persecution, loss, even death to spread their message?

There have been waves of mission effort at various times in the church’s history. I grew up on the stories of the modern mission movement; stories of men like William Carey, David Livingston, Hudson Taylor and Samuel Zwemer. They left their homes, their countries, all that they knew to take the Gospel to the world. It was a risky undertaking. The death toll was incredibly high. Like soldiers hitting the beaches of France on D-Day, they went forward to establish beachheads for the Gospel throughout the world. They knew that many would die. Some even packed their worldly possessions in coffins for the journey, knowing the coffin would be used, sooner rather than later, for someone in their party. What drove them to take such risks?

In the years immediately following the Second World War, a new and fresh wave of missionary volunteers arose in the West. Many of them were returning from the battlefields of the war. Now they were ready to leave home and country again to pursue a different kind of conflict and conquest and a different cause; the cause of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. What stirred their hearts to take up this cause? What was the beat of the drum to which they marched?

We live in a new century and a new millennium. The world has changed significantly. New and powerful forces are abroad in our world. Radical Islam threatens world stability. Waves of desperate refugees are on the move, looking for a safe haven for their families. Economic uncertainties frighten us. World governments teeter and topple. It may be tempting to respond like a tortoise, to pull our heads back into our shells and hunker down and wait out the storm. But times of uncertainty are also times of great Gospel opportunity if we are willing to seize them. But the question comes: what will drive us forward into the storm? What will send us out into the world’s dark night, bearing the light of the Gospel of Christ? What will motivate the next generation of Christians to take up the mantle of those who have gone before us?

To answer that question, I want to go back to the first century, to the first generation of the church to find out what drove them. In this morning’s message, we are going to focus especially on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 and 6. We are not going to exhaust the entirety of this text. We are simply going to search it for the answers to our question: Paul, what drove you? In chapter 6, verse 4 and 5, Paul speaks of: “great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

What would prompt anyone to choose such a life? Not just choose it, but persevere in it? What was the secret of Paul’s “great endurance”?

The first answer we find is that Paul had A Powerful Motivation. Paul speaks of this motivation in 2 Corinthians 5:14: For the love of Christ controls us…

The NIV translates that “For Christ’s love compels us.”

This phrase requires careful reflection. First of all, is Paul speaking of our love for Christ or of Christ’s love for us? The grammatical construction can bear either meaning. “The love of Christ” can refer either to a love of which Christ is the object; a love which flows to him. Or it can refer to a love of which he is the source or origin; the love which flows from him.

In one sense, these two can never be completely separated from each other in the heart of the follower of Christ. However, I believe Paul is speaking primarily of Christ’s love for us rather than our love for Christ. I base that conclusion on the fact that the very next phrase speaks of Christ’s love for us with the words: because we have concluded this: that one has died for all (verse 15)

His death was motivated by love as Paul tells us in Romans 5:6-8:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Why is this distinction important? When we speak of our love for Christ, we speak of an emotion that can wax and wane like the moon. As precious as our love for Christ is to him, it can never serve as an adequate motivation for our service for him. It is too fickle, too changeable. But Christ’s love, the love which originates from him, is a constant; clearly proclaimed and demonstrated for all time. It never changes, never wanes, never varies.

But there is even more here. It is not just Christ’s love for us that should compel us. It is Christ’s love for the people to whom he is sending us. Christ didn’t just die for you and me. It says “he died for all.” There are people for whom Christ died – who have yet to hear his name, let alone to hear that he loves them. This love of Christ, which he demonstrated in his death, is what Paul speaks about when he states: For the love of Christ controls us.

Let’s look a little closer at this word “controls” or “compels”. It is interesting to note that the KJV accurately translates this as “the love of Christ constrains us”. The original Greek word literally means to hold or squeeze together. It is a word that can be found in a variety of contexts in the ancient literature. It is used of pressing on one’s ears to shout out sound. It is used to describe a city surrounded and besieged by enemy armies. It is used of a strait that forces a ship into a narrow channel. It is even used to describe a cattle squeeze: a device that traps and immobilizes an animal so that the farmer can administer a medication.

Let us be honest. Most of us do not like constraints. We do not like to be squeezed, restrained or confined. We like to be free, to have elbow room, to have choices. What does Paul mean when he says the love of Christ constrains us? A number of years ago I heard a sermon on this passage by a preacher from Scotland by the name of Eric Alexander. He used an illustration that beautifully captured what Paul is saying here. It is the illustration of a river running its long course toward the sea. As it runs, it passes through various kinds of terrain.

For part of its course, it passes through flat level plains, with nothing to hinder the flow of the river. Through such terrains, the river is free to run as it chooses without constraints, picking its own path to the sea. It sounds rather wonderful doesn’t it? Isn’t that how we define freedom? To do as we choose without limits or constraints.

But let me describe the river as it runs through such terrain. First of all, the river will tend to spread out and become very shallow. It becomes like the Platte River in the upper Midwest of the United States which is sometimes described as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Secondly, a river running through such terrain will meander and run without direction, winding back and forth, aimlessly seeking the easiest route, turning and twisting to avoid the slightest sandbar or obstacle. Finally, the river will run without power. There is little strength in the current and little speed in the flow. Engineers do not choose the broad and flat areas of a river to install their turbines and capture the river’s power. I am sure that you have seen pictures of such rivers if you have not seen them for yourself. (Shallow, powerless, directionless)

But then there are other sections of the river’s flow. It is the same river, the same volume of water. But the terrain changes and now the river’s flow becomes constrained as it is increasingly forced into a narrower and narrower channel between high canyon walls. What happens to the river as it is squeezed? First of all it begins to run deep. It begins to roar with its increasing power and drive. Instead of being turned aside by the smallest sandbar it now finds the power to cut its way through solid rock. Finally the river now flows with direction and purpose as it pushes its way toward the sea.

Now I would ask you; of these two sections of the river, which one most accurately describes your life up to this point? Which one would you like to be a metaphor for the rest of your life? Paul declares, “The love of Christ constrains us.” For Paul, the love of Christ formed the high canyon walls of his life, constraining him and yet, at the same time giving his life depth, drive and direction.

What about our lives? Are we meandering through life, a mile wide and an inch deep, so enamored with our freedoms that we lack any sense of purpose or direction or power, turned aside this way and that by every little obstacle? We need to contemplate the deep, deep love of Jesus; not only his love for us, but his love for the lost world around us. We must allow his love to constrain us and compel us and keep us focused with a powerful motivation. This is what Paul goes on to say in verse 15: 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.

A life for a life. He died for us, so that we should live for him. That is a powerful motivation. This is the motivation which has driven every wave of Gospel advance in the history of the church.

We have a powerful motivation. We also have A Life-Changing Message. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:17-19:

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.

The key word in this section is “reconciliation”. The word means to change or alter a relationship from one of hostility, enmity and estrangement to one of friendship, peace and harmony.

To understand this reality, we must go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship of peace and harmony with God. God used to come and walk with them in the garden in the cool of the evening. It is a beautiful picture of friendship between God and man. But then Adam and Eve sinned. They disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit.

What was the first thing that happened? They were ashamed. When God came to walk with them, they were afraid and they ran to hide. Sin had created a barrier between them and God. A state of alienation now existed. From Adam until now, every child born to human parents has been born in that state of enmity, with a bent toward sin and disobedience. We are God’s enemies. C.S. Lewis says it this way in his book Mere Christianity. “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

God has taken the initiative to reconcile us to himself through Christ. As Paul says in Romans 5:10:…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…

And now that we have been reconciled to God, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation and been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. This is not unique to Paul and the other apostles, or to missionaries and pastors. If we have been reconciled to God through Christ, then we have been given this ministry and this message. It is truly a life-changing message that men and women, boys and girls can be brought into a right relationship with God by trusting in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. And this change in relationship transforms the follower of Christ from the inside out. We become “a new creation.” “The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

We have a powerful motivation in the love of Christ. We have a life-changing message in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This adds up to the fact that we therefore have AN URGENT MISSION. This urgency echoes in Paul’s words throughout this section. Let’s start reading again in verse 20:

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.

6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 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.

Do you sense Paul’s urgency in these words? The verbs convey it: we implore you, we appeal to you. The time references emphasize it: now is the time, now is the day.

This day of salvation will not last forever. The time to be reconciled to God is now, before this chapter closes and people are locked forever in an eternal condition of alienation from God.

So, let me challenge you this morning. What compels you? What is your driving motivation in life? Why have you come to Abu Dhabi? Maybe you are new to the city. Or maybe you’re an old hand, a long-timer. But why have you come? And why are you still here? Why do you do the things you do and make the decisions and choices you make? What compels you?

And what about ECC? What about us as a congregation? Why are we here? Is it just to hold hands together and sing “Kumbaya” and have friends who think like we do? Christian community and Christian fellowship is important and a powerful Biblical value and concept. But I would lay before you this premise, based on many years of studying the Bible. Christian community and Christian fellowship is not the goal of the church. Rather it is a powerful by-product of Christ’s followers engaging together in a common cause and common mission. When fellowship and community become the goal, the church of Jesus becomes inward focused, concerned about getting our own needs met. We become just one more narcissistic club, asking, “What will the church do for me?”

True Christian fellowship is experienced when we find a common answer to the question: What compels us? And together we find the answer to that question in the powerful motivation provided by the love of Christ.

It is experienced when we believe together that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives and make all things new.

And it is experienced when we join together to fulfill our urgent mission by imploring people, as Christ’s own ambassadors, to be reconciled to God while there is still time.

One of the ways we do that here at ECC is by sending and supporting missionaries to take the message of Jesus Christ to other parts of the world. As our church motto states: “From the nations to the nations.”

We are privileged today to have one of our missionaries with us. I would like to ask Moses to come and join me on the platform…

An interview with Pastor Moses follows.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did you come to Abu Dhabi? (Share the circumstances and decision making process that brought you here originally.)
  2. Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2 together.
  3. What stands out or impresses you in this passage?
  4. “The love of Christ constrains us.” (KJV) What is your response to the word “constrain”? In what way does the love of Christ constrain you and how is it a positive thing rather than a negative one?
  5. Why do you think God brought you to Abu Dhabi? How is your answer to this question the same as or different from your answer to question #1?
  6. The main points in Pastor Cam’s message are as follows. Discuss each one in turn and how it affects (or should affect) your life, in both big and small ways:

• A Powerful Motivation
• A Life-changing Message
• An Urgent Mission