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A Mini-Study of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

June 27, 2018 2:56pm
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Christ's love for Paul and his fellow workers is the thing that compels them to do their ministry. They are convinced that Christ died for all, and therefore all died. They've "died to themselves" and now live for Christ, which manifests itself in living for others.

Text of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Image taken from the Logos edition of the English Standard Version

Two weeks ago, we had a reading from 2 Corinthians 5:1-17 in our worship gathering. It's a jam-packed reading, and we focused in more on the end of the reading, where the Apostle Paul describes the new creation that we are in Christ. Last week we read from 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, and I referred to 5:18-21 to "fill the gap" in the system of readings that we have that didn't include those few verses.

There's much to say about all of these passages, but something that's really stuck with me the last couple of weeks is really one word in verse 14 of chapter 5; the ESV renders it as "controls", the NIV as "compels".

For those what would benefit from seeing it in the original, this is the first phrase of 5:14:

ἡ γὰρ ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ συνέχει ἡμᾶς,

(Literally, "For the love of Christ controls/compels us...", though a bit of interpretative translating could rightly give us, "For Christ's love controls/compels us...", making it more clear that ἡ...ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ is a subjective genitive, not an objective genitive; Christ is the subject of the love—the one doing the action—not the object—the one receiving it.)

That word in bold—συνέχει—comes from συνέχω (synechō), which is used in a few different contexts in the New Testament, even though it's not a commonly used word. The standard Greek lexicon gives a number of different senses, and the usual sense given for its use in this verse is that of "to provide impulse for some activity, urge on, impel" and/or "to hold within bounds so as to manage or guide, direct, control" (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. aka BDAG). But the first sense BDAG gives in its list is that of "being held together", and another sense is "to occupy someone’s attention intensely".

Though it's certainly correct that the sense of the word in this verse is of controlling and urging on, it's interesting to consider that maybe all four of these senses could be packed in to the use of that word here! Let me give you a super-wordy paraphrase that might try to capture the fullest sense of the word's use here:

"For Christ's love holds us together, and we are so intensely occupied with it and so directed, controlled, and urged on into action by it..."

Isn't that a great thought of how much Christ's love has affected Paul and his fellow workers?

In my own opinion, "compels" is perhaps the best English word to try to capture the fulness of this word συνέχω, though "controls" is a fine rendering as well. And as the verse goes on, we read a majestic description of the essential Christian message, which begins with Christ's love as demonstrated on the cross and results in Christians "bearing fruit" in service to others because of His love. Within two verses, we have three huge concepts included, as described by huge church words: justification (being declared right with God, which is by grace through faith) on account of substitutionary atonement (Christ atoned for all sin by HIs one sacrifice), and sanctification (Christ at work in us as we live the Christian life). Here's the whole thought in the two verses:

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 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.

- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (ESV)

Why are Paul and his fellow workers so controlled/compelled by Christ's love for them? Because His death was for all people—which includes them!—and because one died for (or "on behalf of") all, therefore all can rightly be said to have died. And so those who now receive new life in Christ (which calls to mind the beautiful picture of baptism in Romans 6:3-5) live not for their own purposes, desires, and pleasures, but for Christ. And those who live for Christ live for His people (Philippians 2:1-5). Why do they do this? Because Christ, for the sake of their eternal good, died for them and was raised (let's just finish that wonderful passage: Philippians 2:5-11).

Of course, Paul goes on with these thoughts into the next verses, culminating in 2 Corinthians 5:21, which is again a beautiful summary of the Gospel; it's the verse that Martin Luther called the happy/joyous/blessed exchange, where Christ took our sin and gave us His righteousness. But this whole section is also the launching pad into chapter 6 where Paul describes what he and others have gone through so that the people in Corinth would receive the Good News of Jesus.

Because of how they've captured me in the last few weeks, I'm thinking might need to add these two verses (2 Cor. 5:14-15) to the other one that's been a theme verse for me for the past few years (1 Peter 3:15). The depth of these two little verses is quite astounding. Really, that's the case for all of Scripture, so maybe I'll be posting again in a few weeks with another addition, but for now, this is really speaking to me.

I pray this short study has been beneficial to you too as you reflect on Christ's love for you and how big it is (Ephesians 3:14-21).

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