The Constraint of Love
Elijah Cadman was born in England in 1843. He was the youngest of five children and his father died when he was three years old. Six-year-old Elijah was small for his age, and he began to work as a chimney sweep. He continued that job until he was 13. Already, at age 6, Cadman was often drunk, and by the time he was 17 he “fought like a devil and drank like a fish.”
When he was 21, Cadman became a Christian after listening to a street preacher. After his conversion, he spent his spare time as a Methodist lay preacher. Because he was illiterate, Cadman hired a boy to read the Bible to him and he memorized large sections of it. He was 22 years old when his young wife taught him to read and write.
In 1876, he sold his house and chimney-sweep business and took his wife and children to London, where he joined William Booth’s, The Christian Mission, the forerunner of today’s Salvation Army. In 1876 Cadman was appointed to the East London Christian Mission Station, where he visited the slums during the day and preached in the streets at night.
Elijah Cadman didn’t put his confidence in himself but in God. And as a result, he became one of the great preachers in the early days of the Salvation Army. Cadman’s own words were, “Come and hear Elijah Cadman, the sober chimney sweep as he gives an account of his own drinkin’ experience. Come and hear him! Come and hear him!” God was able to use the witness of this man to bring many others from self-centeredness and sin into a life of freedom, because of his transformed life.
But what about you? Has God transformed your life and given you a desire to see others transformed through your testimony?
In our continuing study of Second Corinthians, we’ve come to chapter five, and verses eleven to sixteen. I’ve titled our study “The Constraint of Love.” Please listen carefully to the Word of God, Second Corinthians 5:11 to 16.
Paul’s teaching illuminates the several WAYS in which “The Constraint of Love” transforms our lives and our ministry to others.
I chose the title, “The Constraint of Love” because it comes right out of our text. But let me clarify the idea that’s conveyed by the word, constraint. We normally think of a constraint as being a restriction, or maybe an act that is compelled by force. But the word, as Paul used it, is the idea that the love of Christ literally holds us together. William Mounce puts it this way, “the love of Christ controls us.” So, keep that understanding in mind as we move through our text.
The First WAY (the love of Christ constrains us) is,
It Transforms our Motives
Have you ever had someone question your motives for doing something? There have been times in my life when people have questioned my motives for the choices I made. Some of them said very hurtful things about me, things that weren’t true. One of the reasons they did that was because they didn’t have all the facts. They made assumptions that led to wrong conclusions!
There were people in the church at Corinth who questioned Paul’s sincerity in preaching the Gospel. In fact, he takes several chapters of this letter to answer the accusations against him. The text doesn’t tell us what those accusations were, but we can gather what they were from Paul’s responses.
One of those accusations had to do with his motives. Paul’s response was classic, “we stand open before God.” In other words, Paul was saying, “we have nothing to hide.” After all, I am going to appear before the bema, the judgment seat of Christ, verse 10, to receive a reward for what I’ve done. Because I love Christ, because I worship and serve Him, He knows my motives and my works, and He will determine whether or not they’re worthy of reward. My motives are controlled by His love.
Paul begins our text by stating, “since we know the fear of the Lord, we attempt to persuade others…” He seems to have a dual purpose in this statement. Certainly, he wants to convince people to embrace the Gospel. But he also wants to convince his critics that his motives for ministry are pure. Incidentally, his fear of the Lord isn’t the terror of an unbeliever, but reverence for this awe-inspiring event of standing before the judgment seat of Christ.
You know, there’s no better way to silence your critics than to live a life above reproach. I believe Paul wanted to live in such a way that even those who criticized him could see the transparency of his motives.
Not all of the people in Corinth were critical of Paul. He had his supporters there too. He told them, “I’m not reintroducing myself to you, but I am giving you the material you can use when you face my critics. You need to have something to say to the Gnostics and Judaizers when they start bragging about their supposed superiority. They are more concerned about appearance than substance. I want you to be able to boast (in a good way) on our behalf.
Verse 13 implies that some of Paul’s critics thought he was crazy! We know the Roman governor, Festus, thought so. He told Paul in Acts 26:24, “you are out of your mind; your much learning has made you insane!” Isn’t it true that people often accuse those they don’t like of being a bit “off” in the head? When someone else’s spiritual maturity or godly character eclipse ours, we’re often tempted to find a way to criticize or find fault with them.
Our natural motivation in life is selfish; we want to use our gifts, our skills, our time, and our finances to benefit ourselves. But if we love Jesus, and His love controls us, that will transform our motives. We will stand in awe of what He’s done for us, and we will want others to experience that transformation too.
The Next WAY (the love of Christ constrains us) is,
It Transforms Our Message
Our world is filled with mixed messaging. There are so many voices calling for our attention. It’s easy to be distracted and lose our way. Paul says that the love of Christ keeps us from falling apart or getting off track, regardless of the circumstances we face, or the task assigned to us by Jesus. Verses 15 and 16 are very concise presentations of the Gospel. And they are the basis of this whole concept of being constrained by love.
Paul was amazed at God’s love. He told Timothy that “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violently arrogant man . . . but Christ Jesus came into the world in order to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” In other words, Paul’s thought was that if Jesus can save me, He can save anybody! Ever since Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and understood that Jesus loved him, it transformed his message—from hate to love.
The central tenet in Paul’s theology and Christology was “one died for all.” The word “for” is used in the sense of substitution. We could say “in the place of.” Caiaphas used it this way after the resurrection of Lazarus. He said, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for (in the place of) the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Christ died so the rest of us will not have to die.
When Jesus died, all humanity, of which He was the representative Head, died potentially with Him to sin and selfishness. Please note that I said they died potentially. But the very next verse, verse 15, clearly states that transformation, new life, only happens to those who enter into Christ’s death with Him.
How does this entering into Christ take place? It is by faith, faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Recall what Paul wrote in verse seven of this chapter, “we walk by faith and not by appearance.” It’s not enough to know about Jesus or to even live a morally upright life. No, if Jesus, died for all, that means all of us were dead, verse fourteen. But when we enter into Him, we are made alive.
And how does that affect those who enter into Christ by faith? They no longer live selfishly: instead, they live for Him who died for them and rose again! Do my daily choices reflect that statement? Do yours? Is your love for Jesus the glue that holds you together, does it control your thoughts and your actions?
One of the issues Paul had with his critics in Corinth was their focus on outward appearances. The Judaizers and Gnostics were jockeying for power and prestige, they wanted the praise of men. They wanted people to think they were really spiritual. But Paul was concerned about heart change. He knew that if the heart was changed if people were controlled by the love of Christ, it would transform both their motives and their message.
The Final WAY (love of Christ constrains us) is,
It Transforms Our Ministry
Look at verse sixteen. “Because of Christ’s love, we no longer regard anyone according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, yet now we regard Him in that way no longer.” What does that actually mean, and how can it transform our ministry?
Let’s begin with the second part of the sentence. Paul once regarded Christ according to the flesh. In other words, he saw Jesus as a mere man, an impostor, someone claiming to be equal to God. His knowledge of the Old Testament law motivated him to do all he could to stamp out this myth, this heresy. His actions demonstrated what he thought of Jesus. That included destroying those who were followers of the Way.
After his personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul no longer regarded or viewed Jesus in that way. He was totally convinced that his earlier perceptions and actions were wrong. In his letter to the Galatians, he wrote, “And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” The love of Christ transformed his ministry.
So, from the time Paul understood that Christ’s death was for him, it changed the way he looked at people. He refused to recognize race, status, class, or any other way the world uses to identify and categorize people. These were the very distinctions that were so important to some of the people in Corinth. Now that his heart and mind and life were controlled by the love of Jesus, he saw every person through the lens of Christ’s love.
Do you and I see people through the lens of Christ’s love? Do race, class, status, wealth, and power mean nothing to us when we look at people? I’m not denying that certain people have an advantage in relating to others of similar backgrounds and experiences. I think that’s a given. But the point is, that we should see all people of equal value because they are made in God’s image and Jesus died for them too.
From the world’s perspective, I live in a community where we have a whole range of people, from the wealthy to those on welfare. We have those who dress professionally and those who show up at Dollar General in their pajamas. We have those with purple hair and extensive tattoos, and those who disdain those cultural expressions. I assume it’s the same way where you live. We must remember they are ALL people Jesus loves and people that we, as Christ-followers, are called to love too.
So, is the love of Christ controlling you? Has it transformed your motives? Are you wanting the things that Jesus wants? Is your life transparent before Jesus and others? Can people rejoice and glorify God by what He is doing through your life?
And then, what about your message? Have you embraced the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the only acceptable payment for your sins? Has that transformed your life message; not just what you say, but how you live? Are you learning to live for the good of others instead of just yourself?
And finally, has the Gospel transformed your ministry; has it changed the way you look at people? Are you able to see people through the eyes of Jesus rather than the standards of your culture? Our world is desperately in need of the love of Jesus. When we are constrained or controlled by His love, people will see it and want what we have. May God bless you as you grow in the constraint of love.