A nobleman's son once complained that he didn't know what to do with his life. "Father," he said, "what should my ambition be? What should I make of myself? What should I do in life?"
"When I was your age," said the nobleman, "I wondered about the very same questions. But over the years, I've learned something which may be of help to you. I have that if you want to have an interesting life, just become a friend of the king--then wait and see what happens."
Those are wise words for us as Christians. Many Christians are looking for their calling, their grand ambition, their great motivation in life--when all they really need to have a great, adventure-filled life is to simply become a friend of the King, then wait and see what happens. God does not want His people standing on one foot, agonizing over how we will discover His will. He has made His will very plain in Scripture. He just wants us to go out into the world and start doing it!
"So we make it our goal to please him," writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:9, "whether we are at home in the body or away from it." Pleasing God is the proper occupation of the Christian both for time and eternity. We are learning to do it here on earth; we shall perform it perfectly there, in Eternity. To please God always requires faith, for "without faith it is impossible to please him" (Hebrews 11:6). As we have already seen, to walk by faith is to live on the basis of the new covenant, continually accepting the judgment of the cross as to the flesh and choosing to act in dependence upon the resurrecting life of the Spirit. "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).
It is helpful to us to learn that the will of God which many Christians are seeking to fulfill is not so much concerned with what we do as it is with how we do it. God does direct us at times to certain activities or places, though often he will leave the choice up to us. But what he is continually concerned about is the resource we are counting upon for success in whatever we do. To depend upon "something coming from us" is to be displeasing to God, no matter what the activity may be. To do even a simple task (sweeping the floor, for instance), counting upon "everything coming from God" is to be infinitely pleasing to him. This is why Jesus was pleased with the widow's mite and with the offer of the loaves and fishes. Each of these incidents was a presenting of a simple object to God with the expectation that he would do something with it. That is faith. That is what pleases God.
What will move me?
But the real problem of the Christian life is not how to discover the will of God. We have known that problem, to one degree or another, all our lives. The real problem is to want to do it! It is the problem of motivation. That problem remains, even after we have discovered what it really is that God wants. I can know a great deal about the Christian life: I can know that the true purpose for my life is to please God; I can even know just what it is that will please him (faith); and I can remember in times past the pleasure it gave me to please God and the blessings which followed. Yet, confronted by the lure of the flesh, the pleasure of sin, and the ease with which it could all be justified (a veil), I can deliberately choose to disobey God. I have done it many times. And so, I'm sure, have you.
When the soul swings in the balance between truth and error, good and evil, what will tip the scale in the right direction? That is the real problem. It is the issue of motivation.
As with everything else in the Christian life, God has not left us without help at this point. There are two powerful forces which act upon us to stabilize our wavering wills and draw us back from the alluring brink. They are like motors to move us into right action. The word "motor" comes from the same root as motive. Now, to choose is our inherent human function, but to choose rightly demands that a force operate within us that will firmly turn us and propel us in the right direction. Paul describes these forces to us. The first, perhaps rather surprisingly, is fear.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
Somehow the idea has grown among Christians that fear is an improper motive; that if it be accepted at all, it is base and inferior. But Scripture never takes that position. Everywhere, from Genesis to Revelation, and especially in Genesis and Revelation, the fear of the Lord is extolled as a very proper and highly desirable motive for living. In fact, it is regarded as foundational. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." (Proverbs 1:7). The psalmist exhorts us, "Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing." (Psalm 34:9), and declares that a man reaches a stage of great danger when there is "no fear of God before his eyes" (Psalm 36:1). It should not surprise us, therefore, that Paul speaks first of fear when he sets before us the great motives of life.
But what comes to mind when we think of fearing God? Is it some abject, cringing, expression of terror like a dog crawling in fear to his offended master? Such fear is inspired by guilt, and guilt has absolutely no place in a believer's relationship to God. Is it the fear which is born of hate which strikes back at God with defiance and anger when a divine demand is faced? No, hate, too, is no longer a viable motive in the life of a Christian. Then perhaps it is the fear that God will let us down--a lack of trust which makes the heart anxious and without peace. No, these are unrealistic and unhealthy fears. The fear of which Paul speaks is something that is still there when a believer stands as a son before his loving Father, with a bold and confident spirit, making his requests known to him. It is a fear which finds its focus at the judgment seat of Christ.
This judgment tribunal is presented in Scripture as awaiting the believer when he steps out of time into eternity. "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is a time when "each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). These verses seem to suggest an occasion when our entire earthly life passes in review before us and we learn--often for the first time!--what has been pleasing to God and what has not. It will undoubtedly be a time of great surprises. Many things we felt were acceptable to God and profitable to us will be found to be spoiled by improper or wrongful dependence. At the same time, many forgotten or seemingly insignificant acts will be singled out by God as greatly pleasing to Him.
The secrets of the heart
In line with what we have seen in the last chapter, there is a sense in which this judgment is going on in our lives right now. "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). Eternal life has already possessed our spirits and is gradually reclaiming our souls. Consequently, the judgment seat of Christ, which is part of Eternity, has already begun.
As we progress in the Christian life, we learn increasingly to understand that "what is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight" (Luke 16:15). Increasingly we judge ourselves on this basis. We learn to obey the words of Jesus to pray and fast and give alms in secret, knowing that the God who sees in secret will grant a reward. But if we do things "to be seen of men," we already have all the reward we will get.
Paul also speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Wood, hay, and straw are highly combustible and all grow from the earth--an apt figure for those works of the flesh which arise out of our natural life and are therefore rejected by God. Gold, silver, and costly stones, however, are noncombustible and, though found in the earth, are not a part of it--another apt figure, but this time it is a figure of the deeds done of the Spirit, which alone are able to survive this test of fire and are acceptable in the eyes of God.
The "fear of the Lord" which Paul connects with this sobering judgment comes from an awareness of the nature of God which realizes that He cannot be fooled or deceived in any way. It springs from the fact that God views us with stark and naked realism, and that since He is no respecter of persons, we cannot count on privilege or favor for some special consideration before Him. He is not swayed by our emotional pleas nor moved by our tears to change his evaluation. Our explanations and justifications made so easily before ourselves or other men will die unuttered on our lips in the presence of Christ's immutable majesty. His judgment will be inescapable and without appeal. Before the white light of those loving eyes, all pretenses will fall away and we shall see ourselves as He has always seen us: "Then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV).
Don't waste it
It is this truth--the certainty that he will one day face the searching gaze of his Lord and Savior--which motivates Paul to serve Jesus and persuade men. He does not wish to waste his life. He knows that with his keen mind, his strong and dominant personality, and his powers of persuasion he could easily achieve a record of influence and accomplishments that would impress the world and other Christians. He might easily become very wealthy or gain great prestige and fame. He had the natural gifts to take him to the top of whatever heap he should decide to climb. But what would it all mean at the judgment seat of Christ? Nothing! A sheer waste of time and effort! It would only be what Paul describes to the Galatians as "a good showing in the flesh," nothing but wood, hay, and stubble, consumed in a flash by the eternal fire of God.
To him, life is a great race, an endurance contest, which he is running, not against others but against himself. The goal he sees drawing ever nearer is his death or departure to be with Christ; the prize is the resurrection glory which awaits him there. The object of the race is to take each step in dependence upon the Spirit of God and not upon the energy of the flesh. "To me to live is Christ," is his passion.
Once, after a Billy Graham crusade meeting, I slipped into a seat on a bus beside a young man who had gone forward in the meeting that night and given his heart to Christ. I spoke to him of what his new life would mean and, among other things, mentioned that he could now be free from all fear of death. He turned and looked me in the eye and said with all sincerity, "I have never been much afraid of death. But I'll tell you what I am afraid of--I'm afraid I'll waste my life."
I believe that fear is deep within each of us. It has been put there by our Creator. No one wishes to waste his or her life. When we understand the terms by which the value of that life is measured, we find it to be a great force to help us choose the right and reject the wrong. "What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience" (2 Corinthians 5:11). Thus Paul seeks to persuade the Corinthians to walk as he walked with the bright light of the judgment seat of Christ on his path.
The supreme motive
But there is a motive even greater than the motive of fear. Another force is at work in our lives which has power to move us even when the fear of wasting our lives leaves us unmoved (as it sometimes will). Paul now goes on to declare that greatest of all motives:
We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:12-15).
Paul's behavior as a Christian was a source of bafflement to many at the church in Corinth. They could not understand his approach, and his motives were forever being questioned. He explains the reason for their perplexity in his first letter: "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1). His actions seemed strange to them because they didn't understand the new covenant. They expected him to act and react to situations just as they did--and they were confused and baffled when he did not conform. It is clear from the above passage and others in the Corinthian letters that they expected him to boast of his exploits on behalf of Christ and to find subtle ways to commend himself before them, for this is what they did. But now he insists he is not doing this, though it might at first appear to be the case.
Rather, he explains that the force which prompts him to act contrary to the usual ways of the world is not arising from a secret ambition for position. No, it originates from Christ within: "For Christ's love compels us," urges us, drives us (2 Corinthians 5:14). Because of what Paul says in this chapter, we know that some people actually claimed Paul was insane because of his intense devotion to the ministry of Jesus Christ and because of his unexpected behavior. Paul repeats some of the charges that have been leveled at him--but he declares that there is a "method in his madness," as the current saying goes. "If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God," he says in verse 13. "If we are in our right mind, it is for you."
Even though many people found it hard to explain Paul's actions, Paul could state clearly that his own objective was right. All of his behavior, whether crazy or sane, was focused on serving Christ and influencing people for Christ. Paul's goal could be anticipated when it was understood that the love of Christ urged him on. His actions were the actions of love, directed to the glory of God and the service of men, never for the advancement of self!
Now, that is always highly suspicious behavior! The person who has no axe to grind, no angle for his own profit, is behaving very strangely. The world expects people to "look out for Number One." The world also knows that everyone who is smart hides his self-interest until the last possible moment. He always appears to be concerned for the welfare of others, even while he is trying to manipulate the situation to his own advantage. That is why one frequently hears, "Okay, what's your angle?" or "All right, what's the catch?" Most Christians also reflect this view, despite their high-sounding "God-words" in church.
Finding someone who consistently, in varying circumstances, behaves contrary to this basic human principle may cause some to be perplexed and unbelieving. What is the answer? "Love is the explanation," Paul says in effect. "It is the love of Christ which presses us, urges us on, takes hold of us and overpowers our natural self-interest, and makes us act contrary to nature." A death and a resurrection have occurred, he argues. "We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died." When Christ became what we are, he died, and, therefore, we who are in Christ have died with him. The natural life has been shown to be worthless, totally unprofitable.
But there is more. "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). If we died with him, we also rose with him, and the risen life we now live is different from the old life. It is no longer self-centered, loving itself supremely. It is outward-directed. It reaches out to others naturally and without self-consciousness. It is not a put-on but real. Whenever we yield to the love of Christ, says Paul, that is the way we act, and His love is the reason we act that way. Once we have yielded to that love we cannot help being self-giving, for that is the way His love is. The love of Christ controls us.
An article which appeared in Christianity Today a number of years ago described the Christlike love of Christians who were undergoing persecution and imprisonment for their faith. A former criminal, Kozlov, converted to Christ and became a leader in the persecuted church. In the article, he wrote this about life in a Soviet prison:
Among the general despair, while prisoners like myself were cursing ourselves, the camp, the authorities; while we opened up our veins, or our stomachs, or hanged ourselves; the Christians (often with sentences of twenty to twenty-five years) did not despair. One could see Christ reflected in their faces. Their pure, upright life, deep faith and devotion to God, their gentleness and their wonderful manliness, became a shining example of real life for thousands. (Christianity Today, June 21, 1974)
That is authentic Christianity. You find it under the worst, most horrifying circumstances imaginable. We should certainly be able to find it in our homes and our churches today.
A trinity of love
Some people wonder, "What does Paul mean when he says, 'The love of Christ controls us'? Is it Christ's love for Paul, Paul's love for Christ, or Christ's love flowing out of Paul to others?" The question is a valid one, and we are not given much help from the Greek text. It will allow any of the above meanings. But a verse in John's letter serves as a guide to interpreting Paul's meaning. It suggests where love begins. "This is love." says 1 John 4:10, "not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Love begins with God, not with us. Christ loved us first; even, says Paul in Romans 5, while we were yet sinners and enemies of God. His love for us, accepted by faith, awakens our love for him so that Peter can write, "Though you have not seen him, you love him" (1 Peter 1:8). Paul agrees with this, "God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:5). When our hearts have been stirred and awakened by God's love, we are ready to reach out in love to our fellowmen, disregarding our own interests. "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
It takes all three phases to fully manifest the love of Christ. But the important point to see is that love, not duty, is the proper motive for Christian functioning. "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15), says Jesus. It is not the other way around: "If you keep my commandments you will love me." This is also seen in Paul's frequent exhortations to very practical duties, "Husbands, love your wives," "Wives, submit to your husbands," "Masters, treat your servants justly and fairly," etc., but never without a reference to the motive that should urge them: "Out of reverence for Christ," "For the Lord's sake," "As unto the Lord."
Love makes obedience easy; it is the delight of love to do what the loved one desires. Therefore, when the heart grows dull and obedience is difficult, the proper response of the Christian is not to grit his teeth and decide to tough it out but to remember who it is that asks this of him, and then for his sake to do it. When a Christian responds this way, he will find to his amazement that his own attitude has changed. A new outlook is born within him. That is what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Perhaps the clearest evidence that the new covenant is in operation is the change it makes in our view of others. No longer does position, caste, color, sex, or wealth matter. Everyone is seen to be of infinite worth because he is made in the image of God and can be redeemed through Christ. Nothing else really matters. Paul seems to suggest here that there was a time when he knew Christ "after the flesh." Does that mean that he heard Jesus teach and preach and perhaps had even met him? It seems likely that he had. If that is the case, a drastic change had occurred in his outlook.
The new view
A British Bible teacher and evangelist, Major Ian Thomas, has described that change so brilliantly that I want to reproduce it.
Paul, the Apostle says, "There was a time when, as Saul of Tarsus, I made my own reasonable estimate of this man called Jesus Christ, about whom I had heard so much. When I did so I wasn't unkind; I wasn't even prejudiced. I applied all the normal, reasonable methods of evaluation of my own day and I came to my own conclusions about Jesus Christ. This was what I found:
"FAMILY BACKGROUND? A nobody! I had to agree with my theological colleagues that he was the illegitimate son of a faithless woman who was not only faithless but a liar.
"FAMILY BREEDING? In common with all my comrades, I couldn't help coming to the conclusion that he was worth precisely nothing. He had absolutely no standing in his community.
"PROFESSIONAL STANDING? I went into that pretty thoroughly. I discovered that he had no formal education; he was brought up in a peasant's home; he was an apprentice at a carpenter's bench; eventually he got through his apprenticeship and became a carpenter. In terms of professional status, I came to the reasonable, logical conclusion that he was worth absolutely nothing!
"THEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND? He professed to be a preacher, but I discovered that, by all reasonable human estimates, here again he amounted to nothing. He hadn't been to college; he hadn't been to seminary; he hadn't had any instruction whatever from the ecclesiastical dignitaries of our day; he had sat at nobody's feet. Professionally he was nothing. He was but a tub-thumping rabble-rouser and an incorrigible street preacher. In terms of the ecclesiastical situation of my day and generation he was simply a nobody.
"MONEY? He was born in a borrowed stable; when he wanted to give an illustration he even had to borrow a coin; he rode around on a borrowed donkey; when he wanted to celebrate the Passover he sent on a messenger and managed to persuade somebody to make his home available; he always lived in other people's homes. He was, on all the reasonable human basis upon which we can justifiably come to a conclusion, an incorrigible scrounger. He even died on a borrowed cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb. In terms of property or wealth he was worth absolutely nothing.
"But something happened to me, Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus. Breathing out threatenings and slaughter, I was going to throw into jail and have put to death anyone who dared to perpetuate the myth that this i ncorrigible nothing was the Christ of God.
"Then, suddenly, there was a light brighter than the sun at noonday. I was blinded. I fell to my face. I was helpless. And I heard a voice, saying, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' I said. 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'
"Then I learned that the one I had thought to be nothing, was NOTHING BUT GOD, MANIFEST IN THE FLESH. By my human evaluation he was nothing and as Saul of Tarsus I was everything. But on the road to Damascus I discovered that he became everything and I became nothing.
"Now I have such knowledge of him that I no longer know him from a human point of view which once I considered to be valid. Now, to me, to live is Christ." [Used by permission.]
Yes, life as a Christian is totally, radically, different. Impelled by the twin motives of the fear of God and the love of Christ, it goes counter to the normal impulses of life. It is that new creation, envisioned by the prophets, already begun! Right in the midst of the decay of the old creation, the new is rising. Eternity is invading time. Urged on, driven, and mastered by love, we will continue to swim against the current of this darkening age until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.