New Hope Publishers
“For Christ’s love compels us”
(2 Corinthians 5:14 HCSB).
Nothing you could say or offer could make me do what I was about to do. No argument could persuade me; no threat could pressure me. Yet, I was about to do it, voluntarily.
Why on earth would I be compelled to do this? What was going on inside me? Then a simple and clear question formed in my head: Could this be love? Could it be that love was the force, the energy, the compelling drive that urged me to do something that repulsed me—and would no doubt repulse you?
Love? I have to tell you that, as a kid, I gave up on love. Seriously! You can track it straight to the third grade when I decided that “love” was for girls. My parents thought it was funny, but I wasn’t kidding. From the third grade through high school, I signed all my greeting cards, not with the usual “Love, Ed” but with “From, Ed”—just to make my point.
It’s probably not surprising that I’d feel this way. I was raised in an Irish family, and we say “I love you” only once a year, whether we needed to or not. We had, basically, two emotions in my family: drunk and sleepy; so love wasn’t on our short list of feelings.
But now, as I was about to do this gross and disgusting deed, I thought, So this is love? I am compelled to do this because I love my daughter. Of course, these thoughts all flashed through my mind in a millisecond, as I cupped my hands and caught my daughter’s vomit so she would not get it all over herself. Instead of following my natural instinct to jump out of the way, love for my little girl compelled me to stay right by her side, letting her know she was not alone and everything was OK. In that moment, I knew something inside me had changed.
The Apostle Paul never specifically said compelling love means catching vomit in your hands, but he did teach that this love will characterize our lives and ministries as it becomes the core motivation and driving force of all we do: “For Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Paul’s words tell us that, as we receive the love of Christ in our lives, we’ll willingly let it change the way we think and act. It means the love of Christ influences every decision we make and everything we do; His love becomes our way of life and not mere emotion.
It’s easy to buy into love as mere emotion, where boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love; boy loses girl; boy comes to his senses; boy and girl find each other again to live happily ever after—or at least until the sequel. This Hollywood-ization of love is so pervasive that many of us, including many Christians, have reduced love to the feel-good emotions of romance, marriage, sex, sometimes not even in that order. Certainly, romance, marriage, and even the intimate eros love between spouses are a part of love, yet they do not demonstrate the full expression of love that’s essential to God’s nature (1 John 4:16).
Most notably, God’s love includes sacrifice; in fact, the two—love and sacrifice—cannot be separated. God’s version of compelling love intertwines Christ’s love with Christ’s death: “For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: if One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15 HCSB).
Through His sacrificial love, God brings us into an intimate relationship with him through salvation. He then compels us to love others as Christ loved us—first. Sacrifice on behalf of others is not for the weak and not likely seen apart from love. The love Paul speaks of is born of a strength and resilience that challenges us to live for others, even for those too weak and feeble to give anything back to us. It’s a love that challenges us to follow God Himself—the Commander of heaven—and to imitate His sacrifice as we serve others on His behalf: “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 HCSB).
Most of all, it is a courageous love that storms the gates of hell and persists beyond the grave. The power of a love that extends even beyond death is a central theme to one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. After a long period of thinking pirates killed her true love, Westley, the innocent and lovely Buttercup discovers he’s not dead. Yet in the intervening time, the evil Prince Humperdinck has forced her into an engagement.
Westley asks why she didn’t wait for him to return, and she replies that she thought he was gone forever. His reply is classic: “Death cannot stop true love; it can only delay it for a little while.” God’s love cannot be stopped by death; in fact, it is empowered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is a foundational truth for all Christians—Christ’s love compels us to display love through our actions: “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 HCSB).
And Paul says we’re compelled by this love in order to persuade others to the gospel, a key purpose of the missional life:
“Knowing, then, the fear of the Lord, we persuade people. We are completely open before God, and I hope we are completely open to your consciences as well. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to be proud of us, so that you may have a reply for those who take pride in the outward appearance rather than in the heart. For if we are out of our mind, it is for God; if we have a sound mind, it is for you” (2 Corinthians 5:11–13 HCSB).
The Message paraphrase renders verse 13 as “If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you.” Paul’s point is that his actions are birthed from a deep love for both God and the church. Our work of persuasion, which is birthed by love, results in an externally focused life. Why do we work to persuade people of the truth? Because God loves them and compels us to do the same.
Christ’s love compels and convinces us that He died for everyone. Martin Luther (the revolutionary monk who began the Protestant Reformation) called John 3:16 (NIV), “The gospel in miniature.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This was once the most quoted verse of the Bible in America. That is no longer the case. Today, in North American culture, Matthew 7:1 (KJV) is the most quoted verse in the whole Bible: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” This is a culture waiting to be embraced by love. The only compelling and convicting foundation for the believer to meet this need is the sufficient death of Christ for sin.
God so loved the world that He did something. What an important fact for us to remember! We should focus on the difference occurring by what we do—a difference created by the presence of Christ’s love and what that love accomplished for us.
One night I sat down with my family to have a devotional time at the kitchen table. As you might know, it is not the easiest thing to do devotions with an eight-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old. This particular night, we read the story of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree. This is devotional gold for kids: a short guy who wants to see Jesus, climbing in a tree, Jesus telling him to come down, immediate obedience, hanging around with lost people, and witnessing.
Knowing Zacchaeus’s story is packed with kid-friendly lessons, I began to question my children about the story. It only took two responses to realize that one child was hungry and the other only wanted to know what a sycamore tree was. Very quickly, the devotional became wearisome. But why do we continue, even when the right result isn’t visible? Because Christ’s love compels us. We want our children to be as convinced as we are that One died for all because of Christ’s love. So I try to persuade my hungry and curious children.
Romans 4:7–8 (HCSB) gives further understanding of our key passage: “How happy those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered! How happy the man whom the Lord will never charge with sin!” Here, Paul was quoting Psalm 32:1–2. We see why it matters that one died for all: Sins are covered, and the sinner is no longer charged with sin! God’s love goes beyond forgiveness of sin; He removes, from our permanent record, the charges against us .
Consider the marriage relationship. When a woman and man marry, they each choose to live differently because they now live for one another. The spouse’s needs take on more meaning than their own because of love and commitment.
As Christians, we are called to restructure our lives around a loving God. Inherent changes occur because of our redemption. If that type of change does not occur, we must evaluate whether we have truly passed from death to life or have merely taken on ourselves the social descriptor of “Christian.” Many people claim to be Christian, but they are miserable, unhappy, and ungracious.
Intimacy with Christ and experiencing His compelling love should convince us of the truth that our lives are surrendered to His redemption and our behavior is changed. Something is wrong when churches are known as places of conflict rather than Christlikeness, as places of gossip rather than exhortation, or as places of exclusion rather than havens of love.
God’s Word teaches us this about the Christian’s life progression,
“For through the law I have died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” –Galatians 2:19–20 (HCSB)
Crucifixion is not crossing over a line, realizing your best life now, or finding a Zen moment in the midst of conflict. It is love and death bound together. It is love so compelling that God in the flesh died for all humanity. My life is different because the Son of God who loved me gave up His very life. Note the progression again:
Christ’s love in me compels me.
Christ’s love for me convinces me.
Christ’s love at work in me changes me .
When this expression is lived out correctly, Galatians 2:19 (HCSB)—“I have been crucified with Christ”—becomes the reality of the manner we live.
Believers must no longer think lightly or glibly about crucifixion. It’s not “Quick! Be a good follower of Jesus and give up your media intake for a day. Die to your wants.” No, it’s painful. It’s a battle. It’s dramatic. This is the portrait painted by Paul. To the believer, death occurs not only for Christ, but for self as well. The old nature must die so Christ can live in and through us.
The change that occurs by Christ’s love is the only path to love as God loves. We cannot by our own strength be loving persons as Christians. We can only become those persons when Christ lives in us. God gives the gracious endowment of the sacrificial life of Christ to indwell us so we might live by faith and not by sight, emotion, or any other earthly power. Once again, we see it all bound together: life, death, and love. It is death by love
Before The Passion of the Christ movie in 2004, the typical films made Jesus a wimpy kind of guy. The 1970s movies portrayed Him as a blue-eyed hippie in a dress, wandering through Israel saying strange things to people, who then began to sing songs and dance—a reflection of that decade. But the Bible focuses on Jesus’s strength and determination to fulfill the mission the Father gave Him.
Christ was the Lamb of God, but He wasn’t remotely sheepish. Love is being crucified with Christ—who also is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Our crucifixion with Christ is because “the life I have in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
Second Corinthians 5:16–21 (HCSB) leaves no room for Christians to fail to see others through God’s eyes. The passage makes clear our role of bringing others to God through Christ:
From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know Him like that. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Now everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. —2 Corinthians 5:16–21 (HCSB)
In one of the final scenes of the movie Bruce Almighty, Bruce is hit by a car and meets God in heaven. It’s a touching scene in which he makes a few jokes with God and God jokes back. Ultimately, God wants Bruce to make a decision about what he wants for his girlfriend, Grace. Their brief interaction goes like this:
God: Grace. You want her back?
Bruce: No. I want her to be happy, no matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now, through Your eyes.
God: Now that’s a prayer.
Can you believe it? The Jim Carrey/Morgan Freeman comedy just got it! God’s call on our lives should cause us to live differently—and also to perceive life differently. The Scriptures say “we do not know anyone in a purely human way.” Being compelled by love means we see people through God’s eyes.
Honestly, this can be difficult, and we never attain this perfection here on earth. In crowded malls, we see people as annoyances. At work, some become the enemy. In commuting, they can degenerate to the status of imbecile. Churches lose members (or even split) because of broken relationships over poor perspectives of one another. When we perceive others as pests or pains, we are not viewing people through God’s eyes. It is sin when we see people incorrectly. The Scriptures say that from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view but through God’s eyes.
Second Corinthians 5:16 tells us that we must also see Christ through a new perspective. We come to know Him for His true nature—the fully divine Messiah who is God in the flesh.
After the declaration of seeing people through God’s eyes and how He compels us to love, Paul reminds us in verses 17–19 that Jesus doesn’t count our sins against us. One significant expression of love is that we stop counting people’s sins. It is by seeing them, instead, through God’s redeeming view that love breaks forth.
Once Paul taught the Corinthians how they should view others differently, he called all to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (vv. 18–20). Once-blind sinners who previously camped outside the kingdom of God are given power and privilege, commissioned as ministers and ambassadors on behalf of the King Himself.
History tells us of some who were great ambassadors and others who were truly poor ambassadors. Ambassadors who anger the people among whom they live can cause wars. As believers, we must take care that we don’t cause others to adopt a warlike mentality toward God. We are called to love as God loves.
This better way—the call to love—causes us to be ambassadors who bring a sense of peace. Humans’ turning away in rebellion is the root cause of our eternal conflict with God . The Bible says all are under God’s judgment. Because of that judgment, God gives us the message of reconciliation and sends us out as ambassadors; He makes His appeal for peace through us. Through His offer, our friends can be brought under the rulership of God in His Kingdom.
We would all agree that Christians ought to be the most loving people in the world—but we aren’t. Let’s face it, every church in North America would be overflowing if we didn’t have the reputation of being hypocrites, liars, etc.
As church planters in the suburbs of a metropolitan city in the southeastern United States, we discovered through observation that the lost are waiting to meet the believers who look like Jesus, not just talk about Him. The book Jim and Casper Go to Church tells the story of two journalists who travel the country visiting influential churches. The book reveals that Casper, the atheist of the pair, is waiting for the leaders of the church to tell believers what Jesus requires of them. It would seem, from that perspective, that Casper isn’t searching for the beliefs of believers but the outworking of those beliefs that will convince him they are true.1 That attitude is an illustration of the biblical teaching that the world will know we are Christians by our love.
We cannot be loving and live for self. Love does not operate selfishly. Love changes us. “And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The enormity of God’s forgiveness compels us to live differently. Since the God of the universe has treated us in a most loving and forgiving way, Christians should be the most loving and forgiving people on earth. When we fail, we dishonor the one to whom we belong.
Christians and unbelievers alike share the sin of hypocrisy, but we are without excuse because we know better. As unsaved sinners, they are simply living in the way that comes naturally. But when we claim allegiance to the King of kings and Lord of lords, who died on the Cross as the outworking and fulfillment of His love and forgiveness, then we should not act in unloving ways. Something is wrong when a person claims to belong to Christ and yet fails to love others.
Christ’s love compels us, convinces us, and changes us. Not only does God compel us with love and convince us with truth, He indwells us so He can make His appeal through us to the lost of this world—to spouse, children, neighbor, co-worker, and friend. This indwelling life of Christ manifests itself through the way we live and the way we love. “We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’ He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20–21 HCSB).
Philip and I grew up in diverse environments; he lived in Alabama and I grew up in New York. My family was culturally Catholic; Philip’s father was a deacon in a Baptist church. Yet we have one thing in common: Sometimes we both struggle with how to be more loving. With all our background differences, our greatest common struggle is whether or not we love. The necessity of every missional Christian is to love because of Christ’s love within us.
It remains hard to live the Jesus way, to live and love in a way that brings God glory. The power of our flesh cries out for us to be selfish and to refuse to love those who have not treated us well, who have worked against our better interest, or have simply been the annoying gnat in our conversation.
We are called to be like Ruth in the Old Testament. When faced with a choice to go her own way or care for the grieving Naomi; she stayed. Even though Ruth faced life in a different culture and would be known as an “outsider,” her heart was for the need of her mother-in-law. This woman’s heart was in line with the heart of our God who cares for the widow in her sorrow.
If we operate by our own view of the world and our own strength, we will walk away from people every time. However, Christ’s love in us—the conviction of Christ’s truth displayed by love and the change in our lives because of redemption—causes us to have a new view of people and a new life of compassion for both the saved and the lost.
Application challenge: Are our lives marked by a compelling love?
As Philip and I write this book on compelling love, our lives are not always marked by love. But as we surrender our lives more and more to Christ, the mark upon our lives is being changed, renewed, and conformed to look like Christ. I have come to understand that the missional view of following Christ requires a perspective of surrendering, rather than making a treaty.
In a treaty, each country keeps its sovereignty and trades favors with the other. That is unacceptable to God; He demands surrender. We cannot be ambassadors for a kingdom that does not have our full allegiance. So, one day I made my surrender to the love of Christ because His love, poured out through death and victoriously resurrected by the power of God, compelled and convinced me. But now I must daily remain a humble ambassador before the Lord to whom I have surrendered. Being convinced and changed by His love, I now am committed to the beautiful work of reconciliation, whereby the sinless One who became sin for us may speak His powerful words of life to the lost and dying around us.
First Corinthians 13 gives us the moral picture of love—and yet there is so little evidence of love in our lives. We should copy God. “Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2 HCSB). The imitation of God is to serve as a fragrant offering. I’m afraid that many of us merely pretend to be an offering. We’re great at praising God after a storm has passed, but God calls us to live as children who imitate their loving father, regardless of circumstances.
We are also to walk with God in spite of our past. In John 4, Jesus goes out of His way to meet an anonymous Samaritan woman at the well. Once she is confronted and changed by the presence of Christ, her first impulse is to be missional. She goes into the village where she was most likely an outcast and declares, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29 HCSB). And to her delight, they did.
God compels us with love, convinces us with truth, and indwells us so He can speak through us to the lost. This indwelling life of Christ manifests itself through the way we live and the way we love. “We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’ He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20–21 HCSB).
The way of Jesus is contrary to we naturally desire. Our fleshly nature refuses to love those we find unworthy. It’s only Christ in us that changes us and makes us to see people as God sees them and to live a new life of compassion for both the saved and the lost. (see Matthew 22:35–40).
1. In light of the Scriptures regarding the love of Christ, how has your understanding of love been changed or challenged?
2. Talk about how properly defining love as the activity of God, instead of an emotional reaction of people, can change our lives.
3. Who has God placed in your life right now that you need to view from an eternal perspective?
4. Discuss some barriers that keep us from answering God’s call to share the message of reconciliation with those around us.
5. After learning the difference between a treaty and a surrender, have you made a treaty with God or have you surrendered to Him? What changes would you like to make?
6. Are you certain that Christ’s love dwells within you? If not, be certain you take care of that today. See “God’s Plan for You” in the appendix on page 00.
7. As you think of all you have discussed and learned in this session; what is the one thing that you will take home and continue to ponder or to seek the power of God’s love for change?