The Compelling Love of Christ
2 Corinthians 5:11-15 - "Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again."
These verses are connected to verse 10, where Paul speaks of the judgment scene where "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." He emphasizes our accountability to God in that day of reckoning, and therefore he wishes to "persuade" men, referring to the great work of trying to bring people to Christ. Passages showing Paul engaged in this work include Acts 17:4; 18:4; 19:8, 26; 26:28; 28:23. He explains this ministry in verses 18-20 of 2 Corinthians 5 as a plea offered to men on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.
Paul was always very aware that his work was done "in the sight of God" (2:17; 4:2). In this passage he notes that "we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences." Both God and the Corinthian brethren knew the integrity of Paul and his fellow laborers by now. Paul, however, is about to make certain explanations about his work (5:11 - 6:10), and he does not wish to be misunderstood. Any self-commendation Paul makes was not to promote himself or his interests, but to give the brethren at Corinth a way to answer Paul's critics (v. 12). He explains further in verse 13. Paul and his co-laborers were free from self-interest, no matter what their enemies and critics said. When Paul had to defend himself, as he sometimes did, he felt "beside" himself, (not the most comfortable feeling). Such feelings make one feel foolish or irrational. The Corinthian brethren should have taken the lead in defending Paul (12:11). If, on the other hand, Paul's defence of himself was rational, it was "for you". All of Paul's behavior and writings were for the advancement of the cause of Christ.
The explanation for Paul's unselfish behavior is found in verse 14a: "for", he says, "the love of Christ compels us". The original word for "compel" referred to pressure or constraints placed on one. "It is used of the pressure of a crowd on one (Luke 8:45); the pressure of a city under siege by enemies (Luke 19:43); of a prisoner held in custody (Luke 22:63). The thought here is not so much that the love of Christ motivates, as that it controls or confines; and that is the reason for the selfless behavior described in verse 13" - (L. A. Mott).
The rest of verse 14 - "because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died". It was not Paul's love for Christ, but Christ's love for Paul that compelled him to preach the gospel under every kind of circumstance that happened in his life. Paul's decision about the meaning of the death of Christ put him forever under the compelling power of such love. We stand in awe as we think of the power of such love! This passage reveals the very heart of Paul's ministry. Having realized the love of Christ, Paul's life could never be the same.
"One died for all; then all died." When Christ died, we all obtained the way to victory over sin and death. That conclusion could only be true if the death of Christ was on behalf of all men, that is, as a substitute for all. Christ died for all, His death was as if we died. We die with Him in baptism (Romans 6:3,4), and arise to live with and for Him. Paul emphasizes in verse 15 the grand conclusion that naturally follows. "He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again." When we actually experience the power of the death of Christ and then live for Him; we, too, will begin to be compelled by His love. Our lives, like Paul's, can never be the same. Our whole frame of reference, our way of looking at our own life here, will be forever changed.
Isaac Watts in 1707 captured this thought in his great Hymn When I Survey The Wondrous Cross: (verses 1,4)
"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride."
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."