We’re going to be in 2 Corinthians 5. We are ending a series today on “Family” and this is an important week for us. It’s going to wrap everything up. Last week we dealt with a very difficult subject as it deals with relationship. Kinda answered the question, “What happens within me when I feel like blowing up? When my kids are driving me crazy and I explode – why do I keep losing it on my kids?” Or whatever relationship you have – we found a lot of application to family, not in just reference to the physical family, but also the spiritual family. The good news for us, when we deal with a topic like family is that it’s relevant for everyone, no matter where you are in your life, because the place where God really teaches us how to function in our physical relationships in this world is through the spiritual relationship He’s given us in Christ. Through our spiritual relationship in Jesus, through His church, we learn how to function in our relationships in a biblical, healthy way. Or at least, we should because scripture gives that for us and uses the church as a model in how all relationships should handle.
So today, we’re going to deal with part 2 of the Family Feud. This is the way we want to approach this. We talked about if you’re ever on edge, if you’ve got frustration building up inside of you, how do you deal with that? Where is that coming from? Today we’re going to deal with it from the other side. When you approach a discussion, a healthy dialogue full of energy, and you’re not the one carrying that energy, how do you approach that dialogue in a way that produces something that God would desire?
What we’re after when we discuss these family relationships isn’t that there’s just peace in the relationship where no one’s bothering anyone else. What we’re after in relationship is really what God created the family for. God created the family to be a blessing in this world. So we just don’t want peace established in the home, although peace is a wonderful thing. Peace becomes the platform for building more into what God desires in that family. It told us in scripture, we saw this together, that God created the family to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the world. So when the family functions the way that God desires, the family becomes a blessing to the world. The same is true for the church. When the church functions the way that God has created it, the church is a blessing to the world. God has gifted us all uniquely as individuals. Through that gift, when the family functions well, or functions the way that God has created it, the blessing of the family really makes itself known in the relationships around it.
I want us to recognize, this morning, when we approach this from the other side of the conflict, when you feel like there’s hostility toward you, when adversity comes our way, hostility tends to breed hostility. Something about you and your nature, when you are attacked, when you feel someone is aggressive toward you, there’s something about you that becomes defensive. There’s something about us as people that want us to respond back. How do you react? What is your tendency? Sometimes it’s the silent treatment. Sometimes we just blow up. Sometimes we litigate. Sometimes we try to create peace, or to be a peacemaker, trying to please everyone in the situation. There are all sorts of ways we react. Sometimes people will go with this approach: the “I don’t care” approach. Eventually, you get to this place in your life where you just want to pronounce that, “I don’t care, I don’t care anymore.”
For me, when I hear that statement, I never really believe it. There’s a few reasons why. If you really don’t care, then I don’t think you’re going to take the time to pronounce that you don’t care. People that don’t care don’t take the time to pronounce that they don’t care. They just don’t care. But God has also created you as a being to care. Sometimes when we get to that place where we’re saying, “I don’t care,” what we’re really saying is, “I’m in a place where I’m hurt, and I really just want to back away or close off or shut things out.” So we use the phrase, “I don’t care,” as a defense mechanism to express the pain that we’re experiencing in relationships. Truth is, we do care because we’re created as people to care. We see that reflected in God’s nature. He cares. That’s why Jesus came. In the midst of the complexity of relationships in this world, in the midst of the destruction of sin, in the midst of our separation from Him in relationship to Him, Jesus cares. He created you in His image. So saying you don’t care, I don’t think, is a healthy approach to reflect to relationships that are in a state of turmoil or difficulty. To acknowledge simply when you get to that place, what we are really reflecting in our lives, is that we do care. But sometimes we get into the position that it’s so painful, we don’t know what else to do, other than to treat it in this sort of calloused way of wanting to close things off. In the dynamic of relationships, there are places to put relationships into a perspective where sometimes if things aren’t healthy, distance helps.
But I want to ask this question this morning. When you’re in the complexity of this relationship, how do you handle it? When you feel especially like you’re not the aggressor, but you’re the one on the defense, or you’re the one that’s in that place where you feel like saying, “I don’t care,” but you know deep down, you really do care, but your heart is struggling, what do you do with that? I want to answer this this morning from three perspectives. I want to talk about this theologically. I’m going to relay it to us pragmatically, and then I’m going to give us some application at the end. I think of no better place, when we start talking about dysfunction in relationships, than to go to the church that was the epitome of dysfunction in relationships, which was the church of Corinth. People often refer to the Corinthians as the “Corinthian Catastrophe.” If you want to read about problems, read Corinthians. It’s like Paul answering a list of problems within the church. How do you handle these relational dysfunctions with us, towards God, in interaction with each other? What does it look like? Paul really starts to answer it for us in 2 Corinthians 5:14 as he describes us in relationship to Jesus, and how Jesus handles us in the midst of our sin and in the midst of our dysfunction.
I want to start this morning, because everything that we do in our relationships should be modeled in what Christ has done for us and His relationship towards us. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul describes here in the next 4 verses–I’m going to read this to you. It says, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, and therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” What is Paul describing here? What Paul is really outlining for us is the gospel, this transition that happens in our life completely because of what Jesus has done for us, apart from our sinful nature. What he goes through in this progression of thought is that he demonstrates the love of God towards us, how Jesus gave His life for us so that now we could die to the old self and live to the new self. He says in verse 16, he says we had it all wrong. We judged people by their outward appearance. We even did it to Jesus, but what Jesus wanted to do is far greater than this outward appearance. He wanted to transform us from the inside out. It says in verse 17 that he made us new creations.
This is why I say it is very important to understand when it deals with family, I’ve harped on this throughout this series together, what God is after in our relationships is not behavior modification. It is heart transformation. This is very important because when you step into a marriage relationship, or a relationship with anyone, you are not the agent for change in their lives. When you start pressing into someone to become exactly what you want them to be, you may be pressing into them something they aren’t able to give in the moment. What God is after in that individual is not just to modify their behavior. What God is after is their heart because when God gets your heart, He transforms your life. That’s what it says exactly in verse 17. In God, we experience this transformation where the old things have passed, the new things have become. Everything that Jesus has done for us has been exactly what we have needed for that transformation. That is what is reconciliation in relationships. That is what Jesus has done for us when we were alienated from him. He has reconciled us. He paid the price.
There’s this book called Love and Respect. It deals with the marriage relationship when tensions builds, and in the book, they refer to something called the crazy cycle. The crazy cycle goes like this: when someone wrongs you, it builds this frustration up in you, so you begin to attack back. When you attack back, the person who now feels attacked begins to attack back because they feel wronged. All of a sudden, this crazy cycle begins. It doesn’t end, until when? When someone is willing to lay down their life for the benefit of the other, with Jesus. We are enemies of God, sin has pitted us against Him, and the crazy cycle began. But in Christ, it comes to an end because Jesus lays himself down for the benefit of the other. This is the idea of what reconciliation is about, working through the adversity and complexity in relationship. When you read 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, you see this beautiful ending to what Jesus has done for us. We recognize that the heart of the gospel, in order for Jesus to bring this about for our lives, for Him, it was a tremendous sacrifice.
Today, when we talk about relationships, there is this understanding that if you desire what Christ desires in those relationships, it is about leveraging all that you are for the benefit of others. It’s about taking the giftedness that God has given you, and the platform that God has placed you on, and using that for the health of others. When the family is able to function in a healthy way, spiritually or physically, it is beautiful. It tells us in verse 17 the result of that is that we are a new creature in Christ. All things have become new. This relationship now, this platform of a new beginning in Jesus has been presented because of the sacrifice on Christ’s part. This is Jesus’s posture. In Revelation, it gives us a beautiful picture of the way Christ continues to progress in this posture towards us. In Revelation 3, he is writing to a church – I think it’s the Laodiceans – in Revelation, he writes about 7 churches. Some in good position with him, some in sinful position with him. Most of them are walking contrary to Jesus. The same is true for verse 20 of Revelation 3. In reference to the church, this is where Jesus tells them his posture. He says this, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Jesus’s continued posture toward his people is one that is always standing in the position for reconciliation to open the door and to dine with Him. Jesus wants to set the table for us. The unique thing about this verse and its relationship to us in Christ is that Jesus isn’t forcing Himself in this verse. It tells us that He is knocking, He is standing there. He is always in the position for us to connect with Him, to dine with Him, to commune with Him. Jesus’s desire is for you to experience relationship with Him.
When we talk about reconciliation towards Christ, that’s the picture. You can’t force people to change. In fact, if you try to force people, you may force onto them something that they aren’t able to give or willing to give. But you can set the table. Jesus, in the cross, set the table. The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient for everyone but only efficient for those who believe. To the church, that relationship continues to be extended, even to the Laodiceans, who are walking in sin. Jesus states to them, I am standing at the door, waiting for you, I have set the table for reconciliation. He has set the table for success in relationship to Him. This is what I want us to understand as we approach this passage in Corinthians that we’re looking at together in chapter 5 verses 14 and on. When we’re talking about reconciliation, Jesus is using this contextually in relationship to us and God and the gospel. That’s really important to note because what I’m going to do is pragmatically apply it to all of our lives. This is what I want you to understand.
When we look at this passage, hermeneutically, I’m taking a leap here. This is the leap: chapter 5 verses 14-20, it is solely talking about our relationship to God and connection through the gospel. You’re going to see now in verse 18, this is what Jesus begins to say. Through Paul, He says this, all of these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself, through Christ, and gave us now the ministry of reconciliation. When he says this, he’s talking specifically in context to the gospel. He’s saying, just as Jesus now has reconciled you to Him, now you have the opportunity to present this to the world that they may experience reconciliation with Christ. This is important to understand because from this point of what Jesus has done for us in the gospel, this is dealing with us vertically to God, this now will affect us horizontally in all of our relationships.
Now, in everything you do in the dynamic of relationships with people in this world, it should reflect the behavior of the gospel. Jesus loves me despite my sin. Therefore, I should not be saying, “I can’t love you because of your sin.” Everything about the gospel and the way that I interact demonstrates to us a God who has set the table for us to commune with Him. Entirely about the gospel, now affecting our relationships, listen to how it plays out in the rest of scripture. This is what Paul says in Colossians 3 because of this relationship, he says this in verse 13, “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
I thought this week, I’m going to give some great illustrations of people in church history who have had to really forgive when things were difficult. I started reading church history throughout this week, all of these illustrations, and I read some super illustrations of great forgiveness in the lives of people who paid tremendous costs at captors and persecutors, some to the extent that they had even given their lives. This is what I concluded after reading all of those stories this week. I’m not going to share any of them because sometimes what tends to happen, when you think about relationships in your life that seem complicated, to then just read another complicated relationship on top of that is not encouraging. When you look at a text like this and you realize what Jesus is saying and what we need to demonstrate in our heart, and you connect it to relationships that are difficult in life, I acknowledge this morning, that is hard. It is painful. How, exactly, can we even begin to approach these types of situations in our life when we start putting faces to adversity, and we get worn out, and we feel like saying, “I don’t care,” but it’s not that we don’t care, but the pain is just so deep? How do we navigate through that?
This word for reconciliation even in itself, when you define it in its basic sense, is a painful word. It really says you take two things that don’t belong together, or aren’t fitting together, and you fit them together. When reconciliation needs to happen, there’s this brokenness, this separation. To reconcile means to take those two ends and put them together. In thought of what Jesus has done, the thought is this: He has not declared war on the world, but at the cross, He has declared peace. Matthew 5:9, when Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount, he says this, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” There’s a big difference between peace-keeping and peace-making. When we talk about reconciliation, it does not mean that you can’t work through complicated things, or that you ignore them. That’s the difference between understanding peace-making and peace-keeping. Peace-keeping says this, “Oh no, things are getting difficult. Let’s just sweep it under the rug. Hug and make up. Let’s not talk about this.” Peace-making says this, “You’re pursuing in the complexity of relationship to communicate about what happens so that you can work through that.” When Jesus made peace, this is the beautiful thing about when Jesus makes peace, He is honest about sin. And He still loves. Jesus comes into the moment, and He tells us when we are sinful, begin with the beauty of that. It gives us a place to acknowledge it. On the back end of acknowledging it, we’ve already recognized that God still loves us. So there isn’t this fear in acknowledging the sin that has pulled us from Him, that God isn’t going to accept you. He loves you. That’s really what peacemaking is. Blessed are the peacemakers. God’s love in those moments far exceeds sin. In that love, it gives you a place of security to be honest and to find reconciliation.
Paul builds further, he says that God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them. He is committed to us the word of reconciliation. In verse 20, this is really powerful for me. It says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The job of an ambassador, politically in our world today, when he goes to a country to represent us as that country, do you know who he represents? The President of the United States. The President has policies which he wants to reflect to certain countries, and that ambassador’s job is to represent what the President stands for. Jesus calls us the ambassadors to reconciliation, which means the closer someone is to you, the closer they should be to the miracle that God wants to work in them. The opposite could be true. The further someone is from you, the further they are from the miracle that God wants to work in them. Not because of anything great that we’ve done, but because of the goodness of who Jesus is and what He desires to work through us. It says it right here, “as though God were making an appeal through us.” He’s calling you an ambassador because of what God wants to do through you in this world. So the closer someone should be to the reality is the closer they should be to the miracle that Jesus wants to work in their lives. That’s the complete opposite that we saw in James last week. James says this, do you know why you lost and destroyed, it’s because of what’s in you. When you act that out, you kill relationships.
What God really wants to work in you is a miracle. What God really wants to work through you is a miracle. It points to the beauty of who God is, that He would not only extend into sinners, but still work through us. I heard someone ask once, when we all go to this, we’re going into a relationship that was tense and having poured into it, and they just wanted to quit. They went to a Christian counselor, and they said, “When can I give up? When is enough, enough?” And he said, “Well, as a believer, you can give up on them when God gives up on you.” That’s what that word ambassador means. You’re reflecting the King. The King and His love doesn’t quit on you. So how do you do this? This is hard. Reconciliation isn’t an easy word, but if we see what God wants to do, the miracle that he wants to work. Verse 17 says that “all things become new.” How do we do this? How can we be the same door knocker that Jesus is, where He wants to set the table? When we set the table, what we mean is that we’re not forcing people to reconcile. We’re not forcing people to become something they aren’t. What God has called us to do is to set the table, so that the place of reconciliation can happen. You can’t force anyone to do that, but what you can do is to reflect the goodness of God.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, without reconciliation, if you think about it for just a moment, what we’re carrying within ourselves without reconciliation is the retribution towards someone because of the way they have wronged us. Then on the other end of that, we carry and harbor within our hearts that frustration and tension because we’ve made ourselves the place of justice and place of wrath. That’s a lot to weigh on the human heart. How do we get there? Well, first thing I’d say to us is, there is a need to sympathize or empathize with those that we need reconciled towards. In 1 Peter 3, this statement comes in an interesting context. This week, if you want to read some thoughts on reconciliation, chapter 2 and 3 are really good on that. Chapter 2, he starts talking about the leaders of Rome who are persecuting Christians, and how to reconcile with them and how to honor God in their lives.
Then at the beginning of chapter 3, he talks about relationships in marriage and family, and then he concludes with this thought: now, finally, all of you should be like minded and sympathetic, should love believers and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult, but on the contrary, giving a blessing since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing. All of you should be sympathetic. In that place in your life where you’re trying to get to that spot where you say, “I don’t care,” and harden the heart, God has created the heart to be sympathetic or even empathetic toward someone else. Just previous to this, it says, husbands treat your wives as women who are prepared for glory, joint heirs with you as a weaker vessel. It’s not saying that women are less than men in this passage of scripture. What it is acknowledging is that women are made different than men.
I give this illustration when I read this passage in 1 Peter when it talks about the wives. He’s acknowledging that men should treat your wives as that ornate, valuable piece of art within the home. You think of in your house, the thing that’s sacred, or the thing that’s important to you or your family, you put it either in a prominent position or a safe place to protect it. Sometimes you put things in your homes for beauty, this ornate piece that you want to center a room around so that when you walk into that room, the beauty of what it is is reflected when you step into that room, but it’s also placed to keep it safe, where hands won’t touch it or harm it. You know how it goes when you have 2 year olds. You just raise it up a little bit, out of harm’s reach. This thing is so valuable. That’s what it’s saying about the wife. Be sympathetic. Sometimes it helps us to step out of ourselves when we are wronged. What I mean is, when someone comes against you, the tendency is to be defensive. But if we’re to turn on a sympathetic ear, maybe we could answer this question within our own lives. If you’re feeling tension toward your spouse, or toward someone in the family relationship, you ask this question: what’s it like being married to you? Roses? The image of perfection? Paul says in this passage to be likeminded, sympathetic.
In this illustration of 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul says a very important phrase as it relates to our relationship with God. He says this, “for the love of Christ controls us.” We just said in verses 18-20, you are an ambassador. You’re given the ministry of reconciliation. God wants to work His miracle in the lives of people, and God chooses to do it through His church. God wants to do that, and if you want to know how that happens, listen to verse 14. “For the love of Christ controls us.” Some translations translate this word as “compels us.” It’s this word that means in Greek, to hold together or to hold completely. Do you know why Jesus is able to hold it together and hold it completely and compel you? It’s because of the definition of what His love is about. Love is unconditional, sacrificial commitment toward someone else. This love is what compels us. Notice this verse doesn’t say that it’s my love for God that compels me. Rather, this verse says that it’s God’s love for me that compels me.
If you think of this in terms of reconciliation for just a moment, and you think of who you are in relationship to Jesus, and apart from Jesus, it’s Jesus who’s done everything to pursue you. It’s Jesus who has sacrificed everything on your behalf. It’s Jesus who has done everything, standing at the door and knocking, so that you would have the opportunity to set before the table with Him. It’s Christ who has carried the entire burden for your benefit. It’s that type of love that transforms relationships. So if you’re saying, in my relationship, there is this tension and I want to work through it, but I’m thinking on my end, I just want them to change. What this verse is saying in scripture is that if you want change, don’t expect it from someone who can’t give it. Here’s what Jesus says: it is His complete love toward us that calls us to turn back to Him. In our sin, we look at the beauty of who He is, and we cannot believe that someone would even begin to lavish that kind of love on us. So we step to the table and commune. This verse will never say, do you know what caused the heart of someone to change? It was the anger and the hatred that you reflected back because of the anger and the hatred they reflected to you, and they loved it so much, they just wanted to be near you. No. It’s when someone lays down their life, it’s when Jesus laid down His life.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a poet in the 1800s. Most of her poetry was written mid-1800s. She was married to Robert Browning. They were considered some of the most popular poets in the Victorian Era. In fact, Emily Dickinson said that the person that most influenced her in her poetry writing was Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But when Elizabeth was married to Robert Browning, her family disapproved. So she married, and her family just cut her off. So she went away with him to Italy. The story goes, for the next 10 years, she wrote to her family every week about her love for them. After 10 years, she received a box of letters in the mail back to her. Every letter she had written, never opened. In fact, it’s considered one of the great literary works from the 1800s that you can read today, the letters that she had written to her family. I know that in her relationship, there’s no great story of reconciliation, but in her relationship, what you find is a lady who set the table. A lady who stood at the door and knocked. A lady, when she could have said, “I don’t care,” she still demonstrated an attitude of caring. A lady who wrote words like this, “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” Why could someone do that? Why would someone do that? I think Elizabeth Browning understood where her real relationship in life was. It was secure in Christ. I think the only reason someone could continue to extend that way is because of a verse like 2 Corinthians 5:14. It’s the love of Christ that compelled her. It’s the sympathy that she learned in Jesus that compelled her.
So let me just encourage you this way: when God’s love reminds you of where you were apart from Him, and what you received because of Him, I think it teaches us in our hearts and our lives to learn sympathy and even empathy towards other people who are in rebellion towards God because of the way they are interacting in relationship. In the intensity of that relationship, when people are living contrary to God, it’s a place for you as an ambassador for Jesus, that God wants to perform through you the miracle that He wants to do in their lives. God uses His people to work in the hearts of those around them. So the encouragement to us is not to transform behavior, not to modify behavior, not to press into someone the opportunity to change, but to set the table for them to experience reconciliation. The way that we do that is to seek the heart.
Let me give you a practical illustration. When someone is mad at you, or when you feel frustration building, end the crazy cycle. It gives you the platform to say this: what you just said or did felt unloving. Is there something I did to make you feel unloved? Is there something I did to make you feel disrespected? Last week, we dealt with James, and the challenges of James, and the anger of James, and how anger causes us to destroy relationships. Even though there’s anger, and even though it’s destroying, in our anger, we’re still communicating something. What we communicate is that there is a need that is unmet. In immaturity, we communicate that, but we’re communicating it. It gives you the platform then to seek the heart of the individual in that frustration to minister to their heart, to say that felt unloving, was there something I did to make you feel unloved. It opens the door for communication. When that door opens, you’re going to get one of two responses. Oh, they care about me. Let’s talk. Or, they’re just going to continue further frustration. This is where it gives you the platform to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but I also hear the way you’re saying it. I can tell by the way that you’re saying it that you’re not ready to reconcile this situation, but when you feel ready, come and talk to me because my door is open.” I want to encourage you.
In Ephesians 4, it gives us plenty of verses that give us a platform in how to deal with relationships in family. When you find that you’re in intense situations, the way that you functions in relationships, Ephesians 4:29 says “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only as such a word that is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Encouragement for you: when you are in this family relationship, when you set the table, it doesn’t give someone the platform to come and continue to attack you because that continues to destroy. What it does is give you the opportunity to open the invitation to dialogue. When someone violates this, they’re not in a position to talk. What you’ve done is set the table for reconciliation. What God wants to do through you is work His miracles.
You can’t force someone to change, but you can set the table. When you read church history, you see plenty of people who’ve sacrificed themselves to continue to be people that set the table. Why? Because it reflects their King, and they are ambassadors. So this is what I encourage you with: when Paul wrote Galatians, he had just finished a trip to Galatia and experienced hardship on this trip because of persecution. What is he saying to those in Galatia? Don’t lose heart in doing good, for in due time, we will reap if we do not grow weary. When we talk about reconciliation, we’re not trying to figure out how to manipulate people just to get what we want. What we’re doing is pleasing our King.
At the end of the day, when you’ve set the table, you have the opportunity to lay your head down knowing you still cared, you didn’t close your heart, you didn’t try to force someone to change, which creates further conflict. But you represented your King. Don’t give up on that. More than anything, in those moments, what you’ve done is pleased Jesus. And that night, when you go to bed, you can rest your head knowing you’ve lived your life the way that God desires.