Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Death or Resurrection?

Have you ever heard a "fire and brimstone" preacher? How does that person's message compare to that of your favorite religious leader?

Popular Translation

14 The love of Christ ties us together with this one thought. Jesus died for everyone, so everyone has died. 15 He died for everyone, so those who are alive won't live for themselves. They will live for Jesus, who died and rose for them.

16 From now on, we shouldn't get to know and judge others the way we usually do. Someone might have known Christ before he died. But the way we know him is different now. If we are with the risen Christ, we are new people. Old things have gone away; everything is new!

Literal Translation

14 For the love of CHRIST binds us together, having judged this, that ONE died on behalf of all, then all died. 15 HE died on behalf of all, so that the living (ones) might no longer live for themselves, but for the ONE dying and having been raised on their behalf.

16 So, from now (on) we do not know (something or someone) according to the flesh. Even if we had know CHRIST in the flesh, we no longer know HIM, however. 17 So, if someone is in CHRIST, (he is) a new creation. The ancient (things) have passed away; Look! it has become new.

5:14 "For the love of CHRIST binds us together, having judged this..." This phrase can be translated different ways, depending on the force of the participle "having judged." Is this phrase equal to the verb "draw or bind together?" In this sense, the power of Christ's love brings Christians together one in spirit (drawn together) and one in faith (having judged or decided on 2 Cor. 14b-15). Or, does the phrase modify the verb, so that the love of Christ is a judgment (the reality of Christ's self-giving death acquits Christians of guilt)?

5:17b "The ancient (things) have passed away." In the time of Paul, many pagans saw the world as eternal and unchanging. Certainly, all people at the time lived in a static culture that considered change as suspect. The Christian faith, however, was new on the scene. Paul saw the faith as a preview to the activity of God in the world. The new outlook would logically lead to a belief in a new world order, a new creation.

Christians have different spiritualities, depending upon their focus. Some concentrate on God-entering-the-world ("Incarnation theology" where the birth of Christ raised the dignity of creation itself). Others consider the death of Jesus ("expiation theology" where the death of the Lord led to the forgiveness of a sin-filled humanity). A third group sees salvation in terms of the Resurrection (Eastern Orthodox theologies view salvation as a door to a life beyond death without the baggage of judgment). These spiritualities differ in their emphasis on the key event in the life of Christ and are marked by their outlook: current worth of all (Incarnation), guilt-to-forgiveness (Expiation), or hope in an afterlife.

The importance of the events (and their theologies) depend upon the importance placed on their sequence. Incarnation theology will trump the other two if the believer assumes the flow of time (birth to death of Christ). However, faith has a retrospective nature; we tend to see the important events in the life of Christ from the nearest (resurrection) to the farthest (Incarnation). Such an outlook answers the question: "Why do we believe in Christ?" We believe because we experience the Risen Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul assumed both outlooks. In 5:14-15, he argued from the crucifixion to the resurrection, but, in 5:16-17, he argued from the vantage point of the resurrection backward. At first, he saw that as Christ died for others, we all died (notice the past tense of the verb); obviously, Paul considered the purpose of life for the Christian was to live for the One who died for all. The Christian who "died in Christ" (i.e., baptized), whether physically alive or dead, waited for the Second Coming, as if they were in the grave with Christ. For Paul, this was the only way one could escape judgment (implicitly, only the dead cannot be judged, only the living).

However, to know the self-giving nature of Christ's death meant to know the Risen Christ. This was Paul's point in 15:16. And, if one intimately knew the Risen Christ by faith, he or she was changed by that relationship (and by God's Spirit). That person has already received the benefits of the resurrection in the gift of eternal life. He or she is a "new creation."

In the retrospect of faith, we can run our logic forwards, then backwards in time. Our reason and imaginations allow us to do so. We can see the importance of Christ's birth through the lens of his Resurrection. We can also see that we live in a world tinged by sin and its aftereffects. The present situation may give us pause, but our life in Christ gives us hope. The world might deserve some condemnation by a power much higher than we possess, but faith allows us to see the world through the loving eyes of God.

How does your faith help you remain hopeful in this world that seems out of control? How does your faith help you to see God's goodness in the world?