By Al Baker
The love of Christ controls me (2 Corinthians 5:14).
How did the Apostle Paul do it? How did he maintain his zeal for the kingdom of God? After his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, he found out from Ananias, to whom Jesus had spoken, that he would suffer greatly for the sake of preaching Christ crucified. After preaching a short time in Damascus, the Jews tried to kill him, and his friends were able, in a clandestine manner, to lower him out a window so that he could escape with his life. After consulting with the church leaders in Jerusalem about the gospel message, he went back to his home town of Tarsus and apparently had little ministry, as he waited upon God, as he was still held in suspicion by the church leaders. Finally Barnabas fetched him from oblivion, as it were, and brought him to Antioch to help with the church there. After a period of time the elders laid hands on him and Barnabas, and commissioned them to go to the Gentiles to preach. Paul met with opposition, persecution, and rejection wherever he went. Iconium, Lystra, Derbe on his first missionary journey proved to be lethal to his physical body. He was stoned and left for dead in Lystra, but continued on in his ministry. He was jailed at Philippi but then had the boldness to continue preaching at the second city, Thessalonica. He experienced rejection and mocking at Athens. He came to Corinth, a most wicked and perverse city, with fear and trembling. He experienced a two-hour-long riot on his third journey at Ephesus. As he met with the leaders at Antioch, after his third journey, Agabus prophesied that he would be arrested. His friends urged him not to go into Jerusalem, that the situation was volatile and toxic. He went anyway. He was, in fact, arrested. His enemies conspired to kill him. He escaped assassination when his nephew heard of the plot on his life and informed the commander of what was ‘coming down.’ At the end of his life, as he waited execution at the hands of Nero, he repeatedly states in 2 Timothy that he is alone, that his friends have left him. He told the Corinthians that though he was afflicted, he was not crushed; though he was perplexed, he was not in despair; though he was persecuted, he was not forsaken; though he was being thrown down, he was not destroyed. He told the Colossians that he rejoiced at his suffering on their behalf, that he was doing his part to fill up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions. He told the Ephesians not to worry about his tribulations on their behalf, that these were for their glory. He reminded the Corinthians that he had been whipped five times with thirty-nine lashes each time; that he had been stoned, a form of execution. Did his trials cause him to slow down, to rethink his zeal and commitment to publishing the gospel? Not at all. He told the Romans that he was not ashamed of the gospel, that it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. He told them that he hoped to see them on his way to Spain. In other words, Paul was going far, fast, and furious with the gospel all the way to the end of the world, as they knew it at the time.
How did Paul stay so relentlessly, zealously committed to the Great Commission, and how does this instruct our lives? Clearly he knew he was under obligation to preach the gospel. He knew the greatness of the eternal salvation that had been given to him was true, and that he had been called to preach it to the Gentiles. But there was a greater motivation. He tells the Corinthians that the love of Christ moved, constrained, motivated, propelled, drove him. He says that he had come to an important conclusion, an objective, historical fact that drove everything about him – that Jesus Christ died for all (as Calvin put it, Christ’s death is sufficient for all, efficient for the elect), therefore all his blood-bought people died with him, that we no longer are to live for ourselves. Instead we live for Jesus who died and rose again for our behalf. Paul said something similar to the Galatians (Gal. 2:20). In other words, Paul makes a declaration. The love of Christ is the dominating, controlling, energizing factor in his life. This love of Christ is what ‘makes him tick.’ Christ’s death is not mere speculation but a fact of history (1 Cor. 15:1-3). And Christ’s propitiating death (he died to remove the wrath of God we deserve) moves him to propagation, to do what is necessary to get the whole gospel to the whole world.
My dear friends – the great motivation for your life is the love of Christ for you. Do you know of his great love? I know you know about it, but do you really know it? It is covenantal in nature. I could say so much here, but my space is limited. He has entered into covenant with you, becoming a God to you, making you a people for himself. He claims you as the apple of his eye. He is your mighty warrior. He is Yahweh Sabaoth. He is Yahweh Elohim. He is the great I AM. He cannot, will not, let his blood-bought people go. He will keep your feet from stumbling. He will take you into his eternal kingdom when you close your eyes in death. No evil will befall you. Nor will any plague come near your tent. He will give his angels charge over you (Psa. 91:10-11).
His love is also soteriological, based on the details of your great and glorious salvation. He entered into a covenant of redemption, promising in eternity past to live on this earth a perfect life, and to offer himself up as a sacrifice for sins. The Father chose you. The Son died for you. And the Holy Spirit regenerated you in due time. He caused you to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He redeemed you by his precious blood. He reconciled you through his death. He justified you, adopted you, sanctified you, and will take you to heaven when you die.
And his love is eternal. He has loved you from all eternity. He has foreknown you. He loves you with an everlasting love. He has drawn you to himself with his loving kindness. He has given you eternal life and no one will be able to snatch you out of his hand. He has loved you as long as he has existed. That is, God has loved you forever.
This love of Christ is not a subjective, feel-good, touchy-feely type of love. It is objective, historical, experiential, and practical. By practical I mean this – do you love to meet with him daily? Do you love his church and his people? Do you share Jesus with others? Do you give your money and time sacrificially? Do you obey his commandments? My friends, if the answer to any of these questions is, ‘No,’ then these are true for one of two reasons. Either you have never truly experienced the love of Christ in regeneration, or you have never fully comprehended it.
What results from practically, experientially knowing the love of Christ? You will no longer live for yourself. You will begin to hold loosely your money, time, and other resources. You will increasingly find yourself glorying in Christ’s redemptive work on your behalf and for so many in our world. You will willingly surrender your life – body, soul, and spirit – to the great lover of your soul.
And how do you get a fresher, fuller glimpse of Christ’s love for you? Go into the ‘sanctuary of God,’ seek the Lord while you may find him, draw near to God in prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. Live with heaven in full view. Live as though you will die tomorrow. Ask God daily to stir up your zeal and love for the great lover of your soul. He will meet you. He will come to you. He will strengthen and motivate you.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network.