"And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know ... For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 8:2, 13:9)

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Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:14,15 [love of Christ]

"For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; (15) 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" (NKJV)

Synopsis: the death that according to 2 Cor. 5:14,15 is experienced by believers (i.e. those who judge that Jesus died for all) is repentance - the death of the spirit of disobedience to God. The elect from among those who repent are given the spirit of Christ's love - an attitude of heart and mind that leads them to sacrifice to the service of the Gospel ('those who live should live no longer for themselves'). In this spirit we are also reborn as new creation - the new mind developed in the knowledge and obedience to the truth ('those who live').

The subject of 2 Cor. 5:14,15 is the "love of Christ" which the apostle Paul presents here by definition. Nevertheless, it is precisely because of the content of this definition that it is necessary to reflect on who the 'all' referred to in this text are and what is the death and resurrection in which 'all' share - "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; (15) 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" (NKJV). For the assumption that 2 Cor. 5:14,15 teaches about the death and resurrection of the physical body leads to impossible conclusions. To say that "One died for all, then all died" would have to mean that the death of the flesh, in which we all share, is the result of Jesus' death on the cross, while the exact opposite is true: Jesus faced death because man sinned and was put under the death sentence. So the assumption that the conjunction 'then' introduces here the 'cause -> effect' structure is out of the question.

One can also try to see 'then' as an element introducing the conclusion of the argument. From this point of view the conclusion, and therefore the subject of the argument, is that "all died". It does not appear, however, that the apostle Paul aimed at providing evidence for mortality of man. Besides, an argument for our mortality would be the fact of Jesus' death. The apostle's reasoning would therefore be as follows: I claim that people die, and I support my claim with the fact that the man Jesus died 2,000 years ago ... The sense of such evidence requires no further comment. The situation is further complicated by Paul's use of the article before 'all' - "then [hoi] all died" (2 Cor. 5:14). If it were all in an unqualified way, the definite article would not be needed. Its use indicates everyone, but in a given separate group. Thus, the apostle seems to be saying that the death of Jesus Christ results in the death of not all mankind, but only of certain people whom the fact of their death somehow distinguishes from the rest.

The apostle Paul speaks of this particular community in 2 Cor. 5:14 that they 'judge that one died for all'. In other words, they are all who believe in Jesus Christ, and by believing, they will also repent. That is why Paul writes that "[hoi - these] all died". Repentance is not death in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense it actually means the death of the personality that has sinned up to now without paying attention to the Lord's laws and recommendations. Hence, an adequate symbol of the repentance proclaimed by John was immersion in the waters of the Jordan, referring to the immersion of the entire nation leaving Egypt in the waters of the Red Sea (Mt. 3:5,6; 1 Cor. 10:1,2). In this context, immersion is a symbolic separation of man from the Egypt of this world governed by the antitypical Pharaoh - Satan. The apostle Paul points to immersion as a symbol of the burying of those who were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because we have 'died for sin' (Rom. 6:2-14, 8:10).

This, however, is not the same as the experience of the new birth. For the concept of includes not only the new creation (mind regenerated by the love of the truth) but also the new character absorbing the principles of righteousness by learning more and more about the teachings of God's Word (; Phil. 1:9-11; Eph. 3:18,19; Col. 1:9-12; 1 Pt. 2:1,2). Not all of those who repent do this, and so not all, though living away from sin, experience the birth of a new character like that of our Lord. Hence the apostle Paul makes an additional exclusion: "those who live" (2 Cor. 5:15). The goal of the living is that they "live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (NKJV). Our Lord did not live for himself, but his life from his baptism in the Jordan was devoted to doing the Father's will in the service of bearing witness to the truth (Jn. 18:37; Heb. 10:5-7). Likewise, the lives of those born of the spirit of obedience to God's Word are also sacrificed to the service of the truth in its research, teaching, and evangelization (2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 4:11-13).

However, if the phrase "then all died" refers to those who die to sin by repentance, the earlier statement "One died for all" must also apply to this group. There may be some objection to this conclusion because it suggests that Jesus' sacrifice does not involve unbelievers. Of course it does, for "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 Jn. 2:2). It is worth noting, however, the distinction made by the apostle John: for our sins and the sins of the world. The essence of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was to provide a pattern of perfect obedience to God (Rom. 5:18,19). This pattern will be presented to everyone in due course (Is. 11:9; Phil. 2:10,11). Nevertheless, it is evident that today it is used only by believers who accept Jesus Christ and repent of their sins (Mt. 20:28). Therefore, there is no impropriety in saying that the value of Jesus Christ's sacrifice applies only to those who appreciate the fact that Jesus died for them.

The apostle Paul's thought in 2 Cor. 5:14,15 thus seems to go like this: our Lord's sacrifice is effective for believers - those who "judge" it - so all of them die for sin by repentance. But the purpose of this sacrifice does not end there because "He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves." The pattern our Lord left behind is not only a pattern of avoiding sin (1 Pt. 2:21,22). The ministry as exemplified by his consecrated life was that of God's Word (Jn. 18:37). "Those who live" - who have been reborn in his spirit of obedience to the truth - render the same service, and in this sense they no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose again - if they carry out the task entrusted to them by the Lord ().

Repentance works in the area of compulsory love, and its subject is the reform of character. In this sense, repentance works 'inward'. Those who have been made alive by the spirit of Christ are working 'outward' to pass on the teaching of Christ. Therefore, Paul again uses in 2 Cor. 5:14-15 the definite article: "He died for all, that those [hoi] who live..." Just as the first use of the article served to distinguish from among all mankind those who have repenting faith ("all died"), its second use distinguishes a group of those who not only repent but also have Christ's spirit of service to God's Word. Thus, although the application of Jesus Christ's sacrifice for believers begins with repentance, making full use of it and thus transforming into the image of Jesus Christ in character, requires intense work with the Word of God and growth not only in zeal but also in knowledge and application of the truth in an attitude of continual consecration (Heb. 10:14).

The apostle Paul writes about those who adopt such an attitude that they are embraced by the love of Christ. The Greek synecho, which is translated here by the verb 'compel', means 'to press' or 'to squeeze'. Thus, the element of force that compels one to adopt a certain attitude is clear, and in the context of 2 Cor. 5:14-15 - an attitude of consecration to the Gospel. Such love does not come from ourselves, but is a gift of God, "because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5 NKJV). Thus, having the earnest of Christ's spirit, by growing in the knowledge and practice of the truth, we become part of his body of Christ, "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10; ). Repentance is a prerequisite for receiving the spirit of Christ's love, but only the elect can become recipients of it at this time (Acts 2:38; ).

Therefore, in 2 Cor. 5:15 we again find the definite article hoi - "those who live" - because only those living of all believers have this privilege of following the Lord in consecration. We will not convince anyone who has not received the spirit of Christ's love to make the effort to work with God's Word. On the other hand, those who have received it may consider themselves to be recipients of a special grace - a grace that is our great joy, but also a duty - the essence of our sacrifice.

Keywords: 2 Cor. 5:14-15, love of Christ
Bible translations used in the commentary:
NKJV - New King James Version