Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was once a young woman who had won a competition. The prize was a three-week trip around the world. It was the chance of a lifetime. However, the young woman gave it up to stay with a friend as she went into hospital to face a crucial and terrifying operation.
A reporter wanted to know what motivated her to give up the trip. ‘I mean, surely she’d have understood?’ said the reporter. ‘There must have been other people who could have been with her?’
The young woman was quiet for a bit. Eventually, seeing she wasn’t going to be able to say nothing, she burst out, ‘All right. You really want to know. You think I’m crazy. But what none of you know—and I wasn’t going to tell you—is what she did for me three years ago. I was on drugs, and I couldn’t stop. It got worse and worse. My family threw me out. She was the only person who looked after me. She sat up all night, again and again, and talked me through it. She mopped me down when I threw up, she changed my clothes, she took me to the hospital, she talked to the doctors, she made sure I was coming through it. She helped me with the court case. She even helped me get a job. She—she—she loved me! So did I have any choice? Now that she’s sick herself, it’s the least thing I can do to stay with her. That’s far less than she did for me.’
Love is the most potent force in the universe. Love is the kind of thing that changes everything and gives people the power to face things and do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. That is what Paul is talking about in our Epistle reading. “For the love of Christ controls us, (it urges us on), because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). So what is it precisely that “urges us on”? How does that work? That’s what we’re going to look at this morning.
What motivates us?
People are motivated by many and various things. Some motivations are simple, and others are more complex. For example, our natural instincts and inclinations, our interests, public opinion, peer pressure, our ambition, the laws of the land—these are all things that are significant motivations for human conduct. But they might not always be the best motives.
In our epistle reading, St. Paul the Apostle is answering the question, “Why does an apostle of Christ behave in the way he does? Why does he suffer so much? Why isn’t he more like the sort of leaders and teachers that the culture expected and wanted?”
Of course, Paul does mention Judgment Day as a motive. Paul knows that there is ‘no condemnation for those who belong to Christ’ (Romans 8:1), but he still has a weighty responsibility. Paul knows that there will be a moment when he will face the judge who knows all secrets of all hearts. He knows we all have to give an account. But this doesn’t get to the heart of it. What Paul says next does get to its heart. ‘You really want to know,’ he asks, ‘why we behave as we do?”
The underlying reason why the apostle Paul behaves as he does is not because of a theory, not because of fear of Judgment day, but because of love. The love of Christ. We don’t have to wonder what the love of Christ is. It is demonstrated for us in his death — “because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (v. 14b). And the love of Christ is what the gospel is all about. This is a summary of the gospel itself. Christ died for all, and in Him, all died because He is humanity’s representative, undoing the damage of humanity’s sin. Christ died for all, and that means he died for you. He lived the life you should have lived. He died the death you should have died. He did this not out of a sense of duty or obligation. He didn’t do this because it had to be done. He did it entirely out of his love for you. Christ died our death, so we died! Christ was the representative of all. So, when Christ died, you can say that all died on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. Our death is conquered in his death. Our life is found in his resurrected life.
Christ’s death at the hands of those he came to save revealed his love. That self-giving love is a moral and spiritual force of incredible power. It should stir up in you all kinds of gratitude, love, devotion, obedience. It is what motivates all Christians.
How does it work?
The gospel is not just about how people get saved. It is the announcement of a love that has changed the world. It’s a love that takes people who find themselves loved and sends them off to live and work in an entirely new way. Christ’s love gave Paul new energy, and it urged him on. That’s what all love does: it constrains us, motivates us to do things, prevents us from doing other things. Paul speaks of Christ’s love as a controlling force. Love controls us — that is to say, it holds us within bounds. It pushes us in a particular direction and keeps us going.
From what does Christ’s love restrain us? Christ died to deliver us human beings from our fatal bondage to ourselves. It withholds us from self-indulgence, worldliness, and other sins to which we are naturally prone. Human beings, by their very nature, “live for themselves.” We want to be our own gods. We live as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most.
But, in Baptism, we have died in Christ’s death. We share in both his death and resurrection. This is not just at the moment we come to faith. This is a process that continually transforms you into the image of the One who is true love. God is not giving us a newfound dedication to ourselves. This is not about being your most authentic self. This is about dying to self. We are no longer committed to the self-centred kind of living we find in the world. We need to overcome our moral laziness and the habit of always listening to ourselves. You are no longer at the centre of your existence: Christ is. What matters is not your opinion but Christ’s opinion. It’s not about what you want; it’s about what Christ wants. It’s no longer about who and what you are in and of yourself; it’s now about who you are in Christ. This is about fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things, including ourselves.There is now a power operating upon you greater than the mighty power of self. It’s the power of embodied, bleeding, dying, love.
But, the love of Christ does not control you so that you can do nothing at all. On the contrary, it restrains us so we can do more worthwhile things. We are kept from doing evil things so that we might do good things. We are prevented from doing things that bring death so that we might do things that bring life to others. This is about putting others first. This is not about loving ourselves, but about loving our neighbours as ourselves. The love of Jesus drastically reorients us away from ourselves and to God and our neighbour.
There is always the possibility that those who have benefited from Christ’s death and resurrection might revert to living for themselves. What will keep you on the right path is an awareness of the depth of Christ’s love for you. We love him and desire to live for him because we realize that he loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20).
As a Christian, the energy to get up and go on comes not from a cold sense of duty, not from a fear of being punished if you don’t do your part. It comes from the warm-hearted response of love to the love which has reached out, reached down, and reached you. This is the love of Christ. It’s the love of Christ for His Church. It’s the love that lays down one’s own life for the sake of the other. It’s the love that offers you
The peace of God which passes all understanding, and which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.