Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 ESV
Paul has just told the Corinthians that there is a day coming when all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). It is with that thought in mind that Paul refers to the “fear of the Lord.” It is an awareness of the future judgment of our present actions that should create in us a sober-minded evaluation of all that we do in this life. As believers, we should carefully consider all our thoughts and actions based on the knowledge that we will one day answer to God for all that we have done in this life since coming to faith in Christ. Paul told the Romans, “Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … each of us will give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:10, 12 NLT).
Paul was not saying that he feared the judgment of God in the sense that he might lose his salvation or his place in heaven. It was just that he had a strong motivation not do anything that might bring the displeasure of his God on the day of judgment. He lived to please God. He wanted to do the will of God. And so he was unwilling to let what men thought about him in this life overshadow or influence the importance of what God would think about his actions when he stood before the judgment seat of Christ in the next life. That is what led him to persuade others. That is what prompted him to risk all in order to save some. His reputation took a back seat to the message of redemption. What concerned Paul the most was what God thought of him. “But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:11b ESV).
It seems that Paul had to spend a great deal of time defending his apostleship. Unlike the original disciples of Jesus, Paul had not been there at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was not one of the twelve. He had not been personally taught by Jesus and, therefore, his opponents argued that he had no authority. On top of that, it also seems that Paul had a less-than-impressive aura about him. He was evidently small in stature, unimpressive in appearance, and had gained a reputation for being a second-rate communicator. He even admitted as much in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4 NLT). The only reason Paul attempted to defend his apostleship or say anything about himself that might be construed as bragging was to that the Corinthians might be able to silence his critics who kept trying to diminish his influence among them. Paul didn’t mind if people thought he was crazy, as long as he knew that he was being faithful to God. And even if he did come across as somewhat crazy, it was only because he was obsessed with sharing the gospel with as many people as he possibly could. When it came to the good news, he was “out of his mind.”
Paul’s perspective was that, crazy or sane, “Christ’s love controls us.” He was motivated by love for the lost and a Christ-like compassion for believers. And his love for others was the direct result of God’s love for him. The apostle John wrote, “We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:19-20 NLT). And how did God show His love for us? “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). It was that very love that motivated Paul. And because of what Jesus Christ had done for him, Paul was willing to risk all in order to tell all about the good news made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:15 NLT
God’s love for us required that Jesus die in place of us. His death on our behalf made possible our new life. And that new life has freed us to live for Him, not ourselves. And our new-found capacity to live unselfishly shows up in our desire to share His love selflessly with all those we meet. “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).