“Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5: 9-14).
In this section of the epistle the apostle Paul brings before us the three great motives that moved his heart as he went about through the world proclaiming the gospel of Christ. The first is this: He ever had it before his mind that all his work must soon be tested at the judgment-seat of Christ. What a solemn reflection it is for a Christian to remember that everything he says and everything he does as a believer is some day going to be examined by the Lord Jesus, and he will be rewarded accordingly! This, of course, is an altogether different thing from the Christless soul standing before the Great White Throne to be judged for his sins. The judgment-seat of Christ refers to that review which will take place when our blessed Lord returns again and gathers all His own before Himself. He says, “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). The Son of Man is like one who has gone into a far country, but has left to his servants certain responsibilities and given them certain talents, and says, “Occupy till I come.” Then when He returns again He is going to examine all their work, and reward everything that was the result of His Holy Spirit’s control over their lives.
Notice the way the apostle puts it here. “Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.” This word translated “labor” really means “are ambitious.” It might be translated, “Wherefore we are ambitious, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.” The apostle uses this same word in two other places in his letters. In one instance he tells us that he is ambitious not to build on another man’s foundation, but to preach the gospel in the regions beyond, a most worthy ambition. He was a true missionary. And then again, writing to the Thessalonian saints, he exhorts them to study to be quiet and to do their own business. That may be translated, “Be ambitious to mind your own business.” That is a wonderful ambition. So many are ambitious to mind other folks’ business that they do not have time for their own. “We are ambitious, that, whether present or absent”—those words refer back to the first part of this chapter where we read, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Now he says, “We are ambitious that whether present in the body or whether with the Lord, whether we live or die, that we should be accepted of Him.”
In the epistle to the Ephesians he tells us that God has made us “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). As believers we are all accepted in Christ, but here we find that he is urgently desirous of being accepted of Christ. Notice the difference. Accepted in Him—that is my standing. God sees me in Him, and Christ Jesus is made unto me wisdom, even righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is my perfection. I am complete in Him, But now I who already am complete in Him, who already have been accepted in Him, am to be exercised about being accepted of Him. Accepted of Him really means being well-pleasing to Him. You see, accepted in Him is my standing, accepted of Him has to do with my state. I wonder whether this is our ambition. Let us search our hearts and ask what our ambition really is. Is it to excel in some particular line for which you feel you are specially adapted? Is it to be thought well of by men and women like yourself? Or is it to be well-pleasing to the Lord, to have His approval?
I remember very well hearing Dr. G. Campbell Morgan say that a great crisis came into his life when he first gave up his place as a schoolmaster to become a minister of Christ. It was a very solemn moment when he was set apart to the work of the Lord, and when he got home that night and went into his room, he fell down on his knees before God, and he was sure he could hear the Lord saying to him, “Now, Morgan, you have been set apart definitely for the ministry of the Word. Do you want to be a great preacher, or do you want to be My servant?” His first thought was, “Oh, I want to be a great preacher; surely there is no more laudable ambition than that.” But why should the Lord put it that way—“Do you want to be a great preacher, or do you want to be My servant?” And he said, “Why can I not be His servant, and a great preacher?” He went through a time of real soul-struggle, and then the thought came that it might be in the will of God that as a servant of Christ his ministry should be a very obscure one, and he cried, “O blessed Lord, I would rather be Thy servant than anything else!” And God not only made him His servant but a great preacher. Sometimes we fulfil our deepest ambition by foregoing our own desires and saying, “Lord, I want to be Thy servant; just take me, make me, break me, do what Thou wilt with me.” You remember that through Jeremiah the Lord said to Baruch: “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not” (Jer. 45:5). So He says to every one of us, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.” But what should we seek? To be well-pleasing unto Him, so that whatever niche He calls upon us to fill we may fill it to His glory, and this in view of the judgment-seat.
“For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Have you ever as a Christian stopped to think of what a solemn thing it will be when your life’s work is ended, when all further opportunity for witnessing for Christ on earth will have gone by forever, when you stand in your glorified body before His judgment-seat, and He will go back over all the way you have come, and will give His own estimate of all your service, of everything you have ever attempted to do for Him? Will He have to say at such a time, “You had a very won- derful opportunity to glorify Me, but you failed because you were so self-occupied, you were so much concerned about what people would think of you, instead of being concerned about pleasing Me; I will have to blot all that out, I cannot reward you for that, for there was too much self in that service”? And then He will point to something else, maybe something you had forgotten altogether, and He will say, “There! You thought you failed in that; didn’t you? You really thought you blundered so dreadfully that your whole testimony amounted to nothing, but I was listening and observing, and I knew that in that hour of weakness your one desire was to glorify Me, and though nobody applauded you I took note of it and will reward you for it.” What a joy it will be to receive His approval in that day. If we learn to live as Paul did with the judgment-seat of Christ before us, we will not be men-pleasers, but we will be Christ-pleasers.
Notice the next motive that stirred the apostle’s heart to Christian endeavor. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” This, I think, is a forgotten note in modern preaching in many places. “The terror of the Lord.” Is there anything in God to be afraid of? Away back in the seventies Theodore Parker preached a sermon that was widely published entitled, “There is Nothing in God to Fear,” and in some way or another that false note that he struck at that time went all over this land, and more or less had its influence upon thousands of preachers who read that eloquent sermon, and men came to the conclusion that there was nothing in God to fear, and so dropped the doctrine of eternal punishment for impenitent sinners. They forgot that the Bible said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31), and substituted a rosewater gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, instead of the stern reality set forth in this Book. But there is something in God to fear, something that the Christ-less man may well fear, and that is God’s hatred of iniquity. God is of purer eyes than to look upon sin; He cannot but judge iniquity. And so the apostle said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” As he thought of Christians having to answer for their behavior at the judgment-seat of Christ it at once brought home to his heart what a solemn thing it would be for unsaved men to face their sins at the great white throne. The apostle Peter says, “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17, 18). If our blessed Lord does not overlook one thing in the lives of His beloved people, but if everything is coming into the light in that day, what will it be for Christless men to have all their sins made manifest at His judgment-bar, and to meet a just and awful doom? As Paul went out to this poor Christless world he realized he was going to men that were lost, not merely in danger of being lost some day, but lost here and now in this life. But he had a gospel for lost men, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and so he went to men with Christ. He did not go out to glorify himself or to get a certain reputation among men.
He says, “We commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.” When you find men who profess to be servants of Christ glorying in outward appearance, Paul says, you can contrast our behavior with theirs—we are made the very offscouring of the earth for Christ’s sake and are not seeking man’s applause, we are seeking the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ. There were those who said of Paul, The man is insane; it is not natural that any man should be actuated by such motives as these; it is not natural for a man to live a life such as this. Very well, he says, “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.” We are not even concerned about insisting that we are sane; we are not even concerned about insisting that our words are words of sobriety; we leave that to God to judge. We proclaim the message in dependence on the Holy Spirit, and are not concerned at all about man’s approval or disapproval. Our business is to glorify Christ and to seek to save the lost. This is the ideal preacher of the Word. I never read words like these but I feel so condemned in my own conscience that I hardly know how to talk to other people. I can detect in my own heart so much pride, so much human ambition, so much selfishness, so much that is different from what was found in the Lord Jesus Christ, that I have to bow before Him and tell Him I am so unworthy to be His servant, and yet to plead with Him for Jesus’ sake to use one, even though unworthy, who at least has some little desire to see poor sinners brought to a saving knowledge of God’s beloved Son.
It is always comforting to know that everything that God has done in this world, He has done through imperfect instruments. He has never had a perfect instrument. I do not think of Jesus as an instrument, He was God—“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)—but I am thinking of His prophets, His preachers, pastors, evangelists, teachers, apostles, they are all imperfect. A Peter denied his Lord, even a John and a James were ambitious to sit one on the right hand and one on the left hand of the Lord in His kingdom, and a Paul made a mistake at the last and insisted on going up to Jerusalem against the voice of the Spirit. Even the best of God’s servants have failed, and yet how gracious of Him to use them. He uses the message they bring, the truth they proclaim. He will deal with His servants Himself about their failure, but He will use the message when Christ is lifted up.
Now notice the last of these three impelling motives. Paul says, “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” I stop here in the middle of a sentence, for these words in themselves are enough; they complete our theme. What are Paul’s three impelling motives? First, a realization of the fact that we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; second, a recognition of the fact that men are lost and exposed to the judgment of God; and third, the love of Christ constraining, that all-conquering love that laid hold of the heart of proud, haughty, self-righteous, cruel Saul of Tarsus, that religious zealot who went forth with a heart filled with hatred for the name of Jesus, seeking to bind those that loved Him, to cast them in prison and compel them to blaspheme, in fact to put them to death if they did not renounce Christ. There he was, hastening on to Damascus with no thought in his soul that the time would ever come when he would be the greatest preacher of the gospel which he was then seeking to destroy, that this world should ever know. He fell to the ground, a light brighter than the sun shone round about him, and he heard a voice from the glory exclaiming in sweet accents, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” And trembling and astonished he exclaimed, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And the answer came back, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me” (Acts 26:14-18). And in that one glorious moment the darkness disappeared from Saul’s heart, the veil was torn away, his eyes were opened, Christ filled the vision of his soul, and henceforth he could say, “The love of Christ constraineth me.” That is what made him the man that he was, actuated, motivated by divine love. Do you know that love? Have you too been laid hold of by the love of Christ? Then, may you go forth to make Him known to others.