On Being a Servant of One Lord (II Corinthians 5:14, 15)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: 2 Corinthians 5:14–5:15
I. Spiritual Healthiness
Less than a week ago I walked into an orthodontist's office and within seconds was having my temperature taken. Now when it comes checking someone's temperature, I'm extremely thankful for the advances we've seen in terms of technology; just point the infrared thermometer at the forehead and you get a result within seconds. Could you imagine standing in a waiting room like that with a classic thermometer sticking out of your mouth? Or even worse, sticking out of your... no, we won't go there this morning.
But taking your temperature is important, isn't it? Yes, during a pandemic like this. But it's always been important in terms of assessing your healthiness, or lack thereof. This morning, I'd like to begin with a passage that does something similar. Turn if you would to II Peter 1:5–11. Listen to what Peter tells his readers here about their spiritual health...
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and stead-fastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffect-ive or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So there's a lot here. But consider with me three key ideas we discover in this passage:
First, look again at verse 8. We find there a statement about spiritual healthiness. If the qualities you see listed in vs. 5-8 are (in Peter's words) “yours and are increasing”, that's an indicator of spiritual healthiness. It's growth, right! Do you see that? Peter is saying, 'if your faith is characterized by these qualities, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ'. And that healthiness is spoken about in more ultimate terms in verses 10 and 11. God's called and elected people can find assurance of his eternal work for them as they see his present work in and through them. Isn't that awesome!
But in light of verse 8, second, for Peter unhealthiness must mean possessing knowledge of our Lord Jesus, and yet, having a knowledge that has no real spiritual effect on or produce any real, spiritual fruit in your life. In fact, Peter goes on to also provide us with another statement, this time a statement about spiritual unhealthiness. Verse 9: For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, [he explains 'nearsighted'...] having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. So Peter wanted his readers, and God wants us today, to think about both spiritual healthiness and spiritual unhealthiness.
But think about a third idea we find here: Peter is also making a statement about being spiritually healthy. Look again at that phrase in verse 5: “make every effort” (2x). In light of “his divine power” (mentioned in v. 3), the apostle wants them to strive with all that strength to be like Christ. This exhortation to healthiness is in some sense repeated in verse 10: “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election”. How? By “mak[ing] every effort”.
Brothers, sisters, friends, this passage teaches us that God cares about our spiritual health. And he wants you to care about your spiritual health. Like Peter with his readers, God is calling us to assessment. If God himself were to take your spiritual temperature this morning, what would it say? Well, He wants you to 'take your temperature'. He wants me to take mine.
Each day we hear encouragements to consider our physical health; to be medically vigilant. But shouldn't we, even more so, also be spiritually vigilant? As most of you know, temptations toward spiritual complacency are very real. It's easy to get distracted. It's easy to settle. It's easy to be content, kicked back on a kind of spiritual 'cruise control'. It's easy to fool ourselves about our spiritual health. But remember God's word through Peter... “make every effort”.
So how does one take his or her spiritual temperature? What kind of 'thermometer' would God have us use? Well, a 'thermometer of the word', of course. By that I mean both the word of God in Scripture and the Word of God in flesh... Jesus. As Way of Grace, we've summarized what this word reveals by defining four essential areas of belief: One Lord, One Body, One Truth, and One Mission. What I'd like to do over several messages, starting today, is to consider together those Four Essentials... in order to help you 'take your temperature'.
II. The Passage: “Might No Longer Live for Themselves” (vs. 14-15)
Let's begin by flipping back to the second letter of another apostle. Look with me at what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:14–15. While talking with these disciples about the principles that inform, that define his ministry, Paul writes these glorious words...
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.
So what is Paul emphasizing for us here? Well, I would argue that he's emphasizing, that he's explaining, that if you belong to Christ, that if you consider yourself a Christian, than you are a servant of one Lord. Notice how, in some sense, Paul is challenging those who only think of faith in these terms: “Well, I believe in God, and I believe Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, and so I know I'm going to heaven.” But Paul is saying, “Not so fast.”
As he does quite often, Paul is once again emphasizing the death and resurrection of Jesus. But look at how he explains the implications of that Good News. Yes, Christ, made atonement through his sacrificial death, and thus, we can be forgiven. And through his resurrection from the dead, we can also triumph over death and spend eternity with God. But between past sins forgiven and enjoyment of future glory, there is a new life that Jesus has made possible. Paul puts it this way a couple verses later in verse 17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
But in our main verses, verses 14-15, Paul is explicit about how the radical message of the gospel has radical implications for being “a new creation”! Think about the progression of Paul's thoughts here by thinking in terms of what it means to be a servant of one Lord.
First, we see here that a servant of Jesus has died to living for himself or herself.
What exactly does Paul mean that because (v. 14) “one has died for all... all have died”? I think Paul explains that idea more clearly in another passage. Listen to Romans 6:6–7...
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.
We are not simply people who sin. Without God's grace, we are “enslaved to sin”. What does that mean? Well, being enslaved to sin involves being enslaved to a me-centered mentality. Sin deceives us, doesn't it? We foolishly believe we are most free when we are most able to do what we want. But that is a lie. That isn't freedom. It's simply proof of our bondage. But Jesus Christ can change that. Listen to how Paul personally rejoices in this amazing truth:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
So to have faith in the death of Jesus is to believe that (among other things), by faith, we can spiritually die to sin and self through his physical death. We can be set free! And that's exactly what we read here in II Corinthians 5, just in broader terms: all those for whom Christ died, all those who have believed, have died through his death. But this sets us up for another idea.
Second, a servant of Jesus lives instead for the one “who for their sake died and was raised”. Yes, we are set free through Christ. But as Paul triumphantly declared in Galatians 2, we are also set free FOR Christ. Paul puts it plainly in verse 15 of II Corinthians 5: “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.”
What exactly does it mean to live for him, to live for Christ? Well, it begins with a focus we hear about a few verses earlier. Look at v. 9: “So whether we are at home [in God's presence above] or away [here on the earth below], we make it our aim to please him.” Brothers and sisters, friends, the Christian life is a life aimed at one target: to please Jesus Christ at all times and in every way. This is why Paul encouraged the followers of Jesus in Ephesus to...
Walk as children of light... and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8, 10)
A servant of one Lord tries to figure out, he or she works hard to understand, to seek out more and more each day, what it actually looks like to glorify God by pleasing Jesus in every area, every aspect of one's life. There is no 'my time' and 'God's time'. There is no 'my money' and 'God's money'. There is no 'my wish list' and 'God's wish list'. All of it belongs to God because we belong to God. How? I Corinthians 6:19–20...
You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Jesus paid the price by pouring out his life on the cross that you and I might now generously spend our lives for Him!
Now in light of all this, consider a third idea: a servant of Jesus is called to serve in and with the love of Christ.
Look again at the opening phrase of our main passage (v. 14): “For the love of Christ controls us...”. That words controls could also be translated as “constrains” or “compels”. The idea here is that living to please Jesus means walking that narrow path on which Jesus walked (and on which he continues to walk). It is the path of radical, sacrificial, God-glorifying love.
This is ultimately what it means to live for and please Christ: it means allowing the love that Jesus poured out for all to shape your life in such a way that you also pour out your life in love for all; that same love Jesus exemplified.
III. Today's 'Thermometer'
Now please remember what drove us to II Corinthians 5. God wants you to 'take your temperature', your spiritual 'temperature'. How do we do this? With a 'thermometer of the word'; specifically, this word this morning; this passage; these truths. When it comes to this idea of being a servant of One Lord, are you healthy? Or is God revealing to you this morning evidence of unhealthiness? Remember some of what it means to be a servant...
It means letting go of that old mentality that your life belongs to you. It means rejoicing in the fact that slavery to sin and self has been ended for all who trust in Christ's power.
Being a servant means seeking to please Him every day in every way. As I said before: the Christian life is a life aimed at one target: to please Jesus Christ at all times and in every way. This is a radical notion. Sadly, this is even a radical notion in many churches today.
Being a servant means seeking to understand better what is pleasing to God. Wanting to know what pleases him is an expression of wanting to know him. It means regularly asking, “What has Jesus called me to do in this situation? What would He do? What is most glorifying to God in this situation? What does his word tell me? How might others help learn?
And being a servant means walking in love, for Christ, and in light of Christ's love for us. Is the love of Jesus radically important to you? And if it is, does the love of Jesus radically characterize your life; as Paul put it, is that love the controlling factor in your life...love for others, love for all people?
Using Peter's words, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing,” it's an indication of healthiness. Does being servant of One Lord save us? Absolutely not. Who Christ is and what Christ did saves us. God, by his grace, saves us. But this kind of servanthood is evidence of our salvation. It is how you (Philippians 2:12) “work out your salvation”. So brother, sister, friend, will you take your temperature in light of what we've learned about a healthy Christian life? And if you see that healthiness, rejoice! But if you see unhealthiness, especially unhealthiness all around, pray. Pray, and ask someone else to pray for you. Let's each do that now as we thank God for our time and seek his help in assessing our spiritual healthiness.