The following passage is usually broken up into different parts, which leads us to believe they are unrelated but in fact if we read it as a whole, we can see that it is one congruent thought and each part depends upon the other to give us the whole picture of what Paul is trying to convey.
2 Corinthians 5:10-17
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. 12 We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
The word “manifest” in here threw me off a little bit, so in seeking the true meaning of phaneroo, the original Greek word used here, I discovered that Paul is saying here that all things he and his entourage do are visible and seen to God and also he hopes are seen and made evident to the Corinthians as an example to follow. I’ve mentioned before that whenever Paul takes this bold stance of “do what I’m doing” I get nervous because I wonder if I am in a position to be followed and if I am leading by the right example. Next, Paul talks about the Corinthians having “pride” in them. This isn’t the sinful pride we normally think about, rather he is saying that the reason he hopes the Corinthians remember the works of Paul is not for boasting or to be elevated, rather as a divining rod to differentiate between people’s good works for human merit and people’s good works as a result of their transformation in Christ.
This is Paul’s point as he continues talking about all of us dying in Christ, since He died for us. It is the same theme he has been talking about throughout this letter: dying to ourselves (ie identifying with the death of Christ) so we can be born again and transformed through sanctification into Christlikeness. It all starts with our death. Therefore, Paul says, we can recognize that any real transformation is a result of us dying to ourselves, recognizing Christ as the one who made it possible, and utilizing His strength and power to carry out this transformation. It all originates with Him and therefore it is all for and because of the glory of God. Why is this important? Let’s go back to the first verse in today’s passage.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. We don’t like this verse of the bible. It would be better for our consciences if it didn’t exist. Some don’t like it because it insinuates we will be punished for our sins (even though we are saved and going to heaven). Others see it from the perspective that it gives people motivation to do good things for reward (even though Jesus clearly taught us that this motivation is selfish and sinful). So then, why does Paul say this? Because what we do matters. It isn’t about reward or punishment; it is about being obedient. It is about obedience to what God tells us and our desire to maintain a close relationship with Him. Even though we may try, I think it is impossible for us to know how we will be recompensed and to what measure. This, however, isn’t the point. Let us not take a kingdom principle and measure it with a worldly perspective. The point is that if we truly love God, then it will be evident in our actions which flow from the heart. If our actions are only to gain recognition from mere men, then we are missing the point altogether and should stop wasting our time. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Our actions should be motivated with our desire to please our heavenly father as our act of love toward Him. Paul says it another way in Romans 12, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
If you were to give an account of not just your actions but your motivation behind them right now, would they reveal your love for God or your love for something else?