Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 5
One of the pieces of advice I give to expecting fathers is about the moment they leave the hospital with their first child. I tell them that while they’re still in the hospital, their baby will have around-the-clock care from professionals. Nurses and doctors will watch over that newborn, changing their diaper, and meeting every need. They are always just a button away from coming into the wife’s room. The moment the new parents step outside that hospital door, they’re on their own. It’s scary. And the place it starts is in the car. They put that little bundle of joy in the car seat for the first time and start driving. But Dad’s driving is now controlled by what’s in the backseat.
When my wife, Cindy, and I took our firstborn home from the hospital, I drove in a place that I had never been before—the slow lane. The speed limit was fifty-five but I have to tell you, I don’t think I ever hit that speed. All because I was being controlled by someone else, my newborn son.
The apostle Paul tells us the same thing about his life. He is a man under another person’s control: “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Why does Paul preach? His answer is that the love of Christ makes him do it. Paul is a helpless man. Paul is not deciding to do anything on his own. He cannot help himself.
Paul says that the “love of Christ controls us;” not “love for Christ” but Christ’s love for us. This is an important distinction. It should be our priority that we understand the love of God. Why does temptation and fear and lust often control us? Because we do not understand the love of Christ. To have a revelation of His love for us is to be controlled by that love. When we realize how much Christ loves us, something in that revelation says there is nothing greater that is in charge of our actions.
The word control is an important word. The King James Version uses the word constraineth.
I have a set of commentaries in my library that have always been helpful in interpreting words. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, it’s profitable that we occasionally expand on a word. Control is an important word for us to unpack. William Barclay’s New Testament commentary does this brilliantly. He says that the word control, which Paul uses in this verse, was used in four different ways in the first century when Paul decided to use it.
First, it was an instrument that pushed on the side of an animal to keep it from moving so the farmer could administer medication. It controlled the animal from moving away from something that would make it healthier.
Second, it forced a ship to stay straight as it was sailing through a narrow channel. If the ship was to go off course just a little it could be devastating. The control of that steering wheel kept the vessel straight ahead, because straight meant safety. It was keeping on course.
Third, it meant to be so completely occupied with business that the person has no time for anything extracurricular. Their life and schedule was controlled by their commitment to their job.
Fourth, it was a word used for a prisoner who was in the control of the prison. It meant their schedule was dictated, their meals arranged, and their future determined and under the prison’s control.
To Paul being controlled by the love of Christ means . . . keeping still to receive medicine for health; being kept from diverting off course; being so preoccupied with his job that very little else interests him; being a prisoner, in which his life is dictated by Christ’s schedule not his own. That’s how strong “control” is to Paul.
To put all of those definitions together, I think the New English Bible captures verse 14 well: “Christ’s love leaves us no choice.”
When Hudson Taylor, the man responsible for taking the gospel to China, interviewed candidates for the mission field, he would always ask about their motivations for service. One person told him, “I want to [be a foreign missionary] because Christ has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Another said, “I want to go because millions are perishing without Christ.”
After Taylor listened to the men give a number of different answers, he said, “All of these motives, however good, will fail you in times of testings, trials, tribulations, and possible death. There is but one motive that will sustain you in trial and testing; namely, the love of Christ.”
That’s what controlled Paul—the love of Christ.