How important is the good news about Jesus? Paul has been completely upfront in 2 Cor 4 that it is so overwhelmingly important that it is worth risking our lives, if need be, to spread it. Some - even some who identify as Christians - will hear this and think that is just insane. The implication in 5:13 is that some people said "you are just out of your mind. There is no way we are going to take the gospel seriously to that extent."
So why did he? And why should we? And why isn't it insane to do so?
First, how important it is. v16 says we now look at everyone in the world through completely new eyes - as a possible new creation, who can be reconciled to God, forgiven for sin and who can become the righteousness of God v21. But who aren't there yet. There is magnificent treasure and joy for them, but they haven't received it.
Second, our motivation. v14 says we are compelled by Christ's love for us and all people to tell all people. We can't keep this love to ourselves, he doesn't want us to. We exist to spread the offer of it. v11 says it the other way around - we try to persuade people because we fear God. That is, we fear stepping out of his loving purposes and living non-missionally, which is not what he wants. We have been commissioned as Christ's ambassadors, to implore people to be reconciled to him, on his behalf v20. If we don't, we are not doing the job he has commanded.
Third, the security that means we can do it in the face of severe opposition or persecution. I guess that the start of chapter 5 is responding at least partly to people who say "but if I do that people are going to try to kill me." Paul is plain: yes they might. BUT we have a heavenly home with God that we are longing for. We are burdened and groaning for it. God has made us for this eternal life (v5) and the reason he has given us the Holy Spirit - the Spirit who gives and empowers this new covenant ministry in the first place - is to assure us and guarantee what is to come, so we don't have to worry about the consequences of Spirit-filled witness to Jesus (v5).
Therefore, he says:
- We are confident v6
- We are more confident in Heaven than now because our real home is with the Lord v6
- We live by faith rather than by sight now (living by sight says "no way I am going to risk doing anything for God that might get me into difficulty or discomfort" because it has no hold on Heaven) v7
- We make it our goal to please him (v9) because we are going to appear before his judgement seat (v10)
Here is my problem. I live in comfortable suburbia, with a church family who also live in comfortable suburbia. There is nowhere like comfortable suburbia for encouraging me and all believers to settle for mediocre, unradical, unmissional, comfortable walking by sight. And it's subtle and invidious precisely because it isn't deliberate. No Christian wants to be faithless, but our environment easily sucks the spiritual life out of us. It seems the worst label that anyone can level at you in 21st century Britain is "fundamentalist" or "intolerant". Which, roughly translated means if you believe anything to be true to a sufficient exten that you will stake your life on it you are a dangerous sectarian bigot and - in Paul's ironic words - out of your mind. And, therefore, to be dismissed out of court.
And who would want that? Well, according to 2 Cor 5, anyone who thinks that God is reconciling people to himself through this message of the cross that is foolishness to the world. Make no mistake, real disciples of Jesus knowlingly, joyfully, freely, radically, publicly stake our very lives on something the world thinks is lunacy. But we know is the hope of the world.
PS if you were writing a book on the challenges of being a radical disciple / radical church in comfortable suburbia, what themes would you want to cover?