Adjusting Our Aim
Robert Wurtz II
We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well-pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. (2 Cor. 5:8-11).
Have you ever asked yourself, “What is my aim in life?” Paul addresses this vital topic by reminding the Corinthians that while we are in our natural bodies on earth we are away from the Lord in Heaven. The Holy Spirit is given, in this regard, as proof positive that we will immediately go into the presence of the Lord at physical death (2 Cor. 5:5). In the meanwhile, we are to make it our aim to live our lives well-pleasing to the Lord knowing that we must soon stand before Him to be judged for the good and bad things we have done. In other words, if this is not our aim we must adjust our aim.
One of the greatest challenges for Christians and especially teachers and preachers is to elucidate both the goodness and the severity of God (Rom. 11:22). This is why passages that speak of receiving for the good and bad deeds (practices) done while living in our natural body are difficult to grasp and accept. In modern times, the emphasis is generally on love and assurance to the exclusion of the coming judgment. However, preaching all of these truths together was not a problem for Paul. New Testament Greek scholar Gordon Fee comments along this line, “Clearly, the two positions—God-given salvation (see, e.g., Rom 3:21-31; Rom 5:1-11; Gal 5:4) and the judgment of each according to his works (see, e.g., Rom 2:6-11; Rom 14:10; 1Co 14:13; Eph 6:8; Col 3:25; cf. Mat 16:27; 1Pe 1:17; Rev 2:23; Rev 20:12; Rev 22:12)—were reconcilable to Paul.” (NIC)
I have been asked exactly what it is that we will be judged for when we stand before Christ and what that will look like. For example, I was asked many years ago what the Lord meant when He said that “every idle word that a person will speak they will give an account on the day of judgment (Matt. 12:36).” I didn’t know twenty years ago, and I don’t know today. Neither does anyone else. People have theories and opinions, but theories and opinions are not authoritative and mustn’t serve as the basis for a lackadaisical or careless attitude towards Christian living. We know in part, but the part we do know should arrest our attention. We should live our lives as if we are going to give an account for every idle word. That’s the simple answer. It’s the right thing to do and it reduces our risk of displeasing the Lord or coming into judgment.
Simultaneously, Paul could preach both confidence (assurance) and the fear of God. When he uses the term, “knowing” (knowing, therefore, the fear of the Lord…) we recognize that this was a well-understood concept to the Corinthians and all who Paul ministered to. His method of preaching was along a similar line to John the Baptist according to his own testimony in Acts 26. He made the truth plain to the people (until he was free from their blood on his hands) that practicing certain sins would exclude them from inheriting the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9, Gal. 5:21, Eph. 5:5, et al).
Paul then uses the word, “therefore” (knowing, therefore, the fear of the Lord…) to signal that what he is now saying is with the previous verses in mind. Knowing that we must give an account to God for our lives, and the awesomeness of that reality (though we know only in part), we persuade men. Even the Corinthians? Especially the Corinthians. They were doing all kinds of stuff in the flesh and some people were sick and had died because of it. They had also allowed a fornicator to dwell in their midst without dealing with him. They did this knowing that unrepentant fornication (the practice of sexual immorality) disqualifies a person from the kingdom. The warning was surely in order for them.
A “Tension” Between Truths
This is the “tension” between the truths of confidence (assurance) and the fear of the Lord that we must likewise present and represent. Why? Because many people are moving in false assurances. Consider that Jesus said that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Notice that the “false assurance” of those Jesus spoke of was rooted in what they believed was prophetic and supernatural exploits. Moving in the so-called “gifts” is the litmus test for many Pentecostals and is viewed as the authentication of a person’s ministry. Yet the Lord said that many (underline many) of these types of people will be told, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” They were practicing lawlessness (committing the sins referenced in I Cor. 6:9, Gal. 5:21, Eph. 5:5, etc.), and presumed that their prophesying, casting out devils, and working miracles exempted them from obeying God.
Keep in mind that the Corinthians were known to abuse the gifts and sweep gross sin under the rug (so to speak). This is why Paul reminds them in the strongest of terms that they need, in effect, to adjust their aim. What is this all about? What are we here for? Are we conscious of the fact that we are all going to stand before Christ and give an account of our lives? Paul certainly was and it greatly impacted the way he lived and preached.
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well-pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:8-11).