Wherefore We Labour – II Corinthians 5:9-16


When Missionary Johnson was here a couple weeks ago, he spoke about his intended work in Thailand before preaching during the morning service. Years ago, I was in his shoes, preaching in different churches every Sunday, and often driving between cities the rest of the time. And just to be honest, there was little time for Bible study and sermon preparation. But I can’t imagine living in an RV with 5 kids for months and months on end. For me, under far less strenuous circumstances, I ended up preaching the same message many times.

The other day, I was looking through my catalogue of sermons and found a message designated MIS-001. This was the outline that I preached several dozen times back in the early 70’s. I have decided to share it with you because it is as appropriate today as was appropriate back then. But hopefully, I won’t be as stilted and robotic as I was a few times during that period of deputation.

Why we do what we do as a church? What should we do in the future and what would we like to accomplish? What is our motivation for our service of the Lord? There are probably several answers to those questions.

Let’s consider some of Paul’s answers. What the Apostle is outlining here are some of the things which motivated him as a missionary. Often we don’t care about, or trust, what people say about motives. Usually we’d rather to deal with the effects of people’s actions and not their cause. Take salvation as an example: Some people come to Christ out of fear of Hell. Some come, feeling drawn by the Lord’s great love. Some know that sin is ruining their lives and that Christ is the only solution; they come for escape. And some come because others they love have already turned to Christ But for whatever reason – they have come – the important thing is that they have come. We could analyze lots of reasons for all sorts of things: Why does that man work at the grocery store? Is it because he loves the smell of fresh vegetables? Is it because he feels sorry for hungry children. Probably he works in the grocery store because he wants a pay check in order to feed his own children. And why are YOU here in this service tonight? Obligation? Habit? Forced by parents? Bored at home? Hunger for a brief bit of fellowship? Love of the Word? Love of the Lord? Your reason is not as important as the fact you are here – God may yet bless you. But an analysis of your reason might reveal something about you.

Paul was an ordinary man with a extraordinary position; He was an apostle of the Lord Jesus. There have been few lives spent with the same degree of self-denial as was his. And here in this passage he outlines what motivated him in the ministry. “Wherefore we labour.”

But, please notice the pronoun “we.” Why didn’t the Holy Spirit lead Paul to use the pronoun “I” instead of the editorial “we”? Is it because this is Paul’s testimony, but it is meant to convict US? Everything that prompted Paul to serve Christ should also prompt us, if our hearts run parallel to his. We are productive Christians in direct measure to the degree to which these things can be found in our hearts. And perhaps that is a scary thought.

Paul’s first, if not his supreme motivation was to be accepted of Christ.

“Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” Obviously there is the possibility of major error here, if we are not careful. Paul was already a child of God, a citizen of Heaven and sealed with the Holy Spirit. He possessed the earnest of the Spirit, and the state of his soul not in doubt. He was not saying that he laboured in order to be received by God. Heaven is not earned by efforts, labors or spiritual striving, no matter how religious and pure. Paul was serving the Lord in order to be ACCEPTABLE to God, not to be received by God. He wanted to be well-pleasing to the Lord, Who loved him and gave Himself for him. Paul served God in order to please God.

Should this be confined only to Paul’s duties as Apostle? This is not a statement about apostolic duty, but of the Christian life in general. I read of a sculptor in ancient Rome who was commissioned to make a statue which was to sit in a niche in a wall. He formed the general shape and then began to work on the back of the statue. He spent hours getting the details of the back of the head just right. Then someone pointed out that no one would ever see the back of that statue. The artist stared at the man for a moment and then corrected him. “You may not see the back, nor will any of the general public, but God looks on the back.”

Do you see the words “present or absent”? They refer to whether or not Paul is living in his earthly tabernacle or his new house from heaven. Let’s say that a man served God faithfully all his life, but in a fit of depression he went to the bar and got really, really drunk. And let’s say that it was at that moment, the trumpet sounded for the rapture. The man was transported to Heaven right out of “Joe’s Tavern.” Would the man have any worth-while excuse for where he was when he left this earth? Isn’t it obvious that pleasing God ought to be a full-time goal and activity? What were you doing on the morning of September 11, 2002? Many of us can remember exactly what we were doing when the Twin Towers came down. In fact many of us remember what we were doing when we heard that J.F.K. had been killed. Maybe 10,000 years from now someone will ask: “What you doing a the moment of your translation?” Or maybe the question will be: “What were the circumstances of your death?” Whatever it was, was it acceptable to God?

The Old Testament tabernacle was made up of many boards, silver pots and ornate covers. But there were several rods that tied them all together along each side. It was built according to God’s specifications; built to please the Lord. Our faithfulness and obedience should run through and tie together all that we do for the glory of the Lord.

By the way, the word “labour” does not mean simply “work.” In this case, it is not the Greek word that means to “work until you are worn out.” It is a word which speaks about ambitiousness. “I am ambitious to please the Lord,” says Paul. “I serve to please Him.”

Besides that, there is a judgment day coming for every child of God.

“Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; That every one may receive the things done in his body, According to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

This means that our ambitions and labours are going to be thoroughly analyzed. Actually, it would be better to say that they already are. The Lord is continually watching and overseeing our daily activities. BUT there is a day coming when our service, or lack of service, shall be recognized. Obviously this has nothing to do with the salvation of our soul. This involves rewards or rebuke for the use or abuse of our lives and bodies, our earthly tabernacle. It will cover our contribution to the services of the House of the Lord. It will involve how we have spent our weekday evenings. It will include whether or not we have honored the Lord with our finances. How have we used our ears, our mouths, our feet and our minds.

Not one saint will have a pass or a bye in the day of this judgment. Everyone will receive the things done in his body. “Receive the things done” means that we will receive the due reward for the things we have done. Great acts of sacrifice for Christ will receive great awards. Great acts of neglect will be recognized as well. And doesn’t the language imply echos of the original voice? Let’s say that you have slandered and hurt some fellow Christian. Might there not be the same pain upon you which you gave him? Or let’s say that you deliberately shunned a brother. Might your reward be some sort of disdain? Heaven will not be a place of further sin, and yet in some way we will be judged and repaid. And by the way, “judgment seat” is the Greek word “bema.” Preachers sometime refer to the “bema” judgment to contrast it with the Great White Throne judgment.

Anyway, the constant specter of future judgment should keep us on the straight and narrow path of God’s service.

And then there is verse 11 – the terror of the Lord.

“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Paul had no terrifying thoughts about God, and neither should you if you are a child of God. The saint has no reason to be in terror of God, because God’s wrath has been poured out upon the Son. But your friend who is lost; your cousin, your neighbor, co-worker are still Hell-headed. Take what you know about Hell and the wrath of God, applying those facts to a living soul whom you know. Can you picture them in the flames? Can you hear their screams for mercy? That is what Paul is referring to here. He could see real people’s faces.

I was reading about a Canadian postage stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Open Golf Tournament. The two stamps in the set are to be golf ball size. And the designer said that the large size of the souvenir sheet made it possible to put in a lot of fine detail. Behind the image of the golfer were spectators, and the designer said that you can actually see their faces. That is what Paul was doing, seeing real faces as he thought about the Lake of Fire. He said elsewhere, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Here he said, “knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”

One of the saddest features of Heaven, should be the realization that not everyone we have known will be there. Sure we could talk about the election of grace. But the fact remains that many of our acquaintances are ignorant of grace and the gospel because we have neglected to tell them. In some ways, there is as much blood on our hands as on the cold, dead hands of Usama bin Laden.

Further, Paul said, this terror of judgment, even makes some think I’m insane. “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.” Let them think what they want to think. I don’t have to give an account of myself to other people. “Brethren, God knows that my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved.” And, “I am debtor, both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel.”

Paul was motivated by fear – not fear for himself but with a vicarious fear for others.

Yet there was another thing moving the Apostle.

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:” We will let the scholars debate what this “love of Christ” entails. Is it Paul’s love for Christ or Christ’s love for Paul? Is it Christ’s general love for the world? Or is it Christ’s specific love for His chosen ones? Maybe it’s not necessary to try to restrict this to any one definition.

Whatever, the Love of Christ had wrapped itself around the heart of Paul. He was being squeezed like an tube of toothpaste and out came his service for the Lord. The man who refuses to serve and glorify the Saviour is, very simply, ignorant of Christ’s love. The man who doesn’t support missions either knows very little about the love of God. Or he has too much love for himself. Who is it that Jesus’ loves? Is it just me, or just you and me? Is there no one else out there whom He regards with joy and grace? Christ Himself reminds us that His love ought to produce our service? “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Evangelism and missions are a couple aspects of the commandments that He has given us.

Paul mused, “Serve Christ?” I am constrained toward that service because I have been loved with a loved greater than that of any human being. I am thrust into the work of persuading men by the terror of God. I know that I shall have to give an account of my life before the Saviour. And besides this, I simply want to be pleasing to the Lord.

These are things that ought to be found in every Christian heart.