As a boy, one of my jobs at home was cleaning up apples and plums that fell from the trees in our yard. I now have the privilege of bringing this tedious job to my own children as apples incessantly fall off the tree in our backyard. ‘Privilege’ may be a bit of a stretch for them. They don’t really have a choice. I compel them to do it, but the job is not always compelling.
There is a difference between doing something out of strict compulsion and doing something from compelling motivation. It is like the difference between training with a coach in preparation for the Olympics and picking up rotten apples because your dad told you to do it.
Paul writes these words to the church in Corinth:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
‘Christ’s love compels us.’ This is a powerful, compelling love.
Frequently in our church we share stories of how God is at work in people’s lives. Stories like these are important because they put flesh and bone on the idea of God’s presence in our lives. The people themselves become pictures for us of what our own life with God can be like. They are compelling stories.
I still remember the time I heard the story of a family who had walked through cancer and come out the other side with God. The journey was arduous and the challenges would continue for years, but God’s grace, strength, and mercy pervaded their story. It was compelling.
Underlying this story, and others like it, is the story of the One, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ story, as Paul points out, is a story of compelling love. It is the story of One without sin becoming sin for others. It is the story of the Living One experiencing death so that those dead in sin can themselves live. It is the story of a great and compelling love: the love of God.
The Apostle John writes elsewhere:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. (1 John 3:16).
The incarnation of Jesus Christ and His journey to the Cross reveal love itself, particularly the love of God. Jesus puts flesh and bone on the concept of God’s loving presence in our lives. He makes it real, earthy, and tangible. Paul describes the Jesus’ life as compelling.
Jesus’ life is compelling because He shows us the great lengths to which God will go in order to redeem the world. Jesus’ life is compelling because He shows that we owe everything to God. He died so that we can have life. He became burdened that we might go free. He was broken so that we might be whole. And so, says Paul, we “should no longer live for [our]selves but for Him who died for [us] and was raised again.”
John Chrysostom, a fourth century church leader, offers a simple response to Paul’s words: “Accordingly, let us heed the apostolic exhortation, not living for ourselves but for Him who died and rose for us.”
With such a compelling love before us, we are compelled to live in a different way than we did while dead in sin. With such a compelling love before us, we now live arrested by the gracious presence of God.