Reflect on the text:
“Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (II Corinthians 5:14-16, NLT).
Since Paul describes what God has done in Christ as an expression of love and means of reconciliation, Christ’s love for him (Gal. 2:20; Eph 5:21; 2 Thess. 2:16) is the primary reference. But he could not ignore his own love for Christ (Eph. 6:24).
For the apostle Paul, Christ’s love, expressed in his sacrificial death, holds him fast as the controlling reality in his life.
The NEB translates it Christ’s love “leaves us no choice.” Thrall understands it to mean “Christ’s self-sacrificing love restrains Paul from self-seeking.”
“What seemed to the casual observer to have been an ignominious and powerless death on a cross actually exerts enormous power for good on those who submit to it” (The New American Commentary, Volume 29 – 2 Corinthians, By David E. Garland).
Christ died “instead” of all…
“All humans were under sin and merited the just punishment of death (Rom. 3:9-18, 23; 5:12). We can say that one died as a representative of all and brought benefits to all because that one died instead of all.”
“It follows that “If ‘one died for all,’ then such a ‘one’ must be uniquely significant. While belief in God today is almost universal, much of the world stumbles over ascribing anything universally significant to Jesus of Nazareth. They may admire his pithy sayings and lament his tragic martyrdom. The lifeblood of the gospel, however, courses from the central truth that in Christ, God became one with the human race, that he died for all, and that his resurrection breaks the stranglehold of death.”
How many people are covered by the “all”?
Texts such as Colossians 1:20, which reveal God reconciling “to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” and Romans 8:32, affirming that, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all,” suggest that God intended that the benefits of Christ’s death reach everyone (see also Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2).
“The ‘all’ would encompass all humanity. The benefits of Christ’s death are not limited to his fellow Jews but extend beyond accepted boundaries to include male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. But those who stubbornly refuse to submit to Christ and rebuff God’s reconciliation choose to remain in condemnation. Consequently, only believers profit from Christ’s death.”
How is it that “all” die?
“From this assertion Paul draws the inference that “all die.” What is the reasoning behind this conclusion? How is it that “all” die? We might have expected Paul to have written, “One died; therefore all were saved from death.” Paul’s statement is written in a kind of theological shorthand. Its full meaning is expressed well by Tasker:
“Christ’s death was the death of all in the sense that they should have died; the penalty of their sins was borne by him” (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:20); He died in their place.”
“Paul’s purpose in this section is not to expound on the death of Christ but to argue from it. Consequently, he leaves out some basic premises about the theological reasons for Christ’s death which the Corinthians already knew, namely, that all were liable to death because of their sin and that God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin and to restore sinners (Romans 8:3).”
The next verse (5:15) explains and qualifies what this atoning death entails:…
“The ‘all’ applies to all who no longer live for themselves (see: “all who believe,” Romans 4:11; “all who call upon him,” Romans 10:12). The death he envisions is death to the self, so that one can have life with Christ.”
“As the sin of Adam is the story of all humanity, the passion of Jesus is the story of all humanity in that it reflects God’s judgment and punishment for sin. When we die with Christ, we escape the law’s judgment and the clutches of death.”
There is more to consider, much more
“Christ’s death must change the way we live here and now — on earth, not simply insure our entrance into God’s eternal presence. Anyone who expects to live in the resurrection must respond properly to Christ’s death. This response requires more than intellectual assent to the proposition that Christ’s death atones for sins; it must mold how one lives. This response provides the essential criterion for discerning who truly belongs to Christ and who does not.
Those who belong to Christ do not live for themselves. In societies given to self-promotion, self-fulfillment, and self-indulgence, Christians will stand out as distinctively different. They live only for Christ and give up their own rights for the good of others and do not insist on having their own way.
The gift of redemption that comes through Christ’s death and resurrection requires that we change the way we live. We are no longer to allow our selfish desires to twist the way we regard or treat others. To accept death with Christ so that our own longings, purposes, and securities are also put to death requires the risky venture of faith.”
“What Paul finds crucially important in this section is what Christ’s death means for how he must evaluate others and how they should evaluate him. As others now misread Paul, so he once misread Christ.”
“The “so” (hōste) draws the conclusions from II Corinthians 5:14-15. From now on, we regard no one “according to the flesh” (kata sarka, “from a worldly point of view,” NIV).
The emphasis is on “no longer” (mēketi), “from now on” (apo tou nun), and “no longer” (nun ouketi) …he surrendered all his evaluations and decisions to the wisdom of the cross. Christ’s death is the turning of the ages. It reveals that this world is passing away and shows that all attachments to it are unimportant and vain.
For Paul truth is not relative or simply a matter of personal taste; it rests in the objective reality of what God has done in Christ.
Paul affirms that “we regard no one from a worldly point of view (kata sarka, “according to the flesh”)—though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” The latter half, “though we once regarded Christ in this way,” has generated a number of different interpretations. (NRSV “from a human point of view”; NAB “in terms of human judgment”; GNB “according to human standards”)
Finally, Paul says that he knows no one kata sarka.
This statement that he no longer knows Christ kata sarka therefore has nothing to do with any presumed disinterest in the earthly Jesus. Paul refers instead to the measuring scale by which he knows or judges others, namely, unspiritual, worldly standards. Paul does not reject knowledge of “Christ after the flesh,” just an “according to the flesh” view of Christ.
To judge others according to worldly standards, or from a sinful point of view, only furthers division and discord rather than fostering reconciliation. Paul does not specify what these standards are, but from the context they must be related to outward appearances (5:12). The primary reason for raising this issue is the Corinthians’ misjudgment of his ministry, which they have assessed according to the worldly paradigms with which they are more familiar.
Paul confesses that he (using an authorial “we”) viewed reality and persons from a fleshly perspective which used only human yardsticks to measure others. False, superficial criteria led him to esteem those who appeared to be wise, influential, of noble birth, and strong, and to disdain those who were none of these things. Before he was captured by Christ, such worldly norms warped his judgments as they do all who live under the thraldom of sin and whose veiled, benighted minds screen out God’s truth.”
“For Paul there was a personal continuity and indeed identity between the crucified Jesus and the exalted Lord; in so far as the words and deeds of the earthly Jesus were relevant for the knowledge of the exalted LORD, an interest in them was not tantamount to an endeavor to ‘know Christ after the flesh.’ To know Christ after the flesh was to cherish that unregenerate estimate which had marked Paul’s earlier days. Henceforth for Paul the Christ was identical with the crucified and exalted Jesus, and to view all men in relation to him was to have done with knowing them ‘after the flesh’—i.e., from an unregenerate point of view”…
In comparison to the wise, strong, and honored of this world, Paul looks like a fool who is weak and dishonored. As someone hungry and thirsty, ragged, brutally treated, homeless, cursed, and a laborer who works with his hands, he is deemed “the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Cor. 4:8-13).
A cross-shaped perspective
We now know, according to the cross, according to resurrection (see 4:14; 5:1-10), and according to the Spirit (3:16-18; 4:13). Understanding the full meaning of the cross and resurrection and fully experiencing the Spirit brings an enlightenment that causes Christians to see things and other persons in new ways.
“Consequently, Paul now sees others according to their standing with Christ (Rom. 14:8-12) and concedes that all his previous judgments of others were wrong. God’s verdict on our sin condemns us all and destroys any illusions of superiority or inferiority. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all on the same level before God. All share a kinship with one another because of sin but also share kinship with one another because Christ died for all to redeem all. When we see that we are all sinners dead in our sins and needing reconciliation from God, and when we accept Christ’s shameful death on the cross as our death, then all previous canons we used to appraise others must be scrapped.
But Paul’s confession of his zeal in persecuting the church (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13-15; Phil. 3:6) and his citation of Deut. 21:23 that pronounces anyone hanged on a tree as accursed (Gal. 3:13) suggest that Paul’s sinful disposition controlled how he had first reacted to Christ. He confesses in Phil. 3:4-6 that before being captured by Christ his whole life was oriented around flesh categories.”
“It takes no stretch of the imagination to assume that a zealous, law-observant Pharisee would have pegged Jesus as a charlatan and blasphemer whose crucifixion revealed him to be accursed by God. He must have raged at anyone who proclaimed the crucified Jesus as the promised Messiah. The rumors about his resurrection only perpetuated and magnified the original mischief. Paul’s self-centered devotion to the law had blinded him to the glory of God in the person of Christ. Only when the Lord encountered him on the Damascus road was he constrained to recognize the truth. This compelling encounter caused him to change his mind about everything he had previously held dear, but it also changed his mind from one corrupted and veiled by sin to one that could now see the very heart of God.”
“Jesus had been raised by the power of God; he was the Son of God, and the exalted Lord. Paul learned that Jesus’ crucifixion was not God’s retribution against some imagined blasphemy committed by a counterfeit prophet but a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of humanity. God revealed to him that the object of his spiteful hatred, Jesus, whom the Nazarenes called Christ, had died for him making him the beneficiary of staggering sacrificial love. He also learned that his righteousness according to the law (Phil. 3:6) was nothing more than filthy rags. The crucifixion exposed the deep-seated evil hidden in his own heart.
Judging Christ according to human standards continues in various forms. Few today regard Christ as negatively as so many did in the first century. Many view him as a good and wise man who died a tragic death. Modern scholars, dressed in the garb of academic expertise, tend to make Jesus over into their own image, and, in the process, eliminate any eternal claim he might exert on their lives. Some present him as a revolutionary who gathered a band of desperadoes to bring about a social liberation of the oppressed peasants. Others present him as an itinerant, nonviolent teacher spouting pithy maxims; still others as a charismatic healer trying to reform Judaism.
All of these evaluations miss the mark and are no closer to the truth than the uneducated guesses of Jesus’ contemporaries, who imagined him to be some recycled prophet, John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet (Mark 8:28).
Those who judge Jesus according to the Spirit, however, draw a different conclusion. He is the Son of God sent by God to redeem humankind and to reconcile lost sinners to God.”
(Quotes from: The New American Commentary Volume 29 – 2 Corinthians, By David E. Garland)