Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself . . . (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19).
Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians surprises us each time we read it. One reason is that, despite the apostle’s scholarship, seen in his use of literary resources and his way of expressing himself so passionately, he is lucid and rational. But the main reason we’re surprised is that Paul achieves a tremendously difficult feat: putting everything of his soul in his writing, in the deepest and most intimate way. Only a few writers can manage to reach this level of intimacy and truth.
For example, Paul presents the human being, human nature, and the nature of the church as they really are. Though the church has a divine component — Christ, her founder, essence, and head — she is deeply human and prone to sin. Paul presents the church without masks or cosmetics — just the bare reality. She has defeats and victories, lights and shadows, falls and recoveries, fears and courage. It is always good that we have the correct notion of what we see and believe.
Second Corinthians could have been written today. It is extremely current, considering the state of our world. It teaches that humanity is weak and sinful, but that we are called to get up (resurrect) and start again. We are called to holiness, to a life with deep and defined meaning and purpose through the ministry of reconciliation.
The heart of this letter is chapter 5, verses 17-21, which speak about this ministry. Several words and concepts are worth highlighting.
First, God calls us to a ministry. In verse 18, the Greek word translated “ministry” is diakonia, which, in its etymological richness, means service, attention, assistance, relief, help. So in using this word, Paul emphasizes that the church — all her members — is called to serve. To serve means to relieve and assist all people in need, without exception.
Second, the place of this service is the kosmos, as Paul puts it. It is the world and its inhabi-tants, all living beings. Paul identifies this diakonia (service) in the world as reconciliation (katallagés), our third concept. This Greek word is a little complex. Among its various meanings is the idea of restoration and repair.
Putting these three concepts together, we see that God has given us the service of restoration and repair everywhere in the world — all people and all living beings, including nature.
We must keep these three concepts in mind within the church community to live out our purpose. The church is not the place for people who consider themselves morally good and holy. The church is a community of people who struggle to believe, to stay above the challenges of life with all their lights and shadows. The community of believers exists only because of the love of God in Christ. We all lived without hope and meaning in life, but in a strange and indefinable moment of our existence, we were touched by the deep love of God in Christ. We owe everything to God — our whole being, the whole meaning of being.
The church in Corinth struggled to be this kind of community. The believers were fraught with problems — the same problems of our human nature that have been with us over time — perhaps because the people in that church thought only of themselves. They were simply centered on self, on their little world, and did not think of fellow believers.
This is the serious situation in churches today: the separation from reality. Many people live in their ivory towers and believe in a reality of their goodness that does not exist, except perhaps in their minds. The constant demonization of culture and contempt for those who have broken lives, who think and act differently, is one of the great signs of decay and failure of many churches and religious associations in contemporary society.
Just as Christ is the only door to salvation, believers are the only representatives of God’s love and mercy in a sick world. Only the church with her ministry of reconciliation, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can raise the sinner’s conscience above the mortal reality of sin. In this way, the apostle Paul calls the believer Christ’s ambassador (v. 20). The word ambassador is translated from the Greek presbeuo, which means to be more mature and to act as a representative.
The Christian is a citizen of the kingdom of God. We no longer belong to the kingdom of sin but are ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven in the midst of a world where sin dominates. This is the exclusive function of reconcilers of the world with God, through Jesus Christ. Learning how to fight against sin and, at the same time, love sinners in the real world, with all its miseries, is what the church must do in order to fulfill our ministry of reconciliation. Then, the justice of God is accomplished in the converted sinner’s victory over sin at the feet of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Second Corinthians 5 continues to surprise us. But more of a surprise is that God would use us frail, flawed humans for this reconciling ministry. Thanks to His grace in Christ, we are made His ministers of grace to all.