Paul is once again defending his own Apostleship. As he defends his ministry, he begins to unfold the hope of a day when Christ will return. As the day draws near, Paul tells us that he is moving and working because that day is a day of judgment. All must appear before Christ to receive the reward of their own works, whether they are good or bad.
When Paul says that he knows the fear of the Lord, we must interpret this theologically, not emotionally. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Solomon says. What is this fear of God? It is a perpetual state of awe and wonder at the greatness and grandness that is God. Knowing that God has within His own power the ability and right to crush sinful man, and yet chooses to be merciful and gracious to sinful man. Knowing this, Paul persuades others of the validity of his own Apostleship. The Corinthians owed Paul a lot in their understanding of the Gospel. If what Paul had preached concerning the Gospel was being preached as less than an Apostle, then there was considerable room for error in his Gospel. If Paul was a crazy fool, he then states, then he was God's fool. The motivation for his working and moving is the love of Christ that controls him. This love is manifest in by Christ's death on the cross. Let's take a few moments now to consider the enormity of Christ's love as it is displayed on the cross.
At the end of verse 14 through verse 15 Paul tells us of the love Christ had for us by becoming like us and dying as our substitute. Paul declares that all have died in Christ. He then declares that all those who died in Christ should now live for Christ 'who for their sake died and was raised'. This is to point out that Christ did not die for His own sins. He had none. Rather, He died for 'man, the creature's sin'. Evident in these verses is the union of those who have faith in Christ, with Christ. That if Christ actually died in our place, then we, positionally and corporately, died with Him. Or, that when Christ died, we died, and when Christ rose again, we rose again. So great is Christ's love that He actually took our death on the cross and then, raised us, who had caused His death, up with Himself.
Paul also tells us of the love of Christ by the what he has made us by His death on the cross in verses 16-17. We are new creations. Paul says that when I look at those who have faith in Christ, I am not to see them only skin-deep, but I am to see that they are a new creation whose bodies have not yet been given to them. Before Christ died and rose again, all that the world could see of Him was just another man. But after His death and resurrection, it should be evident before all that He is God. Just as we do not see Christ in the same way after His passion, we should not see one another in the same way after being dead and resurrected again with Him. We are already new creations who are waiting for our incorruptible bodies. Christ loved us so much that He did not leave us in the same condition as when He found us.
Paul now tells us in verses 18-20 that the love of Christ has reconciled us to God by the cross. God, through Christ's death on the cross, is reconciling the world to Himself. This is divided into two parts. First, that God, by virtue of Christ's sinless sacrifice, was forgiving men of their trespasses, and second, that God, by sending His own Son to death on the cross, was giving us a message of reconciliation to be preached in all the world. So great is Christ's love for us that He has forgiven our sins and brought us into a proper relationship with our Creator. As recipients of this work, we have the responsibility of taking this message of reconciliation to the world.
Finally, in verse 21, Paul comes to the ultimate expression of Christ's love. Christ became sin in order to make us the righteousness of God. Let's think about this for a minute. There is something much deeper than forgiveness of sins alone that happened at Christ's death. Forgiveness of sins is a great and indispensable blessing. But Christ did not stop there. Christ did not simply say "I forgive you", He actually took our sins away! How? By becoming sin Himself. Christ took our sin and the penalty for that sin in His own body on the cross. In other words, Christ received what is due our works that have been done in our bodies. The sin that we have committed was laid on Christ and He took the eternal wrath of God in His body so that we with our bodies might become the righteousness of God. Death is not all that happened on the cross. Eternal punishment took place there as well. My eternal punishment was poured out on Christ. Therefore, 'those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised'. So great is Christ's love that He underwent the wrath of God so that we might inherit the blessings of God as righteous people.
Soli Deo Gloria