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Paul the apostle by Gustave Dore

Compelled by Love

By Fred Zaspel–

The service that the apostle Paul rendered to Christ was a costly one. We read of it in the book of Acts, and Paul himself tells us of it here and there in his epistles — whippings, beatings, abandonment, hunger, deprivation, insults, offenses of all kinds, and so on. He certainly was not in this for the money!

But if not money, then what? What was it that motivated him? What was the incentive?

Actually, the apostle answers this question in several ways. There are many good reasons for serving Christ. But in 2 Corinthians 5:14 he seems to get to the bottom of it:

 “For Christ’s love compels us,
because we are convinced that one died for all,
and therefore all died.”

 The driving impulse, Paul says, is, simply, my awareness of “Christ’s love.” Indeed, a sense of his love “compels” me to serve him.

The NIV translation here is helpful — “Christ’s love.” The ambiguity of the KJV (and of the Greek) — “The love of Christ” — has allowed room for some to misunderstand. Many have (mis)taken this verse to say that it was Paul’s love for Christ that motivated him in his service. But that is not what Paul is saying here. He is speaking of Christ’s love for us, not our love for him.

Now it is all very true that we serve Christ out of love for him. Of course. But given the fickleness of our love for Christ, it really doesn’t constitute ultimate causes or deepest motives. What is it, after all, that gives rise to our love for Christ? The answer, clearly, is that we love him because of his love for us.

Nor is Christ’s love for us a mere sentiment of good will. For the apostle Paul, Christ’s love has a specific point of reference — the cross. That is how he explains: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” The cross of Christ is the very definition of his love.

Nor is it the cross merely, but the cross as specifically understood in terms of substitution — “one died for all, and therefore all died.” Here is the love of Christ for us — it is the love of the Redeemer taking our place, bearing our curse, paying the full penalty of our sin, and freeing us from divine wrath that was due us.

Moreover, the Lord Jesus was no third party in the dispute, so to speak. He was not a substitute unrelated to the problem. No, he is himself the God against whom we had sinned, the one whose wrath demanded our condemnation. Yet, amazingly, humbling himself he assumed our station, took all our obligations and debts to himself, and standing in our place bore our curse — the curse of his broken law and of his own wrath. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Surely, this is a love like no other! This is the love of condescension, of sacrifice, and of rescue.

 But drops of grief can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe!
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘tis all that I can do.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small!
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!

And so Paul confesses, gladly, that it is this that “compels” him to serve the Lord Jesus. Gripped by an awareness of his matchless love he cannot but serve him. If he could have sung from Isaac Watt’s hymnal, doubtless, he would joyfully have sung with him —

Can there be a greater incentive to Christian service than this? Yes, we love him! We love him with all our hearts! But what has gripped us, what has captured our hearts, is this realization of his great cross-love for us. And for this love we willingly and joyfully give ourselves in return to him.

Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim

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