March 30, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NRSV)
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
Even as the banks of a river propel the water forward and direct its flow, so the love of Christ for the world can motivate us and guide our actions.
This devotion is part of the series: Treasure in Clay Jars.
If you come upon the Virgin River in southern Utah, chances are it will be running slowly, meandering along through desert plains. You might even want to put your kayak in the river for a gentle ride. But if you were to continue on the river as it entered northern Arizona, you’d soon find yourself on a very different kind of river excursion. You see, the Virgin River flows from the plains of Utah into a narrow gorge in Arizona, aptly called the Virgin River Gorge. As the water is constrained by cliffs on either side, it increases in velocity. Your leisurely float down the river becomes a whitewater rapids adventure. Yes, the steepness of the riverbed helps to explain the river’s swiftness, but so does the impact of the gorge itself, which forces the water to flow in a narrow channel at the bottom of the gorge, thus increasing its speed.
The impact of the Virgin River Gorge on the river provides an apt illustration of what the love of Christ does in our lives. In the first part of 2 Corinthians 5:14, the Apostle Paul uses a curious verb to describe the impact of this love. He writes, “For the love of Christ urges us on,” using the Greek verb sunechō, which is translated here as “urges us on.” But if you were to look up sunechō in the standard Greek-English lexicon, you’d find translations such as “hold or keep together, confine, contain, constrain” (LSJ). In fact, the classic King James Version renders the first phrase of 5:14 as: “For the love of Christ constraineth us.”
Reading this out of context, we might think that the love of Christ is holding Paul back. But the context makes it clear that this is not what Paul means by using sunechō. Rather, he is envisioning what happens when, for example, a river is constrained by its banks, thus propelling the water forward with greater velocity and in a particular direction. Paul understands his life and ministry to be urged on by the love of Christ, which both motivates Paul and points him in the right direction.
When we come upon a phrase like “love of Christ,” we wonder whether this means “the love we have for Christ” or “the love Christ has for us.” Both are possible in the original Greek language and commentators have argued for both possibilities. But the majority of interpreters opt for “the love Christ has for us,” which makes the most sense given how verse 14 continues: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all.” The death of Christ is an expression and revelation of Christ’s love for the world.
So, Paul is saying that he is propelled forward in life and ministry by the love of Christ for the world. This love is unique in its breadth and resilience. As Paul writes in his letter to Rome, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
As I reflect on 2 Corinthians 5:14, I wonder if I could say the same thing about myself. Am I urged on by the love of Christ for the world? Or, to put it more energetically, am I riding the rapids of Christ’s love? I think about my relationships, work, church involvement, politics, financial priorities, use of time, and so much more. Are these facets of my life guided and propelled by Christ’s love for the world? What really motivates me? What really guides me?
Perhaps you’ll find it helpful to consider these questions as they relate to you and your life.
So, to what extent are you “urged on” by the love of Christ for the world?
What helps you to remember and even to feel Christ’s love for people?
What increases your awareness of Christ’s love for the world?
Take time to reflect on how Christ loves the people in your life. Let this reflection affect how you relate to them in the next week.
Gracious God, thank you for how you love us through Christ. Thank you for the love of Christ that led to the cross. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for the fact that nothing in all creation can separate us from your love.
Help me, I pray, to grow in my awareness and experience of your love for me. As this happens, may I be motivated by your love to love others. Let your love be like the banks of a river, urging me onward and guiding me in the way of love. Amen.
Banner image by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Nothing Can Come Between Us and the Love of God (Romans 8:31-39).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.