2 Corinthians 5:9
Why we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
I. THE SUPREME AIM OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. To be "accepted," "well-pleasing"; not merely that we may be accepted, but that we may bring a smile into Christ's face, and some delight in us into His heart. Set that two-fold aim before you, else you will fail to experience the full stimulus of this thought.
1. Now such an aim implies a very wonderful conception of Christ's present relations to us. We may minister to His joy. Just as really as you mothers are glad when you hear from a far-off land that your boy is doing well, so Christ's heart fills with gladness when He sees you and me walking in the paths in which He would have us go. That we may please Him "who pleased not Himself," is surely the grandest motive on which the pursuit of holiness and the imitation of Christ can ever be made to rest. Oh! how much more blessed such a motive is than all the lower reasons for which men are sometimes exhorted to be good! What a difference it is when we say, "Do that thing because it is right," or "Do that thing because you will be happier if you do," or when we say, "Do it because He would like you to do it." Transmute obligation into gratitude, and in front of duty and appeals to self put Christ, and all the difficulty and burden of obedience become easy, and a joy.
2. This one supreme aim can be carried on through all life in every varying form, great or small. A blessed unity is given to our whole being when the little and the big, the easy and the hard things, are all brought under the influence of the one motive and made co-operant to the one end. Drive that one steadfast aim through your lives like a bar of iron, and it will give the lives strength and consistency, not rigidity, because they may still be flexible. Nothing will be too small to be consecrated by that motive; nothing too great to own its power. You can please Him everywhere and always. The only thing that is inconsistent is to sin against Him. If we bear with us this as a conscious motive in every part of our day's work, it will give us a quick discernment as to what is evil which nothing else will so surely give.
II. THE CONCENTRATED EFFORT WHICH THIS AIM REQUIRES. The word rendered "labour" is very seldom employed in Scripture. It means literally, to be fond of honour, or to be actuated by a love of honour; and hence it comes, by a very natural transition, to mean, to strive to gain something for the sake of the honour connected with it. We ought, as Christians —
1. To cultivate this ambition. Men have all got the love of approbation deep in them. God put it there, not that we might shape our lives so as to get others to pat us on the back, and say, "Well done!" but that, in addition to the other solemn motives for righteousness, we might have this highest ambition to impel us on the road. That will take some cultivation. It is a great deal easier to shape our courses so as to get one another's praise. A prime condition of all Christ-pleasing life is a wholesome disregard of what anybody says but Himself. The old Lacedaemonians used to stir themselves to heroism by the thought: "What will they say of us in Sparta?" The governor of some English colony minds very little what the people think about him. He reports to Downing Street, and it is the opinion of the Home Government that influences him. You report to headquarters. Never mind what anybody else thinks of you. Be deaf to the tittle-tattle of your fellow-soldiers in the ranks. It is your Commander's smile that will be your highest reward.
2. To strive with the utmost energy in the accomplishment of it. Paul's notion of acceptable service was service which a man suppressed much to render, and overcame much to bring. Look at his metaphors — a warfare, a race, a struggle, a building up of some great temple structure, and the like — all suggesting the idea of patient, persistent, continuous toil, and most of them suggesting also the idea of struggle with antagonistic forces and difficulties, either within or without. So we must set our shoulders to the wheel, put our backs into our work. But then do not forget that deeper than all effort, and the very spring and life of it, there must be the opening of our hearts for the entrance of His life and spirit by the presence of which only are we well-pleasing to Christ. According to the old illustration, the refiner sat by the furnace until he could see in the molten metal his own face mirrored, and then he knew it was pure. So what pleases Christ in us is the reflection of Himself. And how can we get that except by receiving into our hearts the Spirit that was in Christ Jesus, that will dwell in us, and will produce in us in our measure the same image that it formed in Him? "Work out your own salvation," because "it is God that worketh in you."
III. THE UTTER INSIGNIFICANCE TO WHICH THIS AIM REDUCES ALL EXTERNALS.
1. What differences of condition are covered by that parenthetical phrase — "present or absent!" He talks about it as if it was a very small matter. If the difference between life and death is dwarfed, what else do you suppose will remain? Whether we be rich or poor, solitary or beset by friends, young or old, it matters not. The one aim lifts itself before us, and they in whose eyes shine the light of that great issue are careless of the road along which they pass.
2. Then remember that this same aim and this same result may be equally pursued and attained whether here or yonder. On earth, in death, through eternity, such a life will be homogeneous, and of a piece; and when all other aims are forgotten and out of sight, then still this will be the purpose, and yonder it will be the accomplished purpose of each, to please the Lord Jesus Christ.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.