There are not many things in life that will make me beg. Sue and I have seven children and seventeen grandchildren.* I can say with confidence that, if my wife were to threaten to leave me, I would beg her to stay–not only for the sake of our family, but also because of who she is.
What could make a man like Paul, a man of great heritage and learning, willing to say, “We beg you?” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Paul would not have been accustomed to begging.
Paul was understandably proud of his heritage and training. He was raised in the theological school of the Pharisees. He had studied at the feet of the finest Jewish professor of his day, Gamaliel, in Jerusalem.
Paul was born a free Roman citizen. His father, and at least one father before him, were Pharisees. There are even hints that Paul may also have been a member of the Sanhedrin. If so, he was a man of immense prestige, power, and influence:
• He refers to having cast his vote against the Christians at an earlier stage in his life.
• The high priest himself entrusted Paul to carry out executions.
• The high priestly family had committed to Paul letters of authority, commissioning, and recommendation so that he could go to Damascus and persecute those who named the name of Jesus as Messiah in the synagogues.
It’s not easy for people to beg, especially people like Paul. Why, then did he choose those words? Let’s take a close look at the text.
Paul knew he’d be held accountable on the last day.
Look at 2 Corinthians 5:9. Paul is referring to his desire to be present with the Lord:
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home with the Lord or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
To paraphrase, “Whether I am alive here and now, or whether I live in that life that is beyond the doors of death, it is my ambition to be pleasing to Him.”
Verse 10 begins with a causal term, for. It can also be translated “because.” Paul gives the reason for his prior statement. He explains why he is ambitious to be pleasing to the Lord:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
“For we must all…” When Paul says “we” in 2 Corinthians, he nearly always means only himself and his preaching companions. Here in verse 10 he adds the word all so that he can draw the Corinthians into the web of his language.
It is not always commonplace in Christian circles for us to talk about the judgment of the believer. But, just as the scriptures teach a judgment for those who are outside of Christ, there is also an experience of judgment for those who know Christ.
Paul knew that there lay before him a day of awe, a day of fear, a day in which he would be called to accountability before the Lord.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:11 that this was one of the reasons for his attempt to be persuasive:
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Corinthians 5:11)
Paul is referring here to his typical pattern of preaching the gospel: “we persuade men.” He speaks not only of the day of reckoning that awaits those who are in Christ, but of the great day of reckoning that awaits all the earth. He concedes and admits precisely what his opponents have said about him in accusation: “Paul attempts to be persuasive.” Paul justifies that behavior on the grounds of a coming day of reckoning for all the earth.
Paul acted in line with the God who humbled Himself for us.
It seems to me clearly taught, whether I like it or not, that one day all the earth will experience what C.S. Lewis called “a great divorce.” He was speaking of a great chasm fixed between those who are in Christ, and those who are outside of Christ. Paul himself, being deeply convinced of the reality of that coming day of reckoning, said “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11)
Earlier I asked what would make a man like Paul, with his heritage and training, humble himself to the point of begging. Here’s a more important question: what would make God beg through Paul?
Unlike the capricious gods of the Greeks and Romans who sought to crush mankind, the God with whom we have to do with is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God who mercifully delivered His people out of Egypt. He is the God who endured the loss of His only Son for our sake.
As Paul wrote at the end of Romans 8,
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His Son but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)
Paul knew that God with whom we have to do is a God who is willing to plead and beg for His people to come home to Him.
Paul says, in effect, “I’m only doing what the Father does. I am only doing what the Son Himself does. We are ambassadors for Christ as though God were pleading through us. We beg you, in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God.”
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on February 11, 1990. *As of October 2018, Robert and Sue have 21 grandchildren.