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2 Corinthians 5:11

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.”

One way that we could summarize 2 Corinthians in one phrase is “Paul’s defense of his Apostolic ministry.” As we have seen, much of 2 Corinthians features Paul’s answering those who would call his Apostolic office into question because of his great suffering (e.g., 4:1–12; 10:1–12:10). In 4:13–5:10, Paul engaged in a bit of an excursus on the nature of the resurrection hope and the reality of the intermediate state, for his discussion of his suffering moved him to consider where this suffering would ultimately lead. In today’s passage, he returns to the defense of his Apostolic call, noting how awareness of future judgment motivates his ministry in the present.

Paul says in 5:11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” The transitional word “therefore” refers back to what Paul has just said about the final judgment, with the “fear of the Lord” referring to the disposition that Paul and his co-laborers have on account of that reality. He is noting that a driving force in his work is his understanding that his ministry will be evaluated on the last day. Because the Apostle knows that Christ will judge his work in righteousness (Acts 17:31)—according to perfect truth in order to give him what he is due—Paul must minister in a way that will receive the Savior’s approval.

What exactly does Paul’s ministry consist of? The Apostle’s statement “we persuade others” in 2 Corinthians 5:11 refers to his work of evangelism, and it is better translated as “we try to persuade others” or “we seek to persuade others.” After all, even though we should work to convince people of the truth of the gospel whenever we preach the gospel to them, we do not finally persuade anybody. Only the Holy Spirit can do that (John 3:5; 1 Thess. 1:2–10). Nevertheless, we should endeavor to be as careful in sharing the gospel as we can, being prepared to answer questions and to make a defense of the hope within us, for the Holy Spirit can use these things in His work to save the elect.

Paul appeals to his work of evangelism motivated by the fear of the Lord as if his readers should receive it as one of the proofs of his Apostolic call (“I hope it is known also to your conscience”; see 2 Cor. 5:11). Ultimately, however, Paul’s integrity and calling were known by God when others were denying the evident outward proofs of his divinely appointed vocation (5:11).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin states that “it is not enough that an individual conducts himself honorably and assiduously [that is, with great care and perseverance] among men, if his heart is not right in the sight of God.” The outward evidences of God’s calling are important, but they are meaningless unless we are known by the Lord and are serving Him from our hearts as He more and more makes us like Jesus.


For Further Study
  • Isaiah 6
  • Acts 18:1–4
  • Galatians 1:11–24
  • 1 Peter 1:20

Pleasing the Lord

For God and His People

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From the September 2021 Issue
Sep 2021 Issue