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2 Corinthians 5:16

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.”

Christ’s love—seen preeminently in the willing death of Jesus to save His people— compelled Paul’s ministry, not a desire for self-advancement. Paul’s aim to persuade others of the truth of the claims of Christ was due to the Apostle’s awareness and reception of the love of Jesus displayed in His atoning work (2 Cor. 5:11–15). However, the love of Jesus did more than just motivate Paul and his companions in their evangelistic ministry. As we see in today’s passage, the love of Jesus as seen in His atoning death meant that the Apostle could no longer regard anyone according to the flesh (v. 16).

Commentators have suggested two possible meanings of Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:16, and both understandings are likely in the Apostle’s mind. First, to “regard no one according to the flesh” refers to Paul’s evaluation of all other people, particularly those to whom he preached. The idea is that Paul did not pick and choose who needed the gospel or who should hear the preaching of Christ based on factors that are of no ultimate importance in the kingdom of God. He preached the gospel to all people, not making a distinction according to gender, ethnicity, wealth, or other factors. Paul did not view the gospel as a message only for the Jews, only for men, or only for the wealthy but saw it as a message for all people. He saw the love of Christ in dying for all kinds of people, not just for one social grouping.

Second, to “regard no one according to the flesh” meant that Paul did not judge the validity of one’s ministry based on outward strength and appearance. This was the error of the false teachers in Corinth, who questioned Paul because of his suffering (2 Cor. 10:1–12:10). Yet, as the love of Christ is displayed chiefly in His suffering for us, the seeming outer glory of a ministry or minister does not necessarily prove that it has God’s approval. Divine approval of a professedly Christian work is found in its accurate preaching of the gospel of Christ crucified. Such a ministry is the work of God even if it is small and struggling.

Paul’s no longer regarding anyone according to the flesh goes hand in hand with his no longer regarding Christ according to the flesh. Like many other first-century Jews, Paul initially rejected Jesus because he could not conceive of a suffering Messiah. He even persecuted Jesus by persecuting the church. Once God opened Paul’s eyes on the road to Damascus, the Apostle saw Jesus for who He truly is, understanding that our Lord’s suffering did not disprove but validated His messianic claims (Acts 9:1–31).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

When we are evaluating others, we must be careful not to judge them according to the flesh or merely according to outward appearances. Especially in looking at other ministries, ministers, and churches, we may find that they do not do things the way we would prefer. However, if they are preaching the biblical gospel, the fundamental work they are doing is good. Our evaluation must be made according to what really matters.

For Further Study
  • 1 Samuel 16:1–13
  • John 7:24

Why Christ Died

Waiting for the Lord

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From the September 2021 Issue
Sep 2021 Issue