2 Corinthians 5:14 says “the love of Christ constrains me.”
I recently experienced a practical definition of constraint, often translated “compel” or “control”. It’s not a word that has many handles on it.
On a fraternal visit to Panama recently, we included a stop at Alan and Colleen Foster, Community Development workers for MB Mission. They live a couple of hours east of Panama City, on a very basic road that crosses through a creek 5 or 6 times…no bridges. You really need a 4 wheel drive to make the 15 minute trek off the highway.
We had a lovely visit and lunch with them. As we finished up, and were enjoying one another’s company, we heard thunder and in a few minutes it started raining. Our driver, Obdulio, jumped to his feet and said, “Vamos!” We barely said our goodbyes as we piled into the truck. With tropical rain pelting down we made our way back to the highway and on to our next destination.
Alan Foster said he had done that trek a few times with a “wall of water” behind him, so we got the picture! Many recent flood stories in the news made that picture fresh. But we were not in danger of getting flooded or having a ‘wall of water’ hitting us, as long as we kept moving in a timely way.
That’s “constraint”: the sense that we have a force behind us with considerable consequences if we don’t act; but also a sense that we’re fine as long as we do act.
In this verse Paul also attaches a very positive and concrete connotation: it is the “love of Christ” that constrains us. We know that this love is defined by our Lord’s emptying of himself and incarnation to be with us, his love and compassion for us, and his sacrificial death on our behalf.
And what is it that we are constrained to do? We are to act as ambassadors of the Kingdom (20). By our very lives we empty ourselves of those things which immobilize us, we engage and identify with those whom we reach, we love them with compassion, and we make sacrifices in order to accomplish our ambassadorial work: the “ministry of reconciliation” (18).
And if we don’t move or act? Pauls said “Necessity is laid on me. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” – 1 Cor 9:16. And “…knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (sic)” – 2 Cor 5:11.
There is a certain kind of fear that motivates in a healthy way. For example, I installed a number of light fixtures in my home recently. I shut off the breaker because I had a healthy fear of being shocked, and perhaps injured.
In a similar way, we have to recognize that God is a massive force. Consider the titanic effect of a comet hitting our planet. This is an infinitesimally small example of the amount of force in the universe which is “in God”. If there are consequences for not preaching the gospel, which Paul could identify, we ought to take that seriously. There is a real-time judgment of chaos, crime, and social degradation that results when the godly principles of human relations aren’t observed. And there are eternal consequences if people don’t turn to God. These are the fearful results of refusing to move under Christ’s loving constraint.
Love and constraint are not usually thought of together, but in 2 Corinthians, they are a positive, vital motivating force that the Christian can learn to understand and respond to. I offer these thoughts as a motivation to do our best as ambassadors for God and his Kingdom.