Albert Einstein was 5 years old the first time he saw a compass. The needle captivated him. Whichever way he twisted and shook the old contraption, trying to fool it into pointing off in a new direction, the compass needle always found its way back to magnetic north. A wonder, he thought.

Einstein liked to tell the story about that moment when he first sensed that “something deeply hidden” had to be behind things. The curious boy went on to study those hidden forces and became a great physicist who proved what defied explanation and identified what we couldn’t see—the mysterious connection between energy and matter, the unseen that determines the seen.

A Wonder for Paul
Life with Jesus was Paul’s wonder. Things unseen were at work at the deepest part of his life, where thoughts germinate, values build, and decisions begin. Things unseen worked in his inner life to shape a character that all could see as the product of God’s marvelous grace. How did it work? Paul’s explanation is basic and simple: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14, NKJV). The word translated compels means to hem in, encircle, control, constrain. Paul suggests we are held, as in a vice, by the love of Christ. But this constraint is far from static. It is dynamic, forceful.

Like White-knuckle Rafting
Imagine white-knuckle rafting in the raging gorges of the Colorado River rapids. Raging white-water force propels you along between sheer rock cliffs. You can’t swim against the current, and you can’t grab the cliffs and climb out. You’re thrust in one clearly defined direction from which there’s no stopping, turning around, or getting out. You’re in a roller-coaster ride to the very end, scared out of your wits but thrilled beyond imagination.

Imagine Christ’s love hemming you in like rock walls looming on either side; you can’t be distracted to the left or to the right. Imagine His love propelling you forward like powerful surging water in a restricted channel; you can’t stay where you are. This is love that encapsulates your life—all that you are and all that you have. This is love that radically prioritizes your life—you are propelled by just one moral direction. You have one focus. One passion. One point of reference. One spring of thought and action. Jesus Christ!  Here is a passion that others can see clearly because of what you have become—Jesus on the inside showing up on the outside (2 Cor. 5:15, 17; cf. Phil. 2:21; 3:7-14).

The one thing that focused Paul—until there was nothing else on his horizon—was the love of Christ. “For to me, to live is Christ,” he tells the believers in Philippi (Phil. 1:21). For him Jesus was magnetic north, invariably reorienting his moral and spiritual compass at every turn.

Beside Yourself for Jesus
Have you ever followed a Labrador retriever to the water’s edge with a stick in your hand? As you near the edge of the lake together, she’ll begin dancing, panting. Swing the stick in circles over your head, and she’ll circle at your feet, leaping, yipping. She is beside herself—focused, eager, ready to lunge. One doesn’t have to teach a Lab to retrieve. It’s in her blood. She lives for the recovery. She’s almost crazy to run, to retrieve. The moment you release the stick, before she’s even seen it in the air, she’s gone after it.

“If we are beside ourselves,” says Paul, “it is for God” (2 Cor. 5:13, NKJV). In other words, we are consumed, enthusiastic, radical, obsessed, out of our minds—for Christ. Like the overpowering instinct of a retriever, we are driven by an overpowering vision and passion.

Looking at Paul, we know that something unseen and powerful is constraining what we see: hard work; prison sentences; beatings, whippings and stonings; endless miles on rugged roads and tossing seas; weariness, pain, and sleepless nights; days of hunger, cold, and exposure; a day and night hanging on to a piece of shipwreck. What we see are his moral and spiritual choices, his life and lifestyle, his faith and faithfulness (2 Cor. 6:3-10; 11:22-33; cf. Phil. 3:7-10).

These visual clips from his life provide the backdrop against which he asserts that the love of Christ compels him to no longer live for himself. The gospel message, the priority of God’s work for the lost, the people of God, the honor of God—all this looms larger in Paul’s thoughts than anything else, especially himself: I’ll do anything for Jesus. For free. No strings attached. No limits. No conditions. No matter what it may cost.

Worth Dying For
How does Christ’s love reach down into anyone’s inner private world of thought, feelings, values, and will like this? How does it become such a controlling power that it can shape who someone is deep inside and change how they live every day on the outside?

For Paul this inner orientation is directly linked to your heart grasping the unseen reality of Christ’s death: “One died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”  (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). 

Paul is referring to Christ’s substitutionary death for us and applying what it means for our life: Because Christ died, we die!  We die to the self-life. We die to self-centered living. We die to the passions and lusts that absorb us. We die to the world’s values and its so-called valuables. We die to the comfort zones of our everyday life. 

 

Questions for Reflection
and Sharing
 
1. How could compulson--even by love--be a good thing?

2. What does Paul say is his reason for living, and why is it so?

3. What do I need today in order to have Paul's "wonder" experience?
 
The love of Christ then literally becomes “love to die for.” “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul exclaims, “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

This unseen reality is telling in its power: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17, NASB).*  We become a new creation, a new person, inside and out. Everything is thoroughly prioritized. We lose interest in things once treasured; new things are surprisingly welcomed into our life. The turnaround is unbelievable, incomprehensible—yet radically real.

The unseen converges with the seen at the deepest part of our life where thoughts germinate, opinions form, values are chased, and decisions begin. We are changed by the renewing of our inner world by the converting grace and power of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:3-7; John 3:5-8; 1 John 3:9). Jesus becomes our new point of reference. We live now to exalt Him. His honor is most important. His work is priority.

A tourist visiting the mission station where a nurse was attending a leper’s ghastly sores pulled back with horror and mumbled, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!” The nurse replied, smiling, “Neither would I! But I would do it for Jesus for nothing!”

What would you do for Jesus, for nothing? Anything? Everything? Is there a limit? Are there conditions? Why would you ever do anything for Jesus?

Our life can be a wonder too. Whether we are at work or in recreation, in ministry or in rest, Jesus wants to work at the very core of our being to become the spring of wondrous thoughts and actions for us. It may be more than we can explain. But compelled by His love, we can spend the rest of our life seeking to understand it more and more. 

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* Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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Larry Lichtenwalter has been pastor of the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, for more than two decades. He holds a Ph.D. in ethics from Andrews University and has been teaching regularly at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He and his wife, Kathie, have five sons and two daughters-in-law. Recently the Lichtenwalters have accepted an invitation to serve at Middle East University, Lebanon, where Larry will head the Theology Faculty and lead the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Studies.




 

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