Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing"
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

by Dr. Glenn Weekley
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Hendersonville, TN

   Some years ago the London Transit Authority was receiving a lot of complaints because their buses were driving past customers who were standing at the bus stops. The Transit Authority put an explanation in the paper that has become infamous with public relations departments. The explanation said, “It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers.” Clearly, that company had forgotten its purpose.

   Of the five thousand new companies that are started each year, only one thousand remain two years later. After five years, only two hundred are left. Corporate consultants say that the common denominator among all those failed companies is that they have no clear purpose; they lack a specific goal and direction. Someone has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And the main thing in any church is to reach people for Jesus Christ. The mission of the church is given to us by our Lord (Matthew 28:19-20). We are to introduce people to Jesus Christ and help them grow spiritually. Evangelism should be the driving force behind everything we do.

   The text for this message has challenged, inspired and motivated me through my years of ministry. Paul is defending his ministry because some in Corinth regarded him as a self-appointed, crazy peddler of the gospel. But, as the text indicates, Paul clearly understood his mission; “…we persuade men…” (verse 11). R.G. Lee once said, “Lack of true motive makes life dreary and unworthy.” Paul’s life was anything but “dreary and unworthy” because he was highly motivated. “Persuade” means to convince or influence. Paul wanted everyone to know what God knew about him; he was in the business of helping prepare people to meet God. At least two things motivated Paul to be a persuader of men.

    I. “We know that the Lord must be feared, so we try to get people to believe” (verse   11, Worldwide English Bible). 

   In 1877, evangelist A. G. Upham was leading a revival meeting in a New England church. One of his messages was “Stars for Your Crown.” In that message he gave an illustration of a man who, one month after he was saved, was fatally injured in an accident. He lingered for a time before he died. A Christian friend who sat by his bedside asked if he was afraid to die. The man’s response was, “No, but I have not been able to lead one person to Christ in the time I have known Him. I am not afraid to die, but oh, if I go, must I go empty handed?” C. C. Luther was pastor of the church in which the revival was held. He was so gripped by that story that he jotted down words that have become a favorite old hymn of the church. That hymn, in part, says,  

“Must I go, and empty handed

Thus my dear Redeemer meet?

Not one day of service give Him

Lay no trophy at His feet.

Must I go and empty handed?

Must I meet my Savior so?

Not one soul with which to greet Him?

Must I empty handed go?


   II. “The love of Christ makes us do what we do to win men” (verse 14, Worldwide English Bible).

    R. G. Lee in By Christ Compelled says, “Paul meant here the love of Christ for us not our love for Christ. The love of Christ for us is a believer’s great motivation…the Christian life is a love inspired life” (page 23). We are motivated by His love to persuade others to believe in Jesus Christ. Our text suggests five things about Paul that will help us keep the main thing the main thing.

   1. Paul was transparent about his intentions to evangelize. “That's why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care” (verse 11, The Message). Paul’s transparency is evident in Acts 26 as he appears before King Agrippa. “The king is familiar with these things because this was not done in a corner. Do you believe the prophets? I know you do. Then Agrippa said, ‘Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (verses 26-27).  Paul did not apologize for trying to persuade the King to become a Christian. Rather he said in verse 29, “Short time or long, I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, a Christian except for these chains” (The Message). Paul was transparent about intentions. He intended to lead the King to put faith in Jesus Christ. A mother wrote to Readers Digest, “Our daughter, an Army sergeant stationed at Ft. Stuart, Georgia, called us during an intensive leadership course that required her to spend 6 weeks at a forest encampment under sparse conditions. She wrote, ‘Mom I’ve met someone here I’d like to know better. But we aren’t allowed to wear makeup so he has no idea what I really look like.’” There is something attractive about a person with no pretense. The Message translates verse 12, “We are not saying this just to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we are on your side and not just nice to your face as many people are.” Paul was saying, “What you see is what you get.” He was transparent about his weaknesses and authentic about his relationship with God. That kind of balance makes Christianity attractive.

   2. Paul was enthusiastic in his efforts to represent the truth (verses 13-14). Paul was a great motivator of people primarily because he was enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is a necessity if we are going to reach the world for Christ. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm.” Arnold Toynbee said, “Apathy can only be overcome by enthusiasm and enthusiasm can only be aroused by an ideal which takes the imagination by storm.” Jesus said that lukewarm Christians “make me want to vomit” (Rev. 3:16, The Message.) Vance Havner said, “Too much of our orthodoxy is correct and sound, but like words without a tune, it does not glow and burn; it does not stir the heart; it has lost its hallelujah. One man with a genuine glowing experience with God is worth a library full of arguments.” Paul’s enthusiasm before Festus caused the governor to question Paul’s sanity. "Paul, you're crazy! Get a grip on yourself; get back in the real world! But Paul stood his ground. ‘With all respect, Festus, Your Honor, I'm not crazy. I'm both accurate and sane in what I'm saying’” (Acts 26:24-25, The Message). We have an obligation to warn and persuade people and we must do so with intensity. We should be gentle, patient and involved with people’s lives but must also be enthusiastic.

   3. Paul had conviction (verses 14-15). “We judge,” means “we are convinced, conclude.” The Message translates it, “Our firm decision is to work from this focused center, one man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat.” We are convicted that all are sinners and there is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Someone has said, “One man with conviction is worth 99 with opinions.” Surveys today indicate that as many as 85% of the American people believe they are going to heaven when they die. Our multicultural society believes all roads lead to heaven. Though some may not accept our message, it is important to communicate the message accurately. We are “ambassadors”(verse 20), not negotiators. We deliver the good news, we don’t edit it. In an article in Christianity Today about Oprah Winfrey, she was quoted as saying, “One of the biggest mistakes we make is to believe that there is only one way. There are many diverse paths to God.” Paul believed what Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”(John 14:6).

    4. Paul was perceptive about potential in people. “Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (verses 16-17, The Message) Jesus saw people for what they could become, not just their outward appearance or what they had done in the past. Who would have ever guessed that:

-Vacillating Peter would become a rock-like leader in the early church?

-Persecutor Saul would become preacher Paul?

-Demon possessed Mary Magdalene would be the first to see the resurrected Jesus?

-Proud, intellectual Nicodemus would humbly be born again? 

-Tax collector Zacchaeus would host Jesus for dinner and become generous?

-The woman at the well would become an effective evangelist in Samaria? 

   The Pharisees of Jesus’ day only saw externals. They complained that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus saw every person as being a potentially forgiven disciple and a transformed friend. Anyone can be changed if he will yield to Jesus. When we come together each Sunday there are among our fellowship former agnostics, alcoholics, drug addicts, adulterers, and thieves. Today many of them are leaders because someone saw potential in them, made Jesus attractive to them, and the end result was a new creation.

   5. Paul had an appealing urgency (verses 18-20). There is a level of aggressiveness that is repugnant to people. But today we have gone to the opposite extreme. We are so casual about our faith people don’t know what our convictions are. Imagine that you have a close friend who is fifty thousand dollars in debt. Creditors are after him and he is about to lose his car and his house. This problem has been caused by the poor decisions and bad habits of your friend but he is repentant about it. Imagine also that you have a wealthy acquaintance who knows of your friend’s plight. This person comes to you and says, “I believe in your friend and want to help. Here is a check for one hundred thousand dollars; fifty thousand to pay off his bills and fifty thousand to make a new start. Would you deliver the check to him for me?” I can imagine that you wouldn’t wait to share such good news with your friend.  People are under a huge debt of sin. Satan is eager to collect what is due him, death. But God has offered to pay that debt in full and put righteousness to every man’s account (verses 18-21). Our ministry is to help those at odds with God to understand that reconciliation with God is possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul says we have the great honor of representing Jesus Christ to others and appealing to them, on His behalf, to be reconciled to God. 

   The Mercedes Benz Company once had a television commercial which showed a Mercedes Benz automobile colliding with a cement wall. The commercial was demonstrating the energy-absorbing car body that all Mercedes Benz automobiles have. In the commercial, a company spokesman was asked why the company did not patent the car body design to prevent it from being copied by other automobile companies. The company spokesman said, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”

Written by: Dr. Glenn Weekley, Pastor
First Baptist Church
Hendersonville, Tennessee



    Glenn Weekley has been pastor of Hendersonville First Baptist Church since 1987. He holds the bachelor of science degree from the University of North Alabama, the master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the doctor of ministry from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Cathy have three children, Amy, Melinda, and Jarrod.