Question: "What does it mean that the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14)?"

Answer: Second Corinthians 5:14 says, “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” In this verse, Paul speaks of his motivation for ministry.

There are as many different types of motivations as there are personalities. And of course, the intensity of those motivations can range from mild to obsessive. A young teen might babysit on the weekends because she’s motivated to save up for a new phone. The leader of a free country might be willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of soldiers in order to protect the lives and liberties of those in his realm.

Without the right motivation, very little progress can be made in anything.

Jesus spoke of the importance of motivation when contrasting the hireling and the shepherd. The hireling will take care of the animals because he wants to get paid. But as soon as he sees danger (that is, when wolves appear), he abandons the sheep to protect himself. The shepherd, on the other hand, not only takes care of his flock, but he’s willing to put his life on the line to keep them safe (John 10:7–18).

When the apostle Paul wrote, “The love of Christ compels us,” he was describing the powerful, Spirit-filled motivation that drives followers of Christ to share the gospel in ways that persuade people to commit their lives to Jesus.

When Paul explained this motivation to the Corinthians, he wanted them to not be ashamed of either him or the message of reconciliation that brings life to those who embrace it (2 Corinthians 5:11–15). Paul understood the futility of life without Christ and the empty pursuit of righteousness through self-effort.

Even though the people to whom he preached were often hostile to him, and even called him crazy, the love of Christ compelled him to keep putting the message of hope in front of them. Paul knew that his detractors were starving for a sense of meaning, purpose, and significance in the world—much like we see today.

The love of Christ compelled Paul to share the gospel. The phrase the love of Christ could be interpreted in two ways: Christ’s love for people, or the apostles’ love for Christ. Either provides motivation to take the gospel to distant lands in the face of opposition. The great love of Christ was such that “Christ died for all” people (2 Corinthians 5:14, NLT). Paul’s love for Christ was such that he was willing to die to self (see Galatians 2:20).

This testimony of Paul’s encourages us to ask ourselves, “What motivates us to share the good news of Jesus with others?” Are we driven by a genuine love and affection for Christ, by a clear view of Christ’s love for the lost, or merely by a sense of duty? What motivates us will make all the difference.

When we possess this compelling, Spirit-driven motivation of Christ’s love, we are zealous in seeing the lost reconciled with God. We go to the lost, rather than letting them come to us. We are willing to make ourselves “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19); we “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some” (verse 22).

The love of Christ compels us to love the lost enough to share the good news of salvation with them.