MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 13, 2001
(Thirteenth in a series on Christ’s church)
As we spend some time this morning examining one more of the designations given for the church in the bible, we come to Second Corinthians chapter five. Although we will look at the larger context in a moment, for right now let’s just read the first half of verse 20. Paul says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.” Although Paul is speaking of himself and those with him, he surely intends that all God’s people are ambassadors for Christ. The question is, “what is an ambassador?” All of us probably have some vague idea, but when we see what is wrapped up in this title of “ambassador” we get a sense of the great honor it imparts on us in Christ. An ambassador is a personal representative of a head of state or in this case, the King of the universe, Jesus Christ. An ambassador receives messages from the King and relays that message to others whom the King wishes to address. The ambassador doesn’t have a message of his/her own to bring. He/she speaks only what they have been told to say by their King. The relationship this implies between the King and the ambassador is remarkable. First, it communicates responsibility before God because our King’s message is one of immense importance (the saving grace of God in the gospel) and we ambassadors are entrusted with this.
Let’s try to get a handle on the awesome responsibility that is ours as Christ’s representatives. Any illustration we come up with will be far-fetched because there is no real-life, earthly situation that even comes close to communicating what it is to be Christ’s ambassador. But to illustrate, think about this. A situation arises requiring our president to respond diplomatically to a threat that has caused our nation to be poised on the brink of global, nuclear war. The president, for whatever reason, does not respond personally but chooses to deliver a peace-making message to those who threaten our nation and he chooses YOU to deliver his response. Get past the highly unlikely scenario and think about how that would make you feel? Suddenly, it falls on your shoulders to deliver the message that is our only hope for bringing peace into a context of global, nuclear war. Feel the weight of that responsibility if it were yours and feel also the tremendous privilege that would be for you to represent your country on a matter as urgent as that one. Having said all that, the truth is we have been entrusted with a far more important and urgent message than that one and we have been given this charge not by a fallen, finite head of state, but by the Lord of the Universe. The message we deliver for God does far more than save a temporal, lost planet from destruction—it saves eternal souls created in God’s image.
This role we have as ambassadors of Christ also communicates our intimacy with God. In the Ancient Near East, if a country rejected the ambassadors representing a certain country, that was taken to be a direct rejection of the King Himself. We see this truth reflected in the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:40. He says to his apostles, “He who receives you receives me.” Do you hear how intimately Christ is connected with those who bear his message? That means how people respond to Jesus Christ is seen in how people respond to us as his ambassadors. How they respond to us and the message we bring reflects how they respond to God. If a lost person were to stand before God at the judgment and say, “You never told me about my need for the gospel” and you had shared the truth of the gospel with them, God would have every right to say to him, “Oh yes I did, I sent (fill in your name) to tell you my gospel.” When we speak the truth of God as his ambassadors, we are his direct, authoritative representatives. That’s what an ambassador is and if that isn’t both thrilling and sobering to us then something is wrong. We come to others in the name of Christ acting as His personal representative and how people respond to us as we bear the message of truth determines what they do with Jesus.
In order to more fully understand and appreciate our call and responsibility to be Christ’s ambassadors, we must think about the message that has been committed to us. For that, let’s go to Second Corinthians chapter five, beginning with verse 11. Paul says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And 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. 16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
The theme of this text is the ministry of reconciliation. The message an ambassador of Christ takes to the world is a message of reconciliation. To bring reconciliation is to bring peace to a context of hostility. That word carries with it the idea of relationship. We should always remember “reconciliation” is a relational word that implies hostility between parties. This is true of the sinner in relationship to God because the bible does not teach that sinners are ignorant of God, merely needing to discover Him. Sinners are not simply indifferent to God, needing simply to discern His proper value to them. NO. The bible teaches sinners are in an openly hostile, confrontational, in-your-face rebellion against God. That is precisely the way God sees it. Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by his life.” Sinners treat God as their enemy because, Romans one tells us, though they know he exists and who he is, they deliberately choose to suppress the truth of him in their unrighteousness. They deliberately exchange the truth of God for the lie. They choose to worship and serve themselves and other created beings rather than the One who created them. They are at war with God and God is pouring out his wrath on them—a wrath that will be brought to its fullness in the punitive fires of hell.
This truth is central to the gospel and it has been mostly lost today in our evangelistic message. This understanding of what an ambassador does can help us keep in tight focus the central message of the gospel. Jesus Christ died to make peace on the cross by paying the penalty for sins so those at war with God could be forgiven of their rebellion against Him. Jesus Christ did NOT die for sinners fundamentally so the sinner could lead a more fulfilling life (as I heard the other night at an evangelistic event). If that is our message we are not so much ambassadors with a message of peace between warring parties as we are spiritual cruise directors with ideas as to how to make people’s earthly itinerary more fulfilling.
As ambassadors of Christ we are sent into that openly hostile relationship as God’s representatives to speak to the rebel the peace-making message of the gospel. That is, God has done all the work necessary for there to be an end to hostilities. He has paid the penalty for their sins—he has made a way of peace with estranged, warring sinners in the cross of his Son, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is what an ambassador does as God’s peacemaker, God’s message-bearer. He pours out the living water of gospel truth and extinguishes the fire of rebellion in the sinner’s heart. He/she tells sinners that, though they are spitting in God’s face, God has already done the work to make peace between them and God. Now that we know more of what an ambassador is and the content of his message, the question becomes HOW do we act as Christ’s ambassadors in our world? Let’s look at three answers this text gives.
First, we serve as ambassadors of reconciliation as those who have ourselves been reconciled to Christ. Verse 18 says, “All that [the new creation we are in Christ] is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:” Everyone in the ministry of reconciliation (all of us) is someone who at sometime has themselves been reconciled. When we think about ourselves as ambassadors that does not mean we are God-experts or sophisticated theologians or some sort of spiritually elite, heavenly envoys. NO! We are ones whom God has pulled out of a burning house and are now running at God’s command back into the inferno to pull out others who are trapped inside. The soot and the smoke from when we were rescued still cling to us as we run back inside the fire to free those inside with the liberating message of the gospel. We are like heroine addicts who have been pulled out of the gutter and set free from our chemical bondage and have now been sent back into the halfway houses to bring God’s deliverance to other drug-enslaved sinners. We must never forget that we are people who were once ourselves actively, brazenly, energetically spitting in God’s face until God, through his truth, wrestled us to the ground and revealed to us the idiocy of rebelling against the omnipotent King of the universe.
That means there is no room for pride in this. A “proud ambassador” of Christ is a contradiction in terms. The ambassador is him/herself a recipient of saving grace AND a recipient of the ministry of reconciliation. Everything we have as ambassadors comes from God—our own reconciliation with Him was his gift given apart from any work of our own. The message comes from Him, the commission to give the message comes from him and the success of the message comes only from Him. Where is there room for pride? Paul asks in First Corinthians 4:7, “…What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” Being prideful as an ambassador is on the same level of absurdity as being proud of being born—like we pulled off some amazing feat in escaping from our mother’s womb. We did nothing to contribute to our birth and there is no more credit due us for acting as Christ’s ambassador. We should constantly remember we are now, and ever on earth shall be, nothing more than beggars who tell other beggars where to find bread—that’s what we are about—nothing more.
A second answer to the question, how do we act as Christ’s ambassadors to the world is, we serve as ambassadors with the fear and love of God as our motivators. This text tells us WHY we serve as ambassadors and the reasons are God-centered, not man-centered. The first motive for service is given in verse 11. To understand verse 11, we must see it in the context. In verse ten, Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Then he follows in verse 11 and says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” Admittedly, part of this ministry of persuasion was Paul’s attempt to convince the Corinthians of his authenticity as an apostle (which they doubted), but certainly a main part of this ministry was to spread the gospel of Christ. A large part of what motivated Paul to act as Christ’s ambassador, bringing the message of reconciliation was the fear of God as it related to the judgment seat of Christ. He knew that he was going to be accountable for how faithful to God he was in his ministry and the same is true for us. This “judgment seat” Paul refers to is NOT about whether we go to heaven or hell. If we are justified, then we are in Christ and that is not dependent upon our performance here on earth. We must be clear about that. Paul is speaking about the issue of our heavenly reward from God.
He is talking about the degree to which we receive eternal reward for our labor and Paul discusses that in more detail in First Corinthians chapter three. He says beginning in verse 11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” Paul was motivated to be a faithful ambassador by the fact that one day; all his work in preaching the gospel would pass through the revealing fire of God’s judgment. The same is true for us. All our ministry on earth which came from Christ—Christ’s message, Christ’s power and Christ’s timing—that will go through the fire utterly unsinged and unaffected. But whatever is the product of our flesh—our own power and abilities, our unwillingness, our fallen, self-centered motives, our self-centered timing, our rebellion--all that will vaporize into a puff of smoke before our eyes and we will enter heaven, “as one escaping through the flames.” That means, though we will enter glory, our earthly life--our one opportunity to live as mortals for God’s glory and do his ministry—was…fruitless. Think about all the works we have done supposedly for God amounting to nothing more than a cloud of smoke.
Paul classes that future scene before the judgment seat of Christ in the context of the fear of the Lord and so should we. Don’t miss this (!) Paul implies that part of living with a reverential awe of God—fearing him, means that we should despise the idea---be utterly repulsed by the possibility that when we stand before God, we will have nothing to bring to him as the fire-tested, authentic ministry of Christ in and through us. We ought to live with a holy fear of going to heaven with nothing in the way of Christ’s fruit and a big part of whether we have been faithful in our ministry of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors. When our fruit as ministers of reconciliation is passed through the fire, will it be the wood, hay and stubble of prayerlessness, laziness, cowardice and out and out refusal to obey and (just as bad) fleshly, man-centered evangelistic methods? All that will vanish when God puts it through the fire and we will be left standing there empty-handed bereft of any evidence his grace in our ministries.
Or, when the fire tests our work as ambassadors, will there be the enduring fruit of persevering prayer, boldness in witness, Spirit-led timing and a willingness to speak for Christ in any context? Those will survive the fire of God’s testing and we will have the honor of laying them at the feet of Christ as examples of His grace and power and ministry in us while we walked the earth. Does that heavenly scene of God’s judgment stir up within us the fear of God that compels us to faithfulness in our witness to Christ? It did for Paul and should for us as well.
A second motive for us as we serve as ambassadors for Christ is found in verse 14. Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us.” The endless debate swirling around this text is the question of whether Paul is saying we are motivated to faithfulness because Christ loves us or are we motivated by our love for Christ? Frankly, the debate is mostly unnecessary because the only reason we ever love Christ is because he first loved us. So, to say we are motivated because of Christ’s love for us is very similar to saying we are motivated out of our love for Christ because knowing Christ’s love for us stirs up within us love for Him. As God’s love for me causes me to love Christ more and more that will cause me to be more willing to be bold for Him and be persecuted for him—to put myself in uncomfortable situations for Him, to speak the truth in love to others for Him. Not only will the fear of God as it relates to my appearance before Christ’s judgment seat motivate me, but my loving response to His love also compels me to be faithful as an ambassador of Christ.
Notice again the God-centeredness of the motives for being Christ’s ambassador. They are about our fear of God and our love of God. They are not primarily based around the sinner or his/her response. That’s so liberating because it keeps me from judging my ministry on the basis of how many converts I win for Christ. Also, when I am man-centered in my motives as an ambassador, I am set up to be deeply wounded on a personal level. “I told them the gospel and they completely blew me off!” Frankly, the fact that people reject us on a personal level is not a big deal on an eternal scale. The tragedy in all of this is NOT that we are rejected. The cosmic, eternal train wreck in all this is this: because we are Christ’s ambassadors speaking for Christ, when someone rejects us, they have also rejected Christ. That is an unspeakable calamity. We should grieve that rejection of Christ.
A third and final answer to the question of how we should act as Christ’s ambassadors is we serve as ambassadors who minister reconciliation on a comprehensive basis. That means we are to minister reconciliation not only to those outside of Christ, but also to those in Christ. Notice in verse 20 where Paul is speaking to believers and says, “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.” This command to be reconciled to God is issued to believers. That only makes sense when you think about it. If reconciliation is a relational work done when someone is being hostile to someone else, then believers certainly need an ongoing reconciling work of God because we all have in our hearts pockets of rebellion against God. Our salvation is a process we are to work out in fear and trembling. Certainly part of that process is the ongoing work of reconciliation as God progressively exposes and roots out those rebellious areas of our heart as where we are resisting his Lordship over us.
That means when God has shown you a pattern of rebellion in a fellow believer’s life and in gentleness and humility you confront him about his sin you are playing the role of Christ’s ambassador in his life. You are bringing God’s message of reconciliation to his life. This is a horribly important ministry to play because their/our rebellion alienates us from God. If it’s a known area of rebellion, it makes us sheepish and awkward in our prayer. If the area of rebellion is unknown to us (because we haven’t sought to know it) that will also drain the warmth out of our walk with God. We must see our ministry of reconciliation not only to sinners outside the church, but redeemed sinners inside the church.
Now, let’s think for a moment about applying these truths. As we live our lives do we do so with a conscious sense that a big part of we why were placed here was to bring the message of peace to those at war with God? Do we see sinners that way? What are we doing as God’s ambassadors, God’s peacemakers to bring his peacemaking message of the gospel to those who are at war with God? Do we fear God and does that fear motivate us to faithfulness? We should fear God, not man! When we stand before him, will God’s fire of testing incinerate our works, or will they survive the flames and stand as testimony to our faithful ministry as his ambassadors? Does God’s love for us cause us to be willing to do anything, tell any person in any context, the good news that God has sent His Son to make peace with sinners? It should—John tells us in his epistle that God’s “perfect love casts out fear.” When we are fearful to speak of Christ, we should cry out to God to enable us to sense his fear-expelling love. Finally, are we being faithful as ambassadors to other believers who have unchecked rebellion in their lives? May God grant us the grace to faithfully deliver his message of reconciliation.
Page last modified on 1/13/2002
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