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Christian Biblical Studies
AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
By L. Narrows
All Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
— 2 Corinthians 5: 20 —
IKE OTHER APOSTLES of the early Church, Paul had been given a special authority from the Lord. As the twelfth apostle – the replacement for Judas, the betrayer – he was a senior spokesman or ambassador. As a presbyter (so the Greek), he was commissioned by Christ to teach and exhort His people. Paul wrote and spoke as from the Lord; his words were inspired, and as true as if Jesus had Himself been speaking and writing them.
Paul and the other writing apostles were Christʼs copyists, though not necessarily through a process of supernatural dictation, for their own individual personality is evident in the disparate styles in which they expressed themselves. After the last of the apostles (John) died, inspired utterance and writing also passed away, though God continued to raise up His servants, men of intellect, talent and faith, to teach the true, scattered Church throughout the Gospel Age. Paul was careful to distinguish between God-breathed utterances and writings, which were thus infallible, and his own opinions, which were not. See 1 Cor. 7: 25 (ʻI have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgmentʼ); and v. 40 (ʻ. . . my judgmentʼ).
This is a valuable lesson from the chief apostle for we lesser mortals who attempt to preach the Word of God to others: we must be brave in our declaration of truth against error, but not be dogmatic beyond the authority of Scripture. Not having the spirit-filled insight with which Paul and the other apostles were blessed, our own utterances may often be misguided or confused. Nor may we deploy Scripture texts as bludgeons to beat other minds into submission. It serves Godʼs interest in this present world to allow differences of opinion to flourish, uniformity of understanding in matters religious or secular being inimical to the experience with sin which He has ordained, to the ultimate benefit of humanity.
ʻWe are ambassadorsʼ: Here Paul refers to the other apostles and himself as mouthpieces of God to the Church. But it is not stretching things too far to say that we, too, in a modern, non-apostolic setting, are ambassadors – people with a mission to preach the Word of God to those who show interest. As Isaiah says (6: 8), ʻI heard the voice of the LORD, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.ʼ
In Romans 8: 1, Paul writes, ʻThere is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’ What a splendid consolation this is! Our sins do not keep us from God; rather the forgiveness of them draws us to Him. Now having been reconciled to the Father by the Son we are, in turn, charged with making known to others this peculiar blessing. Those who have been justified by faith and cleansed from the condemnation of sin are eager to pass on the saving news of the Gospel to anyone who will listen.
It is a privilege to be one of the ʻsentʼ and we should be eager to claim it. However, most of us will not be able to dedicate all our efforts to such a charge; we will have other claims on our time – work and family and other obligations – and we need to carry out these immediate tasks conscientiously and attentively, lest we bring reproach on the Christian cause.
Although we should carry out our evangelical service with the courage of conviction, this does not mean sallying forth armed with nothing more than enthusiasm. We ought to educate ourselves in the Word, so that we can present the message intelligently. We will not persuade others with shallow notions and confused teaching – bluster over brains.
ʻBe ye reconciled to Godʼ: Jesus is the great Reconciler, having given Himself as a ransom-sacrifice on the cross, opening up an avenue of faith by which the sinner could approach the Father. Christ positions Himself between the Sinner and the Sinless God. In this way He is an advocate for the believer before Godʼs throne of justice. But note that in the kingdom of God on earth – the future Millennial Age – Christ will function as a mediator, reconciling two opposing parties – God and humanity. This is an important distinction, and makes clear that there are two periods during which the message of salvation is preached, first to the believers – all those who are repentant sinners justified by faith; and, second, to the unbelieving world of mankind, who will be resurrected and offered eternal life on earth, subject to their faith and obedience.
When we encounter implacable resistance to our message, we should move on with resolve, but without resentment or condemnation. We may be ambassadors, but we are not authorised to pass judgement on others who disagree with us or who spurn our efforts to persuade them. We are envoys of the Gospel, which is at its centre a message of reconciliation, a process which calls for a penitent, submissive heart and mind, requiring voluntary assent. In instructing His first-century disciples how to be competent emissaries of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus incidentally instructs us in this twenty-first century (Matt. 10: 13, 14): ʻWhen ye come into a house, salute itʼ, that is, emit good will towards it. Should there be no welcome or we encounter open hostility, Jesus tells us to depart and metaphorically ʻshake off the dust of your feetʼ. God will reprove and instruct the world in truth and righteousness in His own time.
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As an ambassador for Christ, each one of us embodies the cause of the kingdom of heaven, from whence our true citizenship derives. And like earthly ambassadors we have certain privileges and powers which we do well to keep in mind. An eight-point allegory might read as follows:
1. Extra-territoriality: An ambassador’s residence, the embassy, is regarded as belonging to the nation which the ambassador represents, and is exempt from interference or attack by the host government.
Though dwelling in this world, the Christian is not a part of it. The villains of selfishness and fleshly-mindedness ought to have no claim on our hearts. If, by chance, when our defences are down, they break in, we must take stiff and urgent measures to repel them.
2. Stay in touch with HQ:A twenty-first-century embassy bristles with electronic means of communication, receiving daily or hourly instructions from its own government on emerging crises or changes in procedure.
The Christian must maintain regular, frequent contact with God in prayer and study of the Word. If we don’t, we will get rusty and forget who we are really working for and overlook the places where spiritual dangers lurk.
3. Understand the culture of the host country: An ambassador who is ignorant of the social mores, history, or language of the country to which he or she is posted is likely to be ineffective and prone to gaffes.
We ought to have empathy for all people with whom we come into contact; they have similar experiences to our own – losses, disappointments, bereavements, and countless other problems. We may not be ʻofʼ this world, but we are certainly ʻinʼ it, and our interactions with those around should be practical, not overtly pious or superior.
4. Patriotism: An ambassador is a servant of the government whose flag he or she represents and loyalty is of prime importance.
Under the banner of Christ, the believer owes allegiance solely to Christ and His cause. Commingling our efforts with private, side loyalties to worldliness, the flesh, or self will not do.
6. Upholding the constitution: The ambassador has a duty to follow the laws of his or her own sovereign country first and, subordinately, to abide by the laws of the host nation.
The Christian must be seen to be an upstanding citizen of his or her natural land – paying taxes, driving within the speed limit, showing civic respect, and so on, rendering to the modern Caesar what is his. But we must always put Godʼs will and Word above all earthly allegiances.
7. Diplomacy: An ambassador must be versed in standards of protocol, competent to interact smoothly with his hosts and, when necessary, to soothe troubled tempers.
We may not practise deception on anyone, but we should be astute as to how and when we expound the Bibleʼs message, exercising sanctified common sense.
8. Sociability: The art of a good ambassador is to entertain an assortment of guests, making them feel at ease and well-liked, reflecting favourably on the envoy’s country.
As Christ died for all, the Christian is exhorted to be friendly and hospitable to all, in both the literal and spiritual senses, without seeking reward or compensation. In so doing, we may often entertain figurative ʻangels unawaresʼ (Heb. 13: 2).
October 2014. All author rights asserted, except that you are free to reproduce this article without express permission. Please acknowledge the source.