There are certain life events where you are thrust into new levels of exciting responsibly. It might be having a baby, getting married, or accepting your first job. Every person has gone through these new exciting responsibilities in life. And with those exciting new responsibilities comes a new description, a new role that you have to fulfill. For me, one of those was purchasing a home.
For more than five years my wife and I lived in apartments while we were married. Living in apartments was nice because you paid you rent once a month and that’s the only money you worried about. If something broke in the apartment you made a phone call and they came out and fixed it. Your bills were always the same. But, when you own a home you have to be ready because if something breaks you have to pay to fix it.
Last December (a month that is normally tight for us financially already), our oven and stove top burners stopped working. So we bought a new oven. Then about a week later the motor in our heater seized up, so we had to pay to have that fixed. Then a week later I walked out into the garage one morning and there was water dripping through the sheetrock into our garage because a pipe had busted. It was three large repairs to take care of in just three short weeks. And it hurt to have to spend that much money. Thankfully we had saved some money into an emergency fund for occasions such as that, but it still hurt to have to spend that money.
But, spending that money is okay, because part of owing a home requires us to do things that that. It’s part of the description of a homeowner. Likewise, when we become a Christian we have certain “descriptions” of what we are supposed to do. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we describes for them three descriptions of what their live in Christ should look like.
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Cor 5:20-21)
Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Corinth because he wanted them to know how to interact with a fallen and corrupt world. For example, in the letter Paul talks about how the devil has blinded people to the truth (2 Cor 3-4), how we are not supposed to partner with unbelievers (2 Cor 6-7), and how giving (2 Cor 8-9). The purpose of Paul writing this letter was to tell the believers in Corinth how to live as Christians in a fallen and corrupt world. They needed all the help they could because of the city they lived in.
The city of Corinth was a port city and booming economically at that time. Between 300,00-600,000 people lived there at that time. There was a Gulf on both sides with 4-5 mile stretch where they would move the cargo across the narrow strip of land. The boats would travel 200 miles south down around the point of land, then return back up to pick up their cargo.
There were a lot of different cultural influencings entering the city of Corinth, a lot of people, a lot of alcohol, and a lot of prostitutes. That’s why Paul wrote them four letters 1 and visited them three different times.
My Story as an Ambassador
In seminary, I worked as a caddie at a private golf club, which provided lots of time to talk with my coworkers. Time after time, they shared stories of disappointment and disgust about the church and Christians.
They talked about TV pastors getting rich from the pennies of poor elderly women. They talked about local pastors caught having affairs with women in the church. They talked about so-called internet pastors who fancied themselves as “apologists” that could disprove evolution when the pastor had no training or knowledge of basic science.
I sometimes wondered if any Christian was serving as a bridge—an ambassador—to draw that person to Christ. So here Paul talks about being an ambassador to this fallen world, but this was a new concept for Christians
A Place Between
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was isolated. They didn’t use ambassadors. And God had told his people he wanted them to be separate from the other nations around them. They were supposed to be unique, holy, and not compromised by neighboring nations. “’And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:6).
But that changed in the New Testament. Paul wrote, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Cor 5:20). Paul says we Christians are supposed to be Christ’s ambassadors. The Greek word Paul uses here is presbeuo, and Paul only uses the word here in 2 Cor and in Eph 6:20, “I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador.”
The word picture that Paul is painting in his readers’ minds is someone that represents where he is from (his home country) and where he goes (a foreign country). For us, our citizenship is in heaven, but God has placed us on earth to represent him. That’s what an ambassador is.
I was a strong Christian attending seminary to become a pastor. While working at that golf course, I served as Christ’s ambassador. This might have been one of the first times these guys met and interacted with a real Christian.
As a strong Christian, I knew that I was a “citizen of heaven” (Phil 1:27; 3:20), but my place of employment was a secular job with earthy guys living immoral lives. But that’s where ministry happens! The first step of serving as Christ’s ambassador starts with being.
Be an Ambassador
Paul tells us that “we are ambassadors.” This is a position we hold. God has given us a new heart and regenerated us (Jer 31:31-33), we have been born again (John 3:3-8), and because of that, we have been adopted by God (Gal 3:26-27, 29-4:7). We truly “are” Christ’s ambassadors.
It’s a place we get to enjoy. We didn’t earn that place, and we didn’t deserve it (Rom 3:23; 6:23). Instead, God gave us a gift of salvation through faith (Rom 5:8; 6:23). That faith saves us from death and gives us eternal life (Romans 10:9-10). Because we call on Jesus, we will not die, but instead will live with him forever (Rom 10:13). If we follow the ambassador metaphor, you could say it is an “office” we are placed in. But what is this “position” or “office” used for?
How to be an ambassador for Christ
Go to places you otherwise wouldn’t go
It’s not enough to just “be.” Paul wants people to speak “for Christ” (v. 20). This means going places we might not otherwise go.
I have a friend that likes to go to bars because he knows he will meet non-Christians that are going through difficult times. (He doesn’t have a beer, but he sits and talks.) I have another friend who prepares his sermons at Panera Bread because he wants to be around real people living real life while he prepares his messages. My own pastor spends as much time as possible at a locally-owned coffee shop just down the street from our church because he wants to connect with the people that live and work nearby.
To be “for Christ” means we are out in the community representing him. We are trying our best to get to know others and love them. Why? This love for others is based on our love for God. Because we “love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
God loved us before we knew him, followed him, or loved him. Likewise, we, too, must love others even before they know us or love us. That’s how we are “for Christ” showing love to others before they know us or Christ.
We are his ambassadors representing his love in a foreign nation, the world, to people that don’t know him. In his book, Who Am I, Warren Wiersbe writes “We are God’s ambassadors of peace” (p. 128).
Stand out from the crowd
When I worked as a caddie, I stood out a lot. I didn’t cuss, chew tobacco, smoke, drink, or gamble. And when I played golf with the guys on my days off, I really stood out because I didn’t gamble.
There was a local colloquialism in Paul’s time that he wanted the Christians to battle again. To “Corinthianize” meant to engage in drunkenness and debauchery (Hanna, From Gospels to Glory, p. 186). It was known that the Corinthians liked to have fun with alcohol and sex. So to “Corinthianize” meant you were enjoying those things. Yet God called them to live differently. To live to a high standard. Therefore, Christians must stand out from the crowd.
Now that we know we are ambassadors for God—which means we represent the person who sent us and where we are sent to—let’s look at how we are reconcilers.
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Cor 5:18-20)
Before we talk about how you are reconcilers to God, we need to fix discover how we were reconciled to God. That’s discussed in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Rom 5:6-11)
Notice a few key words: “utterly helpless” (v. 6), “sinners” (vv. 6, 8), “condemnation” (v. 9), “enemies” (v. 10). Charles Ryrie says that reconciliation is “a change from hostility to harmony and peace between two parties” (Basic Theology, p. 336). When we were far from God we were in hostility with God. But through our faith in him, we have been brought into harmony.
Why we need to reconcile people back to God
God gives you the task of reconciling people back to God because people are separated from God.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. (Col 1:21-22)
All people are distant from God until they meet him and follow him. God told Adam and Eve if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die (Gen 2:17). They ate from the tree and die spiritually and eventually physically.
One of my young son’s favorite things to do is go to the park and play. Sometimes while at the park, he will walk away from the playground to an open field. He walks, and walks, and walks. I’m not sure where he is going, and I don’t think he knows either. But once he gets about a hundred feet away, I say, “Luke, come back, please.” That’s my plea to him. But I don’t need to plead for him to come back unless he is far away. Everyone is far away from God until they adopt a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
The “task” Paul talks about in verse eighteen is a service or ministry done for other people. It is a translation of the Greek word diakonia. Paul used the same Greek word to describe how God “appointed me [Paul] serve him” (1 Tim 1:12). And in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord (1 Cor 12:5). Lastly, when talking to pastors, Paul said their responsibility is “to equip God’s people to do his work” (Eph 4:12).
What is the ministry for all Christians that Paul described in 2 Cor 5:18? Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15). How do we preach the Gospel? Use what Paul calls the “wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19). This is the Good News—the message you preach—to everyone. As Paul wrote, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That’s the good news! Christ died and took the punishment people deserved because of their sins. Now people have eternal life by believing in him.
God orchestrates music and we play it
Waving her arms around isn’t enough. The movement must be clear, timed, and the same as in practice sessions. This is the role of my cousin, Rachel, a classical music conductor at a local church. With a small baton in her hand, she methodically guides her musicians to play a distinct way and brings everyone into harmony. After practice, she brings her musicians in front of an audience and directs them through the music. Do the musicians need the conductor to play the music? Not really. They have the musical score in front. But the conductor keeps the musicians playing together in harmony and helps them correctly interpret their musical score.
God is the musical conductor. You are a musician. In a symphony piece, the conductor selects the music and interprets it for the musicians. But the musicians produce the music. What the audience hears is from the instruments, not the conductor. God has selected the music for you, so get busy.
Christ is your music conductor, and he requires your work.
How to reconcile others back to God
Remember that we reconcile unbelievers as well as those who are fallen away.
It’s your neighbors, your family, coworkers. It’s not just people in a remote village in Africa that have never heard the Gospel. It’s the people in your life. It’s the people that we active in a local body of believers, but haven’t been there in six months. Those are all the people we reconcile back to God.
Our message of reconciliation must be clear.
We must know what we believe and be able to articulate it clearly when prompted. Peter tells us we must always be ready to share our faith, “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15). This means you must have some part of your faith memorized. Practice telling your conversion story and memorize some key verses to share with others about what it means to have a saving faith in God.
Reconciliation takes time.
There’s a guy I’ve been working with for more than five years right now. He calls himself an “agnostic libertarian.” We’ve spent time golfing together, I’ve talked to him a lot by phone, I’ve given him the gospel of John to read, and tried to talk to him about his faith. But he’s never really been interested in exploring the Christian faith.
Reconciling others to God takes time. We must be patient. John Maxwell, in his book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, tells us, “We always overestimate what we can get done in a day or a week. But we underestimate what we can get done in a yar. Just imagine what you will be able to get done in five years” (p. 87). I’m going to keep working on my friend. I sincerely believe that there will be a day when he is ready to learn about God. And when that day comes, I will be ready!
We’ve look at how every Christian is an ambassador for Christ and how we are reconcilers, now let’s look at how we are partners with Christ in ministry.
As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, ‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 6:1-2)
Not everyone that claims to be a Christian is one.
One of Paul’s purposes in writing this letter is to make sure that the Corinthians don’t let the Gospel go to waste. Paul reminded them of the Gospel, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Cor 5:21). Living the Gospel, to Paul, was so important he wanted to remind them of it. That’s why he wrote four letters to them! Paul’s fear here in 2 Cor 6:1 is that they might hear the Gospel but do nothing about it and continue living their lives the same way. Or that they would return to their old ways.
Every Christian is a partner with God in ministry.
The first word in our passage tells us that every Christian is a partner with God in ministry. The first word in Greek is two Greek words put together, Συνεργοῦντες. It’s made of up συν which is prep. “with” and the verb, εργέω, which means “work.” This word in 2 Cor 6:1 means to engage in a cooperative endeavor, “work together, with, assist, help.” Dictionary definition of partner is “one associated with another especially in an action.” 2 Christians are therefore partners with God in the ministry of reconciliation and serving as an ambassador.
Ministry must happen now, not later.
The verse, “”For God says, ‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you. Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2) is a quote of Isaiah 49:8. This was said by God 700 years earlier and written by Isaiah. But, Paul is telling us know that we need to live it out now.
In his book, Holy Ambition, Chip Ingram writes, “Life is short. People are hurting. People are dying. And God wants to use you and me to make a difference in their lives” (p. 40). A couple of weeks ago the pastor at my church gave a sermon about loving the church by loving others. He told our church that we should check on our neighbors to see how they are doing and see if they needed anything. So an hour after the sermon was over, my wife, my son, and I went to three of our neighbors and knocked on their doors to see how they are doing. (None of them answered, but that’s not the point!)
You and I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. That’s why we need to partner with God now to be an ambassador and reconciler for him.
“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16, NLT)
We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. So we must act today.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
There are three applications I think we can make from this passage in 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2. Let’s take a look at these together.
To live as an ambassador, when you go somewhere remind yourself that you represent God.
When you go to Wal-Mart, to the grocery store, to a local coffee shop, wherever you might go, remind yourself that you represent God as his ambassador. Put these two verses on a note card inside your car so you remember. One woman that was in a Bible study I used to lead used to memorize our Bible study verses by putting the verses as the backgrounds to her phone, so every time she looked at her phone, she saw the verses and could memorize them.
When I was a little guy I used to love to read the Sesame Street book featuring Bert and Ernie, Don’t Forget the Oatmeal.” In the book the two go grocery shopping and desperately want to remember to get oatmeal, so Bert ties a string around his finger to remind him to get oatmeal.
Wherever you go, remind yourself that how you act represents God.
To reconcile others back to God, find one person you can start to pray for, build a relationship with, and look for opportunities to share your faith.
When I have conducted trainings for the LIFEGroup facilitators at our church, one thing I encourage them to do, is to have everyone in their small group have at least one person that they are praying for, building a relationship way, and looking for opportunities to share their faith with.
Everyone should have one person they are trying to reconcile to God. However, this isn’t always easy as Chuck Swindoll describes in one of his books I was reading recently,
“Ministry is not limited to theological matters-most ministry has to do with translating those profound theological concepts into people’s everyday lives and experiences. It’s in that realm where ministry gets complicated. A better word is messy. Yes, ministry has its miraculous and joyous moments. But, as I’ve said for years, God is much easier to get along with than His people.” (What If. . . God Has Other Plans, 161).
At times these relationships might be “messy” but that’s the only way we can reconcile others: by getting involved in others’ lives.
To partner with God, find something you like to do that serves others.
One of the great opportunities of being involved in a local church is that you get choose where and how you serve others. You get to find something you enjoy doing and that you are good at, then use that as a ministry to serve others in the church.
In our church we have a group of ladies that write handwritten note cards and deliver them to nursing homes, the policy department, grocery stores, and fire department. We have another lady in our church that makes masks every day for people that need them. And other group of people that run our “care ministry” taking care of the needs of people in the community. These are all people who give their time doing what they enjoy to serve others as partners with God.
- We don’t have the first one (mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9). 1 Cor was written from Ephesus in AD 57. There was a “sharp letter” that Paul wrote to them which Titus carried to them (mentioned in 2 Cor 7:8-12). And 2 Cor was written 7 months after 1 Corinthians. ↩
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. ↩