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 (2 Cor. 5:20).
As I understand it, the role of ambassador is a wide and varied one depending on the place where an ambassador is serving. But for the sake of simplicity, there are three things common to every ambassador: the nation of origin, the temporary station, and the person him or herself. So an ambassador is appointed for a given time to live in a nation that is not their own, and while they are there, they are the appointed representative of their nation of origin. They do not represent their own interests; they represent the interests of their own country. It’s also important to understand that when a person is serving as an ambassador, everything they do is taken as representative of their nation. This is what Paul says we, as Christians are – and we should regard ourselves in this way. No matter how else you regard yourself – as a lawyer or teacher or dad or grandmother, you must regard yourself as an ambassador. Though there are many implications of that, let me highlight two of them.
1. An ambassador doesn’t just carry a message; they are the message.
In other words, there is no real “down time.” Let’s take an extreme example of this by way of illustration.
Let’s imagine for a moment that Tennessee and North Carolina were different nations, and you are the appointed ambassador from the nation of Tennessee to the sovereign nation of North Carolina. When in this new nation, your family chooses to eat at a BBQ restaurant, and that’s when you discover that the BBQ sauce in Tennessee and North Carolina are very different. After lunch, you make a statement in public that sounded something like, “Vinegar should never be the base of a BBQ sauce.” Now you may have been just expressing a personal opinion, but you have to understand that a statement like that, with a role like yours, is not merely an opinion – it is a statement of the foreign policy of the nation of Tennessee.
Silly example, but it helps to highlight the importance of the position. As an ambassador, you are the embodiment of the policies, culture, and values of the homeland. There isn’t an on/off switch to this – it is who you are. You don’t only deliver the message; you are the message.
2. An ambassador is by nature relational.
Though the ambassador lives out the policies and values of the homeland, they must also be adept at understanding and relating to the nation in which they are serving because their real job is about diplomacy, and diplomacy always involves relationships. The same thing is true for Christians as ambassadors.
Notice here that the message given to us as ambassadors is reconciliation. I suppose Paul might have said that the message given to us is justification, but he didn’t. Justification is a legal term. It’s used in the judicial system. And that is exactly what happens to us when we come into Christ. It is a declaration that God makes, that a sinner is declared to be righteous, not because of his works, but because of the work of Christ. So if you can imagine a defendant in a courtroom in which the evidence is absolutely rock solid that this person is guilty, and yet the righteous judge from the bench declares that this person is not only not guilty, but that he is righteous. That is what has happened to each of us when the old has gone and the new has come (v. 17).
And yet Paul writes here not that we are ambassadors of justification, but that we are ambassadors of reconciliation. And reconciliation is different. It’s personal. A judge may acquit the accused without ever entering into a relationship with him. He just announces the verdict. The accused hardly ever expects to be invited over for dinner by the judge. In fact, the accused probably never wants to see the judge again.
Because the content of the ministry is reconciliation, Paul doesn’t just proclaim something. Reconciliation requires that one become an active reconciler oneself. It plunges us into the midst of people’s lives. It means we not only share the message that a person can be brought into the family of God, we involve ourselves deeply and relationally with those people. With our friends. Neighbors. Co-workers. You bring those two implications together and you find this conclusion:
Christians live the message of reconciliation to an estranged world.