More Than Ambassadors: Reconciling People to God

As Christians, we have been blessed with every blessing that God has in heaven (Eph. 1:3). One of those “blessings” is that we get to play a vital part in reconciling people to God, who has given us both the service and message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18 and 19
(18) All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
(19) that 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.

Verse 18 makes it clear that God has given Christians the “ministry of reconciliation.” To understand that phrase more fully, it helps to know that the Greek word “ministry” is diakonia, and simply means “service.” Sometimes the English word “ministry” is so theologically and emotionally loaded that when we see that we have a “ministry,” we are not sure just what to do about it. From God’s point of view, however, both the word and the action it demands are very simple. God wants us to serve mankind. How? Well, according to verse 18, by performing the service of reconciling them to God. The need for that service is obvious, as each human being is born separated from God and in need of someone to introduce Him to them and point out their need for reconciliation with Him.

In order to perform the service of reconciliation, we need to know what to say to properly direct people to God. That is why God has given us the “message” of reconciliation. The Bible tells us how people become reconciled to God, why they need to be, and how they will benefit if they are reconciled to God. Let’s briefly take a look at these three things.

Going from being a sinner whose destiny is everlasting death to being reconciled to God is easy, but only because someone else paid for it. How easy is it to eat a meal someone else has paid for, or wear clothes someone else bought for you? Very easy. Salvation is easy too, and the following verse sets forth God’s way of salvation today:

Romans 10:9
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

By his sacrificial death, Jesus Christ paid the price for salvation, so all a person need do to be saved is recognize that fact by making the resurrected Christ his Lord. But why be saved and thus reconciled to God? Because each human being is born with the sin nature of Adam, and thus is bound to sin, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, at the Judgment, it would be righteous of God to put us all to death. However, by the grace of God, Jesus Christ died to pay the price for the sins of mankind, so if anyone wants everlasting life, he can have it by making Jesus his Lord and thus appropriating unto himself Jesus’ substitutionary death, which saves him from dying himself.

How will people benefit if they make Christ their Lord and receive everlasting life? The obvious answer to that question is that life is better than death, but there is a lot more to it. The world we live in now has been cursed (Gen. 3:17) and is controlled by the Devil (1 John 5:19). [1] As a result, it is often a very unpleasant place to live. In contrast, the Paradise coming in the future when the earth is regenerated will be a wonderful place to live. There will be no hunger, no sickness, no crime or war, and no injustice. Instead, there will be abundant food for all people; we will have healthy, energetic bodies; the air and water will be fresh, clear and clean; and people will be full of joy. [2] Anyone who misses out on that life will be sorry indeed, which is why at the Judgment, when unsaved people realize what they could have had but did not accept, they will weep and gnash their teeth (Luke 13:28).

What is the loving thing to do?

As Christians, we have the wonderful privilege of telling unsaved people about the bountiful blessings of salvation through Christ. Call it “witnessing,” call it “sharing your faith,” the point is that you open a discussion about Jesus Christ with people who do not believe in him. And we must understand that doing so is a genuine expression of godly love toward another person. Today, the Devil is doing a good job of deceiving many Christians into believing that it is not “loving” to share your faith with someone, as if that somehow invalidates what the other person believes and belittles him as a human. A well-meaning person might say, “You can’t tell a Buddhist his faith is not true. That’s not loving!” Do not be fooled by such erroneous reasoning. Helping someone have everlasting life is perhaps the most loving thing you could do for him!

It is absolutely not loving to stay quiet while people around you get closer and closer to their death and everlasting destruction. Peter understood this well, and boldly spoke to the leaders of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem. These were educated men with good reputations in the Jewish community. They were ostensibly doing well, except for the “minor” fact that they were unknowingly headed for eternal death. So Peter spoke boldly and plainly to them:

Acts 4:11 and 12
(11) [Jesus Christ of Nazareth] He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”
(12) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

It is not recorded whether anyone in Peter’s audience believed that day, but I think it is safe to say that some people began to question whether he was right about Jesus. In any case, because of the testimony of Peter and other Christians, and the signs and miracles they did, within a short time “…a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7b). Let’s expand that translation to show what all it entailed for those priests: “large number of the priests, the leaders of the Jewish faith, abandoned their faith, which would have resulted in their everlasting death, and accepted everlasting life in Paradise, even though for many it meant giving up their ‘good job’ and ‘good reputation.’” Wow! These priests, who could have lived comfortable lives off the tithes of the Jewish people, gave up their good standing in the Jewish community because they preferred everlasting life in Paradise to a few years of fame and fortune on this earth. That’s like Moses, who thousands of years before them “…chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin [in Pharaoh’s house] for a short time” (Heb. 11:25).

Through the centuries, the action of Moses and these priests has been repeated over and over again. First-century Jews converted to Christ knowing it would mean censure and perhaps even torture and death. So have Moslems, Chinese, Russians, and the list goes on and on. Why? Because nothing, nothing at all, is more valuable than everlasting life in Paradise, and that, fellow Christians, is what we have the privilege of sharing with others. Yes, if I were the Devil, I would definitely try to convince people that it is “unloving” to tell someone of another faith that he is heading for destruction. Of course, Jesus did not think so. Many people of his time were idolaters, and he was bold to tell them that only the Word of God is the truth.

Paul followed in Christ’s footsteps, and went from synagogue to synagogue proclaiming to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 13:14ff, 14:1, 17:2, 10 and 17, 18:4, 19:8). Paul was so bold that on the Areopagus in the heart of Athens, in the very shadow of the Parthenon, with its gigantic statue of Athena and hundreds of statues of lesser gods, he told the people they should not think that God is an image made by man. Furthermore, he said that God commands all men to repent, because there is a day coming when the world will be judged by Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 17:22-34). Although many of the people who heard Paul that day scoffed or doubted, there were some who believed. History tells us that those early Christians boldly proclaimed the Word in many different places, and as they did, Christianity spread.

Another thing that has hampered some people from sharing their faith is the belief that we should be in a relationship with someone before we tell him or her what we believe. The fact is that we simply do not know at what point in one’s life he will believe the Gospel message, and there is biblical precedent for sharing our faith with people we do not know, just like Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others did. There is also biblical precedent for sharing our faith with people we do know and are in a relationship with, even though that occasionally ends the relationship.

Three in one: Ambassadors, Legates, and Elders

Each Christian has both the service of reconciling people to God and the message of reconciliation, so the Bible says that every Christian is an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:20
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.

Before we expound upon being an ambassador, we must note that, as His manner is, God has packed a lot more into this verse than meets the eye of the English reader. The Greek word that most versions translate “ambassador” is presbeuo, and it has three primary meanings: 1) elder, 2) ambassador, and 3) legate. [3] The context rules out “elder” as a primary meaning in this verse, because giving us the service and message of reconciliation does not make us elders. However, it is worth reflecting on the fact that in the Greek language the common word “elder” was used also as “ambassador” for a good reason. Ambassadors should be mature, not acting like hotheaded youths who make rash and unwise decisions and embarrass the nation they represent. Similarly, Christians need to be mature people whose life reflects well on our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ambassadors

An ambassador is an officially authorized representative sent from one nation or state to another. In our case, we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and we are here on earth with the job, or service, of reconciling people to God. There are many points of analogy we can learn by studying earthly ambassadors. For one thing, they try to behave in a way that reflects well on their country. For another, they are informed about their own country and what it stands to gain from the host country. In our case, this world has nothing to offer heaven but one thing—people. We are not here to acquire oil contracts for Jesus, ask for tariffs to be adjusted, or any such thing. We are here to win people to Christ. Another thing about earthly ambassadors is that they keep trying to improve at what they do. They keep learning about both their own country and their host country. Similarly, as ambassadors for Christ we should be constantly learning about God and Christ, deepening our relationship with them and our knowledge of the Word, knowing that our Christian lives will be a reflection of that relationship. We should take being an ambassador seriously.

It is sad to say that some Christians do not want the job of ambassador. They are more comfortable keeping their beliefs private. Each of us should be aware that we are an ambassador, and that it is not a matter of whether or not we want the job, but rather what kind of ambassador we will be. We were bought with a price, and our lives are not our own. We are Jesus Christ’s ambassadors, so it is best if we willingly, enthusiastically, and lovingly do the work God has assigned us.

If you are uncomfortable about, or afraid of, sharing your faith, meet that fear head on with the Lord and tell him about it. He is the one who appointed you to be an ambassador, and he will help you become a good one. Perhaps you have the wrong idea about being an ambassador. Jesus is not asking you to leave your family and move to some desert country to tell natives about him (there are some people he asks to do this, but not those who are upset by the idea). Nor is he asking you to stand on a street corner and pass out leaflets (although some people are called to do that, too). Rather, Jesus is simply asking you to represent him in what you say and do. As your personal Lord, he will guide you in what to do and how to best utilize your abilities to be a good ambassador in your particular situation.

The Lord Jesus committed to us the “message” of reconciliation, and it is important that we talk to people about him. The Greek word that the NIV translates as “message” is logos. We usually associate logos with “word,” but it often means “message.” Evangelism is more than just living a good life and hoping that someone will notice it and associate it with our Christianity. Evangelism involves speaking with people about Jesus Christ. You are offering the best gift that anyone at anytime has ever offered: everlasting life, and when a person believes and turns from death to life, he will one day thank you over and over for your efforts.

Legates

The other meaning of presbeuo that is important to properly understand is “legate.” Since most of us do not know what a “legate” is, some explanation is necessary. The historian Adolf Deissman tells us that presbeuo was, “the proper term in the East for the Emperor’s legate.” [4] The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us: “Julius Caesar initiated the practice of appointing legates to command legions in the army. Under the early empire a province containing one or more legions was governed by a military commander with the title legatus Augusti pro praitore (propretorian legate of the emperor).” [5]

A major problem in ancient times was the slow speed of communication. Imperial provinces in the Roman Empire were directly overseen by the Emperor in Rome, but getting information to him so he could make a wise and timely decision was very difficult. One answer to that problem was for the Emperor to appoint a legate, a person who had the delegated power of the Emperor. [6] Thus the legate had governmental authority wherever he was. The idea of the legate continued into medieval times, and The Chambers Encyclopedia [7] notes that the Roman Catholic Church appointed legates as special representatives of the church. The legate claimed full papal jurisdiction in the country assigned to him, even overruling the local jurisdiction of the bishops of the national church. In the modern Roman Catholic Church, however, the legate is little more than a special ambassador of the Pope.

The Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson, states: “Paul was Christ’s Legate to act in his behalf and in his stead.” [8] We are more than just ambassadors who talk about the Lord; we are empowered to act on behalf of God and Christ. That empowerment is portrayed well in Acts, for example, when Peter acted on Christ’s behalf and healed a lame man.

Acts 3:6
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

It is significant that Peter did not pray for Jesus to heal the man. No, he knew that once he got the revelation from heaven that the man had faith to be healed, he could command the healing. This was standard operating procedure for the early Church. Peter raised a dead woman by saying (with faith), “Tabitha, get up” (Acts 9:40). He did not pray, “Lord, you know Tabitha is dead, so I pray that you raise her from the dead.” Peter knew he was the legate, the appointed representative of the risen Christ, and that he had the authority (by revelation) to use the name of Christ and bring about signs and wonders, so he simply spoke Tabitha back to life. The book of Acts shows believers standing in the place of Christ and commanding miracles and healings (Acts 3:6, 9:34 and 40, 13:10 and 11, 14:10, 16:18). As legates of Christ like they were, we should learn from this. When we receive revelation to act, either from the written Word or via the holy spirit within us, we have imperial authority here on earth to do so. We do not ask the Lord Jesus to do what he has given us the authority and the guidance to do. As legates, we are more than ambassadors sent to tell others about heaven, we are sent to act on behalf of heaven. Let us step forward with faith and boldness, and act on Christ’s behalf.

Sow and reap before the coming famine

The book of Amos contains a dire warning:

Amos 8:11
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

Although this prophecy will specifically be fulfilled during the Tribulation period (after the Church is raptured) when the Anti-Christ rules the world and persecutes everyone who believes, it is a sad reality that the famine of hearing the Word of God is occurring right now for many people who live in countries like China, where the government controls the Church, or France, where Christian evangelism is illegal. Please, let there not be a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord here in the United States or wherever you live. In our country, we still have the freedom to sow the Word of God into people’s lives by telling them about Christ, and it is an act of love to share our faith with those who do not yet believe. That is God’s will, and there are rewards in Paradise for those who do. May God and the Lord Jesus bless our efforts and cause growth where the Word has been planted and watered.

Endnotes

[1] This fact is not well represented in the KJV version of the Bible, but is well represented in the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, and even the NKJV.
[2] For a very thorough discussion about the blessings of the next life, see our book; The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul.
[3] The astute student of Greek will recognize that presbeuo is a verb. It is “to be an elder, ambassador, or legate.”
[4] Adolf Deissman, Light from the Ancient East, (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, reprinted 1995), p. 374. Also for similar information see; Kittel, Gerhard. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1967.
[5] Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Chicago.
[6] A study of legates in the Roman world will show that not all of them were appointed by the Emperor, but that is our focus in this article.
[7] Trevor Anderson (Editor), The Chambers Encyclopedia, (Published by Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2001).
[8] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1931), p. 233.

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