“As Christ’s Ambassadors”

One of the “job descriptions” of the Christian is “Christ’s ambassador,” bearing “the ministry of reconciliation.” (The phrases come from 2 Corinthians 5.) I’ve heard this most often used as a justification for why Christians ought to be friendly toward whatever the world believes, so that we won’t “give a negative impression.” But this isn’t a reasonable understanding of the job at all: so, if we are Christ’s ambassadors, what ought that to mean?

The first duty of an ambassador is to faithfully represent his principal’s positions and interests. For example, since the position of the United States government is that recognition of basic “human rights” is of fundamental importance, any ambassador with a country that violates this principle who doesn’t protest such abuses is clearly negligent. Similarly, if a potential enemy were to announce plans for military naval exercises within or even just outside U.S. territorial waters, our ambassador must object to this veiled threat.

Our first duty, thus, as Christ’s ambassadors is to faithfully promote his interests and teachings. His primary interest is “the ministry of reconciliation,” bringing men and women—and the cosmos—back into right relationship with God, and immorality of any sort is as—more—offensive to him as repression of dissidents is to modern Americans. The Bible ought to be our “foreign affairs manual.”

But unlike modern diplomacy between sovereign states, we are ambassadors of the rightful ruler and owner of everything in a world fighting a rebellion it cannot win (with weapons that he provided, no less!). So while an American ambassador might negotiate with the Chinese or Iranian government from a position of deference to their interests on issues where all vehemently disagree, we have neither permission nor good reason to compromise with the world of our day on issues of doctrine or morality. The position of so many denominations today is almost as if the U.S. government were to make extravagant concessions to make peace with a town of a few hundred people in the middle of nowhere that declared independence from its state.

And remember, our primary responsibility is not to make the world like us—though that is a secondary aim that I’ll get to in a moment. Instead, we are charged with making disciples—getting the rebels to lay down their arms and begin to obey the authority of the rightful King. The world might like us for a while if we reduced our demands, or gave our assent to their independence, but to do either would be to abandon our first duties.

On the other hand, an ambassador does have the secondary duty of—as much as possible while carrying out his first duty—making the person or country he represents appeal to others. In the receiving country, the ambassador embodies the sending country, and how he acts reflects well or badly on his country’s reputation. Embassy scandals, for example, damage the ambassador’s country’s reputation.

Similarly, as Christ’s ambassadors, we ought to make ourselves appealing to those with whom we come in contact as much as we can while still obeying God’s commands and faithfully presenting his law and gospel. And we ought to avoid scandal and doing anything that could impeach our character or reputation. But I hardly need to say more on this point, as I hear it preached from the pulpit week-in and week-out and see it applied across the church in America today. (Not that it’s the slightest bit easy to do.) We need to continue to obey this part of our “brief” as ambassadors—or start to, for those of us who have been lax on it—but more importantly we need to ensure that our message is a faithful presentation of what has been entrusted to us.

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