Someone once quipped that an ambassador is a politician who was not elected to office but was given an office on the condition that he leaves the country![i] When we hear the word ambassador today, we naturally think of an American ambassador to another country. In ancient Rome, an ambassador was a representative of Rome to imperial provinces, sent with a message that declared the terms of peace with the Empire.
While modern people may recoil at the imperialistic imagery, the metaphor of ambassador is a helpful picture of the Christian’s role in evangelism. Paul’s description of himself as Christ’s ambassador in 2 Corinthians 5:20 and its surrounding context, teaches us at least three things about evangelism.
The basic assignment of an ambassador is to represent the one who sent him, faithfully delivering the message with which he is entrusted.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
When we share the gospel, we represent the Lord, delivering his message to a world in need of reconciliation. In fact, we work in partnership with God, as he himself appeals to sinners through us (5:20).
This passage also teaches us something about the gospel we share: “the message of reconciliation” (5:19). The message includes both the historical events of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the theological explanation of those events.
The historical events are implicit in the text, for example in verse 15b: “him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul explicitly defines the gospel in terms of these events in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. But he also explains these events theologically, showing us how God has accomplished reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Christ.
The author and initiator of reconciliation is God himself: “All this is from God” (5:18a). In fact, as John Stott notes, God is the subject of seven verbs in verses 18-21. God is the great actor in salvation. “All is of God,” said William Temple. “The only thing of my very own which I contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.”[ii]
If God is the author, Christ is the agent, the one through whom God works to accomplish reconciliation.
· Christ has died for us: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (5:14-15)
· Christ has taken our sins: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (5:21)
· Christ makes us new: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (5:17).
This is the heart of the gospel. This is the message we are commissioned to declare.
We also see in this passage two basic motives for evangelism. On one hand, we are motivated by the fear of the Lord. This isn’t the demoralizing, immobilizing fear of a tyrant, but the reverence and awe that recognizes our accountability before Christ. We see this in verses 9-11a:
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
The certainty of future judgment for all is a powerful incentive for urging people to be reconciled to God.
But Paul not only knew the fear of the Lord, he was also compelled by the love of Christ. For he was confident that the very one who to whom judgment is entrusted, yes, the Judge himself, was also the one who had already taken judgment in his place. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:14-15). And this assurance of Christ’s love became the controlling influence in his life.
When was the last time you had a conversation about Jesus with an unbeliever? How are you doing with evangelism?
To be honest, I’ve never felt that I was a very good evangelist. It’s much easier for me to preach a sermon to hundreds than to share the gospel with one. But I keep trying, and despite my shortcomings, this is what I’ve learned: when I tell people about Jesus, I’m not alone. God is there, working behind the scenes, leading me into conversations with people, sometimes in direct answer to prayer.
This means there are good reasons for me to be both humble and courageous when having Jesus conversations with unbelievers. Humility, when I consider the gravity of the task and how often I fail to do it well. But courage, because I never enter these conversations alone: I am not only speaking on Christ’s behalf, I am “working together with him” (6:1).
Brian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles Michigan, and the author of several books including Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life. Brian and his wife Holly have four children and live in South Bend, Indiana. Brian also blogs at www.brianghedges.com and you can follow him on Twitter @brianghedges.