When you hear the word “ambassador,” you might automatically think politician, someone who represents our nation in a far-off land, or some stately diplomat whose job it is to be the go-between for two foreign countries. This person might negotiate agreements, meet with foreign leaders, even play the part of peacemaker when trouble arises. But when we read the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that as Christian believers we are to be Christ’s ambassadors, confusion might swirl. How are we, as followers of Jesus, sheep of the Shepherd, supposed to be ambassadors of our Lord and Savior? What does it truly mean to become an “ambassador of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:20?
What Does Paul Mean by ‘Ambassadors of Christ’ in 2 Corinthians 5:20?
In his letter, thought to have been penned around 55 or 56 A.D. to the early church in Corinth, Paul offers wisdom and encouragement, as well as some harsher directives, for the nascent believers. He urges them to give generously, reject false teachings, and strive to understand the true meaning and higher calling of Christian ministry. This higher calling is what Paul is emphasizing in Chapter 5 of the letter, where he notes that God is the ultimate judge of all creation. We, out of love, reverence, and fear of the Lord, ought to not only live in a way that reflects our faith but convince other people to do the same. As Paul urges, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11a).
Indeed, he wrote, we are to no longer live for ourselves but for Christ, “him who died for them and was raised again” (v. 15). We are a “new creation” (v. 17), reborn and reconciled to God. That reconciliation is the ultimate goal, Paul indicates—for, once separated from God by sin, in Christ we are now rejoined with our Heavenly Father. It is an opportunity open to everyone who repents and believes in Jesus, and it is up to all Christians to do their part to spread that message so that all people can be reconciled, too.
Given all this, Paul then writes our key verse: “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 Corinthians 5:20).
For early Christian readers, an “ambassador” was someone who represented one state or land to another. They were official representatives of the one who sent them and were therefore to be treated with the utmost respect. It was a well-known title, one that carried a great deal of respect and dignity, and that warranted great decorum on the part of the ambassador, the sender, and the receiver. By “ambassadors of Christ,” Paul meant that Christians should see themselves as representatives of God—and were to behave accordingly. They had an important job to do: showcase Christ, and deliver His message so others could know Him, too.
What Are the Marks of an Ambassador of Christ?
As an official representative of a ruler or government, an ambassador was often sent out with a message. In this passage, the Greek word presbeuō is used, meaning ambassador. In the Old Testament, we find the words tsayar, ambassador, and tsiyr, meaning ambassador as well as messenger, envoy, or errand-doer. This is one who is tasked with carrying crucial news, wisdom, or information. This gives us much insight into what are the marks of an ambassador of Christ.
First, we see that ambassadors help arrange business or practical matters. In 1 Kings 5:1-12, King Hiram of Tyre sent an ambassador to the new King Solomon, who received the ambassador properly and sent him back with a message that he planned to build God’s temple and hoped to do business with Hiram. Solomon would pay Hiram’s men fair wages for their work cutting cedars to be used in God’s Temple. Through the ambassador, Hiram sent back a message that he would happily comply.
Likewise, an ambassador of Christ helps arrange matters on behalf of the Lord. He or she is tasked with helping arrange the practicalities of faith, anything from how or where a church might be constructed to who is responsible for feeding the hungry or teaching the people. We also see that ambassadors help settle disputes. In Judges 11:12-28, Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king asking why the king had a quarrel with him. The messengers went back and forth between the two, communicating the issues and reasonings surrounding the land dispute in an attempt to bring the matter to rest. In this sense, the ambassadors were used as peacemakers, sent to bring about unity and shine light into the darkness.
As an ambassador of Christ, we also are to be peacemakers. We know that only the saving grace of God brings true peace, and we want to deliver that message to all people so they, too, can know that peace. We shine the light of Christ into the dark, evil reaches of the world in the hopes that someone might hear the message and answer His call. Third, ambassadors were sometimes used to be the eyes and ears of the sender, much like spies tasked to return with important information. The information they received was supposed to help the sender’s cause, not hurt it.
In 2 Kings 20:12-19, the king of Babylon sent ambassadors, who also served as his spies, with gifts and letters for Hezekiah, king of Judah. As Isaiah prophesied, Judah’s king, in showing these messengers everything in the palace, had unwittingly shared all the information of his wealth with Babylon, which would one day lay siege to Judah and carry off all those treasures. And in Numbers 13, God told Moses to send people to explore the land of Canaan and bring back reports of this land of plenty to God’s people. Most of these envoys did indeed bring back news of a glorious place that flowed with milk and honey, but they were paralyzed with fear over the giants who lived there.
Only two—Joshua, son of Nun, and Caleb, son of Jephunneh—stood firm in their faith that God would triumph and encouraged God’s people to stay strong and follow God’s orders. Likewise, ambassadors of Christ must sometimes go into dangerous places and face great opposition. But by standing firm in faith and keeping our focus on following God, we triumph.
How Can We Be Good Ambassadors of Christ?
Ambassadors must behave respectfully to the people who are receiving their message, know they are being watched for what they do, understand their first allegiance is to God, and stand firm in their faith. Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In Ephesians 4:29, Paul tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” And in 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul further urges that we must “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart,” noting we should not be quarrelsome but kind (v. 24).
As ambassadors of the Good King, our actions show from Whom we come. We must model Jesus, and our message is received better when it is delivered with love, compassion, and grace. It draws people toward us, not away. But when the laws of this foreign land begin to infringe upon our orders from God, that’s different.
In Acts 5, when Peter and the others were hauled before the chief religious leaders for questioning, the high priest accused them of violating his direct order not to teach in the name of Jesus. But, as Scripture tells us, “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings’” (Acts 5:29). Indeed, while a good ambassador must strive to get along with others, their responsibility is to their sender first.
Finally, remember—a good ambassador should remember our task is to represent God. But God is in the midst of a valiant battle against the forces of darkness. If we stand firm in our faith, no matter what, we stand with Him. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Paul urges in Ephesians 6:11-12.
It takes courage, yes. But as Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
A Prayer to Be an Ambassador of Christ
If you are seeking to heed Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:20 and be an ambassador of Christ, you might consider praying this prayer, which we offer to help you:
Lord God, on my own I am so weak. But You—You created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. You are the author of life, beyond time and space, beyond human comprehension. I cannot possibly measure up, except through You.
I know that You work in all things for the good of those who love You (Romans 8:28). I know I can endure all through You and the strength You provide (Philippians 4:13). Help me push aside my own selfish needs and temptations to serve You first and only. Help me represent You well and Help me to lead others to the cross, where they will come to know Your Son, Jesus, who is now and forever the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
In Your holy and precious name, I pray, amen.
NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
NIV Study Bible Notes, Fully Revised Edition
Zondervan Bible Commentary (One Volume)
Theology of Work Bible Commentary
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary
NKJV Open Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/mbolina
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
Listen to our Daily Bible Verse Podcast Now!
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.