“Ambassadors For Christ” (II Corinthians 5:20 sermon)

One of my favorite books I read last year was a biography of John Hay, who is little known today, but he was one of the great men of the 1800’s. He began as a secretary for Abraham Lincoln, and served in several presidential administrations all the way through Theodore Roosevelt. A couple of his  positions included serving as a U.S. ambassador and also as Secretary of State. He took these assignments very seriously, and he felt the weight of the responsibility of representing our President, and especially our country to nations and peoples overseas. 

But we need to understand that as Christians, we have an even bigger responsibility than John Hay ever did: we represent our Lord to the world as ambassadors for CHRIST. Our verse for this morning says: 

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

This verse tells us that as Christians, we are not just representing ourselves in this world; we are representing CHRIST. And we need to take that responsibility seriously!  Like an ambassador, we live in our present assignment temporarily, but we are here to represent heaven, and to share heaven’s message with the world.

I. BECOMING AN AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST

The first question might be: ARE you an ambassador for Christ? This verse begins with the word, “Therefore.” The word “therefore” always points back to something that came before it. Nobody just walks up to you and begins a conversation “Therefore …”.  No, you only use the word “therefore” when you’ve already been talking about something, and you are making a conclusion based on what you’ve been talking about. That is what Paul does here. 

So what has he been talking about? He’s been discussing how we have reconciled to God through Christ. 

— he said in :14 “that one died for all” speaking of Christ’s death on the cross for us

— he said in :15 that “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

— he said in :17 “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”

— he said in :19 “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”

Over and over he speaks here of the salvation God provided for us in Christ. THEN he says here in :20, “THEREFORE” — because God has done all this; because He reconciled us to Himself through Christ, because He died for us and we now live for Him; because we are now new creatures — “THEREFORE we are ambassadors for Christ.” Because He saved us, and He is IN us through His Holy Spirit, we are now His ambassadors in this world. We represent Him. But we need to be sure that this is really true for us, and that the salvation he talked about before the “therefore” has really happened to us.

There is a certain process for becoming an ambassador for the United States of America. First of all, the president nominates someone to be an ambassador. Sometimes they have earned the position by being fluent in the language of a country — or they have earned it by being a major donor to the President’s campaign!  Then when the nomination has been made, U.S. intelligence agencies do a background check on the person, to make sure there is nothing in their background that disqualifies them — then they must be approved by the U.S. Senate, and then they become an ambassador.

Thankfully that is NOT how we become ambassadors for Christ. God has already done a “background check” on us — and NONE of us qualified! In fact, the opposite is true. We all disqualified ourselves before God by our sin against Him. We’ve willfully disobeyed Him and broken His commandments. We’ve become His enemies. None of us should have ever been saved, or become ambassadors for Christ. But as :21 says “He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The Bible says we didn’t qualify to become an ambassador for Christ — or even to get to heaven. But JESUS qualified us. He took our sin on Himself, and gave us HIS perfect qualifications, so we could become citizens of Heaven, and ambassadors for Christ.  

But as we saw last week, you’ve got to make it personal for that to happen. God has “nominated” you for this position, but like an ambassador the president wants to appoint, you have to agree to it. You have say “Yes, I want that; I will do it.” You have to come to a time in your life when you tell God, “YES, I know I have sinned, and I am disqualified, but thank You that Jesus qualified me through His death on the cross. Forgive ME. Save ME. Help ME to follow You from now on.”  When you do that, then you are personally reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ, and you who were formerly an enemy of God because of your sin, now become His ambassador to the world.

Back in the 2016 Presidential campaign there was a HUGE field of Republican candidates on the debate stage, all fighting for the Republican nomination. If you remember, many of those debates were real knock-down, drag-out sessions. One of the candidates involved was Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah. At one point in the campaign, he was totally opposed to Donald Trump, and even called for him to drop out of the race. But after the campaign, Huntsman and Trump reconciled. In fact they reconciled so well, that Trump actually appointed Huntsman as one of his ambassadors overseas!  He who was once an enemy of the President, was now reconciled, and even became his ambassador!

And that is exactly what happens to us as Christians. We who were once enemies of God because of our sin and rebellion against Him, have now been reconciled through Jesus Christ, and we have been reconciled so well, that He says, now you are my ambassadors in this world. We were once His enemies, but now in Christ we are His ambassadors!  

But you make sure that this has indeed happened to YOU personally. Make certain that you have been reconciled to God through Christ, and that you indeed are His ambassador.  

II. THE MISSION OF AN AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST

“and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (:18)

If you are a Christian, you are an ambassador for Christ. So what are you supposed to be doing? In any job, you have to know what your job description IS, in order to do it. What is it that you are supposed to be doing as Christ’s ambassador? Paul shows us here: He says “(God) gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” We have been reconciled to God through Christ, and now our job as God’s ambassadors is to represent Him in this world, and help reconcile other people with Him as well. 

Earthly ambassadors’ mission is to represent their country to the world, and to make and keep good relationships with other peoples, to bring them together with our country. And that is what we are to do as God’s ambassadors. God wants us to represent Him to the world, to share His message with them, and bring them back to Him.  Even though they have strayed from Him and broken His commands, and may be hesitant to come back to Him, God wants us to build good relationships with them, share His message with them, and help lead them back to Him.  

When we were serving in Tulsa Oklahoma years ago, our daughter Libby was in a little kindergarten Sunday school class, and the lesson that day was on the leaders of the church, and the teacher asked the kids: “Do you know our pastor, Bro. Shawn?” Several of them said they did, but one little boy said, “No, I’m afraid of him.” The teacher said Libby took the little boy by the hand and said, “He’s just my dad, I’ll take you to him” — and she led him by the hand to meet me where I was sitting on front row of the worship center, getting ready for the service. I remember sitting there that day, when Libby brought that boy to meet me, and I talked to him for a minute. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I didn’t know until the teacher told me later the story behind it, and what Libby had done.

But what Libby did that day is a pretty good picture of what we are supposed to be doing as ambassadors for Christ: our mission is to take people by the hand bring them to the God we know as our Heavenly Father. They might be afraid of Him; they have made enemies of God by their sin; they are living in rebellion against Him. Our job is to take them by the hand and share His message with them, and help bring them back to Him. That’s “the ministry of reconciliation” the Bible talks about here: bringing God and man together. That’s the job God has given to each one of us as His ambassadors.

We need to remember that what our mission IS. Our ministry is to be a ministry of reconciliation. As we’ve talked about before, God has not called us just to “win arguments” with people in the world. He has called us to win PEOPLE. There is a big difference. You can blast somebody with facts and “win a debate” with them, but in the process, totally alienate and lose that person. God has not given us a ministry of winning debates; He has given us a ministry of reconciliation, of representing Him in the world, and bringing people back to Him.

This is what we’re doing in our outreach efforts this fall. In a couple of weeks we’ll be doing an outreach at “Meet The Teacher” night ACS, giving out snacks at a booth, with tracts and brochures and information, and we’ll have a chicken spaghetti meal to send home with every family. Our goal is to build bridges to the families that have kids at that school. Someone may say, “But that is a Christian school.” It IS a Christian school, but we have looked into it, and as many has HALF of the families at ACS don’t attend a church every Sunday morning. That’s our “Jerusalem” sitting right there across the parking lot! That’s our first target for evangelism. We are going to build bridges towards them at this event. We hope this says to them: we care about you and your family; we know Tuesday night’s going to be hard on you as a family, with “Meet the Teacher” night, so we’re going to take the pressure off of you, and take care of dinner for you. We’re showing God’s love to them, as His ambassadors. (And we’re going to be doing the same thing for several of the new construction neighborhoods in Angleton in September as well.)

That is our mission. And that mission is not just that Tuesday night at ACS. If you are a Christian, wherever you are, all the time, you are God’s ambassador. He has put you in places where you can take people by the hand like Libby did, and bring them to God and help reconcile them to Him: 

— God has placed you at your school to be an ambassador for Christ.

— God has appointed you at your job to be an ambassador for Him.

— God has placed you in your neighborhood to be an ambassador for Him.

Just as surely as Jon Huntsman was appointed by Donald Trump to be his ambassador to Russia, God has appointed YOU to be His ambassador to your school, your job, your neighborhood, wherever you are, all the time, to take people by the hand and lead them to Him. That is YOUR mission as God’s ambassador. It is the most important mission you have in this world. 

III. THE MESSAGE OF AN AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST

We need to make sure we don’t forget what our MESSAGE is, as God’s ambassadors. We have an unchanging message, and that message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We read that message last week in our daily Bible reading in I Corinthians 15: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and He was buried, and that He was raised on the 3rd day according to the scriptures.” Paul says there in I Corinthians 15, this is the gospel which I received, and which I shared with you: “Christ died for our sins.”

Paul restates it here in :19 as “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself …”. In :21 he describes it as: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. That’s all the same gospel: We are sinners, but Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from our sins when we repent and trust Him as our Savior. That’s the Gospel. That is our message. 

Our message is not “we are nice people.” Now as we will see, we want to be as nice to people as we can, so that they will be open to hearing the gospel from us. But if the only message ever get from us is that we are nice people, we have failed in our mission. Our mission is to share the gospel, that Christ died for our sins. We DO want to build bridges to people from our church, as we just said; but “First Baptist Church” as much as we may love it, is not our message. Our message is the gospel. And we need to see all the bridges and relationships and activities and everything we do, as opportunities to eventually share the gospel: that Christ died for our sins. If we don’t ever share that, then we have failed to deliver our message as Christ’s ambassadors.  

And we need to make sure we never compromise or change that message. When our President gives an ambassador a message to give the country where he serves, that ambassador is not free to say, “Well, I don’t think these people will receive that message very well; I am going to change it to something they’ll find more to their liking.” In fact John Hay, whom we mentioned earlier, was once given a very difficult message by our President to share with England, the country where he was an ambassador at the time, and he didn’t want to share that message with them, because he knew it would not be well-received. But he also knew it was not up to him to change the President’s message. As an ambassador, he had to represent that message faithfully to the people he was assigned to, whether it would make him popular or not.  

And the same thing is true for us as Christ’s ambassadors. We are not free to compromise or change God’s message. We are not free to take out the hard parts, or change it to make it more pleasing to the people of our age. It might make us more popular with people now — which is EXACTLY what we are seeing in many churches in America today, which have compromised the gospel and are accumulating huge crowds in the process. They have made themselves popular with the world — but they have committed treason towards heaven, and the day of judgment is going to show it.

As we have seen, we are to show the God’s LOVE to people; we are to try to take them by the hand as His ambassadors and love them and lead them to Him — BUT WE MUST NEVER COMPROMISE HIS MESSAGE ONE IOTA AS WE DO THAT!  The message of the gospel does not change, and Our ultimate success is not based on how “popular” we are with the world but on how faithful we are to God’s message as His ambassadors.

IV. THE CONDUCT OF AN AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST

The conduct of an ambassador is extremely important, of course, because whatever the ambassador does, reflects on the one who sent them. So it is understood that an ambassador must conduct himself appropriately; he is  representing his country.

For example, in 2002 the Swiss ambassador to Germany was recalled, after numerous reports of his excessive partying and scandalous behavior. His conduct was not befitting one who was an ambassador of his country.

And the Bible says that we as Christians, are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus here on earth. That means we must guard our conduct, because we are not merely representing ourselves, but our Lord, in everything we do. 

That’s why Paul says in Philippians 1:27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He’s saying as a Christian, you’ve got to make sure your conduct reflects well on the gospel. Your actions represent the gospel to the world. You are an ambassador of Christ!

He says here in 6:3, that we should make sure that we are “giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited.” He’s saying don’t let anything you do — “ANYTHING” is the word he uses here — discredit the gospel. And you need to realize that everything you do, whatever it is, DOES reflect on the Lord, either for good or for bad. And you need to willing to stop anything you are doing that might hinder people from coming to the Kingdom of God.

Here in America we’re big on claiming “our rights.” Somebody tells us not to do something; we’ll tell them, “Hey, this is America; I can do what I want.” We don’t want anyone telling us what to eat, what to drive, or whatever. But as Christians, it is a different story. As Christians, we don’t claim “our rights.” I Corinthians 6:19 says “you are not your own; you have been bought with a price.” If you are a Christian, you are not free to do “anything you want to do.” You have been bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. You now belong to HIM, and you are now His ambassador here on earth. And you are not free to do whatever you want, live however you want, sell whatever you want, sleep with whoever you want, or anything else. You are God’s ambassador here on earth, and people are looking at YOU. Your lifestyle is either pointing people TO God, or turning them away from Him. If you are living in a way that is contrary to God’s word, then not only are people going to call YOU a hypocrite, but they’ll talk badly about God and the gospel and His church because of you. And that is exactly what Paul told the Romans in 2:24 “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Their conduct was not becoming of an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Back in the 1800’s Great Britain was the world “superpower.” They said: “Britannia ruled the waves” and “the sun never sets on the British empire.” They were proud of their Empire. During that time, a new offence was added to their military courts martial: “conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.” It might involve dishonesty, indecency, scandalous behavior — any conduct that was unworthy of an officer in Her Majesty’s service. 

It is an interesting fact that our modern-day football penalty, “unsportsmanlike conduct” comes from this charge: “conduct unbecoming.”

But as God’s people, we should all ask ourselves: Is there anything in my life today, which might be considered “conduct unbecoming” — not just of a football player, or an officer in Her Majesty’s Service — but “conduct unbecoming” of an ambassador of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? We need to take that seriously.  

A few years ago, the church we were serving was going on a mission trip to Romania. Before we left, they made sure to screen all the shorts and shirts we took, to make sure they would be acceptable in the Romanian culture, which is a little more conservative than ours. When we go on mission, we need to be sensitive to things like that. We have the “right” as Americans to wear anything we want to. But as ambassadors of Christ, we voluntarily restrict our freedom because we are representing Him when we go on mission. We never want anything to take away from the gospel.

But we also need to understand that this doesn’t just apply when we go overseas on mission; we are on mission right HERE too! We are ambassadors for Christ right here as well! 

— So when we choose our clothing every morning, we should do it knowing that we are representing Christ that day! When you select your outfit for the day, don’t think, “How many people’s eyes can I attract with this?” but “How can I best represent CHRIST by the way I dress?” 

— When we make our business deals, we should remember that we are representing Christ to those people. Will the deal I just made, harm the reputation of the gospel in any way? Will the person I just dealt with be open to attending my church, because of the way I just did business with them?

— When we encounter people in Wal-Mart or meet others in traffic, we should remember that we are ambassadors of Christ to them, and treat them accordingly.

We are always on mission; we are always ambassadors for Christ; we should always be ready to voluntarily restrict our freedoms so that nothing in our clothing, our business, or anything in our conduct is ever “unbecoming” to the gospel of Jesus Christ. “For we are ambassadors for Christ.”

CONCLUSION:

When we served in North Carolina, the Lord brought a sweet family to join our church. The story of how they ended up coming there is very convicting. This family was looking for a church home, and the husband later told me that he thought: how are we going to find a good church? He came up with a good idea — he asked himself, “Who here at work has a good testimony? Who lives a good Christian life here on the job? I’ll bet he probably goes to a good church.” And he looked around at work and said, “Dewey Phipps has a good testimony. I’ll see where he goes.” He asked Dewey what church he was a member of, and that’s how they came to visit our church for the first time.

That just shows us: it matters how you act at work, doesn’t it?  It matters how you treat other people at school, or in your neighborhood, or even in what seem to be the most insignificant meetings in the store or as you pass someone in the street. It matters greatly. It could mean the difference between heaven or hell for somebody. They might accept or reject the gospel depending on how you act towards them. That’s why we’ve got to realize, as Paul says here: “We are ambassadors for Christ” — not just here in church on Sunday; this is the least of it. It’s 24 hours a day; it is 7 days a week. It’s everywhere we go and everything we do. If that’s so — and it is — then you need to ask the Lord today: is there anything in my life right now, that might turn people away from You; is there anything I am doing that is “conduct unbecoming” of an ambassador for Jesus Christ?  

INVITATION:

— Would you ask the Lord to show you, right now, is there any “conduct unbecoming” in your life: your relationships, your actions, words, attitudes, work, business deals — anything — that reflects badly on Christ, on the gospel, on our church; and if He shows you something, ask Him to help you change it.

— Are there situations in your life, where you have never thought about how you are an ambassador for Christ? Some of us need to take seriously being a representative of Christ at your job; your school; your neighborhood; when you’re just out and about. 

— Or maybe you’ve never become an ambassador for Christ, because you’ve never really given your life to Him. If you’ve never done it before, you need to do it today. You’ve turned away from God in your sin, but God has paid the way for you to be reconciled to Him, through Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I APPEAL to you, be reconciled to God.” Let me use his same words to YOU today: “I APPEAL to you; be reconciled to God today. Ask Him right now to forgive you, and save you, and make you an ambassador for Christ.  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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