Working in the Ministry 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.” (2nd Corinthians 5:20)

We have a position of solemn responsibility and great honor as Ambassadors of Christ, and yet most of us are the most unlikely ambassadors the world has ever gaped at. Consider what ambassadors of this world are required to be. Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s first ambassadors, gave this description:

” [The qualities of a diplomat are] sleepless tact, unmovable calmness, and a patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunders may shake.” – Benjamin Franklin

I broke out laughing when I read that. I’m disqualified right there.

Excerpts (only a few due to space limitations) from Career Explorer

“The following thirteen dimensions reflect the skills, abilities, and personal qualities deemed essential to the work of the Foreign Service at the United States Department of State: Composure: The capacity to stay calm, poised, and effective in stressful or difficult situations; to think on one’s feet, adjusting quickly to changing situations; to maintain self-control; Information Integration & Analysis: The capacity to absorb and retain complex information from a variety of sources; to draw reasoned conclusions from analysis and synthesis of available information; to evaluate the importance, reliability, and usefulness of information; to remember details of a meeting or event without the benefit of notes; Oral Communication: The capacity to speak fluently in a concise, grammatically correct, organized, precise, and persuasive manner; to convey nuances of meaning accurately; to use appropriate styles of communication to fit the audience and purpose; Quantitative Analysis: The capacity to identify, compile, analyze, and draw correct conclusions from pertinent data; to recognize patterns or trends in numerical data; to perform simple mathematical operations” …

Words like these constantly come up in describing the work of ambassadors: Diplomacy, Negotiation skills, Relationship building, Personnel management, Conflict resolution.

Fortunately, Christians are not required to meet the world’s standards for ambassador. In 2nd Corinthians 4:7, Paul explains what should give heart to every Christian struggling with consciousness of personal inadequacy: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay [for the purpose of showing] that this awesome power is from God and not from us.” (My paraphrase.)

In 1st Corinthians 1:26-27, Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Oh. So my disqualification in the eyes of the world is my qualification for an ambassador appointment from God. Our inadequacies, our weaknesses (but NOT our sins) are going to be proof of God’s justice on the Judgment Day. That’s different.

I strongly urge anyone reading this to go back and read chapter 4 of 2nd Corinthians and the first 10 verses of chapter 5 before proceeding to verse 20. Chapter 5 is the heart of 2nd Corinthians, but it helps to have some background. I’m going to romp through chapter 4 first, and then move to chapter 5.

Both the English Standard Version and the New International Version title the last half of chapter 5 “The Ministry of Reconciliation”, the phrase Paul uses in 5:19. All Christians since the resurrection of King Jesus work in “The Ministry of Reconciliation”.

In chapter 4:1-3, Paul sets out the standard of conduct he follows in “the Ministry of the Holy Spirit” (same as the Ministry of Reconciliation): “… since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” So there are some qualifications for a conscientious ambassador of Jesus Christ.

In 4:5 Paul gives his mission statement: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

In 4:8-16, Paul describes the working conditions of being an Ambassador in the Ministry of Reconciliation with such words as these: “We are afflicted in every way … perplexed .. persecuted … always carrying in the body the death of Jesus … always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake … death is at work in us … our outer self is wasting away …”

Why would Paul, or anyone, continue in such a miserable occupation? Consider the rest of the words that Paul uses alongside of the words I just quoted:

“…not crushed … not driven to despair … not forsaken … not destroyed … the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies … life [is at work] in you …”

Does that sound like poor repayment for the hardships? But that’s far from all:
“…knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence … grace extends to more and more people …”

… and finally chapter 4:16-19: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

“What is unseen”, except of course, by “the eyes of faith” – that’s our “retirement policy” and “retirement home” taken care of.

Paul gives us further encouragement and a new perspective in chapter 5:
Verses 4-5: “For while we are in this tent, [our bodies] we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (New International Version)

The Amplified Version translation confirms that meaning:
Now He Who has fashioned us [preparing and making us fit] for this very thing is God, Who also has given us the [Holy] Spirit as a guarantee [of the fulfillment of His promise]. “

You are a hand-crafted piece of work. True, you need some further work, but that was planned for also. Not to worry. And you have a “deposit”, a “down payment”, the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who is your guarantee of eternal life and a reward in Heaven!

Paul turns to another motivation:

5:11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” Paul knew the fear of the Lord: he discovered when he met the risen Christ that he had been guilty of condemning innocent people to torture and death. He knew what it meant to be afraid of God and to be forgiven by God, and he learned that God, Who loves all people, wants the message of forgiveness of sins and eternal joy in Heaven to be shared with others.

Verses 17-21: “… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 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. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We need a triumphant trumpet fanfare here. Think of what these phrases can mean to those who haven’t heard them:

Sins forgiven … mercy instead of justice … born again … a new person … eternal life … no more sickness, pain, grief, or death … loved by God … undeserved favor … completely known by God and loved anyway … a new life that will not end … Does that sound like a message you have heard and accepted and want to share with your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, and everyone else you can get to listen? I think so.

If sharing that message is a mission you have accepted, then you are an ambassador of God, working in the offices of the Ministry of Reconciliation. Congratulations, and don’t sit down yet. There’s a call for you. You’re needed at …

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