Ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

Chatswood Baptist Church

1. Explaining yourself

Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you have needed to explain yourself? Someone didn’t understand what you were doing or why you were doing it and you found yourself having to sit them down and explain what you were on about.

1.1 When I left engineering

When I left my job in electrical engineering to spend 4 years studying so that I might be a pastor/teacher in a church there were quite a few who found it difficult to comprehend. Why would I leave a job that seemed secure and that I enjoyed doing to go and do study again and work in a church. I remember having several conversations with people who didn’t understand why I would want to do this. Couldn’t I just attend church as I had been doing? As believers we often find ourselves having to give an explanation for our faith and what we do. Sometimes the choices we make a hard for others to understand.

1.2 Why Paul persuaded others

Today we are looking at a passage of Scripture in which the apostle Paul is explaining himself to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth telling them both what he was doing and why he was doing it. In these verses he explains to them why he spent his life persuading others to be reconciled to God. The Corinthians found it hard to understand why the apostle did what he did when often it only seemed to involve for him hardship and suffering rather than glory and honour. The apostle did fit what they would have regarded as a story of success. Why would you bother going around trying to persuade people when it comes such extreme personal cost? Later in the letter in chapter 11 Paul some of the things that he had been through as servant of Christ…

2 Corinthian 11:23-28

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. [1]

Paul found it necessary to explain himself and his ministry in this letter so that people might understand why he would spend his life as an ambassador of Christ persuading others to be reconciled to God.

2. Paul’s motivation

Today I want to just highlight four reasons that motivated the apostle to persuade others despite the hardship it involved. These four reasons I believe also continue to motivate believers today to persuade others. Indeed. I don’t think you will understand why believers live the way that they do without understanding these four things.

2.1 We know what it is to fear the Lord

Firstly, we persuade others because of what we know. The first thing that Paul says in verse 11 is that we know what it is to fear the Lord. The two words that begin verse 11 “since then” highlight that what Paul was about to say logically followed on from what he has just said in the previous verse. In verse 10 the apostle wrote that one day all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:10

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Sometimes fear is a good thing. I’m not talking blind terror that immobilises a person so that the don’t react, but the sort of fear that help us to focus on what is important and to take the necessary action that is needed to avoid those things that might be dangerous or unwise for us to do. Fear can motivate us so that we are prepared for whatever it is that we might have to face. The fear of the Lord is a healthy sort of fear where we recognise the Lord for who he is so that we might respond to him in the way that we ought.

Paul knew that one day we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. He wrote to the Romans that this day would be a day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment would be revealed (2:5) and the secrets of our hearts will be laid bare (Romans 2:16). In the same letter Paul went on to say to the Romans that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight on account of what they have done to keep the law (3:20). Paul wrote that “there is no one righteous, not even one”; “there is no-one who understand, no-one who seeks God”; and “there is no-one who does good, not even one” (see Romans 3:10-12). Paul’s conclusion was that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What Paul knew was that the only way that anyone can be prepared for this day of judgment is by being reconciled to God which involved God “not counting people’s sins against them” (as he says in 2 Cor. 5:19). Since he knew these things, he therefore tried to persuade people to be reconciled to God.

Friends, it’s because we know what is up ahead that we try to persuade others now before it is too late. If you lived in the blue mountains and heard on the radio that the wind at changed and a fire had broken through the containment lines and it was heading your way, you would run around the street knocking on doors making sure your neighbours knew and were ready. You would get the message out and try to persuade anyone who might have been complacent about the danger that they really needed to get ready. Paul wrote since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.

2.2 The love of Christ compels us

The second thing that Paul said was that the love of Christ compels us.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

It wasn’t just the fear of the Lord that saw Paul trying to persuade people to be reconciled to God, it was the love of Christ. The love of Christ that changes everything for the apostle and for us as believers. He makes reconciliation possible for us and for everyone.

Paul was convinced that one had died for all and therefore all died. Paul went on to explain in verse 19 that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them”. In verse 21 Paul explained how that was possible, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. When Christ died on the cross, he bore our sins paying the penalty that our sins deserved that we might be declared righteous in God’s sight. On the cross, he died the death that all of us deserved so that all of us might be forgiven and reconciled to God.  This is the love that Paul is talking about, the love of Christ for us. We didn’t love him, but he loved us and gave himself for us.

When Paul says that he died for all he is saying that he didn’t just die for him or his own people, the Jews or for the very religious or for the very good or the righteous who have managed to keep all the rules. As I said Paul said there is no one who is righteous. He died for sinners like us. And that is why he died for all because all of us need to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone is automatically reconciled and that is why the apostle went around persuading people to be reconciled to God. It is those who put their trust in him and no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

For the apostle Paul it was the love of Christ that compelled him. Paul was convinced that one died for all and that he died so that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and rose again. This is what every believer is convinced of. It’s what we acknowledge when we are baptised – that Christ died for us and therefore we died with him and we are to no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised to life. It is the love of Christ that compels us to try to persuade others to be reconciled to God for we know that Christ died for them.

2.3 We know that anyone in Christ is a new creation.

Thirdly, we know that anyone in Christ is a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here![2]

A Christian’s whole outlook on life is different to what it once was. Everything changes for us. We see the world through different eyes. We now see things as they really are and we need to help others see these things too.

From the point that Paul understood the love of Christ he began to see the world differently. Firstly, he couldn’t regard Christ in the way that he once as though he just belonged to this world. The death and resurrection of Christ was a turning point for our world. It was the beginning of a new creation in which Christ was the first fruits or the foundation stone of this new creation or the genesis of this new creation. It is the beginning of a creation in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Paul now knew that the old order of things was in the process of passing away (see Rev 21:5) and the new was already here although it isn’t complete yet. Anyone who is in Christ is already part of that new creation. They no longer belong to the old, they belong to the new. And this is what ultimately matters in life.

When others are reconciled to God in Christ, they pass from merely being part of the old creation, to being members of the new creation. Their life now is hidden in Christ and when he appears, they will also appear with him in glory (Col 3:4) holy, indestructible, immortal, and imperishable fit to be part of the new heavens and new earth. Through the message of reconciliation God is creating a people to belong to this new creation.

As Christians, we look at the world differently to others. We fix our eyes not just on what we see but on what we don’t see, which we know is eternal. We know that this world is passing away and we can’t hold on to it. We are perishing. We try to ignore this fact as best we can, but ultimately our mortality always catches up with us. Our bodies slow down, they wind down, they break down and eventually they let us down and fail. But we know that anyone in Christ is part of the new creation. Outwardly we might be wasting away, as Paul says, in chapter 4, but inwardly, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. We know that that when Jesus appears, we will also appear with him in glory. And this isn’t something that we just want to hold on to for ourselves for we know the love of Christ. We know Christ died for all. And so that’s why we want to persuade others to be reconciled to God so that they too can be part of the new creation.

2.4 We are Christ’s ambassadors

The last reason why Paul persuades others is that we are Christ’s ambassadors. That’s how Paul understood himself and I think it is how every believer is meant to understand their calling as those who no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them.

2 Corinthians 5:19b-20

And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 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.

We think of ambassadors today as government officials, a high-ranking diplomate who is semi-permanently sent to another country to represent the government or the state that sent them. You find these diplomats housed in embassies and they have certain rights and privileges that others don’t have and part of their job is to protect and help their citizens traveling or living in that country and to further the economic prosperity of their nation from which they have come. In the ancient world an ambassador mainly functioned as messenger or envoy of a sovereign. As a general rule, they didn’t have any power to negotiate or settle disputes, but they were sent as messengers to carry the message of the sovereign who had appointed them.

The apostle wrote that we are Christ’s ambassadors for the message of reconciliation had been committed to them. The new creation has a king, a sovereign, and he has sent out his ambassadors into the world with his message of reconciliation. Paul says that through these ambassadors God makes an appeal to people to be reconciled to him.

2.5 Entrusted with the message

Friends, the Lord entrusted that message to Paul and the other apostles, but it was written down for us in the Scriptures, we call the gospel, the good news and this good news has been entrusted to us who have believed. We are now the ambassadors of Christ. We don’t have a Paul or an apostle like those first disciples, but we have the message of reconciliation that has been passed down to us. And we are to persuade others to be reconciled to God and the same reasons that motivated the apostle are to be our motivation. We need to understand that in this world we are Christ’s ambassadors who the Lord has committed the message of reconciliation to. We are to see things as they really are and remember what we know.

We know what it is to fear the Lord. We know that there is day of judgment that is coming and one day everyone will need to give an account of themselves. We ought to be warning people to be reconciled to God before it is too late.

We also know the love of Christ and this love which ought to compel us to be persuading others. We are those who are convinced that one died for all and that everyone ought to no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them.

We aren’t to be blinded to reality of what is really going on. We aren’t to bury our heads in the sand. We know that the world is passing away, but we also know wherever you find anyone in Christ, there you have the unseen new creation bursting through and making its presence felt in the old.

Friends, God has entrusted this message of reconciliation to us. We are Christ’s ambassadors. God makes his plea to people through ordinary people like us. We are to implore people, on Christ behalf, to be reconciled to God. We are his ambassadors.

[1] Unless otherwised indicated all Scripture citations are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (2 Co 5:16–17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.