II Corinthians 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
This morning, we truly are living in interesting times. Looking at the expanse of human history, the most changes to lifestyle and culture have happened in the last 100 or so years. During that time, the advent of electricity usage, weapon development, transportation breakthroughs, etc. have shaped culture to be vastly different than it was for centuries and millennia prior. However, all of these breakthroughs and innovations – with their associated pros and cons – have also shaped and affected the kingdom of God too. Can anyone really want to go back to meeting without electricity or AC? Those innovations do not change or modify our worship, but they are a great natural benefit and comfort while we worship. Getting to meeting is easier now due to transportation development, and visiting different church bodies in different states is far easier now than it was for our forebears. Still, these comforts do come with some implied costs that can dampen the spiritual growth and development of a disciple of Christ.
In our study verse, Paul is honing in on a very pivotal doctrinal point from Verse 14 through our verse. Scripture teaches without equivocation that Christ has reconciled His people fully and completely to God. (Verses 18-19) By His grace and mercy, nothing needs to be done, added to, or changed for us to stand before God holy and without blame for all eternity. Christ accomplished that in spotless perfection. However, Scripture equally teaches a responsibility that God’s people have to honour and obey God from a pure heart fervently. The motivation for this behavior is rooted and grounded in love and thanksgiving for what God has already done for us rather than trying to get something out of him like mercenaries would. The duty of the minister in preaching and teaching these truths is to encourage God’s people in our walk and duty based on what has already been done for us. This is the exact message that Paul is laying out in this passage.
Therefore, the idea of being reconciled to God cannot be part and parcel to the steps necessary to get to heaven. That would lower the sacrifice and work of Christ that Paul has just laid down. Being reconciled to God is for the benefit of the believer in having peace in his mind, heart, and spirit: justification by faith. (Romans 5:1) This reconciliation is how the believer can latch into the concept, “As bad as I’ve been, God can still love me for His Son’s sake!” This peace and unity for the believer’s heart will greatly benefit further service as it brings great liberty. The word that Paul uses here to describe himself is rather interesting as well. The actual Greek word used is a form of the same word that is translated in other places as “elder.” Yet, the translators used our English word “ambassador” to convey the connotation of the work of a “presbyter” in the realm of representation. Ambassadors in a natural sense represent their home country in foreign lands. Ministers should convey the same principle of representing our homeland through their message to other citizens in this land wherein we dwell.
Considering the natural circumstance of an ambassador and the general location of a minister’s message (the church), I have made the point many times that the church is like an embassy. Just like natural embassies, the church is considered part of heaven’s land. The soil that embassies reside upon is considered soil of their homeland just as if it was within the natural borders of the country. The laws of the country apply to it, and the church functions similarly. Heaven’s rules apply, and the land is in this world but not of this world. With such a blessed condition, one might wonder why such a circumstance is not seized upon any more than it is. If I could experience an aspect of heaven before I actually leave this world, why would I not? There will be vast multitudes that enter heaven that never enter the church, and many that will enter heaven had opportunity to enter the church but did not.
Recently, I have come to realize through multitudes of conversations that many ministers across this land are greatly discouraged by lack of attendance at church services and a lack of energy by many that do come. Trying to attach one particular denominator to this widespread situation is likely futile. However, many commonalities exist and one seems to shine brighter than the rest. In my natural experience, I have had opportunity to visit several foreign countries. During none of those visits did I visit the American embassy, nor am I aware of who my “ambassador” was while there. Why did I not visit these locations? Simply put, it never crossed my mind as I was seeing other things and experiencing the various things that those countries provided. Whether in recreation or otherwise, my time was filled with the sights and sounds of that country. There was no compulsion to hear news from home or visit with fellow countrymen.
Life today is relatively easy. We may complain about different things that befall us, but most of us – if we are honest – have natural circumstances that are very good. We have ample food, clothing, and shelter (the necessities of life), and multitudes of creature comforts besides. For that natural situation, there is no compulsion in a great many to hear news from “home” or visit with fellow countrymen. Life is full of the sights and sounds of this land with creature comforts a plenty. Some may not even be aware of the embassy’s location or the name of the local church’s “ambassador.” Thinking about the correlation between my natural experience and the parallel to the church, none of the nations I visited had the level of freedom and liberty as America does. However, the lack of liberty and freedom in those countries was not something that I “felt” while I was there. Had I felt the repression and tightening of things, doubtless I would have wanted to see a friendly face that could help me.
Have you ever noticed that people can draw nigh to God and the church when times get tough? It really should be no surprise as the difference of liberty and freedom between heaven’s glory and this world becomes apparent. Though it might not be manifest through daily activities, tough times remind us of just how special our citizenship of heaven really is. The truth makes us free, and there is great liberty in the Spirit of God. Yet, fallen creatures as we are many times have to be reminded of this to re-focus and align priorities again. The greatest commonality to this great spiritual dearth that grips so many of God’s people goes back to a statement I heard often in my youth, “It’s hard to comfort people who are too comfortable to be comforted.”
The message that Paul preached is the only thing that can bring long lasting reconciliation to the child of God. The ever-changing circumstances of this old world will never yield lasting peace. Any faith and hope in the shifting sands of life’s experiences will bring nothing but a life filled with disappointments. Life changes. Hope in changing things is easily dashed on the rocks of sorrow. Hope in the eternal, unchanging God does not disappoint as it endures no matter the circumstances. (Romans 5:5) The message of Christ’s work endures no matter what happens here below. The great comfort of the gospel to me is that the Lord is reconciled to us no matter what. Nothing can change that. Knowing the fallible man that I am, I rest in knowing His greatness supersedes my weakness.
When next we meet together with fellow pilgrims and strangers in this world, may we consider that we are standing on heaven’s borderland. It is the home soil of that country to which we are going. When we hear the message come forth in power, may we receive it as though God Himself was speaking it. As a minister, that phrase from our study verse (as though God did beseech you by us) is one of the most awesome and humbling to me in the work that I have been called into. When I read the word of God, it is as though God said it personally to me, and when a gospel message is declared, it should be received as though God spoke it. Awesome! Truly awesome! Friends, as a lifelong churchgoer, I freely confess that there are times that I do not frame this experience as I should. I am meeting heaven’s citizens on heaven’s soil to hear a message from home as though the King Himself gave it. As the closing line of an old hymn lovingly states, “My soul shall pray for Zion still, while life or breath remains; There my best friends my kindred dwell, there God my Saviour reigns!”