Sunday, September 24, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST

The Apostle Paul says of Christians in 2 Corinthians 5, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” It is a phrase that we hear spoken from time to time, and usually we do not give it much thought. Perhaps we should.

We live today in a time of great internationalism, when the role of the international diplomat has become very important. Even in the day of Paul, ambassadors played an important role. Some of the functions of various kinds of diplomats have changed through the centuries with changing situations, but the responsibilities of ambassadors have largely remained constant.

Taking this office of ambassador as an example, it may be helpful for us to consider, for a few moments, how this relates to being an ambassador for Christ. 

Responsibilities of an Ambassador

Ambassadors are the official representatives of their sending country. Their major task is to represent the interests of their sending government. What the ambassador may or may not feel or believe personally on any specific matter is not as important as what the official position of their government is. In fact, an ambassador normally does not have the freedom to speak his or her own mind on important matters. They receive the position from their home country, and that is what they must speak.

I am sure that this is sometimes very difficult. An ambassador, living in a foreign country, most certainly often sees matters differently than his home government. His view is affected by what he sees and experiences in his day-to-day life in the foreign country.


Nevertheless, if he is a faithful ambassador and believes in his government, he will have confidence in the position of his superiors. He believes this because he knows that he is primarily looking at the issues from one perspective, that is, the perspective of that culture in which he is living. However, he trusts that his government is weighing all perspectives, both locally and internationally. Ideally, at least, this is how it is.

How does all of this apply to an ambassador for Christ? Of course, being an ambassador for an imperfect and often corrupt earthly government is not the same as being an ambassador for Christ. Nevertheless, there are some important lessons that we can learn.

At times, our own views as ambassadors for Christ are also affected by the culture in which we live. As ambassadors for Christ, we often face this same dilemma as do our governmental counterparts. We also sometimes see things only from the culture in which we are presently living, that is, from an earthly culture.

However, we should remember that, as ambassadors, our perspective is a limited one. We are restricted in our vision, because we see things not simply from the perspective of the present culture in which we live, but also the time in which we live. Sometimes we have the lessons of history to give us a broader perspective, but never are we able to discern the future. Nevertheless, as ambassadors for the Christ who sees all perspectives, we must have faith in what our position is to be.
 
The Personal Interaction of an Ambassador

However, another thing to realize about being an ambassador is that he or she is not simply an automaton, parroting the “official line” of whatever their government has sent them to say. If that were all that was needed, simple communiqués and written directives would suffice.

But even in imperfect and human governments, we recognize the need for a relationship. The ambassador is there so that the host government will have a person—an individual with whom they can interact. This is where the skill of the ambassador is very important.

Often, the positions that the ambassador is obligated to bring to his host country are not popular. He knows that they will arouse misunderstanding and even anger. While this cannot always be avoided, a skilled ambassador will be very adept at explaining why his country’s position is as it is. In addition to this responsibility, he also must communicate and represent the point of view of his host country before his own government. 

The Dual Role of an Ambassador

We see, then, that the ambassador really has a dual role. Certainly it is true that he represents his own country before the government of the country in which he resides. However, there is also a sense in which he is also able to represent his host country before his home government. After all, he lives in that country, and in some ways he identifies with the people of that country. He interacts with them and knows their own perspectives and needs. Because of these experiences of the ambassador, he also has the responsibility to communicate and to represent the point of view of his host country back to his homeland. 

Biblical Examples of an Ambassador

We have, throughout the Bible, many examples of this type of ministry of being an ambassador for God. One example is that of the prophets of the Old Testament, whom God sent as his representatives. A prophet, after all, was above everything else, one who was sent by God to represent God’s own perspective, one who announces the declarations of God.

Of course, the supreme example of the ministry of an ambassador is Christ, himself, who is even called the “Word of God.” Yet besides this role, Christ also identified with us by calling himself “the son of man.”

But I have chosen the example of Moses to consider, because there is one story in the ministry of Moses that shows us this blend of the “official stance,” while at the same time demonstrating the interaction of personalities with the people as he was sent to speak to them. 

Moses: The Ambassador of God

Moses had a set of directives from God to deliver to the people of Israel. There are no greater examples of the “official line” than the Law, given by God and embodied in the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 20:3-17: 

You shall have no other gods before Me…You shall not make for yourself an idol…You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…Remember the Sabbath day…Honor your father and your mother…You shall not murder…You shall not commit adultery…You shall not steal…You shall not bear false witness…You shall not covet. 

The Law, if you remember, was given to Moses on Mount Sinai to be delivered to the children of Israel. Moses was a prophet, and as a prophet, he was the representative of God to the Israelites. Moses fulfilled the role of an ambassador. God engraved the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets, but he could have engraved them on the face of the mountain for all to read—something like the four presidents on the face on Mount Rushmore.

However, instead of this, God sent the commandments by means of an ambassador. God recognized the importance of an ambassador. He sent not only his Word, but also someone with whom the people of Israel could interact.

While Moses was conferring with God on the mountain and receiving the Ten Commandments, something was happening among the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain. I will not go into this story at the moment, buy you can read about it in Exodus 32 in the incident of the golden calf. It was a time of a great rebellion of the people against the word and authority of the Lord.

God, seeing what was happening among the people said this to Moses: "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then, let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation" (Exodus 32:9-10 NAS) 
Harsh words indeed. 
Moses the Ambassador: The Representative of Men before God
Notice now what Moses says in response to God’s statement: 

O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, “With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth?” 

Turn from Your burning anger [keep in mind, this is Moses speaking to God]... Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You did swear by Yourself, and did say to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”
Exodus 32:11-13 (NAS) 

Remember that I mentioned the dual role of the ambassador? Normally, when I think of an ambassador for Christ, I first think of the role of being a representative of Christ before the world. But since, in our example of Moses, we first see the other role, let us also first consider this first. It may even be that it is a subservient role, but nonetheless, it is important. Moses was representing the people before God. Here, Moses was speaking on behalf of the people. 

An Important Concept for an Ambassador to Appreciate

This is an extremely difficult passage to understand, and I do not want to pretend that I do understand it completely, but there are some valuable lessons in it for us. Amazingly, we read that God wanted to “let his anger burn” against the people of Israel, and destroy them right at that point.

But Moses intercedes for the people before God and reminds God of his own word! In this astonishing conversation, Moses reminds God of promises that God himself had made to the people and by which God swore by his own name. What is even more astounding, Moses entreats God to “change his mind.”

These are troubling concepts for many Christians, and they bring up many troubling questions. How is it that God could lash out in anger? Why did Moses feel that he must take it upon himself to remind God of God’s own promises? If God is omniscient, how is it that he could “change his mind”?

There are no simple explanations to these questions; at least, there are none that are understandable to our minds. I think a lot about these questions, and I do seek to understand. Nevertheless, I also know that I can never comprehend the fullness of God and, as Job of ancient days declared, there are many things that are too deep and eternal for me to understand. 

Difficult Scriptural Passages

I will tell you the danger in these types of passages. The danger is that we assume that it is possible to explain them in terms that we can completely comprehend. In doing this, we are in danger of introducing error into our view of God.

We have some of these errors bouncing around in the church today. I am always put off by writers who believe that they have an explanation for everything, as if we could understand every aspect of God. Normally, in attempting to explain such things, they talk around in circles and change their ground continually, and finally end up muddying the water more than clarifying it. Beware of such explanations and do not let them destroy what you know to be true about God.

However, I also love these types of passages that consider difficult concepts, because they really do cause me to think. In considering difficult biblical passages, we should not be afraid to ask the hard questions, but the important thing to remember in considering them is that we should never sacrifice what is clear in the Scriptures in search of an answer.

In the passage before us, we see something of the personality of God. We may be surprised by what we see, but if we think about it, we should not be shocked that we are surprised. After all, the more complex a personality, the more we will be astonished by it.

As an example, we may know someone for many years and think we know him or her as well as we know ourselves, and then one day be surprised completely by some “quirk of his personality,” as we may call it. After fifty years of marriage, for instance, something may come out in conversation that takes the spouse completely by surprise—a like or dislike, or a manner of viewing something. “Honey, I didn’t know that about you!”

Personalities, we know, are complicated things. We cannot even put a clear definition on the word personality, much less try to explain everything about all the differences and intricacies of personalities.

But it is the presence of personalities that give color to life. Never can we know a person completely, because we all have personalities that are of great depth. It is a joy in life to know other people, to see their personalities and what it is about them that we appreciate. We laugh at others and ourselves at the way we react to situations, and we also get angry. All of these emotions, all of these feelings are because there is the interaction of personalities.

Because of this, rather than being troubled by passages such as this one concerning Moses and God, I like them. It shows me something about God that I do not often see, and it makes me wonder. I know that the Scriptures teach that God is true to his word and would never go against it. God’s love and faithfulness are so clearly demonstrated in the Scriptures that we cannot ignore this fact. I have also seen it in his dealings with me. 

The Personality of God

Knowing these things, I then must ask if God, in saying that he would let his anger burn and destroy the Israelites, simply trying to build an important characteristic in Moses that would be important for Moses as he led the Israelites?

This incident was near the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. Moses did not realize it at the time, but he still had some forty years of dealing with these people. Might God have been training Moses into the role of prophet/ambassador? Was God testing the level of love that Moses had for the Israelites? It is true that we sometimes do not know the value of something or someone until these are threatened to be taken away from us.

Perhaps this was God’s purpose. He was solidifying in the mind of Moses the dedication that would be needed to lead this people for another forty years. Quite frankly however, we do not know God’s entire purpose in this, and we shall not know until we see God.

However, despite what you may think of this passage, it is nice to see personality in God, is it not? Too often we view God as a super authoritarian with a list of rules and whose main concern is to keep people in line. To be fair, I do think that this aspect is a part of God’s personality. There are things that are right and things that are wrong, but it is a mistake and a misunderstanding to think that this is the extent of the personality of God.

We must know that God is a being with whom we can talk. He knows that we also have personality. After all, we are created in his image. He knows that we also have a perspective. Is not the sharing of perspectives the joy of a relationship?

I will also hasten to say that God is an authoritarian in whom dwells all authority and power. We do not negotiate with God. But he is not faceless. He is not unavailable. Do we not see that he wants to know us and that he wants us to get to know him?

We talk about certain people as being interesting because of the depth of their personality and the things that they do. God, to me, (and I say this with the highest respect and reverence) is extremely interesting. He constantly amazes me, not in the same way that I might be amazed by a person—but far beyond that.

Too frequently we are content to teach how to deal with the question of our sin by the cross of Christ, and thereby have a relationship with God. This, of course, is true. However, it is only the beginning of a relationship. We have entered into a covenant with God, and that is important, but how can we say that at that point we really know him? In some sense we do, for we have placed all of our trust in him and in the cross of Christ, but we cheapen ourselves and we cheapen God by thinking that there is no more than this to our relationship.

With that thought of getting to know God better, we will pause this conversation of being Ambassadors for Christ, and pick it up again in the next post.

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