While living in California, my wife and I enjoyed attending the concert of my cousin Rachel who was a classical musical director at a church in Sacramento. On Christmas we sat in the audience of several hundred people and eagerly anticipated the evening.
The musicians came out first and each sat in a designated seat with an instrument in hand and a musical score on a stand in front of them. Then the conductor (my cousin) came out and stood on a small platform in front of the musicians. For more than an hour she guided the musicians through different sets of music. The sounds they made blended together and honored God throughout the night. It was a wonderful way to worship through music.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he describes three things that all Christians are supposed to be about. I like to compare these three things to the elements of a concert. But before we look at those three things that Christians are to be, we need to understand what Paul says about who Christians are.
Paul tells the believers in the city of Corinth that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; the new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He continues, “And all of this is a gift from God” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Because of God’s grace we are able to place our faith in Christ for salvation. God loves us and sent his son to die for us, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). And we accept that gift through faith, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). As Paul says, we belong to Christ as new persons because of our faith in Christ – that is who we are. And as new people we have a new life which allows us to do new things. The first thing Paul says that Christians are to be is ambassadors.
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was unique and they didn’t use ambassadors like other nations did. The Bible records instances when other nations sent ambassadors to Israel to give congratulations (2 Samuel 8:10; 1 Kings 5:1), request favors (Numbers 20:14), make an alliance (Joshua 9:4), or protest something done wrong (Judges 11:12). But Israel did not use ambassadors because God had told his people to be separate from the other nations around them. They were supposed to be protected, holy, and not compromised by neighboring nations. “And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
That kind of separation changed in the New Testament. Paul writes, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). Paul says Christians are supposed to be Christ’s ambassadors – people that illustrate who the loving God is through how they interact with others. The Greek word Paul uses here for “ambassador” is presbeuo, and Paul only uses that word one other time in Ephesians 6:20, “I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador” (emphasis added). The word picture that Paul is painting is of someone who reflects where he is from (his home country) and the new place he inhabits i.e. where he goes (a foreign country). For us, our citizenship is in heaven (where we are from), but God has placed us on earth (where we go) to represent him. As Christ’s ambassadors, our job is to love and serve others like Christ has/does – bringing elements of heaven to earth by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the concert I mentioned earlier, you could say that the music serves as the ambassador of God’s love to the audience, and that which represents him most in the performance. The music was what told us about our Lord, his majesty, creativity and goodness. The stunning music is what moved our spirits, warmed our hearts, and pointed the audience towards God. While the musicians performed the music, and the conductor was directing them to present the musical score – these would be nothing without the music itself to express. The music is what connected us. As Christ’s ambassadors, our role would mean nothing without Jesus and his message of salvation and sacrificial love for us. Through him, we have something important to share with others and someone meaningful to represent.
All people are distant from God until they meet and follow Jesus. God told Adam and Eve if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die (Genesis 2:17). They ate from the tree and died spiritually and eventually physically.
This original sin in the Garden of Eden separated all of humanity from God. However, by his grace, God planned to have Jesus Christ die in our place to reestablish our bond with him. “This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Christians now have the task of sharing this great work of mercy and grace through the ministry of reconciliation. “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
The “task” Paul talks about is a service or ministry done for other people. It is a translation of the Greek word diakonia meaning to serve others. This could mean working on behalf of and helping a variety of people, in different places, with both physical and spiritual needs – as Jesus did.
What might this ministry look like? Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15). This Good News is “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Christ died and took the punishment people deserved because of their sins, and now people have eternal life by believing in him.
We don’t always know how to share this great message of reconciliation or how to talk about God with other people. We never know how someone might react (negatively or positively), but it is important to remember that while we play a part, the outcome isn’t solely dependent on us, like God’s musicians in the concert. We don’t have to come up with what to play (or say perfectly) – God (the composer) has already written the musical score (the gospel message). It is simply our job to play the music (describe our love for God and communicate the good news of the gospel) to the best of our ability. How people respond and receive God’s “music” is not our responsibility. Our role as Christians is to be obedient and play music for others to hear its beauty.
One of Paul’s purposes in writing this letter to the Corinthians was to make sure that they didn’t let the Gospel message sit idly in their hands. He wanted them to partner with God as ambassadors and reconcilers. “As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.” (2 Corinthians 6:1). This is the same way in which a conductor partners with the composer and musicians to make music. The conductor guides the musicians through the composer’s musical score. And as a result, the three groups create a gorgeous sound that people hear and experience God through.
The first word in 2 Corinthians 6:1 tells us that every Christian is a partner with God in life and in responsibility of sharing what God has done for humanity. The first word in Greek is two Greek words put together, synergeo. It consists of syn which is a preposition meaning “with” and the verb ergeo which means “work.” This word means to engage in a cooperative endeavor, “work together, with, assist, help.” The dictionary defines “partner” as “one associated with another especially in an action.” Christians are therefore partners with God in the task of reconciliation and serving as ambassadors. We don’t have to do it on our own or apart from God’s guidance – nor should we. Like my conductor cousin, Rachel is not waving her arms in empty, meaningless ways, but the musical score written by the composer (God, the Creator) is her guide and her anchor point for leading the musicians in their performance. There are notations on how the music is to be performed, such as dynamics or rests that – with her direction, partnership with the composer, and musicians – together create the most demonstrative and fulfilling expression of the score.
In summary, there are three applications we can take from this passage in 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2.
1. To live as an ambassador – When you go somewhere and interact with others, remind yourself that you represent God.
When you go to the grocery store, a local coffee shop, or anywhere else, remind yourself that you represent God as his ambassador. You never know who may be impacted by your words, your actions, or attitude. How you conduct yourself as a Christian can also affect how people see God and how he is presented to others.
2. To reconcile others back to God – Find one person who doesn’t know Christ that you can start to pray for. Look for opportunities to love and serve them, and build a deep friendship. Soon you’ll be talking about life and faith, and everything in between.
When I was the small groups pastor at a church I encouraged every person in our small groups to have at least one person that they were praying for, building a relationship with, or looking for opportunities to share their spiritual life with. Doing life together can help lead to opportunities for sharing Christ’s love and his message of reconciliation. Every Christian should have at least one person they are praying for and desire to bring closer to God. As Pastor Chuck Swindoll describes in his book What If…God Has Other Plans, “Ministry is not limited to theological matters–most ministry has to do with translating those profound theological concepts into people’s everyday lives and experiences.” The only way we can reconcile others is by getting involved in each others’ lives.
3. To partner with God – Find something you like to do that serves others.
One of the great opportunities of being involved in a local church is that you have a where and a how of serving others. Most churches have several programs, outreaches or services that are designed to help the individuals or communities around you that need it most. There is a great possibility that you can find something you both enjoy doing and that you are also good at, and you can use that gift as a way to serve others in the church or outside of it. At my church we have a group of people that hand write notecards and deliver them to nursing homes, the police department, grocery stores, and the fire department to share love and encouragement. These individuals partner with God by doing what they enjoy as a service to others.
God, our composer, has written a great musical score for us. It is described here in 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2. As God’s reconcilers we are supposed to be like those musicians who play and participate. The music serves as an ambassador that provides a bridge, connects with others, and tells them about God. And in this way we partner with God just as a conductor does to bring it all together in magnificent harmony.