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. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)
In my senior year of seminary, as part of our final graduation requirements, we were asked to write an essay on our theology of Christian mission and how we understood the rationale for evangelism. (Yes, in those days, that was still considered important.) I chose the verses above from 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, as the opening text for my essay -– only later to find out that all of the other students in my class had chosen to begin with Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28 as their starting point.
Of course, I also recognize that Jesus’ call and charge to “make disciples of all nations…”is central to our understanding of the Gospel task. The Great Commission lays out clearly what our Lord expects of us in terms of evangelism and discipleship, and describes what mission we are called to as Christians. But beyond the “what” of mission, I find that the verses from 2 Corinthians also help me understand the “why.”
Here in Paul’s letter, Scripture not only lets us know that we are called to speak the gospel of Christ to our neighbor, it gives us an image for how and why God chose this method as his plan for reconciling the world to himself. God has chosen us to be his ambassadors – his own royal representatives – sent to engage the world in his name. When we speak on his behalf, God uses us and our words of reconciliation as the means by which his Reconciliation is made real in the lives of others.
As we have seen before in Scripture, these verses demonstrate the “sacramental” nature of our lives as disciples. God uses us as his living “means of grace” to convey his promise to the world. Just as ambassadors are empowered to make treaties in the name of the ruler who sends them, through his Word, spoken on our lips, God creates a relationship of faith with those he chooses to save. God has made us central to his own ministry and mission in the world.
To say that, “God is making his appeal through us,” not only reminds us of what our task is, it also gives us the promise that in pursuing the commission he has given us, we do so by his power. Ultimately, it is not we who do the reconciling, it is God himself. In the chapter just before the one where Scripture refers to us as “Ambassadors for Christ,” the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are simply earthen vessels; the transforming power belongs to God (2 Corinthians 4:7). Recognizing this fact allows us to be honest with ourselves and others, not imagining that somehow we are the source of our own salvation or the salvation of others. Rather it makes us point to the One in whom our true reconciliation is found.
As his disciples, our Lord has called us out into the world to make a difference. Through us, the Lord calls people from their sin, puts to death the old Adam, and raises his saints to new life through his promise of mercy and forgiveness. God’s own grace is conveyed and the Holy Spirit is at work through us as earthly means.
God has chosen us for a purpose: that the promise of Christ would be realized through us in the lives of our neighbors. Just as it is in the Sacrament, he uses us to speak the forgiveness sins “for you” in bodily form. Our lives as disciples become the tools and instruments by which his relationship with others is built.
– Pastor Steve King