Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Christ's Ambassadors

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:13

 The Apostle Paul gave us a great number of images of what it means to be a follow of Jesus.  We find one here in verse 20:  A Christian is Christ’s ambassador.  

 What is an ambassador?  Well, he or she is an official representative of a foreign nation.  He lives among a foreign people, often a people whose culture and language are very different from his own.  

 Since an ambassador represents the nation he belongs to, he should be treated with respect.  Several years ago, an American ambassador to Libya was murdered while serving there.  It would have been bad enough if he was just an American citizen, but he wasn’t.  He was a representative of America.  The assault on him wasn’t just an assault on an American; it was an assault on America.  

 At the same time, an ambassador should represent his own nation honorably.  His actions reflect on the entire nation he or she represents.  If the ambassador does something wrong, it’s as if the whole nation has done something wrong. 

 Well, we are Christ’s ambassadors.  We live among a foreign people.  We are not people of the world; we are people of God.  We represent Christ.  We speak for Christ.  Our actions reflect on Christ.  And we bring honor or shame to Christ, depending on how we act.  This is a burden on us.  We should not feel free to act as we choose if our actions reflect on Christ, our King.  

 As God’s partners in his work, we don’t want to accept his gift in vain.  That’s how some translations of the Bible render verse 1, and I think it’s a better translation than what I read.  We don’t want to frustrate God’s graciousness in our lives.  God has given us the most remarkable gift of new life in Jesus.  We don’t want to despise that gift.

 To think about it in human terms, a father or mother would be brokenhearted if they sacrificed and suffered in order to give their children the best possible opportunities, and in turn the children squandered them.  What parent would not be sad if their children used all the gifts they received to flunk out of school, or become addicted to drugs or alcohol, or any number of other poor choices?

 How does God feel when one of us receives Christ, but then falls away, or continues to live in our sins, or acts as if nothing is different?  Christ didn’t die for us so

that our lives could go on as if nothing had changed.  Christ died to give us new life, whole life, abundant life, righteous life.  

 It’s bad enough when we despise God’s gift for ourselves.  But what’s more, when we do that, we also give a bad image to Jesus.  Our lives reflect on him.  If we do something dishonorable, Jesus suffers the dishonor.  As some have said, “You are the only Bible some people will ever read.”  Or in other terms, “You are the only Jesus some people will ever see.”  “So-and-so is a Christian, but they cheat on their taxes.  Or they cheat on their spouse.  Or they get drunk every weekend.  Or they treat people like dirt.”  And so on.  Every one of those would bring shame on Jesus, because we represent him.  

 Live in such a way that no one will stumble because of you or find fault with your ministry, that is, your service to God.  

 Paul goes on from here in verses 3 to 10 to defend himself and his ministry.  We know that Paul had enemies who accused him of all manner of impropriety.  It’s hard for us to know exactly what they said about Paul, because we only see half the conversation; we only know how Paul defended himself.  

 His defense might seem to us to be a little bit “self-congratulatory.”  Maybe even a little braggadocios.  But in the Greek cultural context to which he was writing, this kind of self-defense was not at all out of line.  Teachers and philosophers would often demonstrate their commitment to their ideas or defend the truth of their ideas by showing how much they were willing to suffer for them.  And besides, as far as we can tell, there’s nothing in here that’s the least bit false.  Paul certainly did have his fair share of difficulties and persecutions.  

 The format, the structure, of these verses is interesting.  Paul describes 9 trials in three triads, three sets of three.  The first triad is “general difficulties”:  Troubles, hardships, calamities.  The second triad is persecutions:  beaten, imprisoned, threatened.  The third triad is self-imposed hardships:  exhaustion, sleeplessness, and hunger.  

 The image I see here, which is certainly attested to in the Book of Acts and other places in the New Testament, is the portrait of a man who was willing to suffer greatly for the cause of Christ.  

 What about you and me?  What are we willing to suffer for the cause of Christ?  Certainly, many Christians have suffered greatly.  Many have been martyred, lost their homes, lost their businesses, lost their worldly possessions, and so on.  

 What concerns me is that there seem to be a lot of people who claim to belong to Christ who aren’t willing to suffer much for him.  They won’t suffer getting up early on Sundays to worship.  They won’t suffer turning off the television to pick up the Bible and read and pray daily.  They won’t suffer putting a tithe in the offering plate.  They won’t suffer spending a day off serving God in a soup kitchen or a work project.  They won’t suffer the embarrassment of telling someone else they believe in Jesus.  In a lot of cases, in our safe, secure American Christian landscape, all too often the answer I see to the question “What are you willing to suffer for Christ?” is “nothing.”  

 Alongside those 9 trials, Paul lists 9 virtues, again putting them in three triads.  The first triad could be described as matters of the mind:  Purity, knowledge, and patience.  The second triad might be called matters of the heart:  Kindness, holiness, and love.  And the third might be called matters of service to God:  preaching the truth, God’s power at work through us, and using the weapons of righteousness in our spiritual warfare.  

 Paul reminds us that we serve God whether we are honored or slandered, praised or despised.  We should serve God regardless of what others think.  

 And the reason we are willing to do this is because we live in a paradoxical state:  The world calls us imposters, but we are honest before God.  We are ignored by the world, yet we are well known to God.  We may be beaten or threatened with death, but we are alive eternally in Christ.  Our hearts ache with the things that break God’s heart, but we still have joy because we know how the story will end.  We may be poor, but we are rich in God’s Kingdom.  We may own nothing, but one day we will inherit the earth.  

 These paradoxical statements remind us that God will probably not remove us from suffering.  But he certainly can change our perspective on it.  By God’s grace, we can see suffering from the perspective of eternity.  And that can help us to have the courage not to care what the world will think of us but to live faithfully as Christ’s ambassadors.  

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