Teaching series from 2 Corinthians

Profile of an Effective Ambassador

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Teaching t08986


Before we get into 2 Cor. 6 this evening, I want to briefly review the context of this passage (5:18-20). Paul tells us here about two wonderful gifts God makes available to all of us through his Son, Jesus Christ.

First, he has made it possible for you to be reconciled to him. "Reconciliation" means that two estranged persons are restored to relational intimacy by resolving the root problem that alienated them from one another. Our root problem with God is our violation of his moral law, which deserves God's judgment. But God's love for us is so great that he found a way to reconcile us to himself without compromising his own moral character. He came in the Person of his Son Jesus and took our guilt and God's judgment on himself (5:21). Because of this, God is ready to forgive you and begin a personal love relationship with you--all you need to do is ask him for this, placing your trust in Jesus as your Reconciler. If you've never done this, why not do it today?

But there is more. Once you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, he gives you another privilege--the "ministry and message of reconciliation." To put it differently, he makes you an "ambassador for Christ." Whereas in the Roman Empire, only elite senators were sent to speak the terms of peace to new territories, God commissions each and every Christian to share Christ with others and invite them to be reconciled to him. How many of you came to Christ because other Christians did this for you? How many of you have had the privilege of leading someone to Christ? There is nothing more important or exciting!

Paul continues this same theme in chapter 6 (read 6:1,2). Although at first glance it this sounds like an evangelistic appeal (EXPLAIN), that's not his point.

The "you" in 6:1 refers to his audience, who has already received Christ. "I urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain," means, "Don't pass up the opportunity to be an ambassador of Christ."

Paul is saying: "It is a fantastic privilege to be an ambassador of Christ. Old Testament believers didn't have this privilege the way we do. People won't have the ability to come to Christ after he returns. We won't have the privilege of inviting people to be reconciled to God when Christ comes back. So don't pass up this opportunity--be effective ambassadors with us!"

What does it look like to be an effective ambassador of Christ? Citing himself and his fellow-workers as examples, Paul provides us with a profile of an effective ambassador in 6:3-10...

Not discrediting the ministry

Read 6:3. The first piece in the profile is pretty basic--not discrediting the ministry.

You may be familiar with the term "ugly American." This term was the title of a book by Eugene Burdick, which tells the story of American ambassadors in Southeast Asia after WWII and how their arrogance, cultural insensitivity and ostentatious wealth discredited America and thwarted American foreign policy. "Ugly American" has become a code word for traveling Americans who give our country a bad name for the same reasons--too self-absorbed to care about their "ambassadorial" role.

In a similar way, we can be "ugly Christians." Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled The Church before the Watching World. I've always loved that title because it conveys this point. The world is full of people who are looking for God and truth, who wonder if Jesus is who he says he is--the way the truth and the life. And whether we like it or not, they form their conclusions about Jesus largely by watching those of us who claim to follow him. Paul was acutely aware that he was representing Christ, and very concerned that he not hurt Christ's reputation ("the ministry might not be discredited").

How we need to recover this sensitivity today! "The biggest obstacle we have in bringing people to Christ is Christians." The 20 CENTURIES OF CHURCH SHAME, the SEX & MONEY SCANDALS, the IRRELEVANCE & WEIRDNESS, the MEAN-SPIRITED NASTINESS, etc. have done a great job of inoculating people against coming to Christ--unless they meet Christians who are attractively different because of their authenticity.

One reason why the New Testament church was so effective in evangelism is that their leaders imbedded this consciousness in them: "Conduct yourself in every arena as a representative of Jesus!" Read and explain Col.3:17; 1 Pet. 3:16; Titus 2:9,10.

If we cause offense, it should be over the message (grace offending self-righteous pride; "one way" offending relativistic foolishness)--not because of our lousy lifestyle!

This is the ground floor for being an effective ambassador. What's your reputation at work (Friendly? Honest? Hard working? Cooperative?)? What's your reputation as a neighbor (Easy to get along with? Helpful? Hospitable?)?

We don't need to be perfect to be effective--but we do need to be willing to apologize when we blow it. And we need to challenge each other (Xenoids & non-Xenoids) on this!

Radical commitment

Read 6:4, 5. Is Paul an ascetic or a spiritual masochist? No! These attitudes were totally foreign to Paul (quote 1Tim.4:1-5). Why then does Paul cite his sufferings as part of the profile of an effective ambassador? Because they are an index of his radical commitment to Jesus. Jesus is not an "errand-boy to satisfy your wandering desires"--he is the Lord, and the only consistent response to this is obedience to him and his will for your life, whatever this entails.

The point is not to deprive yourself of all comfort or to seek suffering (not that we are tempted by this!), but that your commitment to Christ and his purpose includes the willingness to suffer mistreatment by others because of your commitment to Christ and/or voluntary sacrifices in the service of Christ.

The truth is that we cannot expect others to take Jesus seriously unless we take him seriously enough to suffer in his service. This is a very unpopular point with most American Christians, because we are largely conformed by a culture that has no category for any cause greater than self and personal comfort. Yet it remains true even in this culture that when people see Christians who willingly suffer for Christ, they are often drawn to him.

This is what Jesus teaches in Lk.14:26-35. Read 14:34,35--Jesus wants his followers to make people thirsty for him, but they are often useless in this area. What is it that makes us "salty?" Read 14:26,33--that we love him more than all other people, that we are prepared to die for him, and that we give him control over all of our possessions.

This is the point of Douglas Hyde (former Communist Party member): "Such sacrifices, whether at the level of leaders or of rank and file, are impressive . . . (People) of every continent have responded to this example of idealism expressing itself in terms of sacrifice . . . Indeed, the more materialistic our society becomes, the more the dedicated man stands out by way of contrast. The dedicated man makes his own appeal by virtue of the fact that he is dedicated."

This is what we have seen in our own church. Listen to Sharon Watkins' story on this point (VIDEO). The cool thing is that her parents and her sister all came to Christ--and they all say that her radical commitment was a major factor!

When was the last time your commitment to Christ exacted a cost in one of your relationships? When was the last time your commitment to Christ motivated you to make a significant sacrifice of your comfort & resources? When was the last time someone accused you of taking your commitment to Christ too seriously? I am against fanaticism, but I don't think most of us are tempted to be fanatics. I think most of us are tempted to be lukewarm in our commitment to Jesus, to domesticate Jesus so that he makes our lives easier instead of placing ourselves utterly at his disposal. This is what we need!

Attractive spiritual qualities

The third piece in the profile is a complex of certain attractive spiritual qualities that God wants to work into our lives. When these come together, they enable us to expose by positive contrast the emptiness of life in the world-system and to attract people to Christ. Paul lists these qualities in no particular order in 6:6,7 (read). Here's how I group them:

"Purity" refers almost certainly to sexual integrity and health. It means that you have embraced God's design for this area (marriage) and have turned away from viewing others as sexual objects and using them.

"Knowledge" refers to knowledge of "the word of truth"--God's Word, the Bible. It means that you are developing the ability to explain, defend, and apply God's Word to real life. It means that you can explain what he says about important areas (representing his position, not spouting our opinion). What would you think of an American ambassador who responds to a question about a key American policy with a "Doey??!??" Yet in spite of unprecedented access to biblical knowledge, American Christians are for the most part appallingly ignorant! Quote 2Tim.2:15 and 1Pet.3:15.

"Patience" and "kindness" are important features of "genuine love." This refers to an other-centered (rather than self-centered) lifestyle--that you are motivated by God's patience and kindness toward you to be patient and kind toward others (both close relationships and reaching out to strangers). It means that you are learning to delight in discovering other people.

There is one more element here--and it is super-important--"the Holy Spirit" and "the power of God." None of us can develop these attractive spiritual qualities by our own power, but God can develop these qualities in each and every one of us! He delights in transforming our sexual lives, in teaching us his Word, in making us into genuinely loving people. The question is: Do you want these qualities to distinguish your life? Are you asking God to do this? Are you placing yourself in position to let him do this? (PLUG HOME GROUPS AS PRIME CONTEXT.)

Paradoxical results

What will happen to your "quality of life" if you commit yourself to be an effective ambassador for Christ? Paul gives his answer in 6:8-10 (read). What is this--a Taoist koan? No, Paul's answer is paradoxical, but not irrational. What will happen to your "quality of life?" It depends on how you define "quality of life." If you define it by the values of this world-system, it won't be very good! But if you define it by the values of God's kingdom, it will be great! Here's my paraphrase:

Some people will slander you, but you will have the peace and confidence of knowing you are faithful to Christ. (Instead of corrupting your soul by man-pleasing)

Some people will think you are wasting your life, but you will feel increasingly privileged in your role as Christ's ambassador.

Sometimes you will experience intense pain in Christ's service, but the satisfaction of experiencing God's comfort will more than make up for it.

You will not have worldly success and acclaim, but you will have God's faithful provision and the ability to spiritually enrich others.

What kind of "quality of life" do you want? You can't have both of these--you have to choose one or the other. I am not an exemplary ambassador of Christ; I have a long way to go in all of these areas. But I can tell you this. I decided 30 years ago that I wanted to be an effective ambassador of Christ, and I have never regretted that decision. I am really satisfied with this way of life, I don't covet those who chose for the world's "quality of life."

Paul's reference to Isa. 49:8 concerns God's plan to make his Messiah a light to the nations during this stage of history ("the acceptable time" and "the day of salvation"). Paul understood that God was fulfilling this through the Church's task of evangelizing the Gentiles (see Acts13:46,47).

Douglas Hyde, Dedication and Leadership (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), p.20.