“So what do you do?” asked the curious student. “I am an ambassador,” I replied. “For the Canadian government?” he queried. “I didn’t know you were in the diplomatic service…how do you get a job with them anyway?” Another student, curious about the conversation raised his hand and asked sheepishly, “Well what is an ambassador anyway?”
In as simple terms as possible I explained that an ambassador is someone who is sent to represent one jurisdiction in another, mostly from one country to another. Eyes rolled. So what is this jurisdiction jargon anyway? I sketched out the fact that for instance an ambassador might be sent from the Canadian government to Senegal. Thus the ambassador in his person conveys the wishes and sometimes the orders from his home country to the other. At times it goes the other way around and the country where ambassador has been sent receives a message or orders from the host country. The success of an ambassador is measured by just how well he/she represents the home country. If the home country says to the ambassador, we want you to send a message that your host country better clean up corruption or we will stop sending aid, then the ambassador has to say that, without imposing his personal opinions. In August of this year the French ambassador to Ukraine was recalled for expressing some of his personal opinions about an upcoming trial. Earlier, Israel had recalled its ambassador to El Salvador for immoral conduct.
The ambassador in the Graeco-Roman period:
In his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament Ceslas Spicq assembles a large number of quotes around the word presbeutÄ“s which is translated ‘ambassador’ along with a similar verb. From the quotes one sees that this is an honorific title, one that carries authority, one that implies faithful service, one that can make or break diplomatic relations between countries, and one that serves as the mouthpiece of rulers and kings to the same elsewhere. Thus we read of a certain Orthagoras of Araxa that he was “sent…to each of the cities … he carried out his two missions in a manner worthy…of the confederation, and he served all the interests of the city.” We see from this quote that being an ambassador and mission are certainly linked.
The emperor Augustus boasted about how many ambassadors came to him to ask for various favors or entreaties, but as we will see in the Corinthians’ passage below, it is God who is sending out ambassadors like Paul to the world to offer terms of reconciliation.
Paul as an ambassador:
The Apostle Paul took this word that was common in the diplomatic world of his time and used it to his best advantage, both to describe who he was, who he wasn’t, and how he was to go about his work. First a bit of background.
Ananias who came to Paul after he had been blinded in his encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus had a set of orders from his King. Ananias was to communicate that Paul was His hand-picked emissary. The royal words were: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16). Also in his letter to the Galatians Paul pulls out these credentials and says, “Paul, an apostle–sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (1:1) and even adds more weight to them by stating in verse 15-16, “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” In a word, Paul is handpicked for no reason of his own, was sent by Divine appointment and not his own great scheme, and has a message to bring both to Jews and Gentiles and to royalty as well, which is the declaration of Jesus’ name.
Paul describes his ambassadorship in 2 Corinthians 5:20 where we read, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (ESV). A paraphrase unpacks some of the nuances of this verse and reads, “So we are acting on Christ’s behalf and in his place as his special envoys. It is, in reality, God himself who issues his appeal through our words. As Christ’s representatives, then, we make this entreaty when we preach: “Get reconciled to God!” (Paraphrase of 2 Corinthians (NIGTC). Another translates it, “…since God in fact makes his appeal through us.” Also in Ephesians 6:20 he asks the recipients of his letter to “Pray for me that I will be given an open mouth to announce boldly the mystery of the gospel, of which I am ambassador in chains.”
Six observations may be made.
First: it is a given that Paul is an ambassador. “..we are..” “I am..” There is no doubt as to who he is. The Emperor’s Legate–or the one who was sent with communications from the Emperor in Paul’s time, was described the same way. The Legate knew who he was.
Secondly: This position is not for himself. He speaks “on Christ’s behalf” or as Christ’s representative and spokesman. He also serves on Christ’s behalf. An ancient text tells of one “having often served as ambassador on behalf of his country.”
Thirdly: His mission is justified by the fact that his appeal and his authority is not his own. It is through Paul as an instrument that “God makes/issues his appeal.” This is not a wishy-washy sentimental pleading, but has more of the nuance of an “exhortation” with something of urgency, passion and kindness in its voice. It is Majesty who is giving orders for reconciliation to Himself to rebellious subjects and thus the paraphrase reads, “Get reconciled to God!” This reconciliation needed to happen both within the church walls at Corinth and without.
Fourthly: A verbal message is the means of communication. In the Ephesians passage, Paul asks for prayer to “announce boldly” and the Corinthians’ message contains a verbal declaration.
Fifth: The ambassador’s message has a goal. Reconciliation of estranged subjects to God on His terms.
Sixth: The message through Ananias told of inevitable suffering. The Ephesians passage tells of an ambassador, not living life with diplomatic immunity to all perils, but “in chains.”
A challenge for today’s ambassadors:
“Give me your job description in two or three sentences,” challenged the man at a partner church. This is what I told him mirroring Paul’s self-identity as an ambassador.
“I have been sent with a message from the Ruler of the Kingdom of Christ. In the most diplomatic terms possible I speak to you on behalf of the All-Victorious Jesus who has never lost a battle, the Son of God, I declare that He is advancing with his armies. Today, I declare to you the terms of surrender. He offers his terms of peace today, but if you refuse, certain destruction will come.”
The man looked somewhat stunned. His looks seemed to say, “How can you speak so directly?” “Can’t you say this in nicer terms?”
This is today’s challenge. Whereas the Apostle Paul was fixated on faithfully discharging his mission on behalf of the One who sent him, and only speaking his words, both of invitation and order with certain boldness, it would seem that many of today’s ambassadors are more concerned with the subject who is in front of them. That is to say, the temptation to be tolerant, respectful, politically correct and all is so great, that the message can start to take on the form of the greatest fears of the ambassador and conform to the greatest “felt needs” of the recipient of the message.
“So what do you do…?” Do you know who you are as an ambassador?