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Representing a Foreign Power Over Coffee

Editors’ note: 

The following is an excerpt from God’s Love Compels Us: Taking the Gospel to the World, co-published by The Gospel Coalition and Crossway, co-edited by D. A. Carson and Kathleen Nielson.

God’s people are called to be ambassadors for Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11–21, the apostle Paul is making a case for an ambassador’s motivation, how an ambassador views people, how an ambassador views the world. He also wants to make a case for how we as Christians see our role in the world. That’s what the image of ambassadorship is about. Paul says in verse 20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” He carefully chooses the image of ambassadorship to make sure we understand our role. Think about it: ambassadors exist to deliver a message. According to Paul, when you sit down for coffee, if a spiritual topic comes up and you begin to share with a friend about Jesus, you represent the foreign power of the kingdom of God. I think this is so mind-blowing that we often don’t believe it to be true.

Ambassador’s Responsibilities

But there are certain responsibilities that come with ambassadorship. First, ambassadors must get the message right. History is filled with horrible outcomes when ambassadors muffed their messages. Christians need to have the message of the gospel firmly fixed in their minds. When I ask the average churchgoing person what the message of the gospel is, I’m amazed at how inarticulate some people can be. Do you have in your head the basic message of the gospel?

Second, ambassadors are not at liberty to change the message. Don’t “nice up” the message; deliver it as given. Some want to air-condition hell or ignore God’s judgment altogether. Others deliver a message that is more therapy than gospel. Often people forego discussion about sin or repentance.

Finally, ambassadors cannot leave the message undelivered. Perhaps this is our greatest problem. We have become so fearful about offending, so worried about rejection, that we don’t say anything at all. We need to slay our fears of evangelism and remember the fear of God. We play for him, not the crowd.

Uneasy in the World

By the way, ambassadors, by definition, don’t live at home. They are wanderers in the world. That doesn’t mean that all Christians need to move to different lands; rather, we shouldn’t make this world our home. The Christian should always be a bit uneasy with the world.

At this point, Paul calls out the message: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (v. 20b). To some, this might sound as if he is calling to the Corinthians to be reconciled to God. But for all the problems in the church at Corinth, they were Christians. Actually, Paul is shouting out the message we announce as ambassadors to the world: “We implore you, we beg you, be reconciled to God.” This is Paul’s life message.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about evangelism in my life is that our pronouncement of the gospel message should in everything we are and do.

In the book of Galatians, Paul recounts how he rebuked Peter. It must have taken some clear thinking and a strong heart: small Paul rebuking the rock of the church, Peter. On the surface, the reason was an issue about food and fellowship. But the principle Paul understood to be at stake was the proper relationship of the gospel and the law: Peter was not living in line with the gospel (Gal. 2:14). Most people think of the gospel message as the message that gets us saved. Paul understood that the gospel is the measure of all of life. Therefore, don’t segregate the gospel. It’s the A–Z of the Christian life, not just the ABCs. We shouldn’t think of the gospel only in the category of evangelism, leaving it out of other segmented areas of the Christian life. This is unfortunately common. Don’t untether the gospel from marriage, childrearing, leadership, or anything you do as a believer.

Learning from Mistakes

Here’s an example of an occasion when all this came together in my mind. To our great surprise, student ministry on the Dubai campuses began to flourish. Bible studies were filling up, and student contacts on various campuses asked if we could help them. I decided it was time for student leadership training. So I worked up a curriculum and invited our best student leaders for a weekly meeting of about 20 in my living room. Most of these students were young believers and few had any grounding in the Bible, but all were eager. At our first meeting, the living room hummed with excitement.

But there was one problem. There on my couch sat Akil, a Hindu. So I went to his friend, Nisin, another student leader, and asked him what Akil was doing at a Christian leadership gathering. Nisin reported that Akil just wanted to learn more about leadership. Maybe he wanted to put it on his résumé or something.

“Listen, Nisin,” I said. “Akil is a nice guy, I like him, but this is our Christian leadership meeting, and it’s not going to make sense to him.”

Nisin said, “Well, maybe I’ll talk to him if I get a chance,” which meant he wasn’t going to talk to him. And sure enough, week by week, Akil was there on the front row of the group, quiet but attentive. Finally, I was so bothered by this, I approached Akil myself. “Hey Akil,” I said, “I need to talk with you about something.” He said, “Oh, I need to talk to you about something, too.”

I said, “Okay, you go first.”

“Well,” he said, “I’ve become a Christian!” His eyes were shining.

“You did?” I said, rather ungraciously. “How did that happen?”

“It’s funny,” said Akil, “I was coming because I thought that maybe I could learn something about leadership for business or something.” (Later, I found out he also had his eye on an attractive young student named Shebnita.) “But as I listened, I realized that you weren’t talking about business leadership principles, but about the gospel and how leadership flows out of the gospel. So last week, I repented of my unbelief and put my trust and faith in Christ alone to save me.”

There was an awkward pause as I stared blankly at Akil. Then he asked, “What did you want to talk with me about?” I pointed my finger in the air and then said, “Nothing; never mind.”

I went back to Nisin and said, “I’m sorry, brother, forgive me. Please keep asking the Hindus to come to our Christian leadership gatherings.”

Somehow I had concluded that there is a point at which we move on from the gospel. But because the students were so young and so new to the faith, I was working hard to show the leaders how their leadership sprang from the gospel. So the gospel was carefully integrated into every section of teaching. Hearing the gospel in the leadership lessons was how Akil came to Jesus, and that is how I saw the need for understanding the way the gospel informs all of life. That is what God’s Word calls us to do as ambassadors.

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