Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ambassadors for Christ


Paul, in his sharing with the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:11-21), calls them to a higher standard -- to the principles of “love and “respect.” This is what was lacking with many of them; they were not living with respect to the Lord or His way. There are certain false teachers at Corinth, as in many other places, that are causing faithful Christians to stumble. The Judaizers (cultural and religious Jewish Christians) who accuse Paul are saying, “just wait until he has to stand before the Lord…he has done some terrible things.” These false teachers are saying that he is “crazy;” who could believe such a ridiculous conversion story, among other things that he has to say? Paul is not afraid...he is saved by grace through faith. He respects the Lord and lives with a clear conscience. It is through this that he persuades men with the truth of the gospel, and this persuasion bears witness concerning his heart. These false teachers promote regulations based upon fear. Paul wants them to understand that fear and faith cannot occupy the same space in the heart. We need to be convicted to live with a certain “fear”, but it is with respect to “reverence” and “awe”, not “dread” and “terror.” If Christians live in this way, then they will be motivated to minister…and others will see this quality in us and want a part of us.

Paul’s opposition is infatuated with appearances, “the praises of man,” but he takes his stand on what are “matters of the heart.” This is always the struggle with humanity. It seems, in our battle against the flesh and the world system, that we tend to spend a lot more time on the “outer” person than on the “inner.” For his part, Paul doesn’t exalt reputation over character...he lives with humility and integrity. He knows that the heart of the matter is the spiritual heart of man. We have to love and respect Paul’s courage, because he says that if he is crazy, it is for the Corinthians’ own good and for the glory of God. This makes his struggle all worthwhile…he loves them with the love of the Lord.

This all reveals how “love” and “fear” can dwell together in the same heart. In fact, it must be the case, that Christians live with respect and love for the Lord...the two walk hand in hand. Paul is a grand example of this himself, as he had to die to himself in order to be raised up a new person for the Lord…one who was set free from sin, death and the Law. We must identify with our Lord and with Paul in that we must die in order to be raised up, which is his point to the Roman Christians (6:1ff). When we undergo a conversion, it should motivate us to see matters in a new and different way…it is respect and love that motivates us to part with the world…to say “goodbye” in dying to self and to begin living for Him. Through His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus Christ provided the way “to bring us back into a right relationship with God.” The 50 cent word that Paul uses here is “reconciliation.” All believers were lost and without hope, save for this principle. If this grace and mercy shown to us will not get us outside of ourselves on occasion in order to connect with others for Him, then what will? Paul says that we cannot be silent. We are ambassadors for the Lord…authorized representatives to share the message. As His ambassadors, we have the responsibility not only to share this message concerning our king, but to live it.

Alan Smith shares this story -- A preacher in a small European village was greatly loved by the people, and they believed he had an especially close relationship with God. He disappeared every Friday and could not be found for several hours. The villagers boasted that during those hours he ascended to heaven and talked with God. There was a newcomer to that village…a skeptic who made fun of the faith of all the other people. He got increasingly irritated by all the claims about the minister, and so he determined to find out where he really spent Fridays. So he hid near the preacher's house. He watched as the preacher rose early, spent time in prayer, and left his house in the clothes of a peasant. The young skeptic followed the old man from a safe distance. He watched him cut down a tree and chop up a large stack of firewood. He continued to watch as he made his way to a shack in the poorest part of the village and stacked the wood. It was the home of an old woman and her sick husband. After leaving the couple enough wood to last them a week, the preacher quietly returned to his own home. The villagers were startled the next Sunday when the young newcomer was in church. They were even more surprised when he became a Christian shortly thereafter. He thought highly of the church's godly minister and -- upon his death -- he became his successor. For the rest of his own life, whenever he heard one of the villagers speak of his predecessor and say, "On Fridays he would ascend to heaven," he would add softly, "If not higher." Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

We seem inclined at times to try to prove our discipleship by church membership and doctrinal correctness. While such things are important, the real proof that we know God is in loving and serving unselfishly. Food for the hungry, shelter for the cold, companionship for the lonely -- that's the way of Christ. It's also the best way to answer skepticism and unbelief. We should never do our righteous acts to be seen by others, but we know that our upright deeds -- even the ones done in secret -- are being watched. If you actually know God and walk with him, someone who is watching will discover it. That person may want to learn the secret of such a life and may come to know Christ as a result. The best answer to skepticism is often not argument but demonstration.

As I have said on many occasions, evangelism is more caught than taught. We have to be willing to develop relationships in order for this to happen. But, I have some significant doubts that this is going to happen if all we do is spend time with those whom we know…our friends…whether it is sitting down to a communal meal or engaging only in activities where those who are close to us are involved. Outsiders and newcomers will know us by our love or lack thereof…and will want to be a part of our fellowship, particularly, based upon how willing we are to extend that love of the Lord. We need to be motivated by our love and respect for the Lord to fulfill the commission that he gives…not only with those who come our way…but with those whom we contact as we are going from place to place.

Blessings, Don

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