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“So if anyone is in Christ, … everything has become new!” — 2 Corinthians 5:17
When Old Becomes New
I became a Royal Ambassador in a narrow, stuffy, upstairs room in the gable end of an addition to the Hephzibah Baptist Church, outside Lincolnton, Ga. It was not my home church, but it was the closest one that offered an RA program.
I remember playing baseball, including an exciting day when the preacher slung the bat, causing a compound fracture in another boy’s lower leg. But I also recall reading missionary stories, memorizing Bible verses, and singing an off-key a capella version of “The King’s Business.”
But another memory goes beyond the varied activities: it is a concept of identity. I learned as a 10-year-old boy that I was an ambassador for Christ, and I have never forgotten it.
Do you have a sense of being Christ’s representative in the world? Can you remember when or how you first acquired it?
Our motivation(vv. 11-15)
When Paul wrote the letter from which today’s text is taken, he was deeply concerned for a church that had been torn by strife and weakened by misguided behavior. Paul had been instrumental in founding the church at Corinth, but had been absent for some time. Some members did not accept Paul’s right to advise or upbraid the congregation, but the apostle was determined to address some troubling issues among people that he loved. In today’s text, Paul seeks to motivate his readers by explaining his own sense of calling and identity as an ambassador for Christ who has a responsibility for others.
In the previous chapter, Paul wrote of his own life and ministry, but with v. 11 he shifts to an emphasis on the purpose of his ministry: to seek the reconciliation of all people with God. Paul’s motivation grew first from “the fear of the Lord.”
In the Old Testament, the fear of the Lord was sometimes identified with a blanket of dread that Yahweh caused to fall upon enemies in battle, but more commonly described the awesome respect inspired in God’s own people.
Such reverence was Paul’s mean-ing: he understood that his life was an open book before God. He would never forget the blinding light and powerful voice that had stopped him cold on the road to Damascus and changed his life (Acts 9). Paul knew enough about God to have a healthy respect for divine power. He knew how God had turned him away from his former practice of persecuting Christians. He did not wish to be confronted that way again.
Paul also believed that all people would face a future judgment before Christ, and he had just mentioned that in v. 10. “Therefore,” Paul said, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others” (v. 11a).
Paul and his companions were not primarily interested in persuading others to accept them as leaders (v. 11b), nor were they fishing for praise (v. 12). They did, however, want the Corinthians to believe their motivation was divinely inspired: “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (v. 13). Had Paul’s mental stability been called into question?
Someone might accuse Paul of insanity, as Festus later did (Acts 26:24), but not of duplicity. What he and his colleagues did, they did for God and for others. [See the online “Hardest Question” for more.]
Paul’s motivation was not just the fear of judgment, but the love of God: “For the love of Christ urges us on” (v. 14a). Paul and his missionary companions had personally encountered God’s steadfast love, revealed in Christ. They believed that Jesus had died for them, as for all people (v. 14b), and that those who put their lives in God’s hands no longer live for themselves, but for Christ (v. 15). As Christ is the author of a new life and future for the believer, he is also the proper focus of that rejuvenated life.
Our perspective(vv. 16-19)
A new life leads to a new perspective. After meeting Jesus, Paul no longer saw life through a human point of view only. He had once considered Jesus to be just another man, and a major troublemaker at that, but no longer. “From now own,” Paul said, he was living a different kind of life: he had learned to see Jesus through spiritual eyes, and that experience had given him a spiritual perspective on others, as well (v. 16).
This is not to say that Paul no longer appreciated the humanity and needs of other people. He was very much in tune with his own frailties, often reminding readers that he was no superman, but could boast only in Christ. While in touch with the physical, Paul’s transformation into a “new creation” allowed him to see deeper spiritual needs lurking behind the human façade. He no longer saw persons as people who could become newly acceptable through obedience to the law, but as people who could become a new creation through openness to Christ (v. 17).
Paul’s writings suggest that he had always been driven. He had thought of himself as a man with a mission from God even when he was living as a Pharisee and working to purge Judaism of the new Christian influence.
As he wrote to the Corinthians, Paul was still moved by a sense of mission, but his perspective had changed radically. He no longer persuaded people to reform, but to be reborn. Paul wanted others to have the remarkable experience he described by saying: “everything has become new!”
No longer persecuting Christians, Paul’s new mindset had led him to embark on a “ministry of reconciliation” (v. 18) between God and humankind. He was moved by the stunning belief that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (v. 19a). Paul understood that only God could bring about such forgiveness. We often think of God and Christ as being separate, but Paul insisted that God was “in Christ” as he lived and died on our behalf. While only God could make forgiveness possible, Paul believed Christ-followers also have a role to play, because God is “entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (v. 19b).
You may have known people who couldn’t be trusted with a butter knife. How staggering to consider that God has entrusted the message of divine-human rapprochement to us!
Our position(vv. 20-21)
So it is that Paul comes to the term that has been lurking in the background all along, the Greek word we translate as “ambassador.” The word as it appears in v. 20 is actually a verb: presbeúomen means “we are ambassadors.” The noun form of this same word was used to describe Roman legates who provided leadership in bringing newly conquered territories from the transitional status of “Imperial Provinces” to the full integration of “Senatorial Provinces.”
As political ambassadors func-tioned in the emperor’s behalf to incorporate new territories into the Roman Empire, so Paul saw himself as an ambassador for Christ, laboring to bring more and more persons into the Kingdom of God (v. 20a).
On Christ’s behalf, then, he appealed to the people of Corinth to “be reconciled to God” as persons who had been made righteous through the sacrificial work of Christ (vv. 20b-21).
Paul would have us to understand that every believer is called to be an ambassador for Christ, and that imparts a heavy responsibility to represent him well. Occasionally we are reminded that our country has hundreds of ambassadors and state department officials who represent American interests in countries throughout the world. It is imperative that such officials understand the importance of being circumspect in their behavior and careful in their speech. They cannot say either more or less than the government they represent wants them to say. They do not speak for themselves, but for the president and the Congress who appointed them.
While ambassadors learn to understand and work within the parameters of local custom, they remember that they are citizens of another land to which they owe primary allegiance.
The old RA hymn begins with the words “I am a stranger here, upon a foreign land . . .” Ambassadors for Christ remember that this earth is not their eternal home, though it is very much their natural and present one. We are, as it were, “adopted ambassadors,” representing a kingdom that we have never seen except as we experience the presence of God in our lives.
It is not inherently easy for us to live as Christ’s representatives, for our human nature knows more of the world at our feet than the world beyond. We might like to know more about eternity, but for now we are limited people who must work within the boundaries of this world of time and space. We never forget, however, that our ideals, our ethics, and our standards of behavior have their source in that world we have yet to see with our eyes. We are ambassadors for Christ, entreating others to be reconciled to God as we are.
Consider what it means to be “entreating others to be reconciled to God as we are.” Spend some time thinking about those three words “as we are.” Do our ways of loving and living reflect that we have been reconciled to God? Can we be effective ambassadors for Christ any other way? NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for March 6, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
What labels do your students wear? And you might want to check on multiple days as well because it’s not cool to mix your labels. The labels they wear, or don’t wear, will say a lot about who they are. Some of the labels aren’t as obvious though. Sometimes our students hide the labels they really want to wear under the labels they think that they have to wear. Help your students to see who they have been created to be by allowing them to explore their gifts and talents. These labels might change as they tryout and discover who they are but continue to encourage them. At the same time, remind them that they wear the label of Christ-follower at the root of all their labels. All their other labels will sprout out of it.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“I Am Not a Label” from Prince Ea via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21