Paul’s Service: Ambassadors with a Message
A message of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:17-19)
Because a Christian’s outlook changes when he becomes a follower of Christ, he is a new person (Romans 6:3-4; Psalms 51:10; Ezekiel 18:31; Galatians 6:15). The old way of life is gone (Romans 6:5-11; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:1-10; I Peter 4:1-3). Paul emphasizes the point by alluding to two prophecies: Isaiah 43:18-19 and Isaiah 65:17.
What caused the change belongs to God (I Corinthians 3:5-7; Romans 1:16). The word “reconcile” translates the Greek word katallasso which literally means to exchange coinage. Our salvation was gained by exchanging the old man of sin for a new man who can have a relationship with God. God doesn’t need to change. God is involved in changing people Jesus and the apostles and other preachers serve in aiding that exchange between the dead man of sin and the living man of righteousness (Romans 5:10-11; Colossians 1:20).
God was joined with Christ in reconciling the world to Himself (John 10:38; 14:10; Colossians 2:9). The availability of being saved was not limited to a few but offered to all of mankind (I John 2:1-2). It was a work of God and not man. Man was the one who offended God, but it is God who seeks the reconciliation (Isaiah 43:25; 44:22).
The reconciliation was accomplished by being able to justly not count man’s sins against them because Jesus paid that price (Romans 3:24-25; 4:6-8;). Justice was upheld. And the message of that reconciliation was committed to the apostles to tell the world.
Blameless ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:20-6:10)
The apostles function as ambassadors for Christ. Christ is begging, through the medium of the apostles, for people to be reconciled to God. An ambassador is a representative of a country’s leader. He presents the king’s will, explains it, and seeks to enforce it. Yet, he cannot change the terms or create new decrees, he must stay within the guidelines given to him by the king. They do not promote their own welfare but seek for the honor of the one who sent them (I Thessalonians 2:6-7).
God has made reconciliation possible by having the sinless Son of God to be sin on our behalf. This is not to say that Christ became sinful or guilty of sin (I Peter 1:19; 2:22; Hebrews 7:26; I John 3:5), but that Jesus became the sin offering on behalf of our sins. There are a number of verses in the Old Testament where the word “sin” is used to refer to the sin offering – the Hebrew word chattath can be translated as either sin or sin-offering, see Leviticus 4:23-24 where it is used both ways (Hosea 4:8; Ezekiel 44:29). In doing so, we are able to become righteous in Christ (Romans 5:19; Colossians 1:21-22). One way to read this is that Christ was treated as if he were sin, though he was without sin so that we who are in him might be treated as if we were righteous, though we are sinful (Isaiah 53:12; I Peter 2:22-24).
- Who is making an appeal through the apostles? Who are the apostles begging on behalf of? Are these separate appeals or the same? Is who is sending the appeal separate or the same?
- What is the significance of Jesus being sin (singular and not plural)? See John 1:29.
With such being effort being expended on our behalf, Paul and all who teach the gospel plead that this grace of God does not go to waste (I Corinthians 3:9; 15:1-2; Hebrews 12:15). Quoting Isaiah 49:8, Paul shows that God was willing to give salvation at the appropriate time (Isaiah 61:2). That time, Paul said, was now, and it should not be wasted (Luke 4:19; Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4).
As God’s ambassadors, Paul and the other apostles have done all they can to make the message of salvation acceptable to those they taught. They strived to live blameless lives so that their own lives would not be a barrier to accepting the gospel (Romans 14:13; I Corinthians 10:32-33; II Corinthians 4:2). The word “offense” translates a Greek word that means “stumbling.” By this Paul is saying their conduct has not driven people to be lost. It should not be taken that people had not rejected the gospel, but that their rejection was because they did not accept the message. The messengers did not put the message in a bad light (Matthew 10:16).
In everything they have proven themselves to be servants of God (I Corinthians 4:1).
- It can be seen in their patience (II Timothy 2:23-26).
- It can be seen in their afflictions (the trials they bore), their needs (the struggles they had from being in want), and their distress (struggles that brought them anguish).
- It was also seen the physical struggles they endured: beatings, imprisonments, and riots. Paul lists these in greater detail in II Corinthians 11:23-25.
- It was seen in their efforts: the hard work they performed, the nights they went without sleep, and the times they went without eating (II Corinthians 11:27). These are men who put the teaching of the Gospel ahead of their own physical needs.
- It was seen in the impact of the Gospel on their own lives and in the lives of those they taught: purity in living, knowledge of God’s word, longsuffering, and kindness.
- It was witnessed by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); that is, the change the Spirit caused through the Gospel (II Corinthians 3:18).
- It was shown in their sincere love.
- It was demonstrated by power: the power of the truth being taught (Romans 1:16), the power of the miracles that accompanied them (Hebrews 2:3-4), and their armor (Ephesians 6:11-17). A soldier holds a shield with his left hand (faith) and a sword with his right hand (the word of God). Paul’s phrase means they were fully equipped (II Corinthians 10:4).
- It was seen in how they were received: they were treated both with honor and dishonor, by people speaking ill and good of them, called deceivers while telling the truth (John 7:12). The true gospel message divides those who hear it.
- It was demonstrated in the contrast of their lives: they were strangers on this earth, yet well-known (Psalms 39:12; II Corinthians 5:11; 11:6; Hebrews 11:13; I Peter 2:11); dying but living (Psalms 118:17; Romans 8:36; I Corinthians 4:9; 15:31); disciplined severely but not killed (Psalms 118:18; I Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-14; Revelation 3:19).
- And finally, is it seen in a paradox of what they possess: they have sorrow while rejoicing (Habakkuk 3:17-18), they live poorly while making others rich (I Corinthians 1:5; II Corinthians 8:9), and as having nothing but having everything (Psalms 84:11; Romans 8:32; I Corinthians 3:21-22).
Notice that Paul echoes Psalms 118:17-18 in II Corinthians 6:9 and verse 11 speaks of being open as does Psalms 118:19.