In the last two sessions, we considered that, within the church, we belong together, and have our own culture, which must be different from the world's culture. This leads us to an inevitable question: “If this is where we belong then why would we even set foot outside these doors and live in the world where we don’t belong?”
The answer to that question is a simple one: we have been appointed as ambassadors by our king.
So what is an ambassador? An ambassador is a foreign dignitary. He or she is a representative of the king/president/leader of their own country. Furthermore, the ambassador also serves as a representative of the people.
If I meet the Mexican ambassador, my assumption is: this person is a fair representative of what a Mexican is like.
Thus, if we are Christ's ambassadors, then when people meet us, they should rightly be able to think, “So this is what a citizen of heaven is like.”
In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us:
In other words, show the world who Christ is.
This is a heavy responsibility.
In addition to serving as a representative, an ambassador seeks peaceable and amicable relations between the two nations. In other words, as Paul said in our main passage, God is making His appeal through us. Again, this is a heavy responsibility.
In one of our earlier sessions we talked about the word "reconciliation" and I promised we'd come back to it. As a quick reminder, the word means "the restoration of friendly relations." You'll notice that it appears here twice. We are bearers of the word of reconciliation and the ministry of reconciliation.
The Word of Reconciliation, of course, is the good news of Jesus Christ. It's the message that through Christ, God is reconciling us to him. It is the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the sure hope of forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life that is ours through faith in him.
It is the gospel message we know and love.
But what is this "ministry of reconciliation"? To understand that, we ought to find out what that word "ministry" means. It turns out, it's the same word that is used in Acts 5 to describe the work of the deacons. The word is diakonia, and it is the name given for those who waited tables for the widows of the church. In other words, "ministry of reconciliation" is the "service of reconciliation."
We are serving up reconciliation to the world! It's interesting how often words and deeds are placed side by side. We do not merely speak words of reconciliation, we act toward that reconciliation. Paul talks about this in Romans 15:18, where he says that his ministry involved both "word and deed."
Here are examples of words and deeds in tandem in scripture:
Why are these two things so often in tandem? Perhaps because truth, justice and mercy are all so near to the heart of God. The word of reconciliation is telling God’s “I love you” to the world. The ministry of reconciliation is showing it.
In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
If Lewis is right, then the pain and the groaning of this world is the church’s invitation to begin the service of reconciliation.
As a healthy church examines its own practices, it will discover that it reaches out into its community through both words and deeds. When we commissioned a short-term missions team to travel to Santa Rosa, Argentina, to work with a church there, the commissioning passage was from 1 Peter 4:11:
And we must note that this word "serve" here comes from that same Greek word we discussed earlier.
Last week I was speaking with one of our church members who was sharing about how she was striving for reconciliation in her family, and the high price she was paying for that reconciliation. I was brought to tears as she told about another family coming alongside to share that service -- at great cost to themselves as well. Brought to tears, but not surprised -- after all, it’s who we are!
So let's think about how the service of reconciliation might play out in your neighborhood.
When a couple in your neighborhood indicates they’re talking about divorce, it’s easy and comfortable to say “I’ll pray for you,” and it’s good to say that, but the truth is, you’re probably scared to ask them, “Is there anything we can do to help you salvage a beautiful marriage?”
It is a scary question to ask; it might result in enormous amounts of time spent over the course of months or years, counseling and encouraging. It might result in you volunteering to watch some kids for a few days so they can get away and work together on reconciliation.
We have a couple in our church who has engaged frequently in serving as marriage counselors. I imagine it’s exhausting and emotionally draining. But the word of reconciliation will be ever present in the midst of the service of reconciliation.
When a woman in your neighborhood, or at your workplace, is talking about aborting her unborn baby, will that unborn infant provide you with an opportunity for the service of reconciliation? Getting compassionately involved can be scary, because you don’t know where that compassion will take you.
It might put you in the middle of a dispute between a pregnant mother and an estranged father who has no intention of providing child support. Compassion might drive you to offer free or low-cost child care to a single mother so she can go back to work and support her family. It might even lead you to explore adoption.
When an African or Middle Eastern family moves onto your street, what will be their first, formative memory of their new life? Will it be walking down the street and having someone shout, “Go back home, towel head?”
Or will it be your family showing up at their door while the moving van is still in the yard saying, “Here’s a housewarming gift – when can you come over for supper? You shouldn’t have to try to get your kitchen running today.”
Only one of those is the service of reconciliation, and only one can lead to the word of reconciliation!
When a young person is dealing with a dysfunctional or abusive family, will they be comfortable turning to you? Perhaps you will step in as a mediator to serve up reconciliation. Perhaps you would even go so far as to serve as a host family for the young person while mediation happens.
When a neighbor needs a kidney to survive and you find out you may have a match, will you consider that to be the service of reconciliation? That may seem outlandish, but we’ve had at least two members/former members of our church do exactly that!
These are scary ideas, because they are costly. In fact, we’d probably all rather just fight political battles than consider any of these possibilities! But we already established last week that reconciliation is costly, and the cost doesn’t have to be borne by one of the people in need of reconciliation.
And wherever the service of reconciliation is offered, through prayer and guidance of the Spirit, it may lead to opportunity for word of reconciliation.
One church I've spoken at on a few occasions realized that the children in their neighborhood were coming to Sunday School hungry, because they weren't getting fed at home on Sunday morning. So they decided to serve breakfast to the children before Sunday School started. What an exhausting task to plan and execute every Sunday! But what a beautiful pairing of the service of reconciliation with the word of reconciliation!
I'm not saying that we should be doing this, but we should be asking questions like these. These kinds of ideas may scare you. But scary doesn’t mean impossible for the believer. And these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. You may do none of these things. But they should stir up your thinking and make you ask the question, “How, Lord, am I going to live out the service of reconciliation and the word of reconciliation in my life?” And, “How, Lord, are we, as a corporate church body, going to live out the service of reconciliation and the word of reconciliation?”
Why us? Why is this kind of responsibility placed on us, who don’t even belong here, aliens?
Precisely because we don’t belong here!
There is no social or political system that can bring about true morality, justice and reconciliation, because it is the blind leading the blind, the greedy leading the greedy, the unjust leading the unjust – the darkness trying to pull itself out of darkness. The citizens of darkness cannot lift themselves by their own bootstraps out of darkness.
The light is required. YOU are the light of the world, Jesus says. Let your light shine before men so they can see your good deeds and glorify your Father. You notice, once again, don’t you? That while the word of reconciliation is implied in that passage (how else would they know who to glorify?), it is the service of reconciliation that stretches out the light into the night and first grabs hold of the hearts of darkness.
Why us? Because we are the ones who can’t be bought by the darkness.
We are the ones who believe that the world owes us nothing. That this country owes us nothing. We are the ones who have nothing of value to gain from this world. We are the ones who don’t believe that our worth lies in the size of our wallet, or the number of people who know our name, or the amount of power we wield in this world.
In fact, we are the ones who believe that servanthood, rather than power, is the greater aim of the church.
We are the ones who are free to reject the world’s notions of winning and losing, because we already know who the ultimate winner is.
We are the ones who are uniquely equipped to face the worst darkness this world has to throw at us because we stand, both now and for all eternity, outside that darkness. Paul says that what this world has to offer is “light momentary affliction,” but God is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
We are the ones who believe, along with Jim Elliot, that he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.
And the world is not equipped to deal with people who view life this way.
Jesus says about the church: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” We often interpret this as “hell will not be able to defeat us.” But gates are not an offensive weapon. They are a defensive shield.
The meaning is: “The gates of hell are not stronger than us. The gates of hell cannot withstand our attack.”
We are not sitting like terrified mice in the church waiting for the gates of hell to show up and attack us. We are going out into the darkness and we are finding the deepest, darkest strongholds of darkness in this world, and we are banging on those gates, and those gates will not prevail because the power of God abides in us when we live in obedience to Christ.
We will take the battle to the darkness, and we will not quit, to our dying breath.
Earlier I mentioned Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot and Nate Saint and three other men went to the Auca Indians, knowing that any one of the Auca would happily put a spear through their chest. And that is what happened.
A few years later Nate’s sister Rachel and Jim’s wife Elizabeth went back to those same Indians, looked those killers in the eye and offered to them forgiveness – the greatest service of reconciliation.
They did it not because it was safe to go, but precisely because it wasn’t – because here was the place of greatest darkness they knew, and they were determined to bring the light of the gospel there.
They were not super-saints. Nate Saint was just a saint. Like you and me.
They were people like you and me, who took Jesus at his word when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” knowing that whether they passed through the gates of splendor in a week or in forty years, still there would be an eternal weight of glory in store for them there, and they would be in the one home where they truly belonged.
And this world has no defense against people like that. People like us.
How did she make herself ready? What was the wedding gown she wore? She wore a garment made from the righteous deeds of the saints.
Let us go out into this world and start stitching together the most glorious wedding gown imaginable -- one righteous act at a time!
At the top of each transcript of this series I've provided a book recommendation. Now, since you've actually made it to the end, I have a special book recommendation that fits well with the ideas of the Ambassadors message: With Justice for All, by John M. Perkins.