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Second Corinthians

Christ's Ambassador

2 Corinthians 5

Millions of Americans this summer will be ill-housed, scantily clothed and poorly fed. They will struggle with infestations of disease carrying insects. They will attempt to cook outdoors, using equipment not much different than their grandfathers used. They will not sleep in a bed, but on the ground itself. Air conditioning will mean to them to let the breeze come through. They will do this in crowded conditions, sharing toilet facilities in a public park. Water often comes only from a public faucet.


They call it camping.


Isn't it strange that so hard an existence is so popular with us? What we would not tolerate as a standard of living we will cheerfully embrace - for a little while. We need to look at our Christian life in the same way - the world is not our home, we're just passing through. Paul begins our lesson Scripture today in this manner:


{5:1} Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. {2} Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, {3} because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. {4} For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. {5} Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. {6} Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. {7} We live by faith, not by sight. {8} We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. {9} So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. {10} For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

‑‑ 2 Corinthians 5:110 (NIV)


The Last Day


The Christian views his earthly body like a tent: a temporary dwelling, a place of hardship voluntarily shouldered. There are three primary views of the human body:


The Greek/Roman View: This view holds that at death the spirit and the body part company, permanently. One "gives up the ghost" - and ghost is just the older English word for spirit. It is from this view that we get most of our classic ghost stories. Christians often take this view, transmuting it into the idea that when we die, we go to heaven as disembodied spirits to live with Jesus. Permanently. There is no support for this view in the Scripture.

The modern view. This view denies the existence of "spirit" in any sense but the alcoholic. The body is a machine, and as such death means the machine has broken down. Ghosts don't exist, because they can't exist.

Interestingly, however, we see an increase in the "scientific investigation" of ghosts - now renamed with such things as parapsychology. Satan is working to convince man that man is a machine, but there are "life forces" (not spirits, of course). C.S. Lewis identified the ultimate goal of this strategy as the "materialist magician."


The Christian View. The Christian view sees the body as the temporary dwelling place of the spirit - until it is renewed. The resurrection of the body is taught in the church from the time of the Apostles. This explains some interesting writing in the New Testament.


The "suicide" passages - what appears to be a longing for death, for release from the pains of life, is in fact a desire for a much better thing. It's not a desire to "end it all" - rather, it's a desire to go from this mortal body to the glorious one promised.

The purpose of God - see verse 5 - is just that. One of the reasons that God has sent Jesus is that we may eventually (but certainly) rise in such a body, to be sons and daughters of the Most High.


Make no mistake of it: the resurrection of the body is clearly taught. Along with it is taught the judgment to come. For those who are Christians, this will be a time of reward for the sacrifices made for Jesus Christ. It is the time when all things will "come out even." For those who did not see justice in their lives, justice will arrive at the Resurrection and Judgment.


What kind of body will this be? We have little evidence about it other than the accounts of Jesus after the Resurrection. Paul here simply compares it to being naked and loaded down in this body; clothed and free in the next.


How do we know this in our own lives? The seal of the Spirit. It is interesting to note that the Spirit is the person of the Trinity which is portrayed as giving life. The work of the Spirit in our lives is our guarantee.


The "tent" of this body reminds us that we are pilgrims. We are travelers on the caravan of life, pitching our mortal tents each night one day's march closer to home. We so often make the mistake of attempting to build up our campsite into a mansion, when our Lord has one planned for us. Our tent is a fragile thing - ever had one blow over in a storm? - and we must carry it yet a few more days.




{11} Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. {12} We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. {13} If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. {14} For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. {15} And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. {16} So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. {17} Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 5:1117 (NIV)


If there is one topic sure to cause backpedaling, dancing and finger crossing among Sunday School teachers, it is the "fear of the Lord." We have spent so much time teaching "Jesus, gentle Jesus" that we have forgotten that gentleness is born of strength, not of weakness. We do not wish to teach "the fear of the Lord." Yet, says Scripture, it is the beginning of wisdom.


Dwight Eisenhower tells a story which illustrates this fear, and its use as motivation, very well. When he was a young lad, his father had forbidden him to fight with other boys (I've done likewise with mine). So one day his father was surprised to find young Dwight being chased around his own yard by another boy. Dad yelled out to Ike and asked why he let that other boy chase him around. Ike reminded his dad that he was forbidden to fight - and that he'd far rather get a whipping from the other boy than from his dad.


"Chase that boy out of the yard!" his father commanded.


Ike's reaction: "that was enough for me!" He promptly put the other boy to flight.


Fear God, dread naught. Sometimes we refuse to speak to others because we are afraid they may be offended; we will be upset by their reaction. God's not offended that we do not reach out to the lost? Fear God, dread naught.


The world will think this foolishness, of course. So Paul can say that we are fools for Christ. But as the old song reminds us, everybody's somebody's fool. Have you seen what a young man in love will do?


There is a difference between compulsion by love and compulsion by circumstance. Compulsion by circumstance leaves no choices; compulsion by love means obedience among the choices.

This leads us to the Christian point of view: how do we see others, in general? Are they potential rivals? Are they enemies? Are they potential victims? Are they just customers? Or are they men and women for whom Christ died, capable of becoming joint heirs of the kingdom, rising in the resurrection body? Point of view can be everything. Paul asks us to see ourselves as ambassadors for Christ:




{18} All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: {19} that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. {20} We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. {21} God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 5:1821 (NIV)


Now Paul brings all our thoughts together. We are just passing through, living in the tent of this body, in the world but not of the world, on our way home. Meanwhile, however, we are the ambassadors of Christ. Let's think about being an ambassador:


An ambassador is a citizen of his home country, but lives in a foreign land. Indeed, like the Israelites, we are aliens. We must speak the language of the country in which we reside, but also the language of heaven. (Wise as serpents, harmless as doves).


An ambassador is the voice of his home country. He is appointed to speak for his home nation. The message he brings is not of his own doing, but that of his country. Do we speak for the kingdom of heaven?


A country is often judged by its ambassador. If the ambassador is rude and impolite, the natives judge that his country must be full of such people, if this is the best they could send.


The Roman ambassador had another function than these. The word used can mean an ambassador in the sense that we use it today; it can also means something slightly different. Think about western Europe after the Second World War. American ambassadors were called upon to implement the Marshall Plan, which greatly helped to bring about the economic recovery of that area. In Roman times, an ambassador (same word) was appointed to areas which had been newly conquered, and was charged with the responsibility of bringing that area fully into the Roman Empire.


We are such ambassadors. Paul calls us the "ministers of reconciliation." We are the ones who are to bring others into the kingdom of God.


The work has been done. God became man, that men might become like God. Our ambassadors in Europe did not produce the goods we shipped there; rather, they were the ones who represented us there. So we must represent our Lord in this fallen and self destructive world.

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