Standing Apart

Paul the Ambassador
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Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.—2 Corinthians 5:20

David Stein

There is in the New Testament more material about and from the apostle Paul than any other disciple of Jesus. His zeal, knowledge, activity, and sacrifice set him apart as an exceptional example of Christian living. Paul’s love and devotion to fellow members of the body of Christ is a template for all who follow Jesus. Paul’s public ministry was the key that unlocked a great gathering of elect from among the Gentiles. Paul’s exemplary ambassadorship of the heavenly kingdom, as well as his instruction to the early church, is finely detailed in the book of Acts.

In biblical days, the role of an ambassador was somewhat different than today, and more critical due to different communication methods. Today an ambassador can contact his country with urgent questions or vital issues and receive quick instruction on critical matters. In ancient times, however, an ambassador made decisions by himself. Consequently, the selection of an ambassador by a king had to be done with great care. The candidate had to know well the mind and heart of his ruler. He had to know the plans and purposes of his king. He had to be skillful in presenting himself as though he were the monarch himself. The ultimate purpose of an ambassador in any day is to foster a good relationship between the government represented and the people of the host country and its rulers.

Importantly, an ambassador is a citizen of another country. Paul made this clear in his own case and for those who are accepted of God and begotten of the holy spirit: “For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”(Philippians 3:20, ASV). “For he has delivered us out of the dominion of the darkness, and transplanted us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 11:13{FOOTNOTE: Unless otherwise noted, from this point forward all Scripture quotations are from The Centenary Translation by Helen Barrett Montgomery.}

Qualifications of an Ambassador

Paul in his world represented God and Christ in his world. Both his words and actions in the presence of rulers and ordinary people reflected those of his heavenly king. His pastoral counsel brought untold numbers into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Consider the characteristics of an ideal ambassador and how Paul reflected them in his ministry.

Patience. An ambassador listens carefully to both those in his host country and his own country to fully understand their needs and situation. When there is conflict or disagreement, he will seek to bring about mutual understanding. Even as a prisoner Paul’s patience marked his demeanor and submission to providential experiences. Paul in his dealings with rulers sought to bring about mutual understanding concerning the truth.

Wisdom. An ambassador uses his knowledge of people to bring out of conflict, if possible, a positive conclusion for all parties. He looks for common ground on which to dialog. Paul used such wisdom when he was confronted by hostile Jews and Greek crowds and when questioned by rulers.

Graciousness of Speech. An ambassador is a spokesperson for his country and, as such, must be careful not to offend but to entreat and encourage. Paul placed the good of others at the forefront of everything (1 Corinthians 10:32,33; Acts 17:22).

Generous. An ambassador is concerned for the interests of others and will use his time and talents to help others, especially as it promotes the interests of his home government, even at personal sacrifice. Paul laid down his life for kingdom interests (Philippians 2:4).

Reasonableness. An ambassador will try to help those in his host country and persuade them to appreciate the benefit of his counsel. Paul continually appealed to others to accept his counsel concerning Christ’s kingdom and the blessing it will be to all.

Honesty. An ambassador tells the truth and uses facts to persuade others. He neither deceives nor exaggerates to achieve his way. Paul could be brutally honest when required, even to the point of upbraiding Peter for behavior unbecoming of a fellow ambassador (Galatians. 2:11-14).

Readiness of Mind. An ambassador is ever alert for every opportunity to represent and promote the interest of his government and will not retreat from challenges or difficulties. Paul never passed an opportunity to preach Christ and his kingdom and he embraced his apostleship with relish.

Humility. An ambassador recognizes that he has no personal authority apart from the country he represents. Further, as he provides instruction and direction, he explains the laws of his home country. Paul was clearly a leading light in the early church, yet he considered himself the “least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 2:3).

Before Kings

In Acts 24, Paul stood before Felix, the procurator of the Roman province of Judea. His miraculous encounter with the glorified Jesus while still an enemy of the truth, the miraculous recovery of his eyesight, and his years in private study and meditation were past. He had been faithfully preaching the gospel of the kingdom for many years and had faced much opposition. Now, on a visit to Jerusalem, he had been imprisoned. Paul defended himself before Felix by preaching a central doctrine of the kingdom, the resurrection: “Having hope toward God, which these also themselves look for, that there is to be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).

Paul not only declared resurrection truth important—a vital aspect of God’s kingdom—but he used it to mount his defense. He knew that his enemies were divided about the doctrine of the resurrection and he wanted to show Felix that there was no seditious talk, only doctrinal disputes between Paul and the Jewish leaders. As he was an ambassador for Christ’s kingdom, the good news of a resurrection should have had an exciting effect upon his hearers. But their faith was too weak to grasp its beauty and reality.

Felix’s motives were selfish. Although he entertained multiple sessions with the apostle, he kept Paul under house arrest for two years. Paul must have shown great patience during these interviews. Felix curried favor with the Jews and was probably hoping that Paul might offer money for his release (Acts 24:26). Finally, Felix left and a new procurator, Festus, was appointed. Paul’s enemies lost no time in instigating another plot to kill him. Paul once again was called upon to defend himself before the procurator. True to his ambassadorship, Paul assured Festus that he was no seditionist: “Paul said in his defense, I have committed no crime against the Law of the Jews, against the Temple, or against Caesar” (Acts. 25:8).

Paul further defended himself when King Agrippa came to visit Festus, telling both men of his miraculous encounter with Jesus and how he was engaged in Jesus’ service: “But rise and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you in order to appoint you my minister and my witness both of what you have already seen and of those things in which I will appear to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, in order to receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16-18).

Paul went on to discuss his commission from the risen Christ and how it had elicited hate and murderous intentions on the part of Jews who opposed his message. It must have been a dramatic narration, because Festus told Paul that all his learning must have made him crazy (verse 24)! However, King Agrippa, of partly Jewish nationality, responded to Paul’s reasoning by saying, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (verse 28, KJV).

As a result of this interview, Paul was declared innocent, but was sent to appear before Caesar as he had requested. There is no biblical record of Paul’s interview with Caesar, yet it is certain that such a meeting took place because the angel said to him, “Fear not, Paul; you must stand before Caesar” (Acts 27:24). Think of the foremost ambassador of the kingdom of God standing before the foremost ruler of the ancient world! How we would love to know how that conversation went! The apostle Paul was indeed a grand witness and ambassador of Christ before the kings of the world.

Like Paul, throughout this Gospel age consecrated Christians have stood before political and religious rulers of this world. In the Scriptures, there are indications that the same might happen at the end of this age. How it will happen and what might precipitate it is not indicated. Should we have that privilege, let us trust that we may, like the apostle Paul, represent our heavenly citizenship with courage and zeal as ambassadors of the kingdom. If we, like the apostle Paul, suffer martyrdom, it will be a glory to our God. As Ezekiel wrote multiple times concerning these nations: “They shall know that I am Jehovah” (Ezekiel 6:10).

The Reconciling Ambassador

Bringing Jews AND Gentiles together in Christ was one of Paul’s more important functions, and of other ambassadors for Christ that followed him. This role is detailed throughout the book of Ephesians.

In chapter two, Paul wrote at length about the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile to God by the blood of Christ. On the basis of that explanation he continued in chapter three as he detailed his commission as a reconciler:

“Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.”—Verse 1

“…the stewardship of the grace of God entrusted to me for you.”—Verse 2

“…in Christ Jesus the Gentiles form one body with us the Jews, and are coheirs and copartners in the promise, through the gospel.” —Verse 6

“…I should proclaim among the Gentiles the gospel.”—Verse 8

“…In him we have this fearless confidence and boldness of access through our faith in him.” —Verse 12

Each of these texts shows the bringing together of that which was apart. It was the ministry of Paul that was directed of God to do this. This is the good news (the meaning of the word gospel) of Paul’s ambassadorship. The powerful working of God’s spirit produced this wonderful fruitage: “Thus he [Christ] reconciled us both in one body to God by his cross, on which he slew our enmity. So he came preaching Peace to you Gentiles who were afar off and Peace to us Jews who were near; because it is through him that we both have access in one spirit to the Father. Take notice then that no longer are you strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:16-19)

The risen Jesus has become the “peace” between Jew and Gentile. Considering that Gentile means every non-Jew on earth, we see again the universal power of Jesus’ sacrifice. It will reverse the great curse that came out of the dividing of languages at the Tower of Babel. Here the diverse nations were born when they sinned against God by trying to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). Now, in proclaiming the name of God and the name of Jesus, we find the correction of that great sin in the unifying of the world starting with the church. This was a mystery, a secret to the world in previous ages, but now revealed to Paul, who revealed it to others of faith.

The word apostle means “one sent forth.” Synonyms might be representative or delegate, and even ambassador. Paul referred to himself as an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). This is hardly the view we take of diplomatic ambassadors today. But Paul does not say this to elicit pity. Rather he tells the church not to lose heart over what he is suffering because it is for the church’s glory. Truly he was a great ambassador!

He said we all should be ambassadors: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20, KJV). Consequently, we can learn by Paul’s wonderful example of ambassadorship and demonstrate, as he did, a ministry of reconciliation now. Our Christ-like behavior in this world brings a certain amount of help and healing to a world that needs deliverance. “A wicked messenger falleth into unhappiness; but a faithful ambassador bringeth healing” (Proverbs 13:17, Leeser). This will prepare us well for the greater reconciliation of all mankind in which we will participate, no longer as ambassadors, but rather as kings and priests with Jesus. What a hope is ours! Let us strive to follow more closely the example of this ideal ambassador for Christ.