For context, read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

If you’re anything like me, you may have trouble with the word Ambassador let alone understanding what Paul means by reconciliation here. Those two words together conjure up all sorts of images and definitions.  

In Paul’s day, the vocation of an Ambassador had political overtones. Ambassadors gathered intelligence and negotiated trade deals which often meant offering compromises and wielding threats. But that wasn’t what Paul had in mind here. Our challenge is to understand Paul’s theology and intension while trying not to let our own cultural context blur our interpretation.  

What Did Paul Mean By ‘Ambassadors of Reconciliation?’

If you’ve grown up in church, you probably have a definition in mind already. I did when I first began looking at this passage again recently.

For as long as I can remember the teaching of the Church has paid scant attention to the oppressive Greco Roman society of Paul’s day, opting instead to portray Paul, the great missionary, as solely focused on conversion and the spiritual formation of believers.

But can I be bold and say, ‘this simply isn’t true’? Paul had a much bigger and broader focus. Ched Myers and Elaine Enns put it this way, ‘we must understand Paul’s theology of reconciliation in the context of his commitment to ethnic peace and economic equity in the teeth of a hostile first century Roman imperial society.‘†

As part of what was considered a Christian sect, Paul couldn’t possibly isolate his teaching from the lived experience of believers given the deep connections between the dominant Roman culture that imposed ethnic segregation combined with religious and economic oppression. This context strongly influenced Paul’s theology as he developed a strategy and vision for the Church going forward.

As the Roman imperial regime subdued and divided, Paul called believers to subvert the dominant culture through reconciliation. As God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, he summons us to a ministry of reconciliation.

How scary and cool is that? This, says Paul, is how the restorative justice and the peace of God plays out in our world of oppression. Our response to God’s expression of grace (we’ve been reconciled to God) is to work for the liberation, through the reconciliation, of the world. Paul is saying, in Christ we’re a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) so we’re going to see, live and act differently than the dominant culture around us.

Ambassadors are therefore part of the revolutionary movement that is always working towards restoration through reconciliation. This was Paul’s vision for the alternative communities he called ecclesia, and we now know as the Church.

Three Key Characteristics for Ambassadors of Reconciliation

Hospitality: Everyone Is Welcome

For this restoration through reconciliation to be reality, unlike the dominant culture, everyone must be welcome at the table.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28 NRSV).

The Church (Ambassadors) are to be known by who they are for, and not who they’re against. This, says Paul, is because Ambassadors no longer regard anyone from a human point of view, everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

If God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and we’re entrusted to this same message of reconciliation it changes the way we see and respond to everyone (2 Corinthians 5:19).

If it was wrong for Rome to persecute Paul’s own people, the Jews, then it was wrong to force Gentile Christians to conform to Jewish customs just to have a place at the table. The proper response to God’s expression of grace was to welcome Roman citizens into Christian community. Wow!

Take a moment. Is today’s church known for who they (we) are for or who they (we) are against? Have we, at times, used Paul’s letters to reinforce division rather than restoration?

As Ambassadors, who is welcome at our table?

Mutual Sharing: Downward Mobility

For restoration through reconciliation to be reality, it meant embracing ‘downward mobility,’ a lowering of one’s social class in favour of wealth redistribution. Corinth, originally a Greek city became a Roman colony, a city of new wealth. The system was simple; for the rich to enjoy ongoing prosperity, the working class and slaves served the elite.

Similar systems are in full swing today. Paul, influenced by Christ (Phil 2:7; 2 Cor 8:9), called the Corinthian believers to usurp the oppressive culture by sharing what they had with each other no matter who the ‘each other’ were, As it is written, the one who had much and the one who had little did not have too little (2 Cor 8:15). Paul’s vision for the church meant sharing beyond rich and poor to challenging the social boundaries, and sharing between Jew and Gentile.

A commitment to downward mobility had huge ramifications. This system of dependence between rich and poor was the glue that held the oppressive relationships of the empire in place. Refusing to be a client of the rich, Paul chose the harder road of supporting himself through manual labour. As the son of a Jewish Roman citizen that didn’t have to be his lot. But he chose the status of a slave not only to serve people but the gospel he was so passionate about (2 Cor 6:3-10).

Take a moment. Paul, through Jesus’ example believed downward mobility was central to the gospel. What would Paul have to say about the prosperity gospel often preached today? Is prosperity just another word for greed?

As Ambassadors for Christ, what does downward mobility look like for us?

Generosity Towards the Poor

For restoration through reconciliation to be reality, Paul encourages the ecclesia of believers to go beyond mutual sharing to giving generously to the poor wherever they might be. The believers from Macedonia and Achaia shared their resources with the poor who were far away in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26). Generosity was a natural act by believers reconciled to Christ who participated in the ministry of reconciliation.

Take one more moment. Generosity seems to be a big part of what it means to an ambassador. Is it easier to be generous with your time or money? Why is generosity so central to the ministry of reconciliation?

Becoming the Justice of God

God calls all believers to the vocation of restorative justice and peacemaking articulated in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.

Hospitality, downward mobility, and generosity towards people living in poverty are key Ambassador attributes.

And Verse 21 sums it all up. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Having been reconciled in him, we become the justice of God for the liberation of the world.

Being an ambassador is not for the faint hearted. We invite you to join us!

loc 200, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Kindle version