The writers of the New Testament focused on many major themes—becoming like Christ, how to treat each other, how to interact and live in the world, what we shall become. In reading their letters and epistles, we can see that we are to be easily distinguishable from the world around us, yet not withdraw from society and live as hermits. We are to interact and live in the world and yet remain unspotted from it. These instructions can seem contradictory at times, and it can be difficult finding the right line to walk (the ‘narrow’ path, as it may be).
In telling the Philippians not to walk as the world, Paul tells them, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). In other words, we do not claim citizenship of this world, and though we are currently living here, it is only a temporary home.
He then uses an analogy that all his readers would have easily understood, and from which we today can learn a lot. “Now then,” he says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). The Greek word here translated “ambassador” is presbueo, which means “to act as a representative”. The Latin equivalent used by the Romans (who were in power at the time) was legatus or “legate” in English, which had several meanings including that of a diplomatic emissary sent on a mission abroad. In most respects, the role of an ambassador or legate in ancient Rome was not all that different from our modern-day ambassadors, and being chosen as one was a great honor.
For us today, being told we are ambassadors for Christ may not fully resonate and provide specific guidelines for living our lives. So it’s worthwhile to examine what the characteristics, responsibilities, and lifestyle of an ambassador should be, and see how we can apply them to our lives today. Obviously, though many ambassadors in today’s world (as with all politicians) use lies and manipulation in their jobs, the principles of a good ambassador remain the same.
What is an ambassador?
Ambassadors are the highest-ranking representatives of their governments abroad, and their primary responsibility is to represent and work towards the best interests of their government or head of state. They are not elected—instead they are chosen by the government or head of state, and it is a huge honor to be chosen as one. We, too, were bestowed with an enormous honor when God called and chose us to follow Him (I Cor. 1:26).
When an ambassador is chosen and sent to live and work in a foreign country, they still remain a citizen of their home country and follow that country’s laws above their own. Peter and the other apostles stated the same when told not to teach in Jesus’ name in Jerusalem any more, telling the officers coming to arrest them, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This doesn’t mean that we can ignore all of our host country’s laws (though today’s ambassadors often can). Jesus told His disciples to “render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). We have to pay taxes, obey traffic laws, and keep from committing felonies, but when man’s law and God’s law conflict, our highest allegiance is always to God.
As Christ often warned His disciples, this ultimate allegiance to God means that we will often be unpopular for refusing to conform to the world’s standards. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). This doesn’t mean we should just isolate ourselves from society, though. Jesus also told His disciples that they were “the light of the world” and that “a city on a hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14), and told them to go into the world to make disciples—we clearly have a responsibility to fulfill.
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Responsibilities of an Ambassador
The primary responsibility of an ambassador is to accurately represent and advocate for their home country’s goals while abroad. In order to do this, they have to be thoroughly acquainted with their country’s and ruler’s policies, thoughts, and which outcomes are favorable or unacceptable. Similarly, we have to have a full, working (that means practical and useful) knowledge of God’s plan—what has brought us to this point in history, how He plans to accomplish His end goal, and what our role is and will be—in order to be effective ambassadors for God and Christ on earth.
One important thing to remember is that up until the last several decades, ambassadors (much like military leaders) had to do their work almost completely isolated from their country and ruler. It is only since the mass adoption of the telephone that ambassadors have been able to (or had to, depending on your viewpoint) check in constantly with their country’s government to receive directions and permission to make decisions. For thousands of years before that, ambassadors lived in a foreign country, isolated except for an occasional letter or visitor from their home, conversing with foreign governments, proposing treaties, and helping further diplomatic relationships between countries. This was a huge responsibility, and made it especially crucial that they understood their missions, their ruler’s desires and goals, and how to achieve them.
Benjamin Franklin is an excellent example of this type of ambassador. What many people do not know is that the U.S. could never have won the Revolutionary War without his efforts as an ambassador to France. While letters traveling across the ocean took months to arrive and be responded to, Franklin pursued the course he had been sent to follow, that of bringing the French into the war on America’s side. He couldn’t just telephone up the Continental Congress to see what they thought—he had to already know what they would think and how to make it happen. This he did, gradually and diplomatically bringing France into a military alliance with the fledgling U.S. and later negotiating the Treaty of Paris. In doing so, he ultimately doomed the British to fight two costly wars at once, spreading them so thin that they couldn’t defeat the little upstart country.
Likewise, God does not give us a script or dictate exact actions or conversations over the phone. Instead, He gives us a manual with a host of guidelines, examples, some hard-and-fast do’s and don’ts, and tells us what our ultimate goal is (eternal life in His kingdom). He does not tell us every minute step we must take to get there and every trial we’ll face along the way. He gives us His spirit, His laws and teachings, and then empowers us to live our lives and make our own choices. We can go to him and ask Him questions. Sometimes we’ll get an immediate answer, but more often the answer is “look at the instruction manual.”
This is why we must spend time reading the bible, studying it and thinking about it, learning its nuances and connections. We must spend time in prayer with God so that the lines of communication are open and understandable. This way when a situation arises, a conversation reaches a critical point, or a decision must be made, we already have the clarity of purpose to know how to proceed. This training is especially important because not only are we currently ambassadors, but this role is preparing us for our future eternal position leading and ruling as kings and priests in God’s kingdom.
Additionally, ambassadors are responsible for protecting and defending their fellow countrymen abroad—in our case, our brethren. Paul explains to the Philippians how they should be caring for each other:
“…fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:2-4).
Christ told His disciples that their love for one another would be an identifying characteristic to the world (John 13:35). This was why Paul so severely chastised various groups of the ekklesia when they were disputing, judging, showing partiality to the wealthy, taking each other to court, and otherwise treating each other with disrespect (Rom. 14-15, I Cor. 6, I Cor. 11). We must spend time with our fellow brethren, exhort each other through trials, help the widows and those who are alone, and constantly be developing the outgoing, action-oriented love (agape) of God.
One interesting aspect of ambassadorship is that the embassy is considered property of the ambassador’s home country. So if you visit an American embassy in Paris, you are stepping onto American soil when you walk in. As ambassadors for Christ, anyone who comes into contact with us should realize that they’re dealing with something a little different. We should “reflect the glory of the Lord” and look “more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (II Cor. 3:18 NLT). That doesn’t mean that we’re going around shoving our beliefs in others’ faces, but rather than when someone comes into contact with us they should be able to see and feel God in our dealings.
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Characteristics of an Ambassador
Ambassadors come from a wide variety of backgrounds with different personalities and upbringings, but there are a number of personality traits and character virtues that they must develop and refine in order to be successful. These characteristics are similar to those we must develop as current ambassadors for Christ in order to be equipped for our future roles in the kingdom.
A firm foundation is critical for an ambassador—he or she must be a strong leader, respected and trusted, passionate about their job, with a strong sense of patriotism for their home country. Our foundation is, likewise, of absolute importance. Without a solid foundation of God’s law, His plan, and His purpose for us through repentance and baptism, we cannot succeed in our quest for the kingdom—our ultimate home country (Heb. 6:1). They also need to be well-educated about their home and host countries’ history and current circumstances, able to understand potential obstacles, read situations and know the best course of action. Paul tells us we, too, must “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil…do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15).
One thing ambassadors must always be conscious of is the fact that they are a minority in their host country (as God’s people are in the world) and be able to relate to many different types of people (I Cor. 9:19-22). They must always be diplomatic, using tact, wisdom, and discretion to navigate a foreign country. As Christ’s ambassadors, we must remember that we are not told to go around offending people left and right, even when we disagree with the way they’re living their lives. If you look at Christ’s example, the only people he strongly chastised and offended were people like the Pharisees who set themselves up as spiritual leaders and led the people astray. Christ was loving, conciliatory, and forgiving toward the tax collectors, prostitutes, cripples, and others looked down on by society.
Paul gives us a good rule of thumb to live by, saying, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). In other words, a good ambassador (whether worldly or of Christ) knows when to speak, and that sometimes keeping your mouth shut is the wisest and most loving course. Just because something is true does not make it right. We’re told our speech should be “with grace, seasoned with salt”—in other words, adding flavor and benefiting the hearer (Col. 4:16). We are to always be ready to give an answer, but an answer that is right not only in content but also in tone and communication for the audience.
Along with gracious and wise speech, ambassadors much have the ability to teach and lead others. For Christ’s ambassadors, this is an incredibly important trait now but even more so in the kingdom, when we will be teaching and training the whole world. Paul tells Timothy, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (II Tim. 2:24).
The bible gives us myriad qualities we should be cultivating to help us become better and more effective ambassadors for Christ. Paul, in particular, was fond of writing whole lists of character traits (Tit. 1:5-9, Tit. 1:5-9, I Tim. 3). These lists cover all sorts of ground, from self-control and patience, to soundness of faith and gentleness, to very practical things such as being hospitable (of extreme importance to worldly ambassadors as well).
Finally, a good ambassador is entirely grounded in ethical and moral judgment because they are constantly facing situations that do not have black-and-white answers. The only way for Christ’s ambassadors to be able to do this is to have God’s spirit dwelling in them and be connected to Him 24/7. Solomon prayed for the same kind of discernment when he was anointed king of Israel, saying, “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (I Kings 3:9). Centuries later, Paul wrote to Timothy that he must “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). Our role in the kingdom will be ruling, leading, and judging the nations, and we have to be preparing for this in our physical lives today.
Are we becoming good ambassadors for Christ?
Many places in the bible make clear that we are not to take part in this world’s rebellion against God, but that we are to be His representatives here on earth for the present. Peter wrote to the ekklesia, encouraging them:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims [i.e. not citizens, not of this world/land], abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (I Pet. 2:9-11)
We are called to be strangers in this world—not to blend in, but proudly represent and advocate for our home country as well as we possibly can until it is time to dwell in our home country for eternity. Paul encouraged the scattered Hebrews with this thought:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13-16)