The Ministry of Reconciliation
One of the most important things to do when you get a new car is (I'm told, having never owned one myself) to treat it like a new car until it inevitably receives some kind of blemish, it's first scratch. Once it's acquired its first injury, you can stop treating it like a brand new car. Gladly, after an exhausting weekend and one of those little head colds that I get every other week now, courtesy of my infant daughter's daycare cohort, we have received our first scratch on my perfect record. I wanted to get this topic down on “paper” though, so we can start to develop it in relationship to the previous two pillars, Embassy and Mission. Let's proceed with the quotation from St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians that this specific phrase, “The Ministry of Reconciliation” is pulled from:
2 Corinthians, Chapter 5 (NASB95)
- For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
- For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,
- inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
- For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
- Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
- Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—
- for we walk by faith, not by sight—
- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
- Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
- For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
- Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.
- We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.
- For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.
- For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
- and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
- Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
- Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
- Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
- namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
- Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
- He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God.
Ok so one of my favorite theologians writing and speaking today is a man named Chris Green, and during a recent talk he gave at my church he made an observation that stuck with me. He pointed out that a lot of times, our approach to Scripture is to first, regard it with fear and trembling (good), but to then go find out what, for example, the book of Jonah is “supposed” to mean, else fall back on a simplified interpretation we received as young people, maybe in Sunday School, maybe in the culture at large. We then take that interpretation, then we apply it to the scripture as we read it, sometimes blowing past what the scripture is telling us, what it actually says there on the page. He advocates for recovering a very careful and deliberate reading practice of scripture, to let the text speak for itself before we speak for it.
I mention this, not only because of its influence on me and my study practice, but also to say that there's a way in which the Church can coin jargon like “Being Reconciled to Christ” out of the scripture, say that it means “being saved” or “being a Christian”, and then we can let that good natured smoothing over to prevent us from getting every ounce of nuance that's available to us in the scripture. Hopefully this example will make what I'm trying to say more clear.
Consider the selection from above: v20. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
That last phrase, “be reconciled to God,” in our jargon, if we translate it as “Become a Born Again Christian”, then the point of this passage is to say that to be an Ambassador for Christ is to beg people to come to the altar, confess your sins and accept Christ as your savior. Simple. And don't get me wrong, this absolutely is part of the mandate of the Church, but going back and reading more carefully is going to give us the whole picture on what exactly Paul is saying here.
v18. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, v19. namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
If I was doing five points and an hour and a half on this section we'd go back even farther, but I think this will do. Verse 18 refers to “all these things”, that is, the person of Christ, what He did and the effects of what He did, are from God, “who reconciled us to Himself through Christ”. That word, reconciled, what does it mean to you?
I'm not going to copypasta a definition from the dictionary for reconciliation, but it's a relatively specific word that belongs adjacent to ideas like “repair”, “health”, “renovation”, or “setting right”. It means the repair of interpersonal relationships. When Jacob reconciled with Esau, they repaired the brotherly, familial relationship that Jacob broke when he tricked the blessing out of Isaac and took off before Esau could kill him. When you reconcile with a friend, you're fixing a relationship after an injury. You can't be reconciled with someone you've never met, we don't use it for the creation of a new relationship. We also don't really use it for situations where maybe justice has been done, but the friendship remains broken. If you were forced to pay me for the cow that your dog killed by the local magistrate, but you still refused to talk to me, that's not reconciliation. You may be justified under the law, but we are not repaired to the way we were before.
So reconciliation has a pretty specific meaning here, that through Christ, God repaired the relationship between us and Him, and “gave us the ministry of reconciliation”. The Greek word here translated as “ministry” is diakonia, and “ministry” is a pretty good translation for it, in one way. The connotations are those of service, like waiting tables or tending to the needs of others, and also to the work of a government official, particularly one acting on behalf of a superior. This use of “minister” is more common in British English, I think, than in American English, but it's beginning to paint a picture for us. God repaired the relationship between us, and then he gave us a job.
Paul clarifies that we're given this job because it's the job that Jesus had/has/will have, “Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”. We, being in Christ, have the same job that He has, this Ministry, this Word of Reconciliation. Reading “Ministry” in it's governmental mode helps us see how connected this idea is to the phrase in v 20, “We are Ambassadors for Christ”. We aren't just any kind of governmental minister, we are Diplomats.
Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God
And we come back to the Embassy that we started with, that I titled the Blog with. We are Christ's Ambassadors, Diplomats of the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom that would reconquer the world not with force, with power, with the sword, but instead would reconquer the world with the kind of love that has no fear of Death, for the Love we follow and emulate has conquered Death.
This is really the core metaphor, word picture, that I'll be drawing on for the remainder of this work. We have been adopted out of whatever citizenship we held before, whatever full faith and allegiance we offered before, to give that full faith and allegiance to the Kingdom of God and it's King, Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ. He is so happy to have us that He makes us part of his government that is responsible for repairing the relationship between his Kingdom and the surrounding Nations, whether those are Nation States, Local Governments, Ethnic Groups or, indeed, those petty feifdoms we often spend eight hours of our day interacting with. He sends us into those places with the calling and mandate to be prepared for any opportunity to improve relations between these two kingdoms, and to do it the way Jesus would do it. We don't come to be serve, but to serve. We don't govern with Power, but with Love. We don't engage in inhumane shortcuts, but insist on the dignity of every human being in our charge.
My friend, you may be working in a job you didn't want, didn't ask for, and don't have any respect for. Let's say, for example, that you're working in a discount hardware store because you need a job and your friend at church was able to get you a job pretty quickly there. You asked to be sent, and the Lord sent you to the back end of the cruddy part of your town. The Lord has work for you there.
My friend, you may be working hard in a job you did want, you prepared for, that you love. You've been doing your best to be nice, ethical, but you never really thought of yourself as the missionary type. You wanted to change the world as a young person, but these days you're just happy to be able to feed your family, give a little extra when the pastor asks for it, and go on a vacation every once in a while. You never asked to be sent, but the Lord sent you anyways. The Lord has work for you there.
You are Christ's Ambassador.
We'll be exploring exactly what that means next time.
This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #5