Topical Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
BlackBerries and other personal digital assistants are so much a fact of life that Hyatt hotels now offer a special hand, arm, and thumb massage called “BlackBerry Balm.” Google considered changing its search engine to show 30 results rather than 10, but people didn’t want to wait the extra half-second. Ninety one percent of us watch TV while we eat; 26 percent admit they “often eat while driving,” and 35 percent of us eat lunch at our desks while working. A “Labor Day” to rest from labor has never been a better idea.
Since 1955, our average income after inflation has tripled, while life expectancy has increased roughly 10 percent. So we have more to spend and do, but not more time to do it. The result is a world obsessed with speed, and filled with stress as a result.
Our problem began when we shifted from agriculture to industry. We migrated from the farm, where our work and our lives were intermingled, for the factory. We left home for work, and left work for home. But now technology follows us everywhere we go. And we feel incredibly stressed by the fact that we can never quit (The Age of Speed: Learning to thrive in a more-faster-now world).
The answer is not to work less, or work faster and harder. The answer is to work on purpose. It is to find a life purpose which gives you significance, direction, and joy. Then make everything you do serve that purpose, “work” and the rest of your day–when you’re at school, in the office, sitting at home. We will resolve our need for speed, our stress and struggle to survive in a breakneck world, when we have a simple, single purpose and align our lives with it.
Easy enough. What should that purpose be? Your Maker has an answer for that question.
Be reconciled to God
“Reconciliation,” the concept of restoring the relationship between God and humanity, was unknown to the Greco-Roman world before Christ. No Greek writer ever used the word in this way, for none had ever considered the possibility that we would want a personal relationship with the gods. You wanted to stay as far from Zeus and his thunderbolts as possible. A man on a sinking ship cried out to the gods for help, when a fellow sailor said, “Quiet! Better not to let them know where we are!”
But our King and Lord wants precisely this with us. He took the initiative. He made us right with himself “through Christ Jesus,” through his death on the cross. He paid our debt; he took our punishment; he died in our place. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (v. 21).
Then he “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
“Gave” means to bestow favor and privilege. It is the greatest possible privilege to be used in reconciling the human race to God. You and I did not earn or deserve this honor. We are no better than those we are sent to reach. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. We are beggars telling other beggars where we found bread.
Ours is the “ministry” or “service” of reconciliation. This is a service we perform, a ministry we provide. We are not pushing our beliefs on others. One of the reasons evangelism is hard for so many of us is that we don’t want to offend people. But the doctor isn’t being offensive when she prescribes the medicine you need; the pharmacist isn’t being offensive when he gives it to you. The coach who helps you play better golf; the mechanic who makes your car run; the IT person who fixes your computer are all performing a service. They’re not judging you–they’re helping you.
Our message is clear and simple. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” The “world,” for “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16); God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9); God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
God is doing this. You and I cannot convict a single person of a single sin, or save a single soul. We cannot get people from hell into heaven. This is not our job. Our job is to deliver the message, and trust God to use his word by the power of his Spirit.
God has “committed to us the message of reconciliation.” He has “committed” it to us–the word means to give over, to lay aside for another. God has given this message to us and to no other. We are the world’s only hope.
Invite the world to God
With this result: “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” (v. 20).
If you were to be America’s ambassador to another country, which would you choose? I’d choose England hands down. If there were two of me, one would live in Dallas and one would live in London. Our Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Robert Holmes Tuttle, has my dream job. Let’s use him as an analogy for God’s call to us.
Ambassadors belong to the country they serve. Ambassador Tuttle serves at the sole discretion and pleasure of President Bush. He does not serve America and England, the president and the prime minister. He is an American citizen, living in American property. He retains his American citizenship all the time he lives in London.
In the same way, you and I are “Christ’s ambassadors”–the original is a genitive of possession, signifying that we belong to him and to no other. We do not serve Christ and our job, Christ and our school, Christ and our friends, Christ and our ambitions. We serve only Christ. We belong only to Christ. We live in his property, our lives at his disposal. We are his alone.
Ambassadors are told what to say. Ambassador Tuttle has no independent message to deliver. He does not negotiate with England of his own volition. He has no ability to sign a treaty in his name. He is the president’s spokesman, his instrument for conveying his message.
In the same way, we have been given our message “as though God were making his appeal through us.” When we speak the gospel, God speaks through us. When we share God’s word, God’s Spirit works with and through us. He communicates his truth. He convicts of sin and converts souls. He changes lives, heals marriages, shapes lives. He does his work by his word through us. As we work, God works.
We have but one message: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Accept his forgiveness and favor. Ask for the gift of eternal life. Ask him to reconcile you to himself, to return you to the relationship you had before sin destroyed everything. Ask to be restored, and you will be. The slate wiped clean, your past forgiven, your present in his hands, your future assured. This is our message. We have no other.
Serve your Lord
The only thing an ambassador can do wrong is refuse to submit to the authority of the president. So long as he goes where he is sent, says what he is told to say, and does what he is told to do, he will serve effectively and well. So with us. It’s not about us.
The problem is, this is not the version of Christianity you’ve heard most of your life. For more than century, popular Christianity has been made a self-help guide to happier living. Confess your sins so you can be forgiven and go to heaven–who wouldn’t want that? Come to church so we can help you with your marriage and money–who wouldn’t want that? Come for what you can get. If you don’t get what you want, go somewhere else. If we focused only on helping you find success without stress, our culture would like nothing more.
Is this the invitation of Jesus Christ? His message in a sentence was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). He warned his followers, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This is why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
God has led me often in recent months to remind you that Christianity was never meant to be a Sunday morning, check-the-box religion, a bank where you go to get what you need for the week. No other religion works that way. Muslims pray five times a day, every day; Buddhists and Hindus live every moment by their religions; Orthodox Jews govern every detail of their lives by the Law.
But in the West we have divided Sunday from Monday, religion from the real world. This is the great heresy, the great lie–to believe we can serve God and ourselves, God and our plans, God and our friends or clients or colleagues, God and the world. Jesus was blunt: “you cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:23, NRSV).
So there must come the time when we make our choice. We belong to God. We are his children. He has sent us as his ambassadors to the foreign country of Dallas, to deliver his message of reconciliation in everything we do. This is the purpose with which our lives must be aligned. This is why we work at our jobs, and go to our schools, and live our lives. All to be the ambassador of Christ, bringing his love and grace to everyone we can influence. Everything is a means to this end.
But we can choose to abandon our Lord and calling. We can choose to serve England instead of America, to care more what our friends think than our Father wants, to live more for this place where we are temporarily assigned than for the eternal home to which we will one day go.
We can make prayer and Bible study one more task of the day, ministry one more responsibility we must fulfill. And we will go through life without direction, significance, or joy. When it is over, we will have missed it. Our lives will matter not at all.
The choice is ours.
Those used greatly by God have all come to this place of surrender, of aligning their lives with the one purpose of serving Jesus Christ every moment, in every way. The Chinese theologian Watchman Nee said it well:
“A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ…there must be a day when, without reservation, we surrender everything to Him–ourselves, our families, our possessions, our business and our time. All we are and have becomes His, to be held henceforth entirely at His disposal.
“From that day we are no longer our own masters, but only stewards. Not until the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a settled thing in our hearts can the Holy Spirit really operate effectively in us. He cannot direct our lives effectively until all control of them is committed to Him. If we do not give Him absolute authority in our lives, He can be present, but He cannot be powerful. The power of the Spirit is stayed” (The Normal Christian Life 134-5).
Are you experiencing the power of the Spirit in your life? Power over temptation? Power to stand for Christ? To serve Christ? To share Christ? If not, is this the reason?
Andrew Murray said, “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to him.” Will yours be that life today?