Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ambassadors for Christ

We are... ambassadors for Christ... 2 Corinthians 5:20

I remember once when I was at school the headmaster gave us a telling off in the assembly. Some of us apparently were behaving badly in the streets round about. "All right," he said, "the school day may be over, but as long as you are wearing your uniform you are ambassadors for this school." The reputation of the school was in our hands, he told us, and he made it very clear that he wasn't happy that that reputation had been muddied by a handful of pupils.

Ambassadors... What does that word really mean? An ambassador is a person who officially represents a country and its government to another country. He or she will have an office in that country's capital city, and his or her job is to speak on behalf of the government back home.

If the ambassador is dishonest, lazy, a drunkard or whatever, well, that won't reflect very well on the country he represents. Every now and then, indeed, the news tells us about an ambassador who has been suddenly "recalled" because of some scandal or other. An ambassador has to be of the highest character and integrity.

Well, it's interesting that Paul uses that word to describe us as Christians.

Strictly, in fact, he is speaking here about himself and his colleagues in their role as preachers and apostles; but I'm sure he would agree that every Christian is an ambassador in a wider sense in this world. We all represent Christ. We all speak for him. Yes, in a very real sense his reputation is in our hands. 

The Christian who behaves badly invites the cynical comment from the non-Christian, "Well, if that's what Christianity does for you, I'm happy to do without it, thank you very much." My own father held out against Christianity until very late in his life; one of the reasons he gave was a man who worked in the same office who was a lay preacher on Sundays, but who told coarse jokes when at work. 

But the Christian who models the goodness, strength and beauty of Jesus by life and word acts as a challenge and an inspiration to everyone he or she meets.

When we come together for worship and fellowship on Sundays we are (usually at least!) on our best behaviour. We are polite, smiling, friendly, helpful. But of course the time in the week that matters most is when we aren't in church - when we are in our places of work or leisure, or just around where we live. What are we like then? 

Indeed, let’s go even further and ask what are we like in the privacy of our homes, when only those closest to us can see us? What sort of ambassadors for Christ are we then? You occasionally hear disturbing stories of seemingly model church members - elders, teachers, leaders, preachers - who are exposed as monsters to their own family. 

There’s one specially troubling thing about all this: the last people to recognise the flaws in our characters are likely to be - we ourselves. What is glaringly obvious to everyone who knows us even slightly is often something we’re blissfully unaware of. Can I suggest a few moments, perhaps right now, of prayerful reflection? “Lord, open my eyes to the blemishes in me that I just haven’t seen.”

It's a frightening thought, but it's true: the only Jesus some people will ever see is the Jesus in you and me. Most people don't read the Bible or Christian books or listen to sermons. They don't go to church. Their ideas of Jesus are just bits and pieces, some of them completely misleading, which they have picked up along the way. The fact is that if they don't meet the real Jesus in you and me they may never meet him at all.

The business of the Christian ambassador is very simple: speak the truth as clearly and lovingly as you can; and live a life which is radiant with the love and goodness of Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, will you be a true ambassador.

Father, by your Holy Spirit burn the dross out of me, and help me this day, and every day, to be a worthy ambassador for Jesus. Amen.

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