A server outage interfered with our ability to deliver a regular Insights blog today. In its place, you’ll find insight into our Bible reading from the great British scholar William Barclay in these comments from his Daily Study Bible series volume on The letters to the Corinthians. (pp. 209–211. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975).
THE office that Paul claims as his one glory and his one task is that of ambassador for Christ. The Greek he uses (presbeutes) is a great word. It had two uses corresponding with the Latin word of which it is a translation (legatus).
(i) Roman provinces were divided into two types….In the imperial provinces, the man who administered the province on behalf of the Emperor, was the legatus presbeutes. So then, the word in the first place paints a picture of a man who has a direct commission from the Emperor; and Paul regarded himself as commissioned by Jesus Christ for the work of the Church.
(ii) But presbeutes and legatus have an even more interesting meaning. When the Roman senate decided that a country should become a province they sent to it ten legati or presbeutai…who, along with the victorious general, arranged the terms of peace with the vanquished people….They were the men responsible for bringing others into the family of the Roman Empire. So Paul thinks of himself as the man who brings to others the terms of God, whereby they can become citizens of his empire and members of his family.
There is no more responsible position than that of ambassador.
(i) An ambassador of Britain is a Briton in a foreign land. His life is spent among people who usually speak a different language, who have a different tradition and who follow a different way of life. The Christian is always like that. He lives in the world; he takes part in all the life and work of the world; but he is a citizen of heaven. To that extent he is a stranger. The man who is not willing to be different cannot be a Christian at all.
(ii) An ambassador speaks for his own country. When a British ambassador speaks, his voice is the voice of Britain. There are times when the Christian has to speak for Christ. In the decisions and the counsels of the world his must be the voice which brings the message of Christ to the human situation.
(iii) The honour of a country is in its ambassador’s hands. His country is judged by him. His words are listened to, his deeds are watched and people say, “That is the way such-and-such a country speaks and acts.” Lightfoot, the great Bishop of Durham, said in an ordination address, “The ambassador, while acting, acts not only as an agent, but as a representative of his sovereign.…The ambassador’s duty is not only to deliver a definite message, to carry out a definite policy; but he is obliged to watch opportunities, to study characters, to cast about for expedients, so that he may place it before his hearers in its most attractive form.” It is the great responsibility of the ambassador to commend his country to the men amongst whom he is set.
Here is the Christian’s proud privilege and almost terrifying responsibility. The honour of Christ and of the Church are in his hands. By his every word and action he can make men think more–or less–of his Church and of his Master.
We have to note Paul’s message. “Be reconciled to God.” The New Testament never speaks of God being reconciled to men, but always of men being reconciled to God. There is no question of pacifying an angry God. The whole process of salvation takes its beginning from him. It was because God so loved the world that he sent his son. It is not that God is estranged from man but that man is estranged from God. God’s message, the message which Paul brought, is an appeal from a loving Father to wandering and estranged children to come home where love is waiting for them.
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