The function of an ambassador was well-known to Paul’s readers because each city state, as well as larger geographical areas, would have ambassadors in other places. These ambassadors had a similar role to their namesakes in modern times. What are some of their actions that would be duplicated in a Christian minister?
An ambassador would often recall his commission because it was a high honour to receive it. This is the case with those whom Jesus selects as his public servants and is a role that requires gratitude and an awareness of one’s natural unsuitability for the task. Paul rehearsed his original commission on several occasions and he never forgot that he was called by Christ to serve him in a special manner. Paul never forgot that he was an ambassador of Jesus Christ.
The task of an ambassador is to represent his master, therefore he speaks with his authority. This representation is the responsibility of all of Christ’s servants; they represent him and speak with his authority. His authority is not found in his eloquence, his erudition or his energy. Speakers can have these features and pass on a message of destruction. Rather the authority is found primarily in what they say.
The message of an ambassador is a repetition of his master’s words. The ambassador did not devise his own message nor did he adjust his master’s message without his permission. Instead he passed on exactly the same message that he received. It is similar with the Christian ambassador. He obeys the Great Commission, which includes ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matt. 28:20).
The ambassador would argue for a response. He was determined that his master’s word would be accepted by the listeners. If it was a warning, he would speak sternly; if it was an offer of peace, he would speak gently. The Christian ambassador has a message that contains both warnings of future judgment and offers of peace, and he entreats his listeners to accept his word (2 Cor. 5:20).
There is one crucial difference between the Christian ambassador and other types of agents. Christ speaks through his messenger, he is the active speaker addressing the audience. This means that a sermon is an encounter between Christ and sinners. But it is more, for in the sermon Jesus is changing his listeners, opening their hearts to receive the message. Paul describes this reality in his words in 1 Thessalonians 2:13: ‘And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.’