"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 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." (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
This passage from 2 Corinthians struck me. Paul describes Christianity as a "ministry of reconciliation" in v18. What does he mean?
In the news this week, the Chinese government said that they were upset that the Prime Minister had met with the Dalai Lama, the exiled 'spiritual leader' of Tibet. We have even been told that the PM is effectively banned from China, and that the Chinese are expecting "concrete measures" to repair the rift.
International diplomacy is a difficult and sensitive business. Paul is using the image of diplomacy here in 2 Corinthians 5 to explain the gospel and its implications.
There is a 'rift' between man and God, caused by our rebellion against God, our sin. The relationship between man and God is damaged and in need of repair, of reconciliation, to bring two warring parties together.
But the relationship isn't restored because of our diplomacy. We cannot offer 'quid pro quos' or diplomatic sweeteners to repair the rift. No, God Himself initiates and undertakes the reconciliation. Paul says in v19: "in Christ", on the cross, God was "reconciling the world to himself", as Christ Jesus bore the punishment for our sin.
But then Paul expands the image to explain what is going on when we share the gospel. God has given to us ("committed to us") the "message of reconciliation" (v19b), that is, the good news that God has undertaken reconciliation in Christ. Just as an Ambassador might come from the Chinese Embassy in a few weeks to tell the Prime Minister that a good relationship with the Chinese Government has been restored, we are "Christ's ambassadors", passing on the news that reconciliation with God has been made possible through Christ.
God makes His appeal of reconciliation to people through us. The diplomacy is all one-sided: God has done the work necessary to reconcile us to Himself, from start to finish. But we now bring the declaration of that finished work of reconciliation, imploring others: Be reconciled to God through Christ!