Raise your hand if you've heard of Hugo Llorens. Anybody? Hugo Llorens currently holds one of the most difficult jobs on the planet: He's the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan.
Ambassador Llorens represents the interests of the United States in one of the most hostile areas in the world. Each day he faces opposition to his cause and danger to his own life.
When the Apostle Paul calls us to become "ambassadors for Christ" in 2 Corinthians 5, he calls us to a position not unlike that occupied by Ambassador Llorens. The chief role of an ambassador is to represent the interests of a country in a foreign, sometimes hostile, land. The problem we American Christians face today is we've become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as natives of the land we live in. As we're becoming increasingly aware, the truth of the matter confirms the words of the old hymn: "This world is not my home."
Even though my address might read "Noblesville, Indiana, USA," my true home resides somewhere else...and so does the One I serve. While I'm "in country" I certainly want to observe the laws and customs of the land and pay due respect to its leadership (after all, if I'm openly hostile to my foreign hosts, I won't be an ambassador for very long!) As an ambassador, I can never forget why I'm here: to represent the interests of my home country.
So what are Christ's interests in this foreign country, sometimes hostile to his cause? He's not really into "nation-building." We know it's not in his plan to make the US into any permanent outpost. No, he's looking for defectors.
Jesus wants us to search for and entice those who are dissatisfied with the life offered by this place. We do that, not by pointing out all the bad that's native. The citizens here already know about that. Instead, by highlighting and living out the principles of Christ's Kingdom, we show them a better way. Then we offer them assistance in making that difficult transition of leaving the place they were born to become citizens of the "new country."
The other job of the ambassador is to promote peace. Yes, we want to get the citizens of this land to emigrate to our country, but while that's happening it's important that we live in peace with the foreign nation. With that in mind, it's important for us to resist the temptation to become belligerent with the natives.
Yes, they view us as foreigners and some even feel threatened by our presence. So they call us names and attack us in a variety of ways. They want us out. But if we're going to have the ambassador's influence, we can't return their anger. To do so would be to threaten the security of the mission on which we've been sent. Remember, we represent the interests of the King, not ourselves.
So, how are we doing as Christ's ambassadors to America? I fear we're not as effective as we could be. On the one hand, we often "over-assimilate," becoming "natives" ourselves and forgetting the differentiating qualities of being a citizen of Heaven. When we do that, those we're trying to affect can't see the difference.
On the other hand, we give in far too often to a belligerent stance with the natives. We've taken the "Christian soldier" mentality to become more like Patton than Paul's original meaning when he wrote to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4, the scripture "Onward Christian Soldiers" is based on, Paul exhorts young Timothy to "Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer."
If we're going to please our commanding officer, as good ambassadors, we have to get away from the notion that we're fighting the "enemy" on His behalf. First of all, God has only one true "enemy," which we know He has already vanquished through the blood of Christ. Second, Jesus clearly shows us he doesn't view the "natives" here as enemies. They are instead beleaguered indigenous people in need of our help.
No, our "soldiering" is consistent with our "ambassadorship." It's a tough job, living as a foreigner under constant threat. It requires great patience, great care for those we're trying to reach, and great focus on our part to stay true to the mission.