Paul’s Message - Page 5 of 6 (series: Lessons on 2 Cor.)
by John Lowe
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ
The term “ambassador” denotes “an authorized representative or messenger.” He is sent to do what the sovereign would himself do were he present. They are sent to make known the will of the sovereign, and to negotiate matters of commerce, of war, or of peace, and in general everything affecting the interests of the sovereign among the people to whom they are sent. We are the ambassadors whom Christ has sent to negotiate with people in regard to their reconciliation to God. Every Christian is authorized to do so, because we are his representatives here on earth; but ministers are His special ambassadors. We have a message to deliver—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—but we are not empowered to do anything more than explain or deliver it. We can’t make it go into their mind and heart, for it is up to the Holy Spirit to apply it to the heart; only the Spirit can take the Word of God and use it to create a child of God.
An ambassador is a privileged character, and is highly regarded in all countries, and has diplomatic immunity from the laws of those countries. He is bound implicitly to obey the instructions of his sovereign, and as far as possible to do only what the sovereign would do were he himself present. Ministers are ambassadors for Christ, since they are sent to do what he would do were he personally present. They are to make known, and to explain, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled to people. They are not to negotiate on any new terms, nor to change those which God has proposed, nor to follow their own plans or desires, but they are simply to urge, explain, state, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled. Of course they are to seek the honor of the sovereign who has sent them, and to seek to do only his will. They shouldn’t promote their own welfare; nor should they seek personal honor or reward; but they go to transact the business which the Son of God would engage in were he again personally on the earth. It follows that their office is one of great dignity, and great responsibility, and that respect should be showed them as the ambassadors of the King of kings.
As though God were pleading through us
Our message is to be regarded as the message of God. It is God who speaks. What we say to you is said in his name and on his authority, and should be received with the respect which is due to a message directly from God. The gospel message is God speaking to people through the ministry, and imploring them to be reconciled. This endows the message which the ministers of religion bear with infinite dignity and seriousness; and it makes it a fearful and awful thing to reject it.
We implore you on Christ's behalf
We plead with lost sinners for Christ and in place of Christ, for we are doing what He did when on earth, and what He would do if He was where we are.
Be reconciled to God
This is the heart of the message which the ministers of the Gospel carry to their fellow-men: “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us” (v. 19). It implies that man has something to do in this work. He is to be reconciled to God. He is to give up his opposition. He is to submit to the terms of mercy. All the change in this case is to be in him, for God cannot change. God has removed all the obstacles to reconciliation which existed on His part. He has done all that He will do, all that needed to be done, in order to make reconciliation as easy as possible. And now, all that remains is for man to lay aside his hostility, abandon his sins, embrace the terms of mercy, and become in fact reconciled to God. And the great objective of the ministers of reconciliation is to urge their fellow-men to act and become reconciled. They are to do it in the name of Christ. They are to do it as if Christ himself was present, and was himself urging them to respond to the message. They are to use the arguments which He would use; display the zeal which He would show; and present the motivations which He would present to induce a dying world to become in fact “reconciled to God.”
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us
The intention of this very important verse is to provide the strongest possible reason for being reconciled to God. This is implied in the little word "for." There are plenty of other arguments Paul might have used that give strong reasons for doing so; but he chose to present this fact, that Christ has been made sin for us. It is the most effective of all the arguments, and the one that is most likely to prove successful. But, by no means is it improper or out of place to use every other means available to induce people to be reconciled to God. For instance, it is not wrong to appeal to their sense of duty; to appeal to their reason and conscience; to remind them of the claims, the power, the goodness, and the fear of the Creator; to remind them of the awful consequences of a life continually hostile to God; to persuade them by the hope of heaven, and by the fear of hell—“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. . .” (2 Corinthians 5:11)—to become His friends. In any case, the strongest argument, and that which is most capable of melting the soul, is the fact that the Son of God has become incarnate for our sins, and has suffered and died in our place. When all other appeals have failed this one is still able to produce the desired effect; and, this is in fact the argument by which the largest part of those who become Christians are induced to abandon their opposition and to become reconciled to God.
There is so much to be said about the expression “To be sin” that we must take time to explain what it adds to the meaning of the verse. Actually, the words “to be” are not in the original. Literally, it is, “he has made him sin, or a sin-offering.” But what is meant by this? What is the exact idea which the apostle intended to convey concerning Christ? First, let’s consider what it does NOT mean:
1. That he was literally sin in the abstract, or sin as such. No one can profess to believe this. The expression must be, therefore, in some sense, figurative or symbolic.
2. That he was a sinner, because it is immediate said in this connection that he “knew no sin,” and it is said in the Holy Scripture that He was holy, harmless, and undefiled.
3. That He was guilty, for no one is truly guilty who is not personally a transgressor of the Law; and if he was, in any proper sense, guilty, then he deserved to die, and his death could have no more merit than that of any other guilty being; and if he was truly guilty it would make no difference whether it was by his own fault or by imputation. A guilty being deserves to be punished; and where punishment is just, there can be no merit in sufferings. But all views which embrace the idea that the Holy Redeemer is a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are repugnant to the whole message of the Scriptures. There is no possible way in which the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner stone of Christianity, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of divine approval. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is obviously a false view, and should be abandoned at once.
If the statement that he was made "sin" does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering—an offering or a sacrifice for sin; and this is the interpretation which is now generally adopted by Bible scholars; or it must be understood in the abstract, and mean that God treated him as if he were a sinner. Both interpretations have many backers. There are many passages in the Old Testament where the word "sin" is used in the sense of sin-offering, or a sacrifice for sin. There is Hosea 4:8: “They eat up the sin of my people;" that is, the sin-offerings. (Also see Ezekiel 43:22, Ezekiel 43:25; Ezekiel 44:29; Ezekiel 45:22-23; Ezekiel 45:25.)