Reconciliation

What a strange word! Not one I use in casual conversation and I suspect this is true for you as well. We might use it of a shaky marriage that has come back together but outside of that the word does not carry much weight in our daily lives. However, God meant reconciliation to be his primary mission in the world.

Imagine for a moment a life that is shattered into a thousand little pieces, a life that lacks any sense of coherency, filled with unconnected and unmanageable busy-ness, multi-tasking randomly through life. We call the pieces family life, church life, recreational life, work life, educational life, spiritual life, Christian life, etc. Yet, nothing seems to hold the threads together.

This sense of undone-ness is not only an individual thing; it affects our relationships, too. We, though surrounded by people in nearly everything we do, have never felt lonelier. Not only this, we have days when God feels so far away that life does not feel worth living.

However, Jesus came to give a new way of being, under a new covenant, one that gives life not death. In accepting this new covenant, we come into a new mission or ministry of new life and new creation undoing fragmentation and brokenness. To us, as new creations, all things become new and the old, though still present, is already disappearing.

Though we can still feel the tension between the brokenness of the past and the wholeness of the future, we know that we live for the future, not the past—for God’s future. Paul captures this tension well when he speaks of his ministry in these words,

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Cor. 5:8-12)

This life can be ours because Jesus died for us, one for all. This conviction is the center and core of our confession. Since Jesus died for us, he invites us to die to the brokenness of our lives, to repent of holding on to the old world, and allow the new world to invade our lives. This new life, however, does not end with us. God then turns us into agents, or ambassadors, of reconciliation. Our ministry to others brings life to them.

As Paul continues,

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 Cor. 5:20)

God’s Partners in God’s Mission

While I am certain that we should see ourselves as working for God, I’m amazed and humbled by apostle Paul’s insistence that we work with God, more as a partner than an employee or even a slave. In one place, Paul will assert that he is among “God’s fellow workers” and that those benefiting from his and other’s ministry are “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3.9).

In another place, Paul will talk about how his ministry is not based on his competency but on a kind of competency that comes from God (2 Cor. 3.5). Even more, Paul will root Christian ministry in sharing or participating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus any suffering we might experience in ministry is like Christ’s own giving of his life for the sake of others (see 2 Cor. 4.7-12).

Therefore, in partnership with God, Christian ministry is a participation in the mission of God. God’s mission is nothing short of inviting people into a relationship with God that will shape them into a distinct people who live their lives for the sake of others.

Another way to frame God’s mission is that God seeks all people to become re-connected with or reconciled to him. God then recreates us in the image of Jesus to become agents of reconciliation and healing. This is based not on our competency—since even we needed help to become reconciled.

However, once reunited with God, we are initiated into God’s own project of healing the world. Paul calls us “Christ ’s ambassadors.” This is fitting language as we now belong to God’s kingdom but we have been called to serve as God’s delegates to bring Good News to the world.

Churches, then, should function something like embassies. Churches are God’s embassies in a foreign land to support the interests of God’s kingdom. However, an embassy also functions to help foreigners find out more about the embassy’s country and even help people who would like to enter that country to find out how to do that.

As representatives of God’s kingdom, therefore, we speak for our King. As Paul said, we implore on Christ’s behalf—as though God were making his appeal through us. Our appeal or petition is that people would become reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5.20) and that is truly the mission of God