By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Paul refers to the apostles or early preachers as “ambassadors of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Does this term refer to preachers in general, both now and then, or is it limited only to the apostles?
Reply: The term “ambassadors” referred to the apostles and was limited to them. The term in the New Testament is applied to apostles, and not to preachers in general. Let us notice 2 Corinthians 5:20. Here Paul said, “We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.” Paul, an apostle, includes himself and the other apostles by the pronouns “we” and “us,” but he refers to the Corinthians by the pronouns “you” and “ye.” Thus Paul makes a distinction by the use of these pronouns. He says “we are ambassadors for Christ” (KJV), that is, we the apostles. It is therefore a misnomer for any preacher, or anyone else, to be referred to as an “ambassador for Christ.” I recall that several years ago there was a quartet on the West Coast that referred to itself as “The Ambassador Quartet.” Brethren today are heard to say, “we are ambassadors of Christ.”
What is the meaning of the word “ambassador”? Webster defines it, I ‘an official envoy” (Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 77). The word implies an embassy, “a mission abroad undertaken officially esp. by an ambassador” (Ibid., p. 405). So, by the very definition of the term “ambassador” it is the idea of one acting for another in an official capacity. The apostles were the embassy of Christ. They were inspired and their mission was to deliver the message of Christ to the world and saints. They represented Christ in an official capacity. Since they were the official representatives of Christ no one upon earth today holds such an office.
The gospel message was in the apostles because they were inspired. This is why they also were referred to as “earthen vessels. ” In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” This treasure was “the light of the gospel” in verse 4. The word was in the apostles and they confirmed that word by the miracles which they performed (Heb. 2:3,4). Just as the light was in the vessels or pitchers used by Gideon and his men when they defeated the Midianites by the hand of God (Judges 7), so “the light of the gospel” was in the apostles. Today, the word is not in us but in the Bible; we confirm what we preach, not by miracles, but by Bible book, chapter and verse. This is the difference between the apostles and us.
Another designation which applies only to the apostles is “witness.” The apostles were the witnesses of Christ. Jesus told them, “ye shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Paul was the last witness of Christ (1 Cor. 15:7). This eliminates the Jehovah Witness cult and anyone else who claims to be a witness of God or Christ today. The Lord chose the apostles to be His witnesses (Lk. 24:48; Acts 1:8). Today, we preach what the apostles witnessed.
So, there are three designations in the New Testament which are to be applied to the apostles only – “ambassadors,” “earthen vessels” and “witnesses. ” They cannot be applied to Christians (including preachers) today, and they could only be applied to the apostles then. All Christians (including preachers) are to preach the word of God; but we do not do so in the same capacity as did the apostles who were the official representatives of Christ with His message in them.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 8, p. 229
April 17, 1986