As Christ’s representatives on earth, we have a heavenly assignment—and a message to deliver.
Imagine sitting in your home one afternoon when the phone rings. It’s the president, and he wants you to come to Washington immediately because he has a very important job for you. Upon your arrival, you are ushered into the White House and greeted by the Commander in Chief, who says, “I want you to be my ambassador. I am giving you the authority to deliver my message.” How would you respond? You would probably be shocked and maybe even a little fearful, wondering if you could handle such great responsibility.
However, if you are a Christian, something similar has actually happened to you. On the day you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you became His ambassador. Your assignment is to represent the King of Kings and deliver His message to the world (2 Cor. 5:14-20). Once you comprehend the magnitude and importance of this job, it will greatly influence every aspect of your life, especially how you relate to others.
To help us understand our task as Christ’s ambassadors, let’s consider the characteristics and responsibilities of a diplomat. He usually resides in a foreign country, speaks on behalf of his leader, has a lifestyle different from those around him, and honors his home country with his character, attitude, and conduct. In the same way, Christians are citizens of heaven who live in this world as strangers (1 Pet. 2:11). Our assignment is to deliver the good news of Christ’s salvation to those who don’t know Him. Furthermore, we seek to honor and represent our King by the way we live.
The message entrusted to us is one of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). There are people all around who are overwhelmed with sin, struggles, hurts, and failures. But we’ve been sent as representatives to give them a message of hope for a new beginning. Whenever people are reconciled to God through His Son, the broken and shattered pieces of their lives will be put back together—though often in a way other than they anticipate. In Christ, they truly become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).
Even though we have such good news to deliver to a lost and hurting world, the reality is that our message isn’t always welcome. In fact, it frequently brings misunderstanding and criticism. But that’s all part of an ambassador’s job. The people who are not yet citizens of the kingdom don’t understand our worldview and often misinterpret our motives. Just look at the apostle Paul. Wherever he went, he encountered various degrees of opposition and disapproval.
This truth is further emphasized in Paul’s words to Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Therefore, since we can’t escape the conflicts that result from our loyalty to Christ, we must address them and respond with a spirit of humility, grace, and patience. Whenever we encounter antagonism, six practices will help us deal wisely with criticism and conflict.
Maintain a quiet spirit. If one of our country’s diplomats flew into a fit of rage or berated those who disagreed with him, he’d be a very poor representative for his nation. Moreover, his hostility would prevent others from accepting the message he was sent to deliver. Although anger may be a natural reaction when we feel attacked, James 1:19-20 says, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Realizing that our critics don’t know the One who sent us, we must view them with a heart of compassion.
Refrain from immediate self-defense. When tempers flare, nothing is gained because each person is bent on defending himself. That’s why it is wise to let the angry or critical words pass by. Instead, breathe a quick prayer: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). The beginning of a conflict is the time to listen in order to gain understanding of both the person and the situation. Once you grasp his or her point of view, then if necessary, you may clarify any misunderstandings or explain your case, but always do it with a gracious spirit.
Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment. Since God alone perceives the hearts, thoughts, and motives of those who are critical, He’s the only one who knows how we should respond. As His ambassadors, we need His guidance not only to discern what’s going on in the other person’s life but also to know how to represent Christ with our speech and attitude. When we let the Holy Spirit have authority over our words, He teaches us what to say (Luke 12:12).
View the situation as coming from God. If we focus on the person who is being critical, we’re more likely to accuse him of wrongdoing and justify ourselves. But when we realize that the Lord has allowed this difficult or painful situation for His good purposes, we’ll have peace (Rom. 8:28). Instead of seething with anger, feeling sorry for ourselves, or trying to manipulate the situation, we can trust God and surrender our “rights” for His sake.
Focus on ways to help and love the other person. Since conflicts tend to sidetrack us from our role as Christ’s ambassadors, we must remember our goal is to introduce others to our King and tell them about His offer of salvation. Instead of being offended by their negative responses, we should find ways to demonstrate Christ’s love to them with our words and actions.
Keep an attitude of joy. When Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed for preaching about Jesus, their songs and praises to God in the midst of suffering spoke volumes to those who were listening (Acts 16:23-25). Very few people are led into a relationship with Christ through condemnation or contentious debates, but nothing is more attractive than a joyful life. Even when conflicts are painful, believers can have Christ’s unshakeable gladness regardless of circumstances.
As ambassadors of Christ, we do not have the job of reforming this world or fixing every person who disagrees with us. We are simply to present God’s Word and demonstrate His character with our conversation, conduct, and attitude. Our goal is to let others know that they can become citizens of heaven—just like us.
Although some may respond negatively, we must remember that Jesus predicted this would happen (John 15:18-21). When unbelievers see us react to their criticism with kindness, patience, and love, they receive a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom. That’s when we become an awesome testimony of the reality of our Christian faith.
by Charles F. Stanley