Ambassadors in a Foreign Country



Dr. John Hoole – February 3, 2019



To the congregation in Philippi, the apostle Paul, wrote:  “For our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  While there may be some that would spiritualize this fact away, Paul’s words come across as literal, and real to those who understand that God has called us out of this world (John 15:19).  And He has transferred us into His Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).


Having our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, by definition makes us aliens in the physical country in which we live here on earth.  We realize that the apostle Paul has challenged us to be Ambassadors for Christ:


2 Corinthians 5:20 NKJV


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.


Do we have what it takes to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ?  Do any of us know what an ambassador is supposed to do, or how an ambassador should behave?  Do we know how an ambassador is expected to interface with those they come in contact with?


I am going to use an Old Testament passage to help us answer these questions.  This will help with what is expected by God of His ambassadors.


We must be careful when we turn to the Old Testament for instructions for the New Testament church.  I wince when I hear someone applying God’s dealings with Israel to the New Testament church without giving thought to the fact that we are in a radically different era, when many of the Old Testament practices simply do not apply


For example, when Elijah won the contest with the prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel, he summarily had them all killed at the river Kishon.  In the New Testament, we are warned against false prophets, but we certainly are not expected to have them slaughtered!  False prophets and teachers today are free to buy time on television, build their churches and promote their heresies.  The best we can do is expose them and help others realize their dangers.


A principle about biblical interpretation that I learned some time ago, and really liked is this:  The Bible is not written to us but is for us.  What that statement means is that the various books of the Bible have as their initial, intended audience, a group that is not us.  My good friend, and retired Bible professor at Northwest University, Dr. Dwaine Braddy, has more than once, said to me:  There is a “Then-ness” and a “Now-ness.”  The original writers were addressing a people and a situation that was immediately present among those living at that time.  But they are for our admonition today.  We need to study the context to see the value for us today.


There are, however, Old Testament parallels for what we face today.  One of those is what the children of Israel experienced as refugees in Babylon.  God’s people had to live as a minority in the midst of a majority pagan culture.  The Jewish consensus with its law and temple worship was gone.  And Solomon’s beautiful temple was totally destroyed, left in a heap of ruins.


The Jews had to survive among pagan idolaters who had no regard for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Ten thousand Jews trekked about eight hundred miles over a period of weeks and months to arrive at a strange country with a strange language.  All the social, religious, and cultural supports they had been accustomed to were gone.  Their tears of regret could not restore their previous privileges.


Mention the name of Babylon and many images come to mind.  We, might think of occultism, immorality and violence, which, to a great degree, is an apt description of our society.


The prophets Daniel and Ezekiel were among those taken in exile to Babylon.  So also were tens of thousands of others, including Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  These three are more commonly known by their Babylonian names; Shadrach, Meshach and Obednego.  The prophet Jeremiah remained in his home country.


The pagans of Babylon carried out, in their worship of the god, Marduk, the sacrifice of their children.  We sacrifice our unborn children on the altar of convenience.  We do not bow down before stone idols, but do give wholehearted allegiance to the gods of money, power and sex.  Too often our devotion to God is an “add on,” something done in church once a week.


The Israelites were a minority within a hostile culture.  Christians today are also a minority in an ever-increasingly hostile culture.  We are exiles, not geographically, but morality and spiritually.


1 Peter 2:11-12 NKJV


11     Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,

12     having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.


Exiles always face opposition, they are misunderstood and are tempted to lose their distinctiveness.  And, as those who belong to Christ, we are called to spread the good news and yet avoid being ensnared by the passions of the flesh and many other seductions of the world.  Thankfully Jesus, at the right hand of God, prays for us that we might be in the world but not of it (See John 17:14-16).


I believe that the time has arrived when the church will not be able to depend on the media, or courts, or universities, or even some churches.  I think we have seen a definite shift in the last 30 years where Christians are mocked, sued in courts, call bigots and said to be speakers of hate.  We have to learn how to conduct ourselves as a minority in a majority non-Christian culture.  We have to know how to engage the culture without become contaminated by it.


Unlike the Israelite refugees in Babylon, we have not changed countries.  But, in the eyes of Christians, the core values of our culture seems to have changes drastically, especially so in the last couple of decades.  Today, for many Christians, the country we live in looks different than it did just a generation ago.


Yet, it is in this culture that we are called to be a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This culture adheres to the values of trash television, hedonism, ever-expanding homosexual power and influence, religious antagonism, and political wrangling.  Genuine Christians find ourselves out of step with the culture around us.


What were the options of the children of Israel in a harsh foreign country.  There are actually three options for aliens living in a foreign country.


                   •  The Option of Isolation


                   •  The Option of Assimilation


                   •  The Option of Infiltration


The same options are set before Christians today, for as we just read in 1 Peter 2, we are aliens in the world today.




The first option for the Jews was to angrily isolate themselves from the Babylonian culture.  Their anger would seem to be justified because of the harsh treatment they and their families had received at the hands of these ruthless murderers.  The Babylonian soldiers took delight in throwing Jewish babies against rocks.  They were taunted to entertain the Babylonians by singing the songs of Zion.


Read how the Jews felt about this offensive request.


Psalms 137:1-6 NASU


1       By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion.

2       Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps.

3       For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion."

4       How can we sing the Lord's song In a foreign land?

5       If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill.

6       May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.


The Psalmist, in echoing the despair and anger of the refugees, does not end there.  He prays that he could repay his captors for their wanton evil.


Psalms 137:8-9 NASU


8       O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us.

9       How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock.


You can just hear it: “You dashed our children against a rock, and we long for the day when we will repay you.”  With that attitude, no doubt some Jews withdrew from all social involvement, except what was strictly necessary in order to live.  They exercised their faith privately, in their homes and in their minds.  They were silent about their faith.  They were too embarrassed and angry to share their devotions to Jehovah, “their defeated God.”  If they did speak, they would preach judgment without mercy.


Some Christians in our culture point their finger, pronouncing doom on offending sinners today.  Some Christians are angry at those who “stole their country.”  Yes, we might have “righteous anger” as we see our culture destroyed.  But if our anger spills over into our Christian witness, it will only fuel the stereotype that the world already has of us.  Yes, we are called to expose the sin, but to do so with redemption, in humility and compassion.  And yes, with courage and maybe tears.


Anger and rebuke changes nothing.  Moreover, these actions don’t represent our Master, who, “when he was reviled, did not revile in return.”  And when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).  Anger, vengeance, and a spirit of retaliation are not the way of our Master.  But, as we will see, neither is silence nor cowardice.




If the first option is isolation, a second extreme was assimilation.  In other words, some of the Jews just drifted with the cultural flow, not making waves but living lives that were indistinguishable from the people around them.  Spiritual assimilation is always the path of least resistance.  It is the most natural and cowardly way to live.


A church that has assimilated the world cannot be a vibrant witness to that world.  To adopt prevailing cultural values hardly gives the world a reason to believe that we are a viable alternative to the lives they live.  What I am saying is that if we are not distinct from the world, we will have nothing to say to the world.  When we look just like the culture around us, it probably is true that we have entered into their sins in some degree.




What I really want to spend time on is this option – for this is the option that glorifies God.  Like Israel in Babylon, our challenge is to impact the culture without being spiritually destroyed by it.


Let’s first return to Jerusalem, where we find the prophet Jeremiah.  He was not taken as an exile to Babylon.  He was a prophet to the tribes of Judah, and although he was not with the refugees, God still gave him messages for those no longer in the home towns.


When he received a word as to how the exiles were to conduct themselves in Babylon, he sent the refugees a letter with God’s instructions.  They would discover that God “does not bring us into a future He has not already prepared for us.”


Listen to these words.


Jeremiah 29:4 NKJV


4       Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:


God tells them through Jeremiah that it is He that has orchestrated events that find them in Babylon.  We read it again later in the same chapter.


Jeremiah 29:20 NKJV


20     Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon.


They were told to take advantage of their plight, and be witnesses of God’s grace to the people of Babylon.  They were to see themselves as sent there as God’s ambassadors.  The message for us is the same.  Though we are outnumbered and experience humiliation in our culture, the church is still sent into the world to present Christ.  We are still the best witnesses of hope this planet has.  We, as the church, will never be effective unless we see ourselves as sent by Christ into the world.


John 17:18 (NKJV), speaking to His Father:


18     As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.


We are pilgrims, out of step with the ever-changing culture, yet we are sent by Christ, Who is the Head of the Church.  The Church is the last barrier between the present moral breakdown and total chaos.


So, what do we do when we are in a strange country?  God gives us five instructions through the prophet Jeremiah.  These are for people, who are outnumbered, on how to live in a pagan culture.


Jeremiah 29:4-7 NKJV


4       Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:

5       Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.

6       Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters — that you may be increased there, and not diminished.

7       And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.


When in Babylon, settle down!


Build a house (verse 5).  Connect with your neighbors.  Don’t live in your tents, because you are going to be in the land for seventy long years.  Implied in these instructions is “learn the language of your captors.”


When in Babylon, build strong families!


Only strong families can weather the cultural storms of Babylon.  “Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease” (Verse 6).


This may come as a surprise.  How can you raise children in a pagan environment?  In Judaism, there were strong fathers who took responsibility for the home.  The father led his family in the Passover rituals.  Fathers were charged with teaching children the Word of God.        God knew that with strong fathers, grounded in the Word of God, these families could survive paganism.  God was implying, in all of this, that He would be with the parents in raising families.  And I think He will do the same for us today.


When in Babylon, Get Involved in City Life!


Be good neighbors.  “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Verse 7-NASB).


                   NKJV = “But seek the peace of the city…


                   NIV+ “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city…


The Hebrew word is the very familiar SHALOM.  We usually think of this word meaning “peace,” but it has a much wider use in actuality.  Shalom can refer to prosperity, wholeness, blessing, or favor.  To us today, God would say, “become a servant, shovel the snow off your sidewalk and possible that of your neighbor.  Build relationships.  Pay your taxes.


When in Babylon, Pray!


“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and PRAY to the Lord on its behalf.”


Pray for your neighbors who worship false gods.  I can imagine that this shocked the Israelites.  Is God serious?  Are they really supposed to pray for Babylon – the nation who’s cruel soldiers destroyed their families?  Pray for their blessing?


When in Babylon, Remember God’s Promise!


Jeremiah 29:10-13 NKJV


10     For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.

11     For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

12     Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

13     And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.


This is not a promise to be hung as a plaque in your home.  In context, it is a specific reference to Israel’s future.  God is saying, “In 70 years, I am going to come to you and you will be going back to Jerusalem and I promise you a future and a hope.”


Think about this for a moment.  Let’s assume you were about 40 years old when you were taken to Babylon.  You survived the long 800-mile trek.  And you get this promise from God that the exile will last 70 years.  I can imagine those in the early wave of refugees saying,  “I’m thankful for the promise, but I am still going to die in Babylon”


The children of that first generation, whose parents died in Babylon, did return, but in the meantime, they had lost their ability to speak Hebrew.  They now spoke Akkadian, the language of the Babylonians.  This is why, when they returned seven decades later, the Book of the Law had to be interpreted for them (Nehemiah 8:1-8).


But, what about those who died in Babylon?  They could die in faith knowing that although they would not see Jerusalem in this life, they would inherit promised blessings in the life to come.  Abraham, for example, died in faith, not having received what was promised, but someday he will see God’s promise completely fulfilled (Hebrews 11:39-40).


What about us.  We may not see the return of Jesus in our lifetime, but we also die in faith, “looking for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).


Let’s never lose sight of God’s end game.