Pauline Metaphors – Part 9: Ambassador


Some of the metaphors Paul uses occur frequently in his writings, as this series of articles has shown. This one, ‘ambassador’, occurs only twice in the KJV; 2 Cor. 5. 20; Eph. 6. 20. It is an interesting one, however, referring to people, rather than to positions, such as ‘adoption’, or public events as in the marketplace or in sporting contests. This makes it very personal, ‘we are ambassadors for Christ’. In a broader context, it sits alongside some of the metaphors used by the Lord Jesus, such as ‘I will make you fishers of men’, Matt. 4. 19, and ‘ye also ought to wash one another’s feet’, John 13. 14.

What is an ambassador?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives this definition of ambassador: ‘an accredited diplomat sent by a state as its permanent representative in a foreign country’, ‘a representative or promoter of a specified activity’.1These definitions are clearly in the context of modern diplomatic activity, or trade and commerce. But, traditionally, and in Bible times, an ambassador has been recognized as a trusted individual whose whole purpose in a foreign country is to represent his own country faithfully. Transferring this to ourselves, we are in this world to faithfully represent our home country, heaven, although we have not reached it yet, and promote the interests of our Lord and Master.

Ambassadors in the Old Testament

The Bible use of this word predates modern times by many centuries while being consistent with its basic meaning. The first time it occurs is in Joshua chapter 9 verse 4. Around 1450 BC, during the conquest of Canaan, men from Gibeon came to Israel’s camp at Gilgal and ‘did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors’. They put on an act and lied, deceiving Joshua and the leaders of Israel into making a league with them so that their country and its people would not be destroyed. The real problem arose because those who listened to them did not ask ‘counsel at the mouth of the Lord’, v. 14. They certainly had their own country’s interests at heart, but their methods were underhand and were soon exposed.

Therefore, this first, but not very promising, reference to ambassadors carries one or two lessons for us today. First, we must always be transparent and honest. As ambassadors for Christ, we must never mislead others, perhaps by hypocritical appearances, by promises we cannot keep, or by glossing over difficulties. We must always match our methods and our mission with the One who sent us. Second, from the other side of the story, never forget to seek the Lord’s guidance in all you do. Pray much and often.

We read about ambassadors again, later in the Old Testament, doing what such officials usually do, one king communicating with another, sometimes seeking help or carrying messages of peace. King Hezekiah unwisely received ambassadors from Babylon, 2 Chr. 32. 31; King Josiah refused ambassadors from Egypt, 35. 21. Isaiah wrote about unsuccessful ambassadors to Egypt, Isa. 30. 4, and failed ‘ambassadors of peace’, 33. 7, and Ezekiel also wrote about them, seeking help which never came, Ezek. 17. 15. In contrast to this, King Solomon wrote, ‘a faithful ambassador brings health’, Prov. 13. 17 NKJV.

It is worth noting that the word translated ‘ambassador’ in Joshua chapter 9 really means ‘feign to be a wanderer’, which fits the story better, and, in the later references, it is ‘interpreter’ or ‘messenger’, again fitting the context.2

Ambassadors in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated ‘ambassador’ is presbeuo, related to presbuteros which is translated ‘elder’ as in a local assembly. That too is fitting, this time indicating responsibility and maturity, and denoting the importance of the work undertaken. One relates to caring for the Lord’s people in the church; the other relates to testimony and mission in the world outside.3 The two relevant texts to consider now are from the pen of the Apostle Paul.

‘I am an ambassador in bonds’, Eph. 6. 20

As he closes his letter to the saints in Ephesus, he writes, ‘Praying … for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds’, Eph. 6. 18-20.

Along with three other nearby Epistles, this was written during his imprisonment in Rome, as described in Acts chapter 28. Earlier, he had described himself as a ‘prisoner of Jesus Christ’, Eph. 3. 1, now ‘an ambassador in bonds’, 6. 20. He perhaps used very similar language writing to Philemon about this time. Where the KJV gives the description, ‘Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner’, v. 9, the RV margin gives, ‘an ambassador, and now a prisoner’.4

By the normal rules of diplomacy, ambassadors might be expelled from the country in which they serve, but they must never be put in prison there. This is different. Paul always looked beyond what men could do to him to what his Lord had ordained for his pathway of service. So, the Roman emperor’s edict to restrict him and the Roman soldier’s presence to guard him were no obstacle to his testimony for Christ. So much so that he wrote in Philippians chapter 1 about how gospel blessing had reached out to those sharing his confinement and to many others beyond, even to ‘the palace’ (the Praetorium for the troops, or further up the chain of command). This is confirmed as he wrote later, ‘All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household’, Phil. 4. 22.

After his dramatic conversion near Damascus, wherever Paul went, on land or sea, to crowds or individuals, to neutral or hostile audiences, in freedom or captivity, he became a non-stop ambassador of Christ, never preaching himself, but Jesus Christ as Lord, 2 Cor. 4. 5. Wherever this remarkable man was found, he fulfilled his mission as defined by his new-found Lord, ‘a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel’, Acts 9. 15.

‘We are ambassadors for Christ’, 2 Cor. 5. 20

The spotlight turns upon us now. Here is what Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, ‘God … hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God’, 2 Cor. 5. 19, 20.

These words, ‘in Christ’s stead’, are weighty. On the cross, Christ died instead of us. This verse tells us that we are ambassadors instead of Christ, to do what He would be doing if He were here - beseeching men and women, boys and girls, to be reconciled to God. He did all the amazing work of reconciliation, ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’, Col. 1. 20. We are given the privilege of proclaiming the word of reconciliation. As effective ambassadors of Christ, we can tell others what we have experienced, we who were once enemies in our minds by wicked works, but who are now ourselves reconciled, v. 21. God did not give this mission to angels, for they have never experienced reconciliation. He has delegated it to us who have.

As ambassadors for Christ we will need to keep in mind what any nation’s ambassadors have to remember today:

  • whom we represent - Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Rev. 19. 16;
  • what our home country is and what its standards are - ‘our citizenship is in heaven’, Phil. 3. 20 NKJV;
  • keep in touch regularly with our home base - ‘pray without ceasing’, 1 Thess. 5. 17;
  • keep out of the politics and systems of this world -ambassadors must not interfere with the internal affairs of their assigned country;
  • our mission time is limited - we could be ‘recalled’ at any time -our Lord is coming soon.

The hymn entitled The King’s Business5 expresses it nicely:

‘I am a stranger here, within a foreign land;
My home is far away, upon a golden strand;
Ambassador to be of realms beyond the sea,
I’m here on business for my King.
This is the message that I bring,
A message angels fain would sing:
“Oh, be ye reconciled,”
Thus saith my Lord and King,
“Oh, be ye reconciled to God”’.

Here is our real business in this world, ambassadors for Christ, not make-believe but genuine and faithful, not in chains but willing and ready to go and to be where we are sent by our gracious Lord and King until we are called away.



Della Thompson (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1996.


R. Young, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible, 8th Ed., Lutterworth Press, 1939, pg. 31, 32.


Luke 14. 32, and 19. 14 refer to ‘ambassage’ and ‘message’, contextually and grammatically related, both from presbeia.


W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Oliphants, pg. 43, commends this other reading based on the Greek word used, again presbeutes. It is also followed in the RSV 1952, and in The Amplified New Testament, 1958.


Redemption Songs, No 75, by Elijah T. Cassel, 1902.


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