Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 8, 1968

Who Is An Ambassador?

Robert C. Welch

How do you sing the hymn "The King's Business"? To whom do you refer as you say: "I am a stranger here, within a foreign land;... Ambassador to be of realms beyond the sea, I'm here on business for my king"? Much of the phraseology and even more of the taught of that hymn is taken from Paul's teaching on reconciliation and ambassadorship in II Cor. 5. Is it possible to sing the hymn with a scriptural intent? Some have said that we cannot scripturally sing the hymn; but it can be done, and is done. There is far less poetic license involved in this than in many of the hymns we love to sing.

Paul and the other apostles, without any doubt, are referred to in the above mentioned passage as the ambassadors of Christ. They were chosen and sent by Christ with the word of reconciliation. That is the function of an ambassador where there is difference between those of two realms. Paul uses the first person pronoun to describe the ambassadors, but uses the second person to refer to the saints of Corinth. That should settle the matter about the identity of the ambassadors; not all Christians, but the apostles.

The same word in the Greek text of the New Testament is used by Paul in his letter to Philemon, verse 9, in describing himself. Though translated "aged" in this place, the context shows that it denotes ambassadorship. He says in verse 8 that he has the right to enjoin. That means to command. Christians in general do not have that right; but an apostle does, and ambassador does. Instead of using the right to command, however, he softens the appeal by beseeching Philemon. The word for ambassador refers to age, just as does the word for elders of the church; but both words signify more than age. Scholars of language and translators suggest and signify that this may be the word, instead of the word for elders of the church, in I Tim. 4:14, where, instead of translating they retain the original word merely in anglicized spelling. Here, the presbytery may signify apostleship or ambassadorship rather than eldership. This will readily harmonize with Paul's statement in II Tim. 1:6. The apostle had the power to bestow gifts by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17, 18; 19:6). Ambassadors have the power to confer gifts, honors, and such like in the name of the government which they represent.

If, then, Paul and the apostles are the ambassadors, how can we sing the hymn in the first person? Does that not make us say that we are the ambassadors? No, not any more than reading H Cor. 5 to an audience makes the reader the ambassador. Though written in the first person pronoun just as the original statement in the Scriptures, we are teaching the same lesson in the hymn that Paul teaches in the passage of Scripture. If you think that this is a little far fetched, consider another hymn that we often sing; "I gave my life for thee." That is in the first person also, all the way through, but you do not get the impression that the singer is speaking of himself as giving his life for others. Why not? You know that it refers to Christ Jesus. In the same way you do not refer to yourself as an ambassador in the hymn. Why not? Because you know, or should know, that you are referring to Paul and the other apostles.

Is that what the author had in mind? I do not know, nor do I have to know. If the words conform to scriptural teaching, I can sing with the spirit and understanding. This is more consistent with the passage from which the song is taken than it is to use a substitute for the word ambassador, yet leave the things which Paul as an ambassador says and does and make them apply to all Christians. Let us teach the truth in word and song.

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