The apostle Paul said he and the other apostles had been entrusted by God with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Reconciliation means a broken relationship now is restored. God and humanity have a broken relationship because of sin. Humans consistently live contrary to God’s ways. We sin against him.
Jesus Christ is the answer to this problem of brokenness. Paul wrote, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The implication here is that those who are reconciled to God by putting their faith in Christ now have a part in this ministry of reconciliation. Paul demonstrated how this was done: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Christians ought to be doing the work of reconciliation, urging people to put their faith in Christ and to experience a restored relationship with God.
In Genesis 33, Jacob seems to serve as a forerunner in this ministry of reconciliation. I am not sure Jacob actually needed to reconcile with Esau. God already had demonstrated his provision for his chosen people – even in the face of military threat (Genesis 14:14-15). We might expect Jacob would have had no problem – with the supernatural help of God – in defeating this force of 400 men led by his brother, Esau.
But Jacob sent gifts instead. He adopted the posture of a servant, bowing down before Esau seven times. And where we expect to find conflict, we find a tender reunion. This is reconciliation. There is something very Christ-like here.
We can think of this as presenting to us a picture of God’s people encountering a world that ought to be hostile to it. The world is a place of conflict. And people, like Esau, frequently find their desires frustrated. God’s plan may at first seem to take away our “rights.”
But the people of God are to serve as a blessing to that hostile world. For the first time, Jacob seemed to be carrying out that core mission of God’s people – “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
The coming of Jacob turned out to be good news for Esau – in the form of 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 milking camels and their calves, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys (Genesis 32:13-15).
This is a picture of reconciliation, the people of God bringing a blessing to the world.
But Esau didn’t seem to too interested in all that livestock. He just seemed happy to see his brother, the chosen one (Genesis 33:4). After 20 years, Esau’s murderous anger finally seemed to have “turned away” from Jacob (Genesis 27:45).
What is the ministry of reconciliation today, in the age of the church as the people of God? I suppose it involves giving stuff away. We’ve done that quite a bit as a church. We’ve given away money to people in the community, and we’ve done some pretty elaborate things to help out the businesses in town. And before the COVID-19 pandemic, we allowed people to use our church building rent-free. Is this the ministry of reconciliation? We have tried to be a blessing to the people in our community.
As individuals, we also try to be a blessing to people. There’s a whole worldview that’s been built up, both inside and outside the church, around the concept of social justice. A lot of the principles within that worldview are biblical. Be a good neighbor. Help the poor. Look out for the needy and oppressed. Is this the ministry of reconciliation?
I don’t know. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul also said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).
The begging of people to be reconciled to God goes beyond the “flesh,” which we know is very this-worldly, very temporary. Esau was a man of the flesh in his younger days, so craving for a bowl of soup that he gave away his birthright.
It seems to me we ought to go beyond the “flesh” in our ministry of reconciliation. We need to offer people the good news about eternal life. We need to present them with the way of salvation. We need to do more than simply giving people stuff – flocks and herds and milking camels and money and rent-free church buildings.
Esau, rather inexplicably, didn’t seem to care much about those things. His eyes were only for his brother, Jacob, the chosen one of God (Romans 9:13). Jacob represented the promises of God. Those things were bound up in Jacob and his family, and Esau came and embraced him.
We carry those promises with us, too. The same promises that were bound up in Jacob are in us as well.
And then we so often give stuff away – fleshly stuff – because we feel like we ought to do such things to be a blessing. These are things of the flesh, however. Our ministry of reconciliation runs the risk of stopping at the level of the flesh.
But we have something eternal to offer, something more. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. … Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 5:21; 6:2).
I guess my question is this: Should we dispense with all things acts of charity if we are not also coming to people with the explicit “message of reconciliation,” as Paul described it. The unbelieving world is happy to take our physical stuff. I’ve never been rebuffed when trying to give stuff away! But without the gospel, it’s just stuff.
People need to know who we are as children of God, as bearers of the promise. They may not embrace us because of that. Esau’s descendants certainly didn’t continue to embrace the children of God. Just keep reading the story, and you will see.
But the best thing we can give is the good news of Jesus Christ. Our highest desire ought not to be to offer food or money (although both are good). It ought to know we have faithfully served as true ministers of reconciliation.
That was a bit of a ramble today. Thanks for reading. Your thoughts are always welcome!