The story is told that Ronald Reagan’s secretary of State, George Shultz, would receive U.S. Ambassadors when they were back in Washington. After a discussion in armchairs, the Secretary would ask each Ambassador to follow him over to a corner of the room where there was a large standing globe. "Would you mind showing me exactly where your country is?" Shultz would inquire.
Ambassadors were surprised that Shultz, holder of a doctorate in economics, needed to be shown where Norway or Nigeria are, but they would dutifully spin the globe and point to the country where they were serving. At that moment, Shultz had them. "No, it isn’t," he would say, spinning the globe back and pointing to the United States. "Always remember, this is your country."*
Shultz himself apparently first related this story to Brian Lamb back on a June 27, 1993 while appearing on C-Span Television Network’s show, Booknotes. His version is slightly different in that, eventually, one newly appointed ambassador, Mike Mansfield (who was headed to Japan), did correctly point out that his country was the United States.
At the time of the television show appearance, Schultz added this thought: "I've told that story, subsequently, to all the ambassadors going out... Never forget you're over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You're there to represent us. Take care of our interests and never forget it, and you're representing the best country in the world."
For my part, I am immediately reminded of the Apostle Paul's words in his second New Testament letter to the Christians at Corinth (5:20): "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God."
Again in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus (6:19-20), he states: "…and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."
In both of these passages, the Apostle uses a very specific word to describe the relationship of Christians (his, theirs, and ours), to this present world: "ambassador". In the original "Koine" (or "common") Greek language of the New Testament, this word is "presbeúō" ("to act as an ambassador"), and it means "to act as an established statesman (diplomat) – a trusted, respected ambassador who is authorized to speak as God's emissary (represent His kingdom)".
According to Scottish Biblical scholar, Alexander Souter, "This term is used in the ancient phrase, 'I am on embassy to the Emperor, I am an ambassador' - i.e. as someone respected as trustworthy (loyal, knowledgeable), especially in the opinion of those they know (belong to)".**
Why would Paul use this term? Because Jesus Himself affirmed that His Kingdom was not of this world, but of another (John 18:36). Here, Jesus was, of course, referring to the Kingdom of Heaven. And therefore, the writers of the New Testament affirm that the followers of Jesus hold dual citizenship (Philippians 3:20) – both in a given country in this world and in another country in the world to come.
As citizens of the United States of America in this world, we love and support our wonderful country. Because of this, we willingly embrace the responsibilities of citizenship, from abiding by its laws to military service to voting to paying taxes. But we also long for the advent of that other, greater Kingdom.
As the Apostle Paul states: "…our citizenship is in Heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body."
I leave you with the excellent words of the Bible Gateway Blog team for July 4, 2012…
"Chances are that if you live in the USA, you’re probably on your way to the nearest lake or a family member or friend’s house for a classic Fourth of July cookout. Grilled burgers and sandy beaches await! In the evening follow fireworks, while families and friends shoot bottle rockets and light sparklers from the driveway.
"American Christians can be proud of their national history, and the hand they’ve played in shaping the United States over the years. It isn’t that either America or the Christians who live there are perfect. But Americans can be proud of the religious freedom that’s integral to their national identity, and American Christians can be grateful to God for the opportunity to worship Him without fear of persecution - a freedom that countless believers past and present have not enjoyed.
"Christians approach patriotism differently. Yes, we can be proud to be Americans, just as any person of any nationality can be proud of their national heritage. But as Christians, we know that our true kingdom is not here on earth. We’re citizens of a heavenly kingdom…
"The national borders we know so well are only temporary. This earth will pass, and the kingdom to which we are called by God will replace it. We can celebrate the cultures and histories that shape us while looking ahead to a better world to come.
"Whoever you are, American or otherwise, you have a plenty of reasons to be thankful today. Let’s take this time to celebrate, relax, and enjoy!"***
* A copy of Ambassador Untermeyer’s speech has been posted online at: http://untermeyer.com/through-embassy-windows-the-job-of-the-modern-american-ambassador/.
Many communicators have related Secretary Shultz’s story and its implications for Christians down through the years. The original published source for these appears to have been: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1998/fall/8l4067.html.
** The web site, www.biblehub.com, is an excellent source for Hebrew and Greek language studies, especially for those have not been to Seminary or else trained in Biblical studies. Cf.: http://biblehub.com/greek/4243.htm.
*** Bible Gateway’s blog site can be found online at: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/07/we-are-citizens-o f-heaven/.