On this day in 1785, President George Washington appointed Thomas Jefferson as Minister to France, who stepped in for an aged Benjamin Franklin. When someone mentioned that he was Franklin’s replacement, the 42-year old Jefferson retorted, “No, sir, I succeed him. No one can replace him.”
Jefferson’s two-term stint in France was a mixed bag. His towering intellect and reputation made him the toast of Parisian society, yet he failed to persuade the national government to sign commercial treaties. In the spring of 1786, Jefferson traveled to London to bolster the diplomatic efforts of John Adams. Both were rebuffed by King George III.
Returning to France, Jefferson found his standing enhanced by the recent publication of his Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, a document that formed the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. This tract secured Jefferson in the pantheon of Enlightenment intellectuals.
In the diplomatic arena, Jefferson finally secured an important victory when he struck an alliance with the King of Prussia, which opened doors for negotiations with other European heads of state.
The Sage of Monticello returned to America in 1789, but seriously entertained plans to return to France. When Washington offered him the post of the first Secretary of State, Jefferson reluctantly accepted. In 1800, he was elected the third President of the United States.
As Minister to France, Jefferson was literally a servant of the U.S. The New Testament term for minister is commonly translated as “servant.” The original Greek term, diakonos, birthed the English word for “deacon.” Originally a deacon was a table waiter. The deacons of the early church didn’t work at Denny’s of Galilee, but cared for poor widows and oversaw food distribution programs. Paul also instructed that deacons had to possess certain character traits. They had to be men of dignity and honor who spoke plain truth, were not addicted to wine or dishonest gain, and held to the faith in good conscience. Deacons also had to be married to one wife and be effective managers of their own households (read I Timothy 3:8-13).
Today, we think of ministers as a special class of ordained, seminary-educated clergy. But the Apostle Paul was not addressing robed priests when he wrote the Corinthian church. As a matter of fact, according to II Corinthians 6:9-11, some of them had been swindlers, idol worshipers, drunkards, and adulterers. But now they were justified by Jesus and sanctified by the Spirit. They were, in Paul’s own words, “letters of Christ,” read and known by everybody (read II Corinthians 3:1-3).
Not long ago, I was performing one of my “Magic with a Message” shows during a children’s Sabbath Service. Suddenly, my throat went dry. About a minute later, a church member put a cup of ice water on my table and disappeared. I told the congregation, “Now there’s a true servant” – and the congregation broke into applause.
We will probably never travel to a foreign land and negotiate a treaty. But we can travel down the block and be God’s ambassadors. We can deliver a cup of cold water to the thirsty. As servants of Christ, we can love the unlovable, encourage the discouraged, and carry light into dark places. We don’t have to be ordained to be effective ministers. We just have to be in love with Christ.