The How and Why of the Kingdom of God

I can’t describe this topic better than is contained in this short soundbite from the After Class Podcast. Please take 15 minutes to listen. I hope you’ll consider listening to more of their material as well.

“The Kingdom is not advanced top-down, by the sword, by the legal gavel, through the pen of legislation—the Kingdom comes as a GIFT.” – John Nugent

The After Class Podcast, Episode 2.9 – Explaining the Kingdom – How and Why
(https://afterclass.libsyn.com/explaining-the-kingdom-how-and-why)

If you found that to be of value, here’s an excellent follow-up episode: https://afterclass.libsyn.com/228-embracing-the-kingdom-part-1

Thanks to John, Ron, and Sam at the After Class Podcast!

What is the church, and why is it important?

First of all, the word “church” tends to bring a certain picture to our minds today–at least us in America. We instantly picture a building, usually with a steeple and a cross. It may be large or small, with a peaceful country setting or the middle of a big city. Some may picture a more ornate building than others with beautiful stained glass windows, intricate statues, and fancy seating arrangements. Even searching for the picture for this article, I only used the keyword “church”. This is just one of many buildings that popped up.

Hopefully though, there are some that simply picture a group of diverse, imperfect people gathered to worship a perfect God and celebrate their unity in Christ. That’s what the church is. It’s not a building. It’s not a regularly scheduled event that we “go to.” It’s a group of people living out their purpose as Kingdom citizens to be the salt of the earth and light to the world.

Perhaps we would be doing ourselves and everyone else a favor if we began to refer to the church as the ekklesia–the Greek word that is often translated as “church” (Matthew 16:18, among many others). Maybe this would help us wipe out the cultural definition from our minds and give us a new perspective of who we are. We say without thinking things like: “Let’s go to church” or “Where do you go to church?” We need to leave this language behind. If we really believe that we ARE the church, then that word is not something we “go to” on Sundays. We ARE the church 24/7/365.

Even more than ekklesia, I’ve grown fond of using “Kingdom Community” to refer to the body of Christ. It reminds us that we are called to live in community with one another (Acts 4:32), and it reminds us that our lives should reflect a Kingdom perspective (Matthew 6:33).

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the word “church,” as long as we can train ourselves and teach others what it really means and what it does not, and we use it correctly.

To answer the question in the title, I’ll use “church”–if for no other reason than to help create a new picture for your mind to associate with the word. I hope that you’ll provide your answer to the question in the comments below!

Put simply, the church is the body of Christ! What could be more important than the manifestation of Christ on earth right now, representing the Kingdom? We are the community of the believers, bound together by Christ in perfect unity.

There is a local aspect of the church, as well as a global aspect of all citizens of God’s Kingdom. I believe most of the emphasis of practical instruction in the Bible is placed on the local body, because that is where we as individuals are meant to operate—both in receiving edification as well as offering edification. The unity of the church is based on LOVE, which we have received a perfect example of in Christ. In fact, Jesus says that the way the world will even recognize us as His disciples is how we love EACH OTHER (John 13:34-35). One might think that the world would notice us when we love strangers, and indeed we should; but Jesus said the world will notice our great love for ONE ANOTHER, the church. That inexplicable bond was demonstrated so powerfully by the first century church—Jews and Gentiles, once vehemently opposed to one another, now locked arm in arm and praising Jesus together. Rich people liquidating their assets so they could support the poor, slaves congregating with the free, all in love. How could the world not take notice?  (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

We come together as His church and remember that He has arranged us according to His purpose. He has gifted each member in the way that He planned so that we can build each other up. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11,18) He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can help equip other saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we ALL attain the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the FULLNESS of Christ! (Ephesian 4:11-13).

Before Jesus was crucified, he prayed that that we would all be ONE just as He and the Father are one. He was praying for His church. He was praying for all people that believed and would believe in the future.  (John 17:20-23)

The church cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 reads like this: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Notice that it’s not: “so it is with the church.” What did Jesus ask Saul on the road to Damascus? Acts 9:4: “…Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Those people Saul was seeing thrown in prison–they were part of Jesus–they were His body! In 1 Corinthians 1:13, Paul pleads with the members of the body there, asking them “is Christ divided”? Surely the church can’t be divided if her head is not divided Himself. Eve came out of Adam, and is Adam in another form. Eve represents the church just like Adam represents Jesus (see Ephesians 5)! The church comes out of Jesus, and is Jesus in another form. The church is Jesus’s bride, and they are one.

Jesus is also referred to as the new Jacob and the new Israel. Consider when Jacob met his would-be wife, Rachel, at a well in Genesis 29. It was the middle of the day–an odd time to go fetch water… Now look at John 4:1-45. This is the story of the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the very same well mentioned in Genesis 29. What time did Jesus meet this woman? Noon! (John 4:6) She even questions if He is greater than her father Jacob (vs 12). Jesus gently leads her to the truth that He is indeed–He is the Messiah, the Christ, and He’s come to provide the eternal spring of Living Water. Who does this Samaritan woman represent? Samaritans by birth are part Jew and part Gentile. She is a perfect representation of the church which has that same genetic makeup! We are the new creation, we are the new race (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, 1 Corinthians 10:32)–where earthly, fleshly distinctions no longer carry any weight or shame!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

What are your thoughts? Please share with us!

Light the Fire

Imagine you’re a first-century Christian—a brand new convert in your family. You met Jesus face to face. You listened to his teachings. You saw his miracles. You know in your heart that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He came to save the world. He was just crucified for your sins and he was raised again, defeating death forever and ever.  Your immediate family doesn’t believe. They have made many comments about Jesus being a threat to society and their civilization. You know that mentioning your beliefs could be dangerous, but you’ve just realized the most important thing imaginable. You have the keys to a truly full and abundant life (John 10:10)—a life that extends well beyond our short time here on earth. 

What do you do? Are you going to share this truth with your family? What if they disown you? What if it puts your life in real danger?

How can you just sit on such find, though? (Matthew 13:44-46) You’re ready to give up everything you have to follow Jesus. You know that he is the way and the truth and the life. But you’re more scared than you’ve ever been.

You have close friends that were with you listening to Jesus. They have also counted the cost and are devoting their lives to follow Jesus. They have to make the decision of how to handle this with their unbelieving families as well. One friend of yours was already hauled off to prison for proclaiming Jesus to his friends and family. Another one of your friends was beaten terribly—after going through this, he boldly rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). You are greatly inspired by their heart, dedication, and conviction. Their fire fuels your fire. You know that your life is now in Christ, it is no longer yours.  You’ve been crucified with Christ—it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you (Galatians 2:20).  You are no longer concerned with things of the world (Mark 4:19).  You are not seeking the approval of man, you are living your life for Christ (Galatians 1:10). 

In light of this, you proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom to your family. As you reluctantly predicted, they disown you. Your life as you once knew it has changed in a matter of moments. There are threats from former friends. You’ve lost your source of income. But you have a new family in Christ and His disciples. You’ve banded together, knit together in love and Christian unity (Colossians 2:2). The fire within their spirits keeps your spirit warm and brightly shining. 

You remember this teaching of Jesus (recorded in Matthew 10:16-23): “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

How easy would it be to give up in these circumstances? What if you were going through that without brothers and sisters? 

Bottom line: We need each other. Keep encouraging each other. Keep your fires lit so that you in turn keep my fire lit.  We warm each other and keep each other going in this life. Satan wants nothing more than for us to be separated from each other. We are like coals in a fire—if you pull one out, it doesn’t keep burning long at all. The glow of the ember quickly dies and you’re left with a cold lump. But together, those coals will keep burning for a very long time. As more fuel is added, the contagiousness of their warmth spreads. We are meant to be together—fueling each other so we can then fuel others.

We are like coals in a fire—if you pull one out, it doesn’t keep burning long at all...We are meant to be together—fueling each other so we can then fuel others. Click To Tweet

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” – Romans 12:11-13

“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” – Jeremiah 20:9

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

God’s Orchestra

Imagine a symphony orchestra. You’ve got everything from a flute to a trumpet to a violin to a menagerie of percussion instruments. Individually, they are all so different, producing completely different sounds—even players with the same instruments may produce different sounds or notes—but they all come together and speak as one united orchestra. If the trumpets wanted to, they could probably overpower the rest of the group. They could take all the spotlight for themselves. But the sound you hear would no longer be the orchestra. The trumpets are only a part; they are not the whole. They can’t display the full beauty of the orchestra alone. 

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, we read that a manifestation of the Spirit is given to each individual for the “common good.”  The Greek word there for “common good” is “symphérō,” which can also mean to “be in harmony with,” much like that symphony orchestra. So what happens when we’re not in harmony?  Whose voice is heard: a few individuals here and there, or the collective voice of the Spirit through all the united members of the body?  

Just before this passage, Paul points out to the church in Corinth that they used to worship “mute” idols (1 Corinthians 12:1-2). Of all the ways to describe the idols, he chose to describe their inability to speak to set up a stark contrast. The God they worship now *does* speak. He speaks through you and your fellow church community members. When you proclaim that “Jesus is Lord,” it is the Holy Spirit speaking through you. There are a variety of gifts, service, activities, but they all come from the same God. God speaks in a variety of ways through different members of one body. (1 Corinthians 12:3-6) 

God is playing a symphony, and I am but one instrument. God designed His church so that I would be surrounded by other instruments of His. We each have a manifestation of the Spirit, but completeness of the symphony cannot be realized on an individual basis (1 Corinthians 12:11). How else can we hear the symphony of God except through a local community of believers? 

What should this mean for us? Are we living this out with our church communities?  

We often refer to each other as brother or sister inside the walls of a church building. It’s easy to say we’re united when we’re sitting together in a big auditorium during a scheduled service. We hear the preacher’s sermon, listen to one or two others speak, and sing a few songs during the hour or so we’re together, then many of us are off to our separate lives for the rest of the week.  

Is that God’s idea of a symphony? There are a couple of aspects to examine here: 1) Can we even be a proper church community if we only see each once (maybe twice) a week? 2) Does our assembly reflect individualism (just the trumpets in the orchestra) or does it reflect a community, more of an orchestra, as God intended?  

I believe the answer to the first question is “no,” but to unpack that idea properly would require a longer article than you might want to read. Perhaps we’ll do a series on the importance of community life in the church body. In the meantime, read Acts 4:32-37. 

What do you think about question #2? Of course, we’re speaking in generalities. You may belong to a body of believers that has truly embraced the idea of God’s orchestra. In many churches in America, however, how many of God’s instruments are relegated strictly to membership in the audience? Is the spotlight on a couple soloists or the full orchestra? Apart from singing a few songs and hopefully greeting each other in joy and love, did everyone exercise their gifts that are talked about in 1 Corinthians 12? That passage certainly isn’t alone in talking about the importance of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says: ”When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” The gifts each of us bring to the table are designed and given so that we all play a role in building up the body. Maybe your church community is operating so that the full orchestra is playing, but if you’re only hearing a couple soloists week in and week out, it may be time to examine if that should change.  

What if the trumpets didn’t want to take the spotlight, but all of the other instruments just refused to play? Maybe that’s a situation you find yourself in. You’re not trying to overpower anyone; you’re just trying to use your gifts that God has given you. How do you encourage the rest of the body to join in the music? I believe an answer to that may be found as we look into that first question of the importance of living life together as a community. When we approach all of life as an opportunity for worship, edification, discipleship, and teaching, we are much more likely to reveal the Spirit’s working in each other’s hearts and lives. If we only ever think about those things during a special service once a week, it’s going to be hard to make any necessary changes. This relates to what has been taught for so long, whether implicitly or explicitly—that the preacher preaches and the church body listens. Are we really trying to equip each other to fight the good fight? Are we calling each other to do what can only be done through the indwelling Holy Spirit?  

Ephesians 4:11-16 should be useful to all parties here. Certainly, God has gifted each local body with a special group of leaders that are able to teach the other members of that body. But they aren’t to just teach for academic’s sake. They are there to equip the others for the work of ministry. Funny, some of us might see the phrase “work of ministry” and think “that’s what we pay the preacher for.” Quite the contrary… But this problem can go two ways. Embracing the idea that we are a priesthood of ALL believers (1 Peter 2:9) is a direct challenge to those who enjoy a special leadership distinction. Truly, if we don’t all work together to build up the body of Christ, we will never achieve the goal that is mentioned in that Ephesians passage—”to attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  

The fullness of Christ. The fullness of Christ is like hearing the full, rich sound of an orchestra. God wants us to experience that together with our brothers and sisters. That takes a commitment from you as well as your spiritual siblings. A symphony can’t be played by one instrument.  

Are you a soloist? God has been and wants to keep using you. Build up the other instruments around you. Think about ways to disciple brothers and sisters in the everyday stuff of life. Equip them to do the work of ministry. Edify them so they can edify you. No one is meant to walk the narrow path alone.  

Are you an audience member? Have you gotten comfortable in that role? God designed you for more than that. If you believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, then let Him use you in ways that would not be possible on your own. If we’re going to use Philippians 4:13 in reference to how well we can play sports (a gross misapplication if there ever was one), then we ought to be more comfortable with the idea that the Spirit can use us in ways contrary to our natural tendencies. Let the Spirit work through you. Let Him change you. You are a new creation, the old has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Don’t use your human characteristics as a crutch—we are no longer merely human if we have the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16). The Spirit may very well use some of your natural traits for the good of the body, but we must always expect and be ready for change and growth!  

Let’s grow together with our local church bodies so that we can represent the fullness of Christ to those outside. More on the idea of community life later…

Bandwagon Fans…

“…These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat…” – Matthew 20:12 

Is there anyone that gets more sideways looks than a bandwagon fan? All along they mocked your team. They knew during that loss early in the season that you were a fool for wearing that jersey. They’d never cheer for that team. Then it happens. The season is almost done, everyone knows your team is going to win it all. Just like that, your coworker is your team’s biggest fan. He didn’t put in any effort to cheer them through the season. He wasn’t sweating bullets during that crazy overtime finish that sealed the spot in the playoffs. He didn’t sow any of the seeds, and now he’s trying to be part of reaping the harvest. Now that it’s widely accepted, he’s happy to join in.   

Isn’t that exactly the feeling of some of the workers in the vineyard in Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 20:1-16? The first group started working early that day. They knew what they agreed to work for and got started immediately. Others were added shortly thereafter—they worked most of the day and shared much of the hard labor; sweating for hours under the blazing sun. More were added later, some even added with just one hour left in the work day. How could they be paid the same wage as those who’d been working all day long? It wasn’t even that hot anymore. Where is their sweat equity? How is that fair?   

How is anything we’ve been given from God “fair”? What do we truly deserve? Death—we deserve to die in our sins (Romans 6:23). For God to be fair with us is something that we really don’t want. His only son was sent to die a horrendous death for sins he didn’t commit. Talk about something that isn’t fair… What grace and mercy God’s followers have been shown! We know the great love of God because we’ve experienced it. We know the price that was paid for us. We should be thrilled to share that gift with someone else, even up to the very last second of our work in the vineyard. 

See, those early workers misjudged the attitudes of those last-hour additions. They weren’t relishing in the fact that they got paid the same wage for a fraction of the work. They knew they were blessed to be given a position in the vineyard, and they put in as much hard labor as the remainder of the day allowed. They simply weren’t aware that the vineyard was hiring (Matthew 20:7). They didn’t hear the call to join the work until that final hour. If they had recognized or been given the opportunity earlier, they would have jumped at the chance. 

The fact is, not everyone is going to recognize the Kingdom or it’s worth right off the bat. Many won’t. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. It doesn’t come with the bells and whistles with which the world defines a powerful and attractive empire. It starts off as something as unassuming as a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds (Matthew 13:31-32). Who wants to join the team that appears so small and insignificant? How does something like that stand a chance? What impact could it possibly have on the world around it? Won’t it always be outnumbered, overpowered, and destined to fail?  

Nope. That upside-down, unassuming kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is everlasting, and it will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14). God wins! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24: “Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Those authorities that seem to the world almighty and indestructible will be crushed by the eternal Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:31-45). That tiny mustard seed actually grows into the biggest plant in the garden, towering over everything else that was planted.   

Wouldn’t you want to be in on that from the beginning, before it’s widely known and accepted? Part of the joy of a championship win is experiencing every turn it took to get there. You may have even played a role (albeit possibly only very small) in the overall effort. There’s a cost to following through all the way to the end, of course, including being ridiculed after that one embarrassing loss. But you’re happy you paid it in the end. Sharing in that final victory is more than worth it. The longer you’d been a fan, the more pain you experienced during those dark seasons—that just translates to more joy and reward when that great victory is finally realized. A bandwagoner just can’t really share in that, can they? 

Jesus’ first disciples had an awesome opportunity to be part of something special from the very beginning. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to earth (Mark 1:15). His mission was to proclaim that Kingdom (Luke 4:43; 8:1). He commissioned His disciples to proclaim it to the world around them, perhaps even before they had a full grasp of it themselves (Luke 10:1-12). The gospel of the Kingdom was proclaimed boldly during the few years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He commissioned more of His disciples to assume their role in the Kingdom by continuing to proclaim it boldly to the world as He ascended to His throne in Heaven (Matthew 28:19-20).   

Even today, there’s an important role to be played in God’s Kingdom, as we grow ever closer to the end of life on earth as we know it (Romans 13:11). Kingdom people are still His ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). He chose imperfect people, “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7), to hold that treasure and display it to the world. The cost? Your life on earth, however much is left. The spoils of victory? Eternal life with God in the eternal Kingdom (Matthew 16:24-25; Galatians 2:20). What an uneven trade… 

Despite any widespread proclamation of the final victory, there will be people that only realize who wins after the season is over. They won’t have the chance to represent those colors, but they will ultimately recognize who the true champion is. As Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:10-11): “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” Widely accepted by all in the end, because it is the ultimate truth that many simply deny.   

What should Kingdom people’s response to that fact be? We should be rooting for bandwagoners! We should be proclaiming the Kingdom as God’s ambassadors until the final whistle blows. There is room at the victory celebration. God is patient, and God is gracious (2 Peter 3:9). Our mission is to display the Kingdom, where the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 20:8,16; Matthew 19:30; Luke 13:30). We proclaim God’s eternal victory so that as many people as possible might join us working in the vineyard, regardless of how much time might be left in the workday. Any distractions from our mission may mean less potential bandwagoners get the message in time to make the choice to jump on board. After all, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). The Kingdom needs workers for the harvest, even those that are jumping on the bandwagon—because in reality, isn’t that what we’re all doing these days?   

Today, those imperfect jars of clay that God has entrusted the treasure of His Kingdom with are people who at some point in their lives realize what Jesus ushered into the world 2,000 years ago. Bandwagoners that missed the part before the truth was revealed in full. Missed the part before we could hold the full revelation of Scripture in our hands. There was a time when the Holy Spirit was yet to be granted as a gift to live within the believer—we missed that part. We missed the part where our Savior would be nailed to the cross while the world mocked His followers who had proclaimed that He was the Son of God. “Some king,” the world thought. Some King, indeed.   

The end is written; we know how the story ends. God wins. No, we aren’t bandwagoners in the sense of an insincere allegiance. The Kingdom has no place for that (Luke 9:62). We are simply late to the party. Just like the workers who were hired late in the day, it is not necessarily any fault of our own. We have an awesome God who is offering us the same wage as those disciples who have gone before us—eternity with Him in His eternal Kingdom (Romans 6:23). We have the luxury of knowing the end before we begin. Jump on the bandwagon with me, and let’s look for others! 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17

-Chris