For a moment I want us to back up and define the term. The Greek word basilea (kingdom) means “rule.” It refers to the right of a king to rule or have dominion over a certain domain. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said they should pray …
“Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10).
This statement is in the form of poetry as in the Psalms. Hebrew poetry did not rhyme as we most often think of poetry, but consisted of parallel statements. Thus, for the kingdom to come would be equal to the will of God being done on the earth. God’s rule then has to do with his will being done on the earth as it is done in heaven. Heaven and earth comprise the extent of his kingdom. The doing of his will is the business of his kingdom.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”
To those who hold that the church and the kingdom are equivalent terms, the instruction of Jesus in Matt. 6:33 has to do with doing church business. “Seek the church first” is the way this verse is usually understood. Is that what Jesus is meaning? Look at the context in which this verse is found and look at the promise that is made: “…and all these things will be added to you.” It is God’s kingdom business to provide for the needs of those who are its citizens.
Jesus had been teaching his audience to rely on God instead of worrying about even the necessities of life. What one worries about is what they have put as the greater priority in his life. When one puts food, clothing and such as the priority and then consumes himself with worry about whether he will have enough for tomorrow this shows that he does not trust in the God who created us and our food and clothing. To worry about these things means that we are not concerned as we should be about what God is concerned with – whether his will is done on earth. The first priority for children of God ought to be the Father’s business – even to the point of being willing to give up our lives for that cause. Instead of worry about our own needs we should be concerned with humbly and submissively caring for others and how we can help the helpless meet their needs.
It certainly includes the preaching the gospel. After all, the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. But look at what accompanied the gospel of the kingdom when Jesus preached it.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (Matthew 9:35).
It will not do for us to try to excuse ourselves from doing likewise by saying that Jesus was simply performing miracles to demonstrate his divine power. Look at what the next three verses say …
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:36-38).
The great power of the kingdom is love. Jesus was demonstrating the true nature of his kingdom when he healed the sick, fed the hungry, restored sight to the blind and led the lost, helpless sheep. His miracles were the means by which he ministered to men, but it was love that was behind it all.
What Jesus was doing was kingdom business. It is implied in the call for laborers in the harvest that they be people of like mind – people who see the need and respond to that need in the same ways Jesus did (see Phil. 2:5-7). Preaching the gospel of the kingdom will be far easier when people see the kingdom demonstrated by the genuine, loving, compassionate acts of service done by those sent to labor in the harvest. I suspect that some disingenuously use “benevolence” as a baited hook to catch unsuspecting fish. Those who are kingdom workers really care about people and show their love and compassion in ways that make a difference in people’s lives.
What is the difference – or maybe I should say relationship – between the kingdom and the church. Some people speak of them as being synonymous. The words are not synonymous but there is definitely a linkage. The church is within, is part of, is the visible expression of the kingdom, but the kingdom is not limited to the church.
As we have seen before, the kingdom is the rule or reign of God over the whole of his creation. The church is the people who submit to his rule. The kingdom has to do with the power or right of the king – the church is the people who submit to his power. The church is the agency of the kingdom, spreading its gospel, working its work. The church is to be the living demonstration of what the kingdom of God will be like when it is fully and finally realized in the new heavens and the new earth which will be brought in at the consummation of the whole purpose of God in the last day (Revelation 21-22:5).
Does that mean that the church is not important? Not at all. The church, the people who acknowledge the rule of God over their lives, are the people upon whom he depends to do his kingdom work. Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. The church does not extend to heaven, nor does it exist to judge and overthrow wicked governments. Christ has such authority and has exercised it on occasions. The church’s business is to call people into the kingdom – to bring men and women under the rule of God in their lives and in their homes. The church does this by preaching the gospel of the kingdom as Peter did on the day of Pentecost by announcing not only the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but his ascension and exaltation of Jesus to the position of Lord and King (Acts 2:29-36). It does this by demonstrating the love and compassion of the King. The people who make up the church live Christ-ruled kingdom oriented lives.
Those who believed Peter’s message and responded to it as recorded in Acts 2:36-41, were added together with the apostles and were from then on known as the church, the called out ones. They are the Lord’s congregation or assembly. They are saints – those set apart from the world – a unique community. They are the family of God. They have been bought with the precious blood of the Savior. They are the ones restored to the place of honor and rule, having been raised up to sit with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). These are the people who are… “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). These are the ones who are considered the body of Christ – the living, acting presence of Christ in the world today, who, through the use of the gifts given through grace, are to function to the end of showing Christ living and acting in the world.
“…so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:5-8).
How much different is this picture from that of the average church today? Now people come together for a 1 hour Bible study – which is a good thing – have a few songs, a prayer, hurry through the Lord’s Supper to the sermon (which is the centerpiece of the assembly), an “invitation song” (a la the evangelistic revivals of years gone by), another song and dismiss to go home to repeat the last hour again in the evening “service.”
Some individuals are good to visit the sick and help out in ways they can, but there is little functioning as a body. A body, in order to function must be coordinated. So often the body of Christ has no coordinated functioning whatsoever. Whatever happens happens haphazardly.
But look at the early church in Jerusalem.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47).
This was a new society, a new creation of God. It is not an ordinary earthly community, but spiritual. They were a community imbued with the Holy Spirit. Verse 43 says that “…awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Theirs was a brotherly love springing out of faith in Jesus, not only as Savior, but also as Lord and King. They generously shared not only their property and goods but their lives as well. They broke bread together, ate together, praised God together and were favored by the larger community. They were demonstrating the spiritual power of Christ’s kingdom.
The way to spread the kingdom is to let people see the power of the kingdom working in the lives of men and women. When people can see lives changed and love demonstrated between former enemies, reformed sinners, transformed reprobates and assorted misfits, (1 Cor 6:9-11), people know it is the real thing. People also know pretense when they see it. All the accusations of hypocrisy one hears may not be so far off the mark when people who say they are Christians act no differently from the world or when they do not act like the special people of God. When “going to church” is what people do instead of being the church, people can tell the difference.
People are moved by sincerity and respect – respect for them and that of Christians for one another. It matters not to the world how many boasts we make about being the right church when we do not treat people right they will not listen. And when we do not treat one another as beloved brothers and sisters, people will pick up on that and it will make all the difference in how they respond when we attempt to teach people the gospel.