We began in the previous post thinking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven. The terms mean the same thing. We noted that the idea of God having a kingdom is that of God exercising his influence or of God doing things or acting within a certain sphere. Since God is omnipotent, that is, he has all power, there is nothing that he cannot bring his influence to bear upon.
However, there are areas upon which God chooses not to act. For instance, God gave to man the freedom to act according to his own will and God will not contravene that right. In this respect, it might be said that man has his own domain or kingdom – his own sphere of influence. Man’s “kingdom” is necessarily limited because man is finite. We do not know everything nor do we possess unlimited power to act. Nevertheless, within our limits, God permits us to act, whether for good or for evil. To act in the direction of evil and against God must naturally bring evil consequences and man must be prepared to meet those consequences when he chooses to act in opposition to God’s good will for his life.
While God permits humans to make their own choices and to suffer the results or rewards of those choices he also seeks to inform and persuade us to make good choices. The choice of greatest consequence that ever comes before man is the choice to subjugate his own choices to the will of God. This does not mean that man gives up his freedom, but that in coming under the rule or kingdom of God he realizes the greatest freedom. This is because, as we noted in the previous article on this subject, God is always seeking the best for man. That truth is summarized by the phrase the apostle John uses – “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
That truth means that when we come under the influence of God – come into his kingdom – we come under the influence of his love. Therefore the appropriate response to God’s love is to love him in return. But we have a difficult time conceiving of kingdom in this way. We have difficulty conceiving of a king in the first place, and additionally our idea of a king is more that of an absolute monarch ruling by edict and decree. In other words, our concept of a kings is that of law. The kingship of God does have to do with law, but not of the sort we associate with earthly monarchs. The difference is in the nature of God as opposed to the nature of earthly kings.
God is God and earthly kings are men. God does not impose his law upon man but makes his appeal to men to come under his rule by the manifestation of his love for man.
Romans 5:6-11 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
The kingdoms of men are established and maintained through force and the threat of legal retribution should one violate that kingdom. God’s kingdom was established and is maintained through love. This was true from the beginning. Creation was an act of love. The manifestation of the kingdom Jesus preached was accomplished through love. The law of the kingdom is the law of love. When we enter into the kingdom we enter into the domain of God’s love. To live in the kingdom means that we must live by the “royal law,” the King’s law, the law of love (James 2:8).
If it be argued that this is too simple or that the law of God’s kingdom surely must consist of a fully developed code of law, let it be considered that there is no possible action upon the part of man that cannot be comprehended under the law of love. Jesus himself said that love, manifested in two directions (toward God and toward one’s fellow man), is the summation of all law.
Matthew 22:35-40 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
If God’s will for his kingdom people can be expressed so succinctly, then the necessity of memorization of vast volumes of laws and rules and regulations is done away with. That is not to say that the royal law is not comprehensive nor that those who place themselves under his kingdom rule do not need to know how to respond in various situations. If we understand that all questions pertaining to specific situations can be answered by applying the law of love we then realize that it is not necessary that every citizen of the kingdom to be a legal expert as the one who asked Jesus the question in the passage cited above.
So, how do we learn how to apply this kingdom law? It is not by studying law. It is by coming to understand how love works. And the only way to understand this is to know the one who perfectly practiced the law of love. In short, it means that we must become disciples of Jesus.
In the great commission as Matthew records it, Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). He didn’t tell them to go and convert sinners – although in making disciples sinners would be converted. He didn’t tell them to warn people of the danger of hell – although in making disciples people would be directed away from eternal ruin and toward eternal life. He didn’t tell them to make church members – although in the process of becoming followers of Christ they would be brought together in a community of believers.
So, what is a disciple? We don’t hear people talk much about discipleship, do we? Strictly speaking, a disciple is a follower or learner of a particular teacher. Certainly Jesus did not mean that his disciples were to make disciples to themselves, but that they bring people to the point where they decide to learn from Jesus. When a person becomes a disciple of Jesus he places himself under Jesus’ sphere of influence. He enters into the “kingdom” of Jesus.
As a student or disciple he wants to learn all he can from his teacher, so he listens to the teacher as he teaches. He watches the teacher as he applies the things he teaches to his own life. He admires the way his teacher relates to other people. He studies his manner of thinking and living. And he strives to become as much like his teacher as he possibly can. He does this because he believes what his teacher (rabbi) is teaching is the best way and the only way people are supposed to live.
Who better than Jesus to make one’s rabbi? Of all beings, Jesus is certainly the one who knows best how man should live. He is our Creator. He is the Son of Man – the one who was and is all that man was ever supposed to be. He is also the Son of God – the one who is the perfect representation of God in whose image we were made and in whose image we are being formed.
But how may we who live almost 2,000 years after Jesus walked the hills of Galilee in the days of his ministry become his disciples? We can see how he made disciples of those whom he chose and those who chose to be disciples. They went with him wherever he went. They listened to him as he taught them and as he taught multitudes of people. They watched him as he healed the sick, cast out demons, restored sight to blind people, strengthened paralyzed limbs and purged the bodies of people afflicted with the dread disease of leprosy. They were with him as he conversed with the outcasts of society, with women and with those who were not of the privileged of the Jewish society. They saw his compassion, his tender love, his gentleness. They saw his hatred of hypocrisy and his contempt for human tradition bound as heavy burdens on the backs of people already crushed under the heavy load of just living in this sin-cursed world. And they listened some more as he taught of the beauty and grandeur and value of a kingdom in which God would rule in love over all his creation. More than anything in the world they wanted to share in that kingdom.
They were like the man in the parable Jesus taught about who found a treasure in a field who “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).By becoming disciples of Jesus they came to possess the kingdom. They had to sell all they had to become his disciples, but what they received was of so far greater value there was no comparison.
Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
In order to be Jesus’ disciples we must do the same thing those early disciples did. We have four accounts of the life of Jesus. We can and must spend much time with him. As we read those accounts, don’t read them just a biography. Read them as the story of the living Son of God who came into this world to make God known to man. Read them to see what he was like – how he thought and especially how he loved both God and man. Let our reading become personal encounters with him as we converse with him in prayer. When we start putting into practice what we learn there about how to live we will find ourselves loving to be under the influence of God’s rule or in his kingdom.