Living In the Kingdom #5

sf_shalom_02In the sermon on the mount – his exposition of the Kingdom of God – Jesus, in admonishing his disciples of the futility of anxiety over the things of life we as human beings are prone to worry about – material things, even the material essentials – encourages them/us to…

“…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33).

What Jesus was calling us to do is to reorient our lives and our priorities in accordance with God’s will. He is not saying that after we have put time in for the kingdom then we are free to seek all these other things. Given the quality of the kingdom, what else ranks with it? What comes close? Food? Water? Clothing? Shelter? Entertainment? Possessions? Family? Friends? Job? Self? As important as these things may be, when any or all come first, what Jesus identifies as being of first importance has little or no place in our life. And since the kingdom of God has to do with what we are before God and what we become, we can never attain to God’s intended purpose for our lives if his will does not come first. Hence, what Jesus was calling on people to do is to align their wills, their desires, their priorities with the will of God, making his will supreme and our wills subordinate.

We have seen that Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly (John 10:10). This suggests to us that this divinely given/enabled life is not only desirable, but the only one that makes sense. Would God offer something that was not the best for us? Would he offer us something abundant, overflowing, immeasurable that would make us miserable or restrict us or prevent us from achieving everything we can potentially achieve? If we think that, then we don’t have a very high concept of what God is like nor of the nature of his blessings nor of the nature of the ideal life.

The word [abundantly, mr] denotes that which is not absolutely essential to life, but which is superadded to make life happy. They shall not merely have life – simple, bare existence – but they shall have all those superadded things which are needful to make that life eminently blessed and happy. It would be vast mercy to keep men merely from annihilation or hell; but Jesus will give them eternal joy, peace, the society of the blessed, and all those exalted means of felicity which are prepared for them in the world of glory. (Barnes Notes via eSword).

Of course this would be true of those who earnestly desire the blessings of the kingdom – those who are willing to give up everything else for it. The nature of the kingdom is such that one cannot have its blessings with a divided loyalty. It is either all of our being for the kingdom or none of the kingdom for us if we are unwilling to make a 100% commitment to it.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).

Jesus spoke of the difficulty of kingdom entrance and living in the kingdom when one possesses riches.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 18:24 Cf. Matthew 19:23; Mark 10:23).

Consider how the early Christians lived this principle out. Their money and property were not considered as their own when there were fellow believers in need.

Acts 2:44-45And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (See also: Acts 4:32-35).

These people were living out the principle of the great Sabbath year, the year of Jubilee. They had come into the kingdom and being familiar with the ideals God had set for the poor to be taken care of, they applied those principles to their new relationship.

Deuteronomy 15:4But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—”

They were trusting this promise of the Lord to bless and provide for them as he had promised when the command for the Jubilee year was given. In that year – every 50th year – the land was to lie fallow as it also would have in the just preceding seventh-year Sabbath year. God specifically had said that they would reap enough to last them three years – until the ninth year when the next harvest could be brought in. Additionally, all debts were to be forgiven and property that had been sold would revert back to the original owners. The reason: the land was seen as belonging to the Lord. He had given them the privilege of using it for their good. These Christians were living out the blessings and principles of rest and freedom as well as trust in God that were taught in these observances.

Did they do this as an observation of the Deuteronomy commandment, or did they see the coming of the Kingdom as the fulfillment of what God had intended for those commandments and observances to teach? Whether they saw it as such or just as the momentous event that it was when the rule of God was extended over the earth and they saw their actions as appropriate to kingdom living matters little. We can look back on the record and see the profound effect it had made on their lives. When we look at the record of Acts 2 as an aberration or an excess of enthusiasm and that we don’t have to do what they did we make a grave mistake. No, we don’t have the Sabbath year when debts are canceled and Jubilee when family property sold reverts back to the original owners, but when we fail to see their love for their fellow man and their trust in God to provide for them we miss the essence of the account. And we miss the essence of the kingdom of God.

We miss the essence of kingdom living when we reduce the accounts given to legal examples or dismiss them as having any meaning to us today as we are so prone to do with the Acts 2 account of how the first citizens of the kingdom lived. I refer specifically to the celebratory lifestyle exhibited by these people.

Acts 2:46-47 “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Notice that the way these Christians lived had an impact on the community. They had favor with all the people. They were liked and respected. They were being the shining lights that Jesus said kingdom citizens would be. Who is going to criticize people who demonstrate their love for one another and who take care of those who are in need? Who is going to resent people who go about with a smile on their face and a song on their lips? Who is going to condemn a people whose every action evidences a deep love for God and a desire to praise and glorify him? The people in Jerusalem didn’t and it showed by the fact that believers were continually being added to the number of the saved.

But the addition of believers was not the primary reason these first Christians lived the way they did. Their life was the natural response of people living under the Lordship of Jesus. They were living as though their present relationship was the fulfillment of the Jubilee – which it really was. The blessedness of rest and freedom was theirs as a result of the rule of Jesus over them. Their debts had been canceled. They were enjoying the benefits of God’s providence. They were trusting him for the outcome of their faith. If that is not reason for rejoicing I don’t know what would be!

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” William Law

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