BLOG 1/16/18. KINGDOM OF GOD: LIFESTYLE AND LOVE, … THEN WORDS
The overwhelmingly dominant theme of the New Testament is that of the kingdom of God. That being so, there are more garbled interpretations of that theme than are imaginable. People who regularly pray: “Thy kingdom come …” do it, almost rote, but never stopping to contemplate the radical and pragmatic implications of it. Jesus inaugurated his public ministry “… proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), and then toward the end of his earthly ministry: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then will the end come” (Matthew 24:14).
So, what is the kingdom of God, and how is it to be proclaimed to every ethnic group/nation? Seems like a reasonable, even insistent, pair of questions that God’s people out to be continually searching into. Right?
That terminology: “the kingdom of God” would have been somewhat familiar in the Hebrew community, since there were all those prophesies in its history about God in the fullness of time “making all things new” and coming to inaugurate his everlasting kingdom. But when the gospel moved out of the Hebrew community and into the Grecian-Roman world it was translated by its proponents in various terms: eternal life, salvation, new creation, the gospel of peace, or sometimes as righteousness. These designations are all nuanced and synonymous with the kingdom of God.
Then, so much of the confusion comes when this is all looked at as totally future, as some expected return of Christ to set up a future kingdom, or as of having to do with going to heaven when we die … something of God’s design out there somewhere. Ah! But Jesus was insistent that in his coming the kingdom was present. His whole teaching is to the effect that in himself God kingdom, God’s new creation, God’s eschatological design for his creation was actually being inaugurated, and would be dynamically present as his Holy Spirit empowered its growing presence, until that Matthew 24:14 mission is fulfilled.
OK, so how is that to be accomplished? What does it mean to be born again into God’s kingdom? How is the proclamation to be carried out? How is this to be done in a context that is hostile from the beginning? What is role of the most humble, modestly gifted, lacking in status, believer in Christ in this mission? Look at what follows in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ coming and proclaiming the kingdom of God (4:23). The very next account (5:1 ff) tells of a large group gathered on a hillside, and Jesus spells out for them what is to be the contagious response to his message and it does not have to do with words—now note—but with a lifestyle of love and righteousness that people can see in them.
Just look at the beatitudes: blessed are those who identify with the helpless poor, and the mourning, and who are self-effacing. Yes, and blessed are those who are zealous proponent of justice/righteousness, who are filled with mercy for those in need. Blessed are those whose motivation toward serving God is without guile. And in this world of continual strife and hatred, blessed are those who are peacemakers, and are even willing to suffer for these causes. Jesus taught those hearers that these are the evidences of the New Creation lives that others could see, and know that God was at work in them (and maybe ask questions).
The proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom into all the earth, whether in the midst of our post-Christian culture of dismissive disinterest, or the Islamic culture where severe sharia laws are imposed … begins with our lifestyle and our love, not with argument or words. Our lives are to be the demonstration of God’s already-but-not-yet kingdom. They are the leaven that permeates cultures, quietly and beautifully. … and maybe make others curious? Stay tuned …