After Jesus told his disciples of his return to earth in glory, he told them a parable concerning what would happen before his second coming. It had to do with the kingdom of God and goes thus “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31, NIV).
What is it in our lives that could look like the vigorous growth of fig leaves and the coming of summer? John in his greeting to the seven churches, Revelation 1:6 tells us Jesus Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (NIV). This is speaking of the then present situation of John and the Christians of his day. Later in Revelation, as the Lamb is about to begin opening the seals the elders and living creatures sing a hymn of praise that includes the words “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10, NIV). The opening of the scroll is an unfolding of history. It seems clear from Revelation that the kingdom of God is now always present on earth and that it is intended to be a powerful spiritual reality. You may think or have been led to believe, that your church is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. However, this cannot be true for several reasons.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, NIV). Churches are assemblies of flesh and blood people and cannot be otherwise by their very nature. They are meant to be servants of the people of the kingdom of God and to have a very important role in enhancing spiritual growth but they are not the kingdom God.
Another reason churches cannot constitute the kingdom of God is that the kingdom of God is a unity of all who are in Christ. If you look at the yellow pages in the phone book you can see there is no ecclesiastical unity wherever it is that you live. Ecumenical unity has never been achieved on any significant scale since the conflict between the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch that is described in Acts 15:1-35.
Just as the kingdom of God does not find its fulfillment in the churches so it is not completed on earth. Its final place will be in heaven. As Paul told the Corinthians “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24, NIV). We find in Revelation 11:15 (NIV) that this kingdom that is handed over to God is that of the world. “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.’”
A little further on in Revelation we learn that there is joint rule in heaven by both the Father and the Son. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down’” (Revelation 12:10, NIV). Hebrews 1:8 (NIV) makes it clear about Christ’s eternal authority. “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.’”
One of the benefits of inclusion in the kingdom of God is knowledge of its secrets. Although the kingdom of heaven was only as yet near, Jesus gave special knowledge of it to his disciples. When asked why he spoke in parables, “He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them’” (Matthew 13:11, NIV). Jesus made it clear, as recorded in Mark 4:11-12 (NIV), that it was his intention that those who were not his disciples would not be able to understand his teaching about the kingdom of heaven. “He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” There are similar words in Luke 8:10.
There are other benefits of the kingdom. Paul told the Thessalonians, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12, NIV). Being in the kingdom of God means that we have help in becoming holy, righteous and blameless not just from reading the words of Paul but by the call of God to enter his kingdom and partake of his glory.
Another feature of the kingdom of heaven is that it is unshakeable. We are told this in Hebrews 12:28 (NIV). “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”
Luke tells us (Luke 16:16, NIV) that, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” This verse is among a collection of sayings and parables that Jesus taught in regard to the defective religious understandings of the Pharisees. It does not seem to tell us that the kingdom of God had actually arrived at that time but that the ordinary people were eager for the new religious ideas being proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, “faith” rather than “forcing” seems the right approach to entering the kingdom. Jesus’ words seem to show that not only the Pharisees but the common people had wrong ideas about what was meant by a place in the kingdom.
In another place (Matthew 23:13, NIV), we find among the seven woes that Jesus pronounced regarding the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees these words, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” People’s interest in the kingdom of heaven was being actively opposed by respectable religious groups.
There is another obstacle to entering the kingdom of God—wealth. In Mark 10:23-25 (NIV) we are told, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” The same teaching is recorded in Matthew 19:23-24 and Luke 18:24-25 (NIV). No matter how we interpret the camel and the eye of the needle it is clear that Jesus taught that wealth constituted a difficulty when it came to entering the kingdom of God.
In 1 John 2:16 we are warned against the love of the world and the craving for things that John calls “the lust of the eyes” (NIV). Seemingly this is the explanation for the severe words of Jesus, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48, NIV)
Paul tells us in three places that various forms of immorality not just create difficulties in regard to entering the kingdom of God they make it impossible for those who practice them to do so. “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5, NIV). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV) we have a description of some of the forms of immorality that bar people from the kingdom of God. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) provides another list of behaviors that keep people out of the kingdom of God. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Immature Christians are sometimes described as being like babies who are not yet weaned and thus unable to feed on the solid food of Christ’s teaching. So what are we to about this situation? I believe we can expect our spiritual maturing to proceed as our physical maturing did. That is, it moved sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly over a considerable time period. Nonetheless, our body had a plan for what the finished result would be.
I think I have taken the eating and physical growth metaphor as far as it will go as there is no end in this life for our need to continue maturing in Christ. There also seems to be no end to suggestions as to how Christians are to mature, many of them involving events and/or products.
To get anywhere with God in any attribute, I believe, we need to put our Creator in charge. After all, he made each of us unique and only he knows what he has in mind for each of us. There is an old joke that goes “The trouble with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” However, this witticism may bring us close to the problem of maturing. Most of us may prefer doing something rather than being something, such as a willing servant of our Lord. Yet we will only become more mature as we allow ourselves to be made more and more in the image of Jesus.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “[T]his slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 RSV). We may find rather more than slight affliction is required as we take on the weight of eternal glory but in the end I am sure we will think it worth it.
Redemption has many facets. It is not enough that people know about good and evil. This understanding is insufficient to do the two things necessary to bring us to God. The first is to free us of the condemnation we have as heirs of Adam’s sin and the second is to free us from our own sinful condition.
Freeing us and others from the eternal consequences of Adam’s sin required a life of perfect obedience to the Father that Adam could not accomplish. Jesus lived out for us the perfect life that is beyond our own capabilities. Thus, by faith in Jesus we can be freed from the bondage and consequences of Adam’s sin.
What has been provided to Christians through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was offered, I believe, to some people before Jesus came to earth through the means we read about in the Old Testament.
When Abram’s name was changed to Abraham it began the process of widening God’s offer of faith and forgiveness to larger groups of people. When we get to Moses, God’s offer continues to widen. However, the fundamental requirements of faith and forgiveness continue. Paul tells us that the Mosaic Law does not save anyone but directs people to the need for faith and forgiveness.
The Mosaic Law stayed in effect until Jesus fulfilled it. Now we have a New Covenant but, I believe, it is as impossible for me to live up to it on my own as it would be for me to completely obey the Mosaic Law. The extent to which I am able to fulfill it depends on Christ’s gifts to me of faith, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit.
For our own sins a sacrifice was required. This sacrifice Jesus offered for us by going to the Cross. What Jesus did is made effective in us by our repentance for our sins, our acknowledgment we are not able to present ourselves righteous before God by our own efforts, and our belief the Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. It is in this way we come to redemption.
Our Sunday school class this week focused on the part of Paul’s prayer for the Philippians that is given to us in verses 9 to 11 of the first chapter of his letter to them. The following is the English Standard Version of this passage.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
What seemed to be to be of interest to me was the phrase “so that you may approve what is excellent.” What does “approve” mean here. When I came to write the post, I found that the phrase differed in the two other translations I looked at. The New International Version (1978) has “so that you may be able to discern what is best” and the Revised English Bible has “enabling you to learn by experience what things really matter” and replaces “pure” with “flawless.”
I think I want to go with the ESV translation. Here’s why. The NIV says that the Philippians are to discern what is best. How is that a help to me who cannot be sure of discerning which of three translations is best. The REB tells me I can learn what really matters and become flawless. Being both a slow learner in regard to spiritual things and having no hope of ever, in this life, being flawless, I don’t see anything for me in the REB translation.
Let me give you my thoughts on the ESV version. Recently I have read in two articles that Johann S. Bach was a great Christian composer. However, I do not have the ability to judge his composing or, to tell the truth, enjoy his music. I did though receive pleasure from knowing that he was such a great composer and had glorified God and continues to inspire people with his music. I think approving what is excellent is something I can do without it requiring that I have personal qualities that I don’t. In other words, being on the right side of evaluations is something that can help bring about in us the sanctification that is the gift of God to those who believe in his Son.