By focusing on the values of the kingdom of God, you can turn an inconvenience into an opportunity to serve others and God himself.
To seek the kingdom of God means to keep our priorities, thoughts, words, and actions centered around God and serving him. Then, "these things"--the basic necessities of life that we so often worry about--will be given to us.
When we're told to "have faith" amidst our worry and anxiety, we're really being told to seek first the kingdom of God. Keeping godly priorities is the only way to assure ourselves victory over fear and worry.
This is a commentary on Matthew 21-25.
Jesus' teaching, though in parabolic form, is actually quite scandalous. Calling the nations to judgment is something long looked forward to by the Israelites. Their attitude, both throughout the Old Testament and into the New, was to look down on the nations and to look up to...themselves. After all, they were the recipients of God's grace; they were the ones called to be God's people through their father, Abraham; they were the ones led out of Egypt by Moses into the promised land; they were the ones given the law; they were the ones given God's glory in the Davidic lineage; they were the ones who merely needed to wait out the nations until God sent his promised messiah and lord in David's line to free the people and rescue them for God.
Yet, when the nations are gathered by Jesus (the Son of Man; the King) they are separated by him. They are not separated by nationality or ethnicity. Rather, they are separated as though they were animals—they were separated into two types, two camps. They were separated based on deeds done or not done; not by perceived value; and not by categories decided by nationality, religion ("law"), or lineage ("children of Abraham").
These separation criteria find fulfillment in judgment. The reason for separation is clear—not everyone did the will of their Father, which was surprising to some who looked to improve their religious lot in life. They were separated to be judged. Those who loved Jesus received eternal life. Those who didn't love Jesus received eternal punishment. It's that simple.
How did they love Jesus? By serving the least of his brothers and sisters; because in doing so, they served him. How did they dis-love Jesus? By not serving the least of his brothers and sisters; because when they overlooked them because of their own self-importance, they overlooked Jesus.
But how did Jesus arrive at this teaching? It has been building. Jesus didn't get here in his teaching without precedent.
His teaching began to take on a different, sharper tone once he reached Jerusalem and knew that his life was coming to an end. As he operated within Jerusalem and looked toward the end, he taught that the kingdom of God is about simple, childlike faith and fruit-bearing actions and activities (Matt. 21:15-22). He talked about the great reversal in God's kingdom which is centered around him, where many who think they should be involved completely miss their opportunity, while many who would expect to be left out are in fact both invited and welcomed in (Matt. 22:1-14).
To those who claimed to be concerned about the law (even while they tried to trap Jesus in his teaching), Jesus said that love of God and neighbor fulfill all the commands of the law (Matt. 23:34-40). He condemned hypocrisy by calling out the Pharisees and teachers of the law for leading others astray with their teaching that is focused on obedience of the law for its own sake rather than to please God (Matt. 23).
Finally, he brought it full circle—Jesus taught about his own coming (Matt. 24). The key is to be prepared and diligent, doing good to those you influence (Matt. 24:42-51). Jesus then amplifies this teaching in a series of parables (Matt. 25). First, five virgins who were to be part of the wedding banquet missed out because of failure to pay attention and plan for contingencies (Matt. 25:1-13). Second, one servant who was given money by his master to do good with missed out because he became fearful of his master and failed to use the resources given him to increase his master's reach and kingdom (Matt. 25:14-30). Third, the cursed (who were very surprised to find themselves considered as such) found themselves condemned for failure to search out and serve the least of the King's brothers and sisters, whom he shared solidarity with (Matt. 25:31-46).
We are to live in God's kingdom, being watchful, attentive, diligent in good, using the resources God has given us to serve and love the least among us. By doing so, we serve and love our master, Jesus.
Chapter 6: The Myth of a Christian Nation
In chapter 6, Boyd addresses several negative consequences of viewing the US as a Christian nation, which he refers to as the "myth of a Christian nation."
First, this myth harms global missions because US aggression becomes associated with Christ when America is identified as a Christian nation. This view compromises the spread of the kingdom of God (KoG) because the KoG is associated by others as tainted by or because of the kingdom of the sword, which is how all kingdoms of the world operate.
If we profess allegiance to Jesus, Boyd argues, we must commit ourselves to proclaiming in action and word the truth that the kingdom of God always looks like him. When the US operates by the power of the sword, it is not evincing the love of Christ to others. We must resist this myth for the sake of the spread of the kingdom of God.
Second, this myth harms missions within the US because civil religion is seen as real Christianity. Civil religion is useful to bind people together and to give them a shared vision to work towards, but it is only an aspect of the kingdom of God. There are two dangers in this: 1) We may lose our missionary zeal because we believe we live in an already-Christian nation; there is not much need to evangelize because most people already know God. 2) We end up wasting time and resources o the civil religion, trying to tweak it to make it more "right" or "godly," rather than spreading the kingdom of God.
Instead, what if we did the kingdom of God? What if, instead of tweaking the civil reigion, what if we fed the hungry, found housing for the homeless, etc. What if we replicated the loving sacrifice of Jesus to all people, at all times, in all places, regardless of their circumstances or merit?
Third, this myth tempts us to trust the power of the sword to create the conditions by which the kingdom of God might spread. This is faulty thinking because it assumes that, once overtaken by the power of the sword, people will be willing to listen to or accept the power of the cross. This myth causes us to trust the kingdom of the sword to change things rather trusting God in prayer.
What if, instead, we truly believed that we can influence God through prayer? What if truly believed that God was seeking to bring his kingdom to bear in our midst and we worked for that, "from below," as it were?
We can counter these myths by focusing on the kingdom of God. But it will be difficult and not all who claim to follow Jesus will be on board. Our goal needs to be to love Jesus and others in his name...not the expansion of the kingdom of this world.
What do you think?
The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 5
Before getting too far, I should note that I agree 100% with Boyd's assertion in this chapter that this phrase, "taking America back for God," is wrong to begin with because it implies that America once was God's. When, asks Boyd, as he cites a number of occasions in which ungodly behavior by the nation's leaders would call into question their following of God (pgs. 98-100).
Further, this quest, to take America "back" for God, lies in the realm of the power of the sword. It is a quest for power, a quest to mold others (by force, if necessary) into a particular brand of Christianity's views of religion.
When?, asks Boyd, did Jesus ever act or talk like this?
Jesus' example demonstrates that God no longer acts nationalistically. He calls together a spiritual nation, embodied across cultures, operating under the banner of the Kingdom of God.
Boyd asks these questions about Jesus (p. 92):
What do you think?
The Myth of a Christian Nation, Chapter 4: From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords
In this chapter, Boyd traces how the church transitioned from a band of resident aliens who viewed themselves as separate from the kingdoms of this world (because they were part of the kingdom of God) to a group that largely uses the means of the kingdoms of this world to operate by and gain power.
He wants us to understand the concept of firstfruits. We, who are kingdom of God people, are to be the visible sign of what the kingdom of God will look like when it is fully manifested.
This is how it plays out in the biblical narrative: To take back God's creation from the influence of sin and Satan, God put his plan into motion regarding Jesus and his sacrifice. But Jesus' victory, though eternally complete, is seen in incomplete ways by us.
Hebrews 2:8 clarifies this when it states that although everything was put under Jesus' feet (he is authority over all things), we don't always see it this way. "In putting everything under [him], God left nothing that is not subject to [him]. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to [him.]"
While we wait for that completion, we are not to be passive but active, letting the kingdom grow and expand in and through us. We are the firstfruits of what will happen because we manifest in our lives what humanity and the world will look like when God's kingdom is fully manifested (2 Thess. 2:13).
This is why we are to view ourselves as different and separate: we are called to be holy, which means being Christlike, not merely subscribing to particular sets of moral and ethical commands (2 Tim. 2:4; Heb. 11:8-10; Phil. 3:20; 2 Cor. 6:17).
Staying separate and holy enables us to authentically serve others without compromise. Jesus' way of sacrificial love--of which the cross is the fullness of the kingdom--is in contrast to all attempts to use power to get one's way. The history of the church, sadly, is one of trading it's holy mission for one they perceived to be "good," but one that was too often compromised by control and coercion in the interest of gaining power.
Instead, we need to proclaim with our lives, and with our words when necessary, that the sole criteria for determining whether something is a manifestation of the kingdom of God is the person of Jesus. If an individual or group looks like Jesus, dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process, the kingdom of God is manifested.
Likewise, if a group is making a power-play, how can they ever be said to manifest the kingdom of God? This brings to my mind the "battle" over school prayer. Of course, this implies Christian prayer, because those fighting so hard for prayer in public schools are not interested in multi-faith prayer. To my mind, they are interested in asserting power over the system, gaining control, likely for (in their mind) a positive outcome. The result, if they are victorious (I'm deliberately using the language of conquest), is to coerce those who do not feel the same way and to subject non-Christians to Christianity. How does this manifest the kingdom of God as seen in the person of Jesus?
What do you think?
The Myth of a Christian Nation, Chapter 3: Keeping the Kingdom Holy
In this chapter, Boyd argues that it is our responsibility as agents of the kingdom of God to maintain purity and holiness. Holiness is not subscription to a particular set of morals (i.e., no drinking, no dancing, etc.) but a life lived like Christ. We're holy when we live sacrificially for others.
The distinctive mark of a Christian is one who follows Jesus. When this happens, the kingdom of God is manifested in that one's life.
But is there ever a time when it's proper to use the means of the kingdoms of this world? We live in a complex time with many political and social choices. Can we use parts of the kingdoms of this world to negotiate our way through, to make sure that "God's" way stands firm and succeeds?
Boyd answers this question by stating that a version of the kingdom of the world that effectively carries out law, order, and justice is closer to God's will for the kingdom of the world...but it is not the kingdom of God. In other words, using power and coercion to achieve even a perceived godly end is not representative of the kingdom of God.
Further, Jesus himself was born into a highly complex, political time. The people he served tried to get answers from him about political questions but he always maintained his focus on the kingdom of God.
Towards the end of the chapter, Boyd asks a question: Which is easier? To vote against the "sin" of prostitution, or to spend years serving prostitutes by ministering to their real needs with love and care? It's harder to transform people, and many find it easier to use the power of the sword and vote in favor of a system that will seek to change the prostitute's behavior by coercion and force.
A similar question could be asked about abortion: Is it easier to vote against the "sin" of abortion or to love those struggling with the decision? The former is easy and seeks to modify behavior by coercion and force; the latter is harder, requires us to spend time and energy (and perhaps money) and get our hands dirty, and has uncertain outcomes.
But which of the two decisions is in keeping with holiness? Which of the two is Christ-like?
Greg Boyd's central thesis in The Myth of a Christian Nation is this: The kingdom of God is centered on Jesus. Jesus taught it, lived it, and called others to it. We--the church--are his body, which means we should expect to live and act like him. He lives in each of us individually by the Spirit. As we love others, he loves them as well--through us--and others are brought in to his kingdom through that. This all leads up to his return, when he will take the power over the kingdoms of this world from Satan and restore to God all things left unrestored.
Thus, God is looking for a group of people who embody his kingdom. Since there is no greater power than self-sacrificial love to transform hearts, the kingdom of God must be focused on how people are and what they can become. In contrast, the kingdoms of this world focus on what people do and how that behavior can be controlled.
Two defining traits of kingdom-of-God-people are humility and loss. These are signs of the cross. Victory and "winning" are symbols of the sword, signs that the kingdom of the world is taking hold. To choose retaliation, violence, and self-interest is to choose the kingdom of the sword, not matter how justifiable such responses are.
Instead, as agents of the kingdom of God, we should promote humility. Jesus provided examples of this:
Boyd concludes this chapter by stating the only criteria that matters whether anything has value within God's kingdom is love. A chart illustrates several concluding points that contrast the difference between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God.
This chapter is an important part of his argument. To be a Christian means to be a follower of Jesus. Our lives need to be conformed to his. This will never happen if we live by the values of the kingdoms of this world. The difficulty for me comes in training--I've been trained by these worldly kingdoms to respond with the sword, to be right, to seek vengeance. Christ calls me to something higher--to love those...even those who offend me. He calls me to love my enemies to the point that they are treated as my friends. This is radical.
What if we gauged our church's success or failure on whether we are loving others (especially enemies) as Jesus loved? This is the only way the kingdom of God grows and expands among us.
The Myth of a Christian Nation, by Gregory Boyd, is sub-titled "How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church." Originally presented as a series of sermons previous to the 2004 election between George W. Bush and John Kerry, the book tackles the difference between the "kingdom of the sword" (political power and kingdoms of the world) and the "kingdom of God," represented by Jesus. Of particular interest to Boyd is how Christians are to live out kingdom of God values in their lives, including in matters of politics.
In this series, I intend to blog my reactions to this book. In today's post, I'll be blogging about the introduction and chapter 1.
Boyd immediately jumps into his topic. He states that the kingdom of God conflicts with the kingdoms of this world. All versions of the "kingdoms of the world" operate "from above." They are top-down and seek to acquire and exercise power over others. Leaders in the world desire to be served, to be held in awe because of their power.
On the other hand, the kingdom of God operates "from below." Below, because agents of the kingdom of God are servants. Servants are always "below" the one they serve. God's kingdom is modeled and incarnated in Jesus. It advances in power only when power is exercised "under" someone else, to lift them up.
Chapter 1: The Kingdom of the Sword
According to Boyd, a version of the kingdom of the world exists wherever a group or person exercises power over others. He does not consider the exercise of power over others to be evil all the time (neither do I); nevertheless, the potential exists for abuse. The "power of the sword," which is the weapon of the kingdoms of the world, produces conformity but cannot produce internal change. This does not refer to a literal sword, but to the power of the kingdom to dictate behavior and responsibility. (Notice the emphasis on power.)
The kingdoms of the world are not entirely evil. In fact, God uses these kingdoms to achieve his ends and to keep law and order in a fallen world (Romans 13:1, 3-4). However, although God works in these kingdoms, the authority of these kingdoms has been given to Satan (Luke 4:5-7; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
Therefore, even though God institutes governments for purposes of law and order, Satan is at work in these kingdoms for purposes that are against God's. Political conflict is an attempt to gain or seize power "from above" and is satanic in origin. Such conflict does not originate from God or operate out of his principles "from below."
The "myth of redemptive violence" contributes to this cycle. That myth states that "good" is able to save us by eliminating "evil," but it presumes that one kingdom's values are superior to another. And, in eliminating one evil, another is often started when members of a different kingdom become fearful of the one seizing power.
Boyd states that as long as people locate their worth, significance, and security in their power, possessions, traditions, tribes, and nation, rather in a relationship with God, this game of violence is inevitable, ongoing, and always likely. We, as Christians, can never assume one government, even our own, is always, or even usually, aligned with God.
The kingdom of God is in contrast to all this. We must put our hope in God and in his kingdom (see Luke 22:25-27).
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Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
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