The Way of the Kingdom

Have you ever wondered what the kingdom of God is? It was the greatest theme of Jesus’ preaching, but today is often misunderstood by Christians. This is tragic, because a genuine expression of God’s kingdom on earth is the primary way a broken world will come to know Him.

In this message, Brother John D. Martin explains these vital elements of the way:

  1. A Kingdom Mentality
  2. A Kingdom Theology
  3. A Kingdom Society

The way of the kingdom is the treasure of all true Christians, but history is littered with individuals and churches who were seduced away from God’s ideal. The way is simple, but not easy. Not automatic.

Would you like to know the secrets to experiencing what God intends for His kingdom? Both now and in the future? Drawing from over forty years of passionately pursuing God’s kingdom, John gives us seasoned guidance on how to thrive and endure in the only way that can truly bring joy to the world.

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All right, I would like to start this morning by singing “Joy to the World.” That song was never intended to be a seasonal song. In fact, Isaac Watts wrote it as he was writing a whole series of hymns, one every Sunday, and he did all of the Psalms in the language of the New Testament. And this one was originally entitled, “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” It’s probably the most exciting expression of Kingdom reality – that God sent His Son; He’s going to rule the world; He’s going to rule it in righteousness. He’s going to make the nations prove the glories of His righteousness. Even the trees and the fields – every part of nature is going to join in this! So, let’s sing “Joy to the World,” about three verses of that, to begin with.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let Earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Now, that was “Joy to the World.” This is “Joy to the Earth, the Savior Reigns, let men their songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains –” Let the whole earth join in this celebration, that its rightful King has finally come.

Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

And now, “He makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness.”

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

In 1927, Bruce Barton, the author of the book The Man Nobody Knows, (which is Jesus) wrote a parable supposedly based on a true story related to the work of Sir Christopher Wren who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral after London basically burned down in 1666. This supposedly is a true account. Wren one day was there watching the work on this cathedral, and so he questioned three workers. He said to them, “What are you doing?” The first one said, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” The second one said, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.” The third one said with a gleam in his eye, “I’m a cathedral builder. I get to play a small part in building the greatest kingdom this world has ever seen!” (Chuckle)

Now, if that is your purpose as a Christian, you have a reason to have a gleam in your eye! Unfortunately, I grew up without that reason for a gleam in my eye. The message I heard most of my growing up years – in fact, I would say almost all of my growing up years is: “You need to get saved so you can go to heaven.” That is part of the message, by the way. I don’t want you to leave and think I don’t believe in that message. I do believe in that message. But that’s not the entire message. In fact, that’s not the main focus of the message. In fact, if you had asked me, “What is the church?” I should have been able from what I heard, to say, “It is an important nation on this earth right now demonstrating what the real nation of God should look like.” That’s what I should have said. I probably would have said, “The church is necessary to get you ready to go to heaven.” That’s basically probably what I would have said.

So, it was all focused on what I call a “save-me gospel,” and that’s amazing to me, because they entire New Testament spells out the fulfillment of the disciples’ prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

Take Ephesians, for instance. Someday look at Ephesians chapter 1, and I dare you to find one hint in there that this book is going to be about getting people ready to go to heaven. It’s preparing a people – God choosing, Christ redeeming, and the Holy Spirit sealing, so they can demonstrate the glory of God’s grace! That’s what that whole book is about it. It spells out the reconciling influence of the Kingdom of God on this earth through the church. It shows how the church puts God’s glory on display, even to the principalities and angels looking on from heaven.

So, What is the Kingdom of God?

Someone has said, the Kingdom of God is when everything in heaven is instituted on earth – some place. So that God’s government, teaching, worship, glory, and power are manifested here on this earth, just as it looks in heaven! That is a tall order for the church! And I suggest that if you ever get that vision, you will work with passion to bring your local congregation to that standard. And you will look rather askance at people who are around the edges, leading the church off in various ways and bringing things into the church that cause confusion, and trouble, and worldliness, and division, and partying, and schism. You will hate that! And you will certainly never be one of those persons, if you really believe what I just said to you.

Is such idealism possible in a sin-cursed world? Realistically speaking, the Church must deal with such a mixture of human issues, the weak and the strong, the true and the false, the faithful and the unfaithful. The church has to deal with these. We’re human beings. It’s a messy situation the church is constantly working with to bring it to that goal.

In Ephesians 4, it pictures us reaching that goal. It says God gives ministers and various offices in the church, till we all come to the fullness of the perfection of Christ. (I don’t have those exact words, but that’s basically what it means.) The church should build up, and build up, and build up, and build up, and become more and more like things are in heaven.

Well! Yes, the church, I think, I believe, I’m sure, cannot ever perfectly reach that idealism – although I do remind you that the goal for Christianity is perfection. We hear a lot of disclaimers: “Ah, nobody’s perfect.” Well, that may be true, but that is our goal.

At the end of this chapter 5 of The Sermon on the Mount, it says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Peter says, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Paul says, “I labored to exhaustion to present every man perfect in Christ,” and then he says, “I haven’t already obtained that, but I am pressing toward the mark.” And that’s what God wants to see. He said to David one time, “I know you’re not going to build the temple, but it blessed Me that you wanted to. And so, I’m going to build a house for you.” God, loves that passionate pursuit, even though He knows in this sin-cursed world with all our temptations, it will never be completely attained, but He’s looking for the passion for that attainment. Do you have that passion this morning? That’s the question I’m asking you.

Now with all the problems that the church faces, we need to look a little bit at the oyster. What does the oyster do? The oyster has problems too. One day, it finds that a little piece of quartz has gotten inside its shell and it’s irritating. So, what does the oyster do? Well, the oyster doesn’t rebel. It just begins to deposit a milky substance on that little piece of quartz, and after a while it has made out of the trouble itself something so precious that people risk their lives for it. Somebody has described that pearl in a way that I just love to think about: “Wondrous beauty wrapped around trouble.” (Chuckle) That’s what should be happening with the situations we have to deal with.  And Brother Dale spelled it out so beautifully last night what that means on our part if we’re ever going to see “wondrous beauty wrapped around trouble.”

Well, for this ideal to ever have any semblance of reality, there are three ways of the Kingdom that must be in place. And I want to discuss those three ways this morning. Number one, and the most important, and I’ll probably spend maybe as much time as any on this one: A Kingdom Mentality. Number 2, A Kingdom Theology. And number 3, A Kingdom Society.

So, let’s talk about A Kingdom Mentality.

Somebody has said, “We are not what we think we are, but what we think, we are.” Now, that is a major emphasis in the book of Philippians, which is a favorite book of mine, along with many others. It says the secret of spiritual success, the secret of joy in life, is how you think! In the book of Philippians, you have “the mind” mentioned 7 times; you have “think” mentioned twice; you have “remembrance” once; “know” is there eight times; “knowledge” is there two times; “knowing” is there one time. Twenty-one times in this book, a reference is made to the mind. And of course, the verse that really calls attention to this is in Chapter 2 when it says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” And then it shows an amazing picture of the One who was at the very top. He was God, with the Father. And he takes seven steps down. (We don’t have time to look at those this morning; they would be instructive to look at.) He takes seven steps down till He finally gets to the lowest rung of humanity: death! Not as a hero, but the death of the cross, the most ignominious death anybody could possibly give anybody, and the most painful and drawn-out and ugly! The whole way from the top to that bottom of degradation.

But there are two “wherefore’s” after that. The first one is “Wherefore,” (because of that) “God has highly exalted Him.” That should motivate us! We have other verses that say, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” I don’t know if you ever looked at that as a promise. Now if that’s what you’re going to glory in, you’re not humbling yourself, but if you just let God do it, perhaps you won’t even realize it, but God will bring about a vindication without any of your effort whatsoever – if you just continue to do what Jesus did. (And we heard all about that last night.)

But there’s another “wherefore” in there, and it always distresses me when that next verse is taken out of context. Many good sermons have been preached from that next verse, and they’re good sermons and they’re true sermons, but the context is, “Wherefore work out your own –” (may I put another word in there?) – exaltation – “with fear and trembling, because it’s God that’s working in you.” He’s the One that’s going to do it, just like He did it for Jesus.

And the Philippian letter promises joy for the people who think right. When I see people that are down in the dumps and depressed, I know what’s going on inside their head. Their thinking is wrong. Their commitment is wrong. Their thoughts are not what they should be. If they would think right about the Kingdom and the King, they would be able to have joy! “Joy” is found in this book six times; “rejoice” is found nine times, “rejoicing” is found one time; and “rejoice” is found one time. The whole book is about the characteristics of a Gospel-disciplined mind. And I’ll give you the outline of the book: Chapter 1, The Single Mind. Chapter 2, The Submissive Mind. Chapter 3, The Spiritual Mind. Chapter 4, The Secure Mind. That whole book is about having the right thoughts and responding accordingly.

Now, Romans 12:2 says, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Well, specifically, what needs to be renewed? The very next verse tells us plainly what will be renewed. The first evidence of a renewed mind – let me read it to you: “For I say through the grace given unto me to every man that is among you,” (Listen to this – this is the first evidence of the renewed mind.) “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” So those who claim to have a renewed mind, that’s the first and primary evidence you’re going to see: they have a proper concept of themselves.

It’s also the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5).  My charismatic friends like to tell me that the evidence of being filled with the Spirit is speaking in tongues. And I quote this verse to them and I say, “The Bible says, ‘Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in — (uh-oh, it’s not there. That’s where it should be; that’s where the Holy Spirit should have put it if what they say is true.) But it does say, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Unquenchable joy, no matter what the circumstances are, (like we heard last night). If you see someone who has a joy that’s unquenchable, that’s an evidence of the Holy Spirit, because you will not do that – you will not stand at a stake and sing while you’re burning (the worst thing that could ever happen to a person). That’s just not going to happen. And the second thing, it says, “with thanksgiving.” And the last one, (I never heard a sermon preached on this) “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” I never heard anybody preach a sermon – I never had a charismatic person (or any person, for that matter) come to me and say, “An outstanding evidence of the Holy Spirit is whether you can submit yourself” – whether you can bend or whether you always stand straight and tall and have to have it your way. And the reason for this is because that’s what the new birth does. It deals with self! 

I’m borrowing from Francis Schaeffer here. Francis Schaeffer said, “In every heart, there’s a cross and a throne. Before you’re converted, Christ is on the cross and self is on the throne. And after you’re converted, self is on the cross, and Christ is on the throne.” That’s what conversion is. Conversion is a resolution of selfishness (which, by the way, is a synonym for sin). People call me on the billboard [call line] and we talk, and they say, “Well, what’s sin?” And I could give them a theological definition, and then we’d have a big debate. I usually say, “Sin is selfishness,” and they never argue with me. And then I say, “And selfishness is what’s causing all the problems in the world.” And they never argue with me. That is man’s basic problem – selfishness. In fact, get that in your head, so that when you sense you’re being selfish, you realize you’re sinning; you’re doing the opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing. That is what sin is. And that gets resolved right there whenever you give your heart to the Lord. That whole “self” issue is put in its place.

Now, unfortunately, self loves to get down off the cross. You remember the last time I spoke here I gave you a little diagram to show you what it means to bear your cross every day. You know, I used to wonder what that meant, and I’ve heard many sermons with people trying to describe what cross-bearing is. Some people think it’s if you get cancer or something. (That is difficult; I don’t want to minimize that.) But that’s not really what cross-bearing is. Cross-bearing is – let’s look at it this way: [draws a diagram.] This is the way of self [the one beam of the cross] and this is a way of Christ [the beam that’s perpendicular to the other beam of the cross.] And so, you’re going along on this way, and all of a sudden you realize that Jesus really does not want you on that road; He wants you on a different road. And you turn. And you do this all day every day – because we make decisions all day every day. And self is there to intrude in every one of them. And we make a decision to crucify self. And it’s pretty difficult sometimes because we really get our hearts set on things, but we say no to self; we say yes to Christ. And this goes on all day every day 24/7. That’s what it means to “bear your cross.”

So, selfishness is sin. We’re talking about The Way of the Kingdom, and this is the main takeaway I want you to get in your mind: The Kingdom of God is diminished when self gets off the cross. Hear me. The kingdom of God is diminished every time self gets off the cross. All right? When self-expression is not checked in the church!

Now, expressive individualism – there’s a lot of writing being done about this right now. That’s a term that was coined by somebody. “Expressive individualism” is a phrase coined by philosopher Charles Taylor in a book called A Secular Age. And the reason I’m bringing this up is because the world does influence us, and if you’re listening to me, you’re going to see that what he describes we are struggling with in our churches! He says, “It is the largest ideological shift in America during the 20th century.” (This tremendous shift that self must express itself. Of course, based on existentialism, which says there’s no meaning in life, and so you’ve just got to make your own meaning, and so it’s very important for you to express yourself so you can find your own meaning. That’s what the world is saying out there, but you hear echoes of that in the church. I do.)  [He says,] “It represents the cumulative effect of secularism’s insatiable appetite to understand the self.”

And Karl Truman has written a whole book on this. And then there’s a journal that publishes all kinds of responses to that book, in all kinds of areas where pastors are struggling with it. He says in that book, (Now listen to this, if this sounds familiar.) “The expressive individual is the sovereign individual. All other relationships to other people, to institutions, to those who hold office in such institutions is subordinate to the personal needs and feeling of me as an individual. Thus, I can choose whether to acknowledge their authority. I can choose what my commitment to them should involve, and how I should treat any counsel they give me. I decide how I should respond to any attempt to rebuke or discipline me. I am the sovereign arbiter of what is good for me. Everybody else can practically give me nothing more than pious advice based on their opinion.”

How many think that sounds familiar? That is what the church is up against. That is the spirit of the age –what I just read to you. Now, the church in the past dealt with this, too, but not with the pressures we’re facing today. And the interesting thing is, the church has adopted philosophies that makes it less likely than ever that they’ll ever deal with this. In the past, churches used cultural norms. I’m not going to use the term you usually use because it causes a reaction. The church always dealt with this with cultural norms and held people accountable to those norms. But that now is trashed as “legalism.” It’s trashed as an “artificially imposed righteousness.”  That what we need is for people to teach principles and beliefs, and then let me with the Holy Spirit decide how I’m going to apply those principles. You all know what I’m talking about. The result, they promise, will be a vibrant spirituality.

John Wesley actually took this approach. John Wesley did not prescribe cultural norms for his people. He did struggle with what was going on. We visited his little chapel up there in northern London on our trip there the other year. And the guide told us that when that church opened (it was a new chapel), the first sermon he preached in that chapel was to spend 15 minutes scolding the people for their fashionable clothes. So that’s what it finally comes down to if you don’t do something about the problem. I’m going to read you what he said: “I am distressed. I know not what to do. I see what I might have done once. I might have said peremptorily and expressly, ‘Here I am. I and my Bible. I will not, I dare not vary from this Book, either in great things or small. I have no power to dispense with one jot or tittle of what is contained therein. I am determined to be a Bible Christian, not almost, but altogether. Who will meet me on this ground? Join me on this or not at all.’ With regard to dress in particular, I might have been as firm, and now I see it would have been far better – as either the people called the Quakers or the Moravian Brethren. I might have said, ‘This is our manner of dress, which we know is both scriptural and rational. If you join with us, you are to dress as we do. But you need not join unless you please.’ But alas!”  (and this is true of many churches today) “The time is past! What can I do now? I cannot tell.”

Are we going to accept that warning? This scenario always ends the same way. It always ends the same way. Let’s be honest.

I’m quoting again from these books: “For a Christian to join a local church or rather to submit to a local church, they must directly renounce expressive individualism” (it’s supposed to be there) “and accept the church’s role in announcing and shaping their public identity.”

That’s not me saying that. That’s a whole group of pastors who are trying to confront this whole spirit of the age of expressive individualism, and they’re saying, it’s by cultural norms. That is not an “imposed righteousness” to say that God has spoken through the church, and this is what we as a brotherhood have decided we’re all going to do together.

Kingdom believers find their identity in the culture developed in the local church, in its pursuit of the Gospel, not in self-expression. Self must remain on the cross. This is The Kingdom Mentality.

Number 2.   A Kingdom Theology.

In a kingdom, loyal citizens explicitly obey the straightforward laws of the king. They don’t spin those laws to fit their own desires. The early Christians had a very simple and direct theology. In the first place, they did not have a printed Bible where they could go and cherry-pick verses all over the Bible to prove their point and make their case. All they had was portions of Scripture being passed around. (The Bible would not be canonized till another 300 years.) All they had was portions of Scripture that they cherished, and they memorized them, and they explicitly followed what Jesus had said. Here are some quotes from our own Bible: “That I may know Him.” “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.” The truth is in Jesus.

But to the apostles, following Jesus actually led to something more profound. And this just blesses me! I’m quoting again: “In the Gospels, there is a call to follow Jesus literally, but the New Testament letters, written after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, seldom talked about following Jesus. ‘Following’ is inadequate language to describe Christ’s impact on our identity. The apostles prefer to describe people as being ‘in Christ’ rather than ‘following Him.’ We actually participate in Christ’s very identity. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,’ and the goal of Paul’s pastoral ministry is to ‘present every person mature in Christ.’ Somehow to participate in Christ is to begin a new voyage of discovery. We do not lose our past stories, yet we increasingly understand ourselves in reference to Jesus Christ.”

Now, what he’s saying is that Paul did once say, “Follow me as I follow Christ,” but Paul’s language is different from that, or goes beyond that, when he says, “I am crucified. Yet I live. Not I, but Christ liveth in me.” This is more than just imitating Christ. This is appropriating the very Person of Christ, intermingling His Person with ours, so that somebody who watches you day by day, who knows anything of Christ, can see a real resemblance. Is this John or is this Jesus? I see both. But the thing that dominates is Jesus coming through John.

And so, through his epistles, we have these tremendous little prepositional phrases laced all through the epistles: “in Christ,” “unto Christ,” “for Christ,” “to Christ,” “with Christ,” “after Christ.” They wanted to be one with Him! Of course, that was His prayer, that we would actually be one! Not just followers, but actually united, comingled with Him. It’s a little bit like you throw a piece of round wood in the fire, and you come back later and it’s not just round wood in the fire; it’s fire in the wood!” That’s the picture I get when I read John’s comment (and Jesus actually introduced the comment) that we should “abide in Him.” This is the indwelling Christ. It’s not just me following; it’s me and Christ together. His mind, His will, His feelings, His goals, His purpose, my mind, my feelings, my goal, my purpose, through the supernatural motivation and instruction of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says it this way: He says, (I just quoted it to you) “I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live.” I’m dead. I’m on that cross. But I’m dead. But I’m living because Christ is living in me. “Not I, but Christ liveth in me.” All right. So that’s the Theology of the Kingdom. A union, an actual participation with Jesus, so that His mind, His will, His feelings, His motivation is flowing through me.

But Paul was afraid. Paul had a fear; he saw something. It was beginning in his day. And what was it? “But I fear,” Paul says, “lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety,” (listen to this) “so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” That’s what Paul was concerned about. He was concerned that somebody would do something with this spiritual reality that we all can and must experience. And he said that can be corrupted. Just like the serpent beguiled Eve, we can be led away. And then in Colossians, he becomes much more specific as to how that happens. “Beware lest any man spoil you, or rob you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” (and listen to this) “and not after Christ.” What’s he talking about? You can read commentaries. I never saw it in a commentary. They assume this is talking about somebody going off to the university somewhere and being influenced by worldly philosophies. He’s not talking about that. He’s talking about Christians who use the world’s methods to come up with their theology. The world depends on reason and logic. And Christians have reason and logic, but the final arbiter of all their thoughts is what Jesus has said, and what Jesus has done.

But Paul says, if you’re not careful, you’re going to take the Gospel, and you’re going to begin to logically reason with it; you’re going to do like Augustine did. Jesus said one time, “Compel them to come in,” so “compel them to come in” means we can use force, and that turned into a Pandora’s Box and a nightmare that we’re living with even to this day. The biggest accusation against Christians I hear from people who call from the billboard is the awful things that have been done in the name of Christ. And that’s because somebody, through philosophy and vain deceit and using the rudiments of the world on the Gospel, changed it. And instead of simple obedience that produces a Christlikeness, they ended up with something far from that. So that today, you can be a member of many churches who call themselves Bible-believing churches, and you can be divorced and remarried, and you can swear oaths, and you can go to war and kill people, and you can accumulate wealth for yourself. In short, you can disobey everything Jesus said – if you pray a sinner’s prayer and get your ticket to heaven, which is irrevocable, and you’re good to go.

That happened through philosophy and vain deceit! And it can happen to us.

The church I went to as a boy started to talk about (after they had this expressive individualism) for instance, with the covering. And they tried every little nuance they could think of to make it so it was a genuine spiritual expression of the thing. They finally got tired of the whole thing, and they said, “Well, does the Bible really teach that? Well, let’s see.” And guess what. They found out the Bible doesn’t teach it after all. They used the philosophy of the world, vain deceit, the rudiments of the world, on the Gospel!  My friends, I plead with you today, do not do that!

So, what happens? Well, they find most of their verses, believe it or not, in the epistles. You can’t do much with Jesus’ teachings except just take them the way they are.  But you can go to the epistles, and there’s a lot of logic there, and some philosophical thinking, and you can sort of spin it a little bit. And then you end up like N.T. Wright said: “The evangelicals have never known what to do with the teachings of Jesus.” Because after they’re done with all their spinning, and after they’ve created all their systematic theologies, they don’t fit what Jesus actually said. And that was Paul’s concern.

Kingdom believers start with the Gospels. The Gospels aren’t more important than the epistles. Hear me. I don’t want anybody to go out and misquote me, but they see the Gospels as primary. These are the teachings of Jesus, and Paul’s teachings are just as important, but they must be seen in harmony with what Jesus said, and then you have a proper theology. You obey Jesus, and you say, well, Paul is a little hard to understand there, but here’s what Jesus said. So, what Paul said has to harmonize with that, so this must be what Paul meant.

Do you understand what I’m saying? It is a Kingdom Theology focused on the King! Paul feared that Christians would use the world’s logical and philosophical message on Jesus’ actual teaching and example. And that’s exactly what happened. I just described it to you.

And of course, the worse compromise was the compromise with violence. It opened a Pandora’s box. Now you have Christians, after we have used the world’s methods on Jesus’ teachings, with cherry-picked verses to form systematic and very impressive logical systems, to come to conclusions that are suspiciously like what we really wanted all along.

Now we have “Christians” marching off to Jerusalem to kill Muslims. “Christians!” Now we have “Christians” torturing and burning other Christians at the stake. Now we have “Christians” conquering the Native Americans in the Name of Christ. Now we have “Christians” enslaving blacks to obeying the preachers who preached from the pulpits. Now we have a war to end slavery where tens of thousands of people – “Christians” – killed each other on both sides. Now we have the conquest of Latin America under the sign of the cross with all of its horrible massacres. Now we have all the wars of western Europe that were fought for hundreds of years between “Christian” groups where they tried to fight it out.

Isn’t that an awful story? That is the horrible consequence of not obeying Jesus. Our Anabaptist forefathers said this: “No interpretation of any Scripture is a true interpretation if it contradicts anything Jesus said or did. He’s the hermeneutic by which we interpret the Scriptures.” Kingdom Theology has a passion for perfect Christlikeness. We hang on every word He said and everything He did.

Well, what about Matthew 23, where He really let it out about those scribes and Pharisees, that they’re vipers and hypocrites, and so on? Did you ever consider what tone of voice He might have had when He said that? If you look at the end of the chapter, I think He probably was saying it with a weeping voice: “Oh, you vipers. You hypocrites.” But if we spin our theology, then that helps us understand that He probably really barked it out at them, and really laid it out, and laid them all flat – even though He “did not come to condemn the world.”

I’m trying to explain to you how this happens. Okay? Because it happens among us. It’s very easy if there’s something we’re having a difficulty with, and our self wants to get off the cross, it’s very easy to find verses, and put a little bit of the world’s logical and rudimentary spin on those verses, and you can come to the conclusions you want to come to. Well, that’s a Gospel theology.

Let’s talk for just a few moments, for the remaining time, about A Kingdom Society.

The Gospel is more than a call to an individual kingdom ethic. When I hear people talk about Kingdom Christians, I’m listening very carefully. (And this is important; I’m not saying this is not important.) But does their consideration of the Kingdom Christian end with an individual who obeys Jesus, that “he’s a Kingdom Christian”?  Well, that’s what he should be doing, but that’s not a Kingdom Theology. The Kingdom Theology pictures a Kingdom Society. After all, a kingdom is not one person.

A kingdom is a society of people. And God always wanted a people. He always wanted a people, not just individuals. Sometimes it got down to the point where there was just one individual, but God always wanted a people. In the Old Testament, He wanted a nation who demonstrated what a nation looks like whose God is the Lord. And even though under Solomon, (we find out after Solomon died, it wasn’t the best example of a nation), it was far superior to any other nation, even in its rather degraded state. Because the Queen of Sheba came, and she said, “I was told in my own land about the ideals of this nation, but I realize now that I’m here, I haven’t heard the half. There’s no nation so blessed. There’s no nation whose laws are so just. There’s no nation who is so beautiful as this nation.” That’s what God wants.

Ephesians chapter 1, introduces the Church. And it says three times in that first chapter like a refrain to a song, to put God’s glory, the glory of God’s grace, on display. God wants a nation of people. Now, we often hear, “Well today, the nation doesn’t have any location.” Yes, it does. The local congregation is a location, an actual place where you can go and see the Kingdom of God. I don’t like that idea that it has no particular geographic location. It has many geographical locations, but they are identifiable locations, where you can go and see the Kingdom of God.

God always wanted a people. Does He still want a people? 1 Peter 2:9 “You are a chosen generation” (just like Israel was). “You are a royal priesthood” (just like Israel was). It was mediating God’s grace, a blessing to anybody who came in contact with them. “Ye are a holy nation” (just like Israel was). Ye are a peculiar people,” (just like Israel was).  A very special people, a very favored people. Why? “That you should show forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” The world needs to see the glories of God’s grace and the beauty that attends any person who allows that grace to operate on their lives, and any community that allows that grace to operate on their community. The world needs to see that.

The world needs to see a group of people who recapture (not perfectly, but credibly, because when they fail, they will repent) – they recapture credibly what the whole world would look like if everybody obeyed Jesus. And people can look at that, and they say, “There is the lost ideal! It’s in my heart. I know what that ideal should be. There it is! Those people are living that ideal. I have not lived that ideal. I’m a sinner. I’m selfish. I break all those things I see those people doing. But look at it. It’s beautiful! I want to be part of it.”

And this Gospel of the Kingdom was to be preached to the whole world. The motivation for most people is to go out to save people from going to hell. (That’s a good motivation; I’m not denying that.) But the real call was to go and preach the Kingdom of God and establish colonies of heaven all over this earth, so that people all over the world could see the society that God always wanted, and by God’s grace and Christ’s death and resurrection and the Holy Spirit, can now be a reality. Not perfectly, but credibly. That has a tremendous appeal! I have had many people tell me on the telephone, “I left the church years ago because I was sick and tired of its negative message. If I had heard that message preached, I would still be a Christian today.”

In fact, that message has tremendous appeal. The Marxists actually promised that. They promised a society where it was “from each according to his means, and to each according to his need,” and they won one third of the world with that promise and never delivered on it. They make the promise and then they try to impose it by force, and it ends up with a few elites making everybody else equally miserable while they pocket the cash. And somehow the world never learns that you can’t impose this by force. It only works when you have a people together that have consistently learned to keep self on the cross, and then you’ll get a credible picture of this. If every person focuses on keeping self on the cross, and sees themselves as working out all kinds of practical applications together, that demonstrates the Gospel and this beautiful Kingdom.

God always wanted a people to showcase the glory of His grace; to showcase what the original society was supposed to look like; to showcase what that society can be even now through the redemption and power of the Holy Spirit.

But I have to give this caveat. I’ve been sort of alluding to it all along. This is not the absolute Kingdom of God. I think this is why some people react to this message. They think, “Well, the Kingdom is coming in the future. This church isn’t the Kingdom; it’s not perfect.” No, it isn’t. That Kingdom [the absolute Kingdom] does not need to be washed and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. That will be the perfect realization. This is not a perfect realization. This is just simply a credible representation of that Kingdom, on this earth, giving a credible picture of what that should be. And it is credible because, like I said, if it functions the way it should, our failures are resolved by repentance.

By the way, the citizens of this Kingdom do not practice sin. I have people who make excuses for themselves when they talk to me, and say, “Well, everybody sins.” Now, wait a minute. Christians do not practice sin. They may sin, but there’s something there that won’t let them take the next step. They are convicted. They repent. They make it right. They don’t walk in sin. The sinner practices sin, and God forbid that we have anybody in our churches that practice sin, that don’t find themselves checked by the Holy Spirit whenever they commit a sin.

All right. Well — What are some characteristics of this Kingdom?  

Well, I’ve listed four. I think we can move over these rather quickly.  1)  A Close Community.

The word the Bible uses is “fellowship.” It’s the Greek word koinonia. It means partnership. It means communion. (It’s the same word.) It means full participation in each other’s lives. This is how the Bible describes it: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us things that aren’t realistic. If it says that’s what happened here, then that is a possibility. But it won’t happen automatically. (I am famous for saying this: “The only thing that happens automatically as sin.”) This will be the result of cross-bearing obedience on the part of every member and the church as a whole. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and prayers, and had all things common.” I don’t think that just means their money, I think it means their practices. I mean, everything they just did together. It’s just – it was one big cultural picture to the world what it means to live a Kingdom life. Their lives were constantly intermingled.

Now we come up with a problem: How do we do that? Well, you have to remember that the church began in the cities – Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi. In fact, paganus is the French word for people who live in the country, and the heathen, of course, live out on the heath. Now, I’m not here saying you’re all pagans if you live in the country. I’m only trying to challenge you with what actually happened here in the beginning. These people were in the city. They actually were all within walking distance of each other. They were able to be in each other’s houses. They were able to “break bread from house to house.” They were able to spend time together praying and singing on a regular daily basis. They were a highly visible society of the redeemed.

Now, I don’t know how to solve this problem. The Amish are going to love me for what I’m going to say next. But it was the automobile that scattered us, that makes it possible for some of us to drive a half hour or an hour to church every Sunday. Well, there’s not too much intermingling happening when that’s the case. And I’m not in any way trying to make anybody feel guilty. I don’t know what to do about this. I really don’t. But there’s not going to be much of a visible community; there’s not going to be very much real fellowship unless we somehow figure out a way to get our communities closer together. I’ll just leave it at that.

And now you’re thinking Hutterites (chuckle). What we do with that is, we go to Acts 2, and Acts 4, and we apply a lot of theology to it, and by the time we’re done with it, we’ve thrown those chapters out of the Bible. I think we should take a different approach. I think we should look at those chapters and say, “I don’t know how far we can go with this ideal, but here is an ideal that we want to pursue.” Can I give that as a challenge? So, the next time in the Sunday School, don’t throw those chapters out of the Bible! Say, look, let’s think seriously how we maybe could pursue this ideal. There’s something about geographical closeness of believers that makes possible a level of fellowship you’re not going to have in any other way. It’s just that simple! 

My brother Luke that passed away not too many years ago, went to a rehab center for troubled boys. And, of course, he never was too excited about this when I talked about it, but he called me one day and said, “John, I’m experiencing what you talk about, and it’s wonderful! I’m living here with brethren and we work together every day, and we’re close, and there’s fellowship like you wouldn’t believe!” I said, “Well, I’m sure glad you found that out.” (Chuckle)

So, I don’t know what to do about this, but I think God would like to have a highly visible community picture for the world to see – a little colony of heaven.  In fact, Philippi, one of the cities, was just that!  It wasn’t a colony of heaven, but it was a colony. It was a Roman colony. And when you went to Philippi, you [first] walked through Greek territory; you heard Greek language; you saw Greek customs; you saw Greek clothing; you saw Greek laws; everything was Greek – until you stepped inside the city of Philippi, and it was Roman! And there you heard the Latin language; there you saw Roman customs and Roman togas; and there you saw Roman laws; and there you saw Roman culture. Were those people saying like many people who are part of the Kingdom of God – did those Philippians say, “Ah, it’s such a burden to be Roman in the middle of Greek territory”?  No, that is not how they felt about it. They would have said to you, “We are Romans!”

Is that how you feel about the Kingdom of God? That’s how I feel. I’m excited to be different! I’m excited to have a different language! I’m excited to live by different laws! I’m excited to have a different King! I’m excited to look different! I’m just excited to sing differently! I’m excited about all the things that are a tremendous contrast to that failed culture out there.

Someone has said about Philippi: “This was Rome away from Rome.” The Kingdom of God is heaven away from heaven!  (Chuckle) – in fact, I had a caller one day – she listened to me talk about this for a while, and she said, “Are you saying that this should be heaven on earth?” I said, “Yes, lady! That’s what I’m saying.”  It won’t be perfect, remember. But then don’t just run off and say, “Nobody’s perfect.” No, no, no. The pursuit of perfection is what God loves. He loves that passion to be like Christ. He loves that passion to be like His original society. He loves that passion for the world to see what He always had in mind – a people, if you please; a community of faith, a fellowship, a communion, a partnership of people.

So, we talked about a Close Community.

Let’s talk a little bit about  2)  Kingdom Economics.  (And you all knew I was going to talk about this.)

These people – they have treasure! They’ve accumulated a lot! But it’s laid up in heaven. And they do it by giving!  In fact, 2 Cor. 9:7 says they are cheerful givers. That word in the Greek is hilaros. Giving is what they love to do. They are hilarious givers! Because they see giving, not as an expense, like the telephone bill or the electric bill. They see giving as an opportunity to put their money and their stuff somewhere else where they will always be able to enjoy it. That’s how they look at giving. So, I tell people, that really when the offering basket is passed, there should be chuckles all up and down the pew. This should be a hilarious experience. (I’m being a little facetious, of course.)

But really, we need to change our whole mentality about giving. People who believe in investments will drive an old car. They’ll wear shabby clothes. They’ll not spend any more on their house than they have to. They certainly won’t waste their money in any way, because they know – somebody has said that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. They know what an investment can do! Are you investing?

The Bible says – Paul says that our goal should be equality. Are there rich people in your church and poor people in your church? That’s not a Kingdom picture. The Kingdom picture is that there’s an equality. Paul says, “That your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.” Paul is saying that’s what we all should be striving for – equality.  Now I know there are a lot of questions to be answered – a lot of practical things here. And I’m passing over them, of course. But they are the problems where we can have “wondrous beauty wrapped around trouble.”

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” Do you imitate that? That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t accumulate wealth. He disbursed it, so that everybody else could enjoy it. So, this is a picture of an equitable society. And it’s voluntary! That’s what makes it so beautiful. It’s coming from the inside out. It’s coming from Christ on the throne, self on the cross. And people are delighting in this equitable society that they’re participating in. Selfishness is broken.

I often have to wonder, what would have happened if the Gospel really had been taken to the rest of the world. You think about it. In fact, I’m tempted sometime to have a church called a “Full Gospel Church.” But I know somebody else has taken that term, and I don’t want it to mean that. But we should be preaching a full Gospel. Can you imagine what would have happened, if when the Gospel first went to Russia, a thousand years ago, it would have included the Gospel of peace? Every Christian would have been taught that Number 1, It’s wrong to kill; it’s wrong to fight; it’s wrong to be violent; it’s wrong to hurt people. Number 2, It’s wrong to accumulate wealth; wealth should be shared. Suppose that had been the Gospel that was preached and practiced throughout Russia. The Marxists would never have had anything to say.

In fact, the sad part is, they came to our Mennonite communities, and they didn’t see that there either. They saw extreme wealth and extreme poverty – in our own Mennonite communities! And the Marxists were not impressed, and they mercilessly killed our people because they were the epitome of what they were trying to destroy. What a tragic story! I try to imagine what it would have been like if the whole Christendom in Russia had not gotten the message, at least when they came to the Mennonite colonies they would have said, “Here it is! Here is what we’re trying to get accomplished; these people have already done it. We had better listen to their message!” But that did not happen.

And Jesus said more about this subject than He said about any other subject except the Kingdom of God. And yet somehow, we gloss over it.

I remind you from our talk last year: Worship is “worth-ship.” It has to do with values. We tend to emphasize Christianity in terms of morals, and that’s good: Christians don’t steal; Christians don’t lie; Christians don’t fornicate; Christians don’t do any of those things. That’s right. But there’s another category that we don’t pay much attention to, and that’s values.

Now values isn’t the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s the difference between what’s most important and what is less important. If you read Hebrews 11, that whole chapter is about values. There’s nothing about morals in that chapter; it’s all about people who esteemed the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. And it’s interesting – we call that the “Faith Chapter.” Ah!  So, faith is closely connected to our values. Well, I’ll tell you why! Because you are valuing, like Abraham, an unseen world, and you’re living the reality of that in a world of tangible temptations. And that takes faith!

We need to talk about values. You are worshipping whatever you value the most. Is it money? Is it your vacation? Is it hunting? Is it fishing? What is it that you talk about most of the time, and get the most passionate about, and get the most excited about? And everybody knows it, that if you get on this subject with so and so, you’re going to hear a lot out of him. Well, then that’s your number 1 value. I ask us all to examine, “What is that? What is it that brings the most excitement and the most outpouring of our hearts when we’re around people?”

I must bring this message quickly to a close. Jesus said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” And He said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” So, you’re either worshiping and serving one or the other.

The third point that I’d like to make is  3)  Servant Shepherds.

I’m just reading what Jesus said: “And He said unto them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so!” By the way, Jesus only said twice, the world does this, but My people do this. This is one of them. The world’s leaders lord it over people, and make people submit to them. And Jesus also said, “After all these things,” (material things) “do the Gentiles seek. . . but seek ye first the Kingdom of God.”

So we are people who are really focused on nonconformity, and rightly so. There are two areas where Jesus said there will be a stark difference: the people who are in charge of the congregations are shepherds. They lead. By the way, did you ever notice that the word, “authority” has the word “author” in it?  A person who is in authority is a person who originates and helps people with all kinds of exciting things to bless them. A true authority does that. Well, I didn’t finish reading this: “And He said unto them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth.”

One amazing example of this is Jesus when He was at Capernaum. I’m going to read what it says. This was in the evening. This was after Jesus had spent a whole day ministering. “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto Him,” (and I assume that it was everybody in the city that was sick; it must have been a huge multitude of needy people.) Now listen to this: “And He laid His hands on every one of them, and healed them.” It must have taken hours, after the Man was already tired! Jesus never appointed His disciples to be His secretaries, to see who He had time to talk to, or to keep the children away. No, He never did that; He never had that mentality of shepherding. He was a true authority.

“And He said, ‘But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters.” (I have to wonder about these names we give to positional situations. I don’t know. He says, be very careful not to use these names for people. We don’t want people to be viewed as somebody who is controlling other people.)  “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” He spoke with authority, because He did provide constant inspiration and blessing to everybody He met.

And finally, 4) The Ideal Resistance, which we call nonresistance, but it’s actually a powerful form of resistance. Jesus said to sword-wielding Peter, “Put up your sword into its place, for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” And Tertullian said, “When Christ disarmed Peter, he disarmed every soldier.” And the church obeyed that for 200 years. That’s historical record. If you’re talking to someone who is not believing in nonviolence, take them to the history – 200 years! In fact, it was coterminous with the Pax Romana. The unusual 200 years when the world was basically at peace was while the Christians were at peace. When that ended, when the Christians finally compromised, the Pax Romana was over, and the world was back at war again. The Christians took credit for the Pax Romana. They said, “It’s because of our prayers that the demons of war are defeated.” I pray every morning that the demons of war in this world would be defeated. I invite you to pray along with me.

This was the Church. Then the Church compromised, (and I gave you the example). The Ideal Resistance is to turn the other cheek, to give the cloak, to go the second mile, to do unselfish sharing. (And I’d love to talk for a long time on this, but we’ve come to the end, and we need to close.) We overcome evil with good.

So, these are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God. It’s a Close Community. It has a Kingdom Theology, which is simply obeying Jesus. It has a Kingdom Economic, which loves to give! It thinks in terms of laying up treasure in heaven; it never considers that anything accumulated on this earth would ever have any ultimate worth. And finally, it is resisting by overcoming evil with good.

I conclude with a story. My friend Clarence Fretz, who was a principal at Paradise Mennonite School where I first taught, was a missionary to Luxemburg. On one trip back, after his furlough, he was on a ship with some evangelical (I think maybe the man was a Presbyterian). They got to talking, and Clarence discovered this man was nonresistant. Clarence said to him, “Were you taught to be nonresistant?” “Oh, no, no.” He said, “Well, how did you come to be nonresistant?”

The man said, “Well, here’s how it happened. The last time I was crossing the ocean, returning to Africa from my furlough, I opened my Bible, and the Bible says, ‘Give to him that asketh of thee, and of him that would borrow of thee, turn thou not away.’” (Now, I’m not saying you have to take this the way he took it, but please don’t apply the rudiments of this world on it, either.) He said, “I looked at that, and I said to my wife, ‘If we did that in Africa, those people would rob us blind. That makes no sense.’ So, the next morning I opened my Bible to have devotions, and there it was, the same verse. The whole way across the ocean, that verse just stuck in my mind like a cocklebur. I could not get any other verse to study. I just could not get away from that verse. So, I said to my wife, ‘Let’s do it. What do we have to lose except our stuff?’

“So, when we got back to Africa, it didn’t take long for the people to learn our new policy. If you came and asked for the chair, you got the chair. If you came and asked for the table, you got the table. Pretty soon everything in our hut was gone, and we were sitting on the dirt floor, and saying, ‘Now what do we do?’ Meanwhile, down in the village, they were making fun of the missionary, how stupid he was. And that went on for maybe a couple weeks, and finally somebody had the courage to say, ‘You know what? He’s the man with real character. Any coward can do what we did. I’m taking my chair back.’ Another said, ‘Yes, I think I’ll take the table back.’ ‘Yes, I’ll take the silverware back,’ – if they had silverware – whatever.” He said, “I don’t know if we got everything back or not, but I do know this. They said to me, ‘Sir, when you preached that God gave everything because of our need, we did not understand your message. Now we do.’  Then people began to respond,” he said.

Now, that’s interesting. Here was a man who had the courage to take Jesus at His word. Maybe he carried it too far. I’m not saying everybody has to do exactly what he did. Please understand me. But he did what he understood Jesus was saying to him. He did it by faith. He did not know that the end was going to be the way it was.  Are we going to do that with all of Jesus’ teaching? He did it with nonresistance. Are we going to do it with economics? Are we going to do it with all the other things I talked about this morning? That’s the question I’ll leave with you. Let’s practice The Way of the Kingdom. It’s the way of Jesus’ teachings and example and practice by the power of the Holy Spirit and the miracles He wants to do in our hearts and in our communities.

Shall we pray? Father, we thank you this morning. There have been many people through history that have done just what this missionary did, and have had the same kind of results in different ways. O God, forgive us for our clever rationalizing. Forgive us for our expressive individualism. Forgive us for our camouflaged selfishness and pride. And O God, help us to see ourselves as You see us, and help us to respond accordingly. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.