Tag Archives: kingdom

Building the Kingdom with Kingdom Tools

Isaiah 30:1-2 (ESV):

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We as a church want to reach our community. We want to draw people in and disciple them to be followers of Jesus who truly live like him, demonstrating his character in our community. Only in this way will we transform our community and bring peace to those around us suffering under the weight of sin. However, this passage reminds me of an error that is far too easy to fall into. It’s easy to default to the ways and methods of the world and overlook reliance upon the Spirit of God.

In the geopolitical setting of Isaiah, it was natural when threatened by one country to approach another country for protection. If a small weak people could find protection in stronger people most would see this as common sense. God is warning his people about seeking security using the ways of the world. They should turn to him for protection. They should repent of their sins and trust in his Spirit. Instead they found it easier to trust in Pharaoh.

The reason this so struck me is the knowledge that we as a church can easily be tempted to neglect prayer and dependence upon God by replacing these with the world’s tools. Marketing and branding are a part of our world today. They are also important considerations for the church. In a way they are just secular terms for essential spiritual practices. We want a positive name and testimony so the world thinks of us positively. This, the world calls ‘branding.’ We also want the community to know we exist, where to find us and what we have to offer. This, the world calls ‘marketing.’

Such terms are not evil. Neither are the methods they describe—so long as they are honest, giving an accurate portrayal of Christ. What is wrong is leaning upon these worldly tools while neglecting the spiritual tools: prayer, witnessing, loving. We can create radio and print ads, for example. Yes, they are outreach tools and can draw in people. Some will be believers seeking a church home; others will be nonbelievers, giving us a chance to reach them. However, we must remember limits of these. They must be kept in their proper place.

We do this through prayer. Everything we do as a church must be bathed in personal and corporate prayer. Prayer can give power and impetus to the tools we use, even those of the world. However, if the tools of the world replace prayer we should expect the world’s results—and the world can deliver no one from sin.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Prayer is only part of our communication with God. We must expect God to answer. His way of answering is to speak to us through his Word. We must be a people who seek God’s direction coming to him in prayer and then digging into his Word expecting him to speak to us. Both sides of the equation are necessary.

By keeping both in our focus we communicate with God, seeking his will and receiving guidance.

We also must keep the tools we use in their proper place. We must remember the world’s efforts are meant to undergird not replace the more spiritual methods. Personal friendship evangelism is still the best tool for reaching the world. The best evangelist to reach a person is one who already loves them—one approaching without judgment, simply desiring to spend eternity with them. Personal sacrificial service is still the life which we are to model. Nothing touches the heart more than another human giving of themselves without expecting anything in return. No ad; no website; no social media post can replace this.

As we move forward, let’s remember to rely on God’s tools—without throwing away any worldly tools that can be effective. We must market and brand the church—these are important. However, we must first of all be a praying people. Second we must be people of the Word. Third, we must be a loving reaching people serving the hurting and seeking the lost. Finally, we must live out our testimony so the world sees an accurate image of Christ. When they see us, they must see Christ. It is only if built upon this foundation that the world’s methods will be of any use. Better to lay them aside than to build only upon them. But even better is to use whatever works to reach the lost and love them into the kingdom.


Haggai for today

secondtempleHaggai 1:4-6 (ESV) says, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”

Sadly, this passage is one of the many taken out of context and misused by well-meaning pastors. It is quoted most often in sermons on tithing, telling people that they must give more to church or God will not bless the works of their hands. This is done by equating the local church with the Old Covenant temple. It is this assumption that causes the problem.

Yes, the passage does command building a temple. Yes, the people were to bring in their tithes (the portion of their wealth owed to the upkeep of God’s worship). However, equating the temple with the local church facility twists scripture. The Old Testament temple was never meant as a picture of the local church (by this word I mean the building). The Old Testament temple was a picture of Christ. The temple was symbolic of his body. This is why he said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up.” (John 2:19 ESV)

Understanding the temple was symbolic of the physical body of Christ—and his dual role as King and High Priest—helps us to better understand how to apply the words of Haggai, today. In Haggai’s day the people had decided it was time to concentrate on their own wealth, homes and farms, but was not yet time to build the temple, the House of God. I’m certain they assured themselves that once they were financially secure there would be time to build the temple and restore the worship of YHWH. God points out to them that without his blessing their efforts to provide for themselves were futile. Their best efforts would reap substandard results unless God worked on their behalf. This blessing was tied to their priorities. Haggai commands them to reevaluate their priorities and put God and His worship above their own drive for prosperity and security. They were to look to God for these.

How does this look today? While this is not a command to build a local church building, there is something to this passage about building the Church. But first we need to see the New Testament equivalent to the command of Haggai. We see this in Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV), “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Just as they were to place a priority on building the temple, we are to place a priority on building the Kingdom of God. So, how do we build the Kingdom?

We build the Kingdom by obeying Christ in morals, so the world is attracted. We build the Kingdom by obeying Christ in reaching the lost, so the world is transformed. We build the Kingdom by standing for righteousness in the face of the world’s onslaught. We build the Kingdom by being the very hands of Christ ministering to the physical needs of those around us. These are our priority and meeting our physical needs comes after these. Obedience to Haggai is found in obedience to Matthew 6:31-33. But does this have nothing to do with the local church?

The local church (the body, not the building) is the physical manifestation of the body of Christ in a local community. This means building up the local church, if it is a true church manifesting Christ to the world, is a major part of building the Kingdom. Actually, the lion’s share of our Kingdom building will be done in the local church—and should be. But to make Haggai into a command to tithe or to build a nice church facility is like painting the Mona Lisa but stopping with her nose.


Pharisee or Disciple

phariseesAn issue often discussed is the relation of Christians to the law. In Matthew 5:19-20 (LEB), Jesus says:

“Therefore whoever abolishes one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever keeps them and teaches them, this person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness greatly surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

This is often interpreted as a sort of works salvation, claiming law-breaking as grounds for exclusion from the Kingdom. Verse 20, which says our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees or we “will certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven” (NIV) is a strong contributor this this view. The phrase translated ‘certainly not’ here is a strong emphatic negative (Dana & Mantey). It is a way of saying, “In this condition, this will absolutely not happen.” So one with a righteousness not exceeding the Pharisees is out of luck for entrance to the Kingdom.

Yet, does the passage say that breaking the commands of the law, or teaching others to break them will keep one out of the Kingdom? Actually it does not. It says one must have righteousness greater than the Pharisees, but what this means is explained in the following passages when Jesus gives the commands of the law a deeper and internal meaning—anger equivalent to murder, lust equivalent to adultery, etc. Verse 19 is important to understand because it is this verse which discusses breaking commands and teaching others to break them. However, it never says such behavior is grounds for exclusion from the Kingdom. It says those who do these things “will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” This is not a statement about how to enter the Kingdom. It is a statement of status among those who are included in the Kingdom. Jesus does not make law-keeping the basis for entrance to the Kingdom. But what about verse 20 when he says those without righteousness greater than the Pharisees will never enter the Kingdom? Since having insufficient righteousness (not greater than the Pharisees) is grounds for exclusion, but breaking the commands of the law changes one’s status within the Kingdom but does not exclude one, the two must not be synonymous terms. In this way we see that Jesus cannot be defining ‘righteousness greater than the Pharisees’ as law-keeping.

The rest of the passage explains that this righteousness is from within. It flows from being a changed person—one who does not unjustly get angry or wrongly respond in anger; one who does not look with lust upon another; one who has no need to make oaths or pledges of right behavior or truth. Such righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees because theirs is simple rote rule-following—no interior change; no new condition. True righteousness is seen in Romans 3:21a (LEB), “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed…” This righteousness is not a matter of law-keeping. This righteousness is a matter of being internally changed. Such a person is more righteous than the Pharisees because the behavior springs from a changed nature—one which naturally obeys God and seeks his pleasure.

This picture of the changed nature fits perfectly with Jesus’ description of true righteousness in the remainder of Matthew five. It is this righteousness which Jesus works in us. It is this change which makes us citizens of the Kingdom, not law-keeping.

“So then, the law became our guardian until Christ, in order that we could be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Galatians 3:24f (LEB)


King Jesus goes before you

In 1 Samuel 8, the people rejected the rule of God and demanded a king. The people wanted to be like the other nations with a king to “go out before us and fight our battles.” Prior to entering the land, Moses had promised God would go before them and give them victory. However, the people no longer wanted to rely on God for victory. They preferred a human ruler, human arms, and human strength. With God, success was tied to obedience. If they obeyed, they succeeded. If they disobeyed, they failed. Holiness was paramount. But for a human ruler success in battle was in his own interest. A human king would strive for victory regardless of their personal holiness. Most often, when we turn to our own strength, it’s from a desire for victory without holiness, success without obedience. With Jesus as King, because of his perfect holiness we can trust rather than fear God’s strength. As you go through this day, remember you have King Jesus to go before you and fight your battles.