Archive for the ‘The Kingdom of God’ Category
Based on a message preached by John D. Martin
The story is told of a shipwrecked sailor who landed on a South Seas island and was seized by the natives. They hoisted him to their shoulders, set him on a wooden throne, and said that he was going to be king for one year. This man discovered that they did this every year.
But after the man had been king for a little while, he began to wonder what they had done with the previous kings because it appeared that no former kings were living on the island. He was told that after the one-year reign, the king was put on a desert island and left there to starve.
But this man was wise. He hired people to go out to the desert island and fertilize it, build irrigation systems, plant trees, and construct buildings. For the rest of the year, the king had men working to furnish the desert island with everything a man would need to live there.
Thus, at the end of his reign, the man was banished to an island of plenty, furnished for abundant living.
Now, we all are kings for a little while on this earth. It is our responsibility to decide what we are going to do with the things God has given us. We can keep them here and when we leave have nothing on the other side, or we can send them on ahead to enjoy them for all eternity. That is what the Scripture has clearly said to us. Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
Then he told us how to do it. He said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” We live in a world that offers us tremendous opportunity to do this with extravagance because we live in a very, very needy world. There is no end to the needs to which we can give.The reality
Seven billion people live in our world. Are you aware that one billion out of those seven billion live on less than one dollar a day? Another two billion of the seven billion live on less than two dollars a day. In other words, nearly half of the people in our world struggle to find enough food and water just to survive another day. Almost half … that is an incredible fact!
Here are some more facts. Every day, 29,000 children die of starvation and preventable disease, brought on by contaminated water, infections, malaria, and the like—29,000 children! To help you think a little bit about that reality, by the time this talk is finished, about 1,000 children in the world will have died from preventable causes. All they needed was food, clean water, or proper medical attention.
Teen Mania, a youth ministry, puts on a yearly event to challenge young people. One year they decided to do a demonstration that would make the realities of the world a little more real. To every session (held in various parts of the country), they brought a gold fish in a bowl. They took the gold fish out of the bowl and laid it on the podium, then stepped back to see what would happen. The audience was left to watch the gold fish flop around and die. In every case, someone in the audience could not stand to watch this and ran up to put the fish back in the bowl. The problem is that you are not there when those 29,000 children die in obscurity, often in places that the news media does not reach.
Someone once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” My goal is that by the time you finish reading this article, each one of those 29,000 deaths will be a tragedy, not just a statistic.The golden rule
Suppose you were starving and you knew that some rich teenager could have saved your life if she hadn’t needed that sixth pair of shoes. What would you think if you heard that she was a Christian and you knew what Christianity taught? And you died, knowing that this person had the means to save your life but simply did not care … what would you think?
Every night, 850,000 children go to bed hungry. How much money would it take to prevent this mind-boggling tragedy in our world? Actually, $13 billion would provide the basic nutrition for every starving child in the world.
You may say, “That is a lot of money!” But are you aware that American Christians spend $21 billion/year on soft drinks? If every Christian in the United States gave the money he or she spent on soft drinks, every starving child in the world would have a full stomach.
Do you want to know how much those same people spend on Christmas gifts? An unbelievable $100 billion! That same money would feed and educate almost every needy child in our world. For $3 billion a year, 500,000 people could be saved from blindness that occurs simply from the lack of vitamin A. American Christians spend $5 billion on bottled water.
But the most heart-wrenching thing going on in our world is an injustice that happens to people who have no choice. In our world, 246 million children are in the bonds of child labor. Let me read you an actual account:
My sister is ten years old. Every morning at 7 o-clock she goes to the bonded-labor man. And every night at nine, [that is 14 hours later] she comes home. He treats her badly. He hits her if she is working slowly or if she is talking to the other children. He yells at her. He comes looking for her if she is sick and cannot go to work. This is a terrible thing for her. I don’t care about school or playing. I don’t care about any of that. All I want is to bring my sister home from the bonded-labor man. For 600 rupees I can bring her home. That is the only chance to bring her back, but we do not have the 600 rupees and we will never have 600 rupees.
Six hundred rupees is $14.00.
All over the third-world countries, destitute people get into financial trouble, perhaps a funeral or an illness that they cannot afford to pay for. Not having the money to put food on the table, their children are sold to bonded-labor men. They may earn 10 cents/day, and the interest gets way ahead of the amount they owe. They will work for years to pay off $10 or $15 that was borrowed. To me, that is heart-wrenching. In fact, it is so heart-wrenching that I must do something about it … so much so that I have been talking about it with my family. I can’t handle the fact that 7-year-old children are forced to work like that. What were you doing when you were seven years old?
I want you to think about this. I want to lay a burden on your heart. We live in a country that is unrealistically the richest country that the world has ever seen. I see teenagers, in my own community buying designer clothes, buying $160 sneakers, buying soft drinks, buying fancy cars, buying expensive cool clothes, buying 20 pairs of shoes. You know what goes on, even in our Plain communities.
What does God think about all of this?
God has repeatedly admonished and warned us about our responsibilities. Dozens of Scriptures speak about this. We are going to look at some of them. I hope to cure you forever of selfish materialism. My purpose is to show that your indulgence is someone else’s suffering. Indulgence cannot be practiced with impunity. It costs someone else for you to be selfish with the resources you have.Old Testament admonishments
Proverbs 24:11-12 reads this way, “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death [and I have just given you some of those accounts] and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not.” Now that may have been true years ago, without all the electronic media we have today. But basically nobody today in our society can say, “We don’t know that these injustices are happening.” It is on your cell phone and computer, even in the newspapers. It is just there, in front of you if you want to know it. And the Scripture says, “Don’t you say to the Lord, ‘We don’t know it.’”
The verse continues: “Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” So, don’t say “I didn’t know it; they were statistics. I didn’t actually see it happening.” Don’t say that! Not a single person reading this can say, “I don’t know it; I am going to buy my 20th pair of shoes …” Or purchase my dream car. Or build my dream house. Or continue in some other indulgence.
In Proverbs 28:27 we read, “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack.” That is a promise. God said that, not me! Continuing on, we read, “But he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.” I really don’t know what “have many a curse” means, but I don’t want to find it out!
Proverbs 21:13 tells us, “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” Jeremiah 22:16–17 states: “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.” He is saying that to judge the cause of the poor and needy is to know God. Will God say you knew Him if you ignore the poor to have your luxuries? Continuing on, he writes, “But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.”
These are strong Scriptures, and reading them I was much convicted. My life needs some changes, and I intend to make them.
Now let’s look at Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom …” Now if you ask most people what the sin of Sodom was, they would answer, “homosexuality.” And that is true. However, God surprisingly says, “Pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”
Apparently God puts ignoring the poor in the same category as He puts sexual immorality. God takes our attitude about the poor, as can be seen in the aforementioned Scriptures, very seriously. He has a special eye on the poor; not only for their need, but for your response to their need. He is watching!
God could deal with all these inequities just like He could save the whole world without missionaries. He could do all of that, but He leaves these situations for His children so that they can accept their responsibilities and do what needs to be done. He is watching my attitude toward the poor just like He is watching my attitude toward the lost. He takes it very seriously!New Testament admonishments
Let’s look at Matthew 25, the classic New Testament Scripture on the subject of caring for the poor. It really doesn’t need any comments or explanation.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Most people read this and say, “Well, I thought the final judgment was going to be about whether a person surrendered in obedience unto Christ.” That is true. But the response of John the Baptist is interesting when the people came to him—after he had preached that scorching sermon calling them vipers—saying, “What shall we do?”
John responded, “If you have two coats, give one away. If you have more food then you need, give the extra away.” What strange advice! You would have expected him to say, “You need to turn from your sins!” Well, he was saying that in very practical terms. He was telling them what the fruit of repentance looked like in real life.
If you asked most people what the “fruit of repentance” is, you would get a different picture than what John shared. John told the people that “fruit of repentance” is distributing one’s extra material goods. If so, can most Christians say they actually have ever repented?
Zacchaeus came to Christ saying that he was going to give half of his goods to the poor and restore that which he had wrongfully taken. Do you remember what Jesus said to him? “Today is salvation come to this house!” If genuine repentance is giving away your extra stuff, and if salvation is proved by what you do with your extra stuff, I ask myself, “How much salvation are we really experiencing?”
In Matthew 25 Jesus makes it very clear what judgment is going to be based on. The evidence that you have surrendered your life in faith and obedience to Christ will manifest itself specifically in how you handle your material goods. According to John the Baptist, Zacchaeus, and what Jesus says in this chapter, there has not been genuine repentance, nor faith in Christ, nor a surrender to His lordship, nor obedience to His commands if we are not sharing with the poor. The thing that troubles me is that for years the church has failed to emphasize this fact of the gospel.Blinded
There is a great blind spot in American Christianity. It is amazing what kind of blind spots Christians can have. Are you aware that in this country 150 years ago Christians defended slavery? We look back and say, “How in the world could they possibly have defended slavery?” But they did! And you can be that blind. I hope that we can rid ourselves of blindness about how God requires us to handle the possessions He lends to us.
The world has 143,000,000 orphans because of all the wars and other social catastrophes. There is an anti-Christian Website that plays the song “Jesus Loves Me” while showing pictures of the emaciated children. Then at the end they show a cross covered by a circle with a line through it that means “No.” Then the Website says the following: “He is your God; these are His rules; and you all go to hell.” Now granted, that is a pretty awful message, and they don’t intend for it to do any good. But I am afraid they understand the gospel better sometimes than we do.
The widow gave all that she had. She gave her living, which literally means she had nothing left for the next day. And Jesus said that she had given more than all the rest put together. That is Jesus’ standard: not how much you give, but how much you have left.
I hear people say, “This man is really rich, but he really gives.” According to the parable, God does not measure how much you give; He measures what it costs you to give.
The requirement is that God expects us to know what is going on in our world and to respond to those needs to the extent of our ability. And He will hold us accountable.The resources The United States has 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 5% of its population.
The United States is the richest nation in the world. It has one half of the world’s wealth … and 5% of the world’s population. Did you get that?
In the United State, 160 million adults claim to be Christians. Now think about it: if each professing Christian gave $15 a month, it would literally wipe out starvation in the world. Now I understand that a lot of the starvation situations are political conditions that make it impossible to even get aid to the needy. We are talking only in hypothetical figures here. Not only would starvation be eradicated, it would supply safe drinking water for all children and educate every child not in school.
God has given us more than what we need for only one reason. Did you know that? 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 gives us that reason: “For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.”
If you have more than enough to meet your needs, there is only one reason: so you can help those who do not have enough. It is not yours to use as you wish. In fact, are you aware that the great practical theme of the Scriptures is equity?
The prophets warned Israel time after time concerning inequity, which means that you respond with your resources in a way that is not equitable, or equal. Instead of equality, you lavish your resources on yourself while there are other people in the world who are dying. And God hates it! So He has told us through Paul that the reason some people have more than enough is so that they can give to those who have less, and things can equal out.Getting ahead?
We have a brother in our community who farms organically. He feeds his cattle very little grain—he says it is too expensive—and has basically his whole farm in alfalfa and grazes his cows, without raising any corn. He makes a decent living. He says, “My cows don’t get sick. They have little mastitis and no twisted stomachs. My cows stay in the herd for many years, instead of 2 or 3 years like the cows on farms where they are pushed with energy.” He was thus telling me what a wonderful experience he has farming. He has healthy cows, and he makes a good living.
I was telling a friend of mine about that—a conservative Anabaptist man—and he said, “Yeah, you can make a living doing that, but you can’t get ahead.”
I said, “What do you mean by ‘getting ahead?’”
He replied, “You will never come up with enough money to buy the next farm.”
You see, that is our mentality … “get ahead.” My question is, “Get ahead of whom? God?” God said that if you have extra money, it is not yours to do with as you please. It has been given to you because there are people here in the world who need it, and for some reason God has given it to American Christians, expecting it to flow from America to other parts of the world so that there can be at least some semblance of equality worldwide.
We have an unbelievable opportunity. Let’s consider the response by looking at 2 Corinthians 9:6 (I love this verse!): “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” This is in the context of giving. Next we read, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Do you know what the Greek word for “cheerful” is? “Hilaros!” from which we get our English word “hilarious.” God loves a hilarious giver! I mean when he gives, he is in hilarity! It is the most uplifting thing he can think of to do!
God loves such a giver!
Continuing on to verse 8, we read (this verse is taken out of context many times. If you are not living as I was just describing, then this verse does not apply to you): “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” This is for the hilarious giver. I think we all want that kind of blessing. God has clearly told us how to have it.
In Philippians 4:19 we find another promise: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Again this is in the context of giving. Paul is commending the people in Philippi for sending an offering. Let’s look at the verse 17: “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” Paul tells them that he is happy to receive the gift, not because it was sent to him but because he knew what the result would be a blessing on their account.
Looking again at verse 19, we see the words “according to his riches.” Now if God gives us “according to his riches,” that is a little bit different from Him giving “out of his riches.” Let me explain …
If I were a millionaire, and you had a $50,000 hospital bill and I paid $40,000 of it, you would say that was a pretty good gift. But the amount would give you no clue how wealthy I really am. However if I paid the whole $50,000 bill and gave you $20,000 on top of that, you would have some idea of how wealthy I am. To the hilarious giver, God gives according to His riches—commensurate with His wealth—not “out of his riches.” This is a tremendous promise!
The gospel is full of teachings and warnings about materialism, yet everybody wrings their hands in our Plain churches and says, “We are drowning in our materialism …” while refusing to obey the Gospel’s plain solution to the problem.
Look! We are in a war against the world, and the world is basically a materialistic world that values only the things you can see and feel and touch. The best way to win the war against materialism is by extravagant giving.
Matthew 6:1–4 shows us how our giving is to be done: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
To the Jewish mind, the word “alms” meant any righteous deed, but we think of it in terms of giving.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret …” And here is the part that excites me! “. . . and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
In reaction to the Roman Catholics, with their “means of grace,” we have gone to the other extreme and said there are no means of grace. But there are means of grace. One of them is given to us in these verses. When we give alms, God rewards us openly, although not necessarily with money, in return.Openly rewarded
Let me give you an example of a man whom God rewarded openly in a tremendous way. And you probably did not know what was behind the scenes. I am referring to John Wesley.
John Wesley chose to live on what today would be a salary of about $20,000/year here in the United States. He never changed that through his entire life. The hidden side of this is that John Wesley wrote many books and was involved in handling large sums of money, earning approximately $160,000 a year in our economy. Yet he never took out for his own expenses more than the $20,000 salary he paid himself.
I visited the Wesley museum in London where he preached and stood there convicted. Here was a man who was famous and could have had basically anything he wanted in material goods. He had supporters who would have gladly given him any honor or position he wanted. But John Wesley was a man who cared about the poor in London.
Exhibit after exhibit in that museum show the lengths to which he would go just to help one prisoner or poor person who was in trouble. John Wesley was an extravagant giver. In fact, at one point in his life tea became expensive, and he quit drinking tea so that he would have that much more to give to the poor. He was involved in prison ministry, poor houses, the cause of freeing slaves in England … basically anybody in need captured John Wesley’s heart. Here is an actual account:
Wesley had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left.O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?
It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful steward’? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold’!
There is a reason that at his death someone made the following comment about Wesley. “When Wesley departed from this world, he left a battered hat, a worn coat, a tattered Bible, and the Methodist Church.”
And that was not just a happenstance. His extravagant, self-sacrificing giving explains why God blessed his ministry extravagantly.
Let’s turn now to some very often misunderstood verses in Luke 16:
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
He was still giving away, unjustly, his lord’s money!
Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
He had no authorization to do this! But he was getting prepared for getting fired.
And the lord [whom he had just ripped off!] commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
This man knew that it was to his advantage to make friends with his lord’s money. But we don’t understand that. Our Lord says, “Do it!” But we don’t do it.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Now I don’t understand what all that means, but it is clear that we are to do with our money what the unjust steward did with his money. The next part is what I really want to look at.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
Jesus then explains what He is referring to …
If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
What true riches? The kind that John Wesley experienced. God says, “Money is a test. Money is the least on my scale of importance, and I am going to watch you and see what you do with it. And then when I see what you have done with your money, I will decide whether to give you the true riches, the kind the John Wesley enjoyed in his ministry.”
Does that explain why there is so little power, so little gifting, so little effect of our witness and testimony? It may just be that the Lord is looking at the materialism—that we all know exists among us—and the waste of our resources on extravagances, luxuries, and frivolous things, and that He is telling Himself, “If that is what they do with what I consider as the least important thing, I will never give them the things that are really important.”
Let’s turn now to Isaiah 58:10-11 and consider some tremendous promises, given in the context of fasting. “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity.” John Wesley didn’t live in obscurity. Everybody knew who he was. I am not saying we should seek for fame, but that is what the Bible says.
“And thy darkness be as the noonday. And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” This is a promise given to those who reach out their hand to the poor.
Christians do practice this principle to a degree, and what they do proves that these promises are true. After Hurricane Katrina, Christians sacrificed to give the city food, water, and shoulders to cry on. It was obvious to the people of New Orleans that the Christians were doing the lion’s share of the restoration work. A Jewish doctor looking on made this comment after it was over: “There are no longer any agnostics in New Orleans.”Taking Jesus at His word
Eric Camille is a dear brother from Tallahassee, Florida. We were one of his first contacts with Anabaptists. He looked up Anabaptists, and Shippensburg Christian Fellowship came to his attention, so he traveled the whole way from Tallahassee with his dear wife to visit our congregation. He told me: “Anabaptism is beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! I did not know that there were people like this. But the thing that surprises me is that you people keep it within the four walls of your church buildings. You folks should be down on the streets of the cities helping the poor and lifting the fallen.”
He and his wife take what resources they have—and he is not a wealthy man—and go down to the slums of the city on a regular basis with food and prepare it on the sidewalk to feed the hungry. He said, “I don’t understand you people, why you are not taking this to the streets.” And he hasn’t joined any of our churches as a result because he sees this lack as our tremendous blind spot.Joyful obedience
John 15 tells us that if we obey the Lord, our joy will be full. Let me give you an account:
Sunday in our church we were studying the story of the rich young man in Mark 10. Later, I received the following e-mail from one of our members:
My wife and I went home, emptied all our clothes onto the bed, got several bags of canned goods and, all the baby clothes our son has grown out of in addition to the toys he does not play with anymore. I took several hundred dollars cash that I was saving to upgrade the front lawn.
By the way, how much do you put into your front lawn? I cannot imagine the amount of money people put into their lawns.
We drove over to the projects downtown and prayed. I prayed for the people I didn’t know who were about to receive what I had too much of.
In the first house was a man about 30 who had a baby and needed some clothes. Perfect! I had my clothes to give him and the baby toys and clothes. He needed money for groceries, so I gave him $100. . . .
The next house had a couple who needed some clothing for the wife and money for a car payment. So I gave her my wife’s clothes and $100.
We prayed with each family and told them we came with God.
I got such a rush out of this that we got home and got more things together to give away. My wife and I are now consistently serving at the homeless center downtown. I am going to start teaching art and graphics at the homeless learning center.
This man got a charge out doing this! I ask you, what gives you your “kicks”? What do you get a rush out of doing? Is it that new gadget? Is it that extravagant automobile that you really don’t need? Isn’t it far more than mere transportation? Why not admit that it also was bought to make an expensive statement?
Why don’t you do what this man did? You will be surprised at what it will do for you!Sacrificial love testifieth loudly
Tertullian identified the outpouring of sacrificial love as the key factor to explain the multitudes that came to Christ in those first centuries.
Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” We are to overcome evil with good.
Ghandi was once asked by E. Stanley Jones—who had desperately tried to get Ghandi to make a commitment to Christ—what hindered him from committing his life to Jesus. Ghandi replied, “The Christians.”
Suppose we Anabaptists repented of our materialism and became known for our sacrificial and extravagant generosity in obedience to Christ? Yes, some of this does happen, but the people around us also know that we have piles of money left. We are known for our wealth and being people who have money. Suppose we were known as people who have depleted our resources for the sake of God’s Kingdom and are the most generous people on the face of the earth.
You can help change this! Coupled with nonresistance, obeying Christ in hilarious giving would be the most powerful testimony in the world. Will we be remembered as the generation that rose up for the cause of world poverty the best we could with our small numbers? Or will our history show that we were the most selfish generation in history who loved its soft drinks, fancy cars, cosmetics, extravagant clothes, expensive electronic gadgets, oversized houses, and costly vacations?Reaping lavishly
This is serious! God is not mocked! He said whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. Galatians 6:7–10 has a “negative” side, but it also has a “positive” side. In fact, the emphasis is on the positive. I want to inspire, not scold. “Be not deceived . . . “he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
You have Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are starving. You have the opportunity to sow much for a bountiful harvest of blessing.Saving time?
It is not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living that is hurting us. I am amazed at what has happened in my generation. Let me give you an example from my own home. I grew up on a farm and we took a bath once a week in a tin tub. That wasn’t unusual; that is the way everybody did: bathe once a week and change your clothes. Mom washed on Monday morning, all the clothes for a family of 13, and she was done with the wash for the week.
When my twin brothers were born, the last in the family, my father thought my mother needed some help so he bought her an automatic washer and dryer. Coupled with the bathroom built a few years previously, this enabled all 13 of us to take a bath and change into clean clothes every day … and my mother washed every day with her automatic washer. She then had less time than she had before!
Yes, our “labor-saving” devices have robbed us. When I was a boy, we visited all over the community throughout the whole week. Today, we visit maybe on Sunday, but we never visit someone on a Tuesday evening, especially unannounced.
When I was a boy, we never called anyone before paying a visit. We just said, “Let’s go visit someone,” and got in the car. We children would say to our parents, “If we get all the work done early tonight, may we go visiting?” And they would agree because we all loved to go visiting. We would go to the first place, unannounced, and if they were not home we went to the next, until we found someone home.
My father and mother together had 19 brothers and sisters, and we visited all of them once or twice a year, plus many friends. Nobody today that I know visits like that. Why? Because we have our automatic washers and other “time-saving” devices.
As another example, our great-grandmothers had a carpet in the parlor, the only carpet in the house. The only maintenance that carpet got was to have the lint picked off it occasionally and to get hung over the clothesline each spring for the dust to be beaten out of it. So the children said, “Let’s help grandma out. Let’s buy her a vacuum cleaner.” Now she doesn’t have to take the carpet out and hang it over the clothesline.
The rest of the story is that we now put carpet in every room of the house and sweep it every other day.
That is what I mean when I say our problem is “not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living.” We have put ourselves in bondage with our luxuries and our high expectations of what life should be. In the meantime, we have less money and time for the desperate people in our world who will die physically and spiritually without our help. The key to freedom from this deadly snare is to be extravagant with our compassion and try to bring some sense of equity between us and the needs of our world.Battleship, or luxury liner?
We are in a battle. I will finish with a story:
In the 1940s the US government commissioned William Francis Gibbs to work with the United States Lines to build a troop carrier for the navy, the likes of which had never been built before, at a cost of $78 million. It was to be equipped to carry 15,000 troops. In 1952, the SS United States was completed. It could travel at 44 mph, faster than any other ship. It could cover 10,000 miles without stopping for food or supplies. It could travel anywhere in the world in less than 10 days. It was the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world.
The problem is that it never carried any troops! Somebody convinced the United States Lines to turn the ship into a luxury liner for heads of state and celebrities. By the time they finished refurbishing it, the ship carried only 2000 passengers instead of 15,000. It had 695 staterooms, four dining salons, three bars, two theaters, five acres of open deck, a heated swimming pool, and was fully air-conditioned.
It was no longer a vessel for battle, but a means of indulgence so that wealthy people could comfortably ride across the Atlantic Ocean.
Did you know that the church was designed for battle? We are in a war! Christ wants to mobilize every one of you to wage a great offensive for the Kingdom of God right where you are.
Have we turned the church into a luxury liner? A song we sometimes sing says, “In your costly temples praying, let thy kingdom come we pray, are but idle words of meaning, if from these [the needy] we turn away.”
Are we willing to turn the church into a troop carrier for battle? Are we willing to obey the clear orders of Jesus concerning the tragic needs of our world? Are we willing to forsake our costly comforts to meet the great needs in the inner cities, the hostile regions of the Middle East, and the disease-ridden parts of “third-world” countries? Are we willing to make the richest country in the world a means for exalting Christ through the investment of our resources?Just passing through …
Pilgrims have lots of resources to invest because they travel light. An American tourist once paid a visit to the renowned Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi had a simple room, with a few books, plus a table and a cot. The puzzled American asked, “My! Where is your furniture?”
Hofetz replied, “Where is yours?”
“Huh,” was the reply, “I am just a tourist. I am just here passing through.”
The rabbi replied, “So am I.”
This message is available in video, audio, pdf, mobi, and epub formats at www.elcristianismoprimitivo.com/english/our-world-and-our-wealth.htm
 Editorial note: Money values are hard to calculate across centuries due to the difference in purchasing power. The salary figure given here may actually be high, as another calculation of the value is closer to $14,000/year. The point is that John Wesley lived on what was basically a “minimum wage” salary and gave away the rest. In one particularly prosperous year it is said that he gave away 98% of his income.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Dean Taylor
Pulling into the local pretzel shop here in Lancaster County, the scene was pretty predictable. Buggies, horse ties, and old bicycles outside. Inside the old building, a plainly dressed, Old-Order Mennonite lady took my pretzel order. I paid and was about to head out to my car with my nice, warm bag of salted pretzels when I noticed two stacks of papers sitting on the counter. Looking closer I discovered, to my surprise, that these papers were actually voter registration forms and a “tract” explaining why voting for the conservative President was the only “Christian” choice.
Picking up the paper I asked the young lady, “So I didn’t know that conservative Anabaptists voted. When did this start?”
To this the Mennonite lady responded, “Well, it’s getting so bad that they are starting to.”
I answered back, “Historically it has never helped the church to get involved in politics.”Election time
Yes, it’s election time again, and the headlines are full of statistics and touching stories, all proclaiming their different sides of the political arguments. Depending on which news source you read, it would be easy to believe that the other side is Satan himself. Conservative Evangelicals are putting up quite a stink over this election and unquestioningly preaching the idea that voting in this election is a moral obligation. The socialist agenda of the current administration is seen as a major threat to the conservative way of life, and therefore voting against the “Liberal-Socialist” agenda is seen as almost important as walking an aisle. The left is no better, and more than ever they have learned to use spiritual overtones and self-righteous-sounding arguments to justify their agendas.
But who would the Apostles vote for? In the early church, saying “Jesus is Lord” was actually a political statement. This phrase was in direct contradiction to the cry of Romans, “Caesar is Lord.” The closest equivalent to this sentiment in our day would be saying, “Jesus for president!” In the early church this was not mere sentimentality. After the death and resurrection of the Jesus, this motto became the early Christian battle cry.What does that mean practically?
So what did saying “Jesus is Lord” mean practically? To the early Christians it meant a separation from the politics of Rome and a purposeful establishing of a new nation called “The Kingdom of God.” Throughout history, radical followers of Jesus have charted the same course.
What is the answer to the question “Who would the apostles vote for?” I believe that they would vote for Jesus. But to a statement like that some may be thinking, “That all sounds nice and spiritual, but isn’t it okay to simply recognize that Jesus is the “real King in your heart,” but to still go ahead and vote for others—just in case?” Others ask, “Isn’t it better to vote for the lesser evil?”
History has proven that for serious Christians with conviction, voting for the “lesser evil” is a bad idea. Whether we want to admit it or not, the facts of history cry out that when the church has thrown in their lot with the different “lesser evils” of their day, it has led to both the church and the state losing out.
Throughout history when the politicians have vied for the attention of the church, their issues have appeared so justifiable—so important. The political activists have made it seem apathetic, un-American, and yes, even un-Christian not to get involved.
However, when the records of history are reviewed, it is amazing how the church’s entanglement with these seemingly “good causes” has littered the trail with casualties, often leading entire communities off course.Mennonite Nazis
A painful example of good intentions turned really bad is the case of the Mennonite political involvement in Germany during WWII. In some respects I would rather forget this chapter of our Anabaptist history. However, I feel that if we are going to lift up the good things we have done, then we also need to be honest with our mistakes—and this was a big one! I believe that understanding these mistakes could help to keep us from making similar mistakes in the near future.
The Mennonite church in Holland, northern Germany, and Prussia was one of the first to receive the gospel during the early years of the Anabaptist revivals of the 1500s. However, by the 1700s the materialistic slide of the Mennonites in Holland had its effects on Prussia as well. By the late 1700s, the Mennonites of northern Germany had enjoyed more connection with their conservative Protestant and Evangelical neighbors. Some of this had good result. However, economic and societal pressures bit by bit diluted the German Mennonites—almost completely—into mainline society. By the time of the Franco-Prussian wars of the 1890s and WWI in the 1920s, many Mennonites were getting involved with politics, nationalism, and even starting to fight in wars.After WWI
After WWI conditions were tough for all Germans—Mennonites included. The penalties placed on the German people by America and their allies crippled the economic stability of Germany. Farmers were hit particularly hard. Many farmers incurred large debts and were even forced to export their crops to support the surrounding countries hurt by the war.
The stock market crash of 1929 made a terrible situation even worse. Not only did it further crush the German economy, it also caused an uneasiness by revealing an unexpected weakness of western industry and capitalism. The ripple effect of this crash in the already-struggling post WWI Germany was devastating.Could the two crosses be fused? Joseph Stalin and Marxism
Added to this economic pressure in the West, the Russian Revolution led by Joseph Stalin was wreaking havoc all over the East. Notably affected by this revolution were the German Mennonite Brethren in Russia. Stalin’s reign of terror was notorious. German Mennonites frequently heard stories of how the “Communists” were making matters in Russia unbearable. By this time, some of their Russian Mennonite brethren had enormous farms. These farms became sitting ducks to Stalin’s forced economic plans of state ownership. Naturally, anti-communist feelings were strong.
Everyone was looking for answers. But they were looking in the wrong place. Their Bibles apparently were no longer looked at as a blueprint. Some looked to Western ideas of democracy and capitalism; others looked to the East and wanted to try the new “Marxism.” Regardless, everyone longed for a new, bold nationalism that would restore their honor and protect what little wealth, freedom, and property they had left.Major compromise
At this point a zealous, strong-handed political conservative by the name Adolf Hitler came to the scene. Hitler promised a unification of the German people, protection against the Communists, and a list of new “economic stimulus packages.” All these ideas promised Christian morality and prosperity for all good Germans. Some had cautions about Hitler’s intensity. But when it became election time, it was the “issues” that people voted for … and Adolf Hitler had the political cure of the day. It should always be remembered that Hitler was voted in by a fair democratic election process. Many liberals preferred the Communists. But the conservative Evangelicals, along with the German Mennonites, gave their vote for the new guy with the little mustache … complete with their new motto, “Heil Hitler.”The new plan
As part of a new “stimulus package,” in 1933 Hitler canceled all farming debts and reformed trade relations to benefit the German farmers. These changes actually made the German farmers part of the privileged class. Communist supporters were hauled off to concentration camps and many of the territories taken from Germany after WWI were quickly given back by rapid military actions. Germans were thrilled with these changes. When Austria fell to the marching armies, Germans were electrified. The Protestants were so happy that they even took down the cross that rested over the very castle where Martin Luther had translated the Bible, and put up a Swastika in its place.What was the spiritual cost?
What was the effect of Nazi nationalism on the Mennonites? Historically, the Mennonites had a heritage of separation from worldly politics. Could they get involved in politics and still stand against this new mindset? In a word—no.
Sadly, the Mennonites of Germany joined in with the jubilant nationalistic feelings that were spreading. As a matter of record, the German Mennonites were so happy with their new Führer that they wanted to express their official gratitude to him. In a telegram written September 10, 1933, the sentiments of a church council that had just taken place were expressed:
To Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Berlin:
The Conference of East and West Prussian Mennonites, assembled today in Tiegenhagen, Free State of Danzig, feels deep gratitude for the powerful revival that God has given our nation through your energy, and promises joyful cooperation in the upbuilding of our Fatherland through the power of the Gospel, faithful to the motto of our forefathers: No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.” (Emphasis and italics mine.)
I’m sure Hitler didn’t take time to answer every telegram that he received, but this one he replied to personally:
For your loyalty and your readiness to cooperate in the upbuilding of the German nation, expressed in your letter to me, I express my sincere thanks. —Adolf HitlerYikes!
Now to the defense of these German Mennonites, we have to remember that the atrocities that Hitler committed were not completely known at this time. On the other hand, there is a very important lesson to learn from just that point. When the church gives its support and affirmation to the ways of this world, when the church condones “lesser evil,” it finds itself praising an antichrist.Quick seduction
Caught up in the feeling of the day, in 1933 the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites stopped asking for special treatment as conscientious objectors from war. In 1934 “nonresistance” was removed from the Mennonite confession of faith.
In 1939 when the German armies took over Prussia bringing the Mennonites of Danzig to be united with the rest of Germany, the Mennonites saw it as an act of God. Emil Händiges, of the United (Vereinigung) Mennonites wrote:
Our German peoples have endured unspeakable difficulties under the Polish yoke during its twenty year foreign rule. The most difficult at the end. Then God, the Lord, helped them through the hand of our Führer and freed them. We thank our Führer for this act of liberation.
Mennonite and conservative Evangelical journals praised these military conquests by the German soldiers. These journals frequently quoted from the Prophets and the book of Revelation, showing Germany’s place as “God’s people” in prophecy.Nazi belt buckle, emblazoned with the words “God with us.” Gott mit Uns
Today it is easier to think of these German soldiers as committed pagans and monsters. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “how else could they have conducted all of those terrible deeds?” The sober truth is that most of those German soldiers claimed to be Christians. Astonishingly, the belt buckle worn by all of these so-called “Christian” Nazi soldiers boldly proclaimed, “Gott mit Uns.”
By 1940 the subtle influence of this political leaven had almost completely taken over the German Mennonites. Issuing a proclamation representing the political posture of the Mennonite Union during this time, the United Mennonite church wrote: “The Conference will not do anything that would even have the faintest appearance of opposing the policies of our leader (Führer).”
Reading this stuff, I had to ask, “Could this still be called Anabaptist?” I don’t personally think so. But more importantly, can they be called followers of Jesus? These changes were a pretty far cry from the decree of separation from the world and shunning of earthly government that was espoused by the early Anabaptists in the words of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It is obvious that their original convictions had grown stale.Fresh faith
During this time of compromise, there were small groups of first-generation Anabaptists on the scene. A first-generation Hutterite group led by Eberhard Arnold was just becoming organized during this time period. Enthusiastically embracing the foundational ideas of Anabaptism, they were dismayed over the posture of their Mennonite spiritual cousins.
When the Nazi authorities found out about these new Anabaptists, they became alarmed. The Hutterites’ radical theological and, particularly, their strong economic stance was more than the Nazis would stand for. But because of their radical stance, the loosening Mennonites were getting heat for also being called “Anabaptist.” When the authorities asked the politically-friendly Mennonites if they were associated with the new Hutterite group, the Mennonites didn’t exactly stand up for them. In a united effort of both the northern and southern Mennonites, an official disclaimer stated: “The Hutterites belonged neither to the Vereinigung (Union) of German Mennonite Churches, nor to any other organization within our Free German Mennonite Church.”
It wasn’t long until this new Hutterite community was raided. Fortunately, most of them made it out of the country, and the new group ended up as refugees in England. When England, the US, and Canada would not let the new group settle in their countries, the American Mennonites came to their rescue through the help of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The MCC helped the Hutterites immigrate to Paraguay, conveniently close to a group of Colony Mennonites that the MCC was already helping.More Mennonite Nazis!?
However, just when the Hutterites thought they were far, far away from the dreadful politics of their homeland, they discovered that thousands of miles away, virtually in the “middle of nowhere,” these South American Mennonites were also indoctrinated with Nazi politics!
The Mennonites there in Paraguay were living in terrible conditions and they spoke frequently to the Mennonites of Germany. Many felt that if Germany defeated Russia, then the Colony Mennonites would have a chance to leave South America and come live in Germany.
Like their brethren in Germany, the Mennonites of Paraguay had also had council meetings to discuss the advantages of Nazi politics. After their church council, they also blessed the Nazi government and saw the Nazis as the political party that was upholding conservative Christian values. After the conference, the Colony Mennonites of Paraguay wrote:
With greatest excitement we German Mennonites of the Paraguayan Chaco follow the events in our beloved Motherland and experience in spirit the national revolution of the German people. We are happy that in Germany, after a long time, a government that freely and openly professes God as Creator stands at the head of the nation … With special sympathy we hear that the current government takes seriously the realization of Christian principles in social, economic, and cultural life and especially emphasizes the protection of the family. (Emphasis mine.)
One youth leader writing home to Paraguay, while studying in Germany, wrote: “If one lives through such weeks in Germany, one is drawn involuntarily under the spell of the Führer and can do nothing else than confess oneself a National Socialist.”
The new Hutterites were disappointed. The living conditions of Paraguay were horrible indeed, but they felt that the freedom of worship was worth the cost. Emmy Arnold once wrote in a letter, “Better hookworm, than hooked cross (swastika).”
Responding to the lack of education and deplorable living conditions of the Colony Mennonites, the Hutterites quickly went to work trying to educate and offer social aid to the different Mennonite groups. Holding preaching services and hymn sings, some repentance progress was made. However, it was still a hard, upward fight. On one occasion, when the Hutterites came into a church building that the Mennonites had generously opened for them to worship in, the Hutterites were met with a framed picture of Adolf Hitler. The picture was front and center … right over the communion table!The war ends
We know how part of the war story ended. Germany lost the war, Hitler committed suicide, and soon all the atrocities of the Nazi party were being broadcast to the world. The Mennonites as well as conservative Protestant, Catholic, and Evangelical groups repented of their support of this antichrist. Mennonite leaders even repented publically. The Mennonites of South America followed suit, and eventually the political answers of the little German Führer were vehemently discarded.
Yet, somehow, something was lost by this pandemic compromise. I believe that something was particularly lost from the Mennonites. Compromise of this magnitude from mainline Protestants and Catholics was one thing … the world was somewhat used to seeing that. But when even the “radical Christians” were seen bending their knee to this evil, then something deep was lost.
The German church that emerged out of WWII Germany was anemic. Secularism has claimed the day, and today radical Christianity is virtually unheard of there.How did this happen to the Mennonites?
When I lived in Germany 20 years ago, I was a new convert to many of these Anabaptist ideas like nonresistance and separation from worldly politics. Walking into a Mennonite church there, I noticed on the walls the war memorials of Mennonites who had fought in the war. My guide was a man in his seventies who remembered the war period well. I asked him, “How did this happen? How did the Mennonites get swept up into all of this Nazi nationalism?”
He somberly told me, “It came over us like a revival.”
That was an impressive answer, and I am sure that at the end it did indeed come on them like that. But was it completely unexpected? I now think that the compromise was more insidious than the Mennonites were aware of. As the years go by and I watch the way modern conservative Mennonites respond to politics, I can somewhat understand how this could happen again. I now think that instead of being a sudden change, it rather happened because of a long time of slow compromise. James Peter Regier says it well in the conclusion of his excellent essay on this historic time period of Mennonite history:
It seems then, that the biggest flaw of the Mennonites was not any immediate error. Instead, it was the natural consequence of years of gradual theological adaptations and compromises to better fit within the German community. When National Socialism came, the Mennonites no longer had the capacity to resist.Have we learned our lesson?
Have we learned our lesson? Have we learned that trusting in “good” political strategies is a really bad idea? The Mennonite lady at the pretzel bakery said that things are getting so bad that Mennonites simply have to start getting involved in politics.
It is exactly because the world is getting so bad that it is time to leave the failed solutions of the world and to start showing a model to the world of what the world would look like if we all would simply follow the teachings of Jesus.So is voting a sin?
As we have seen, the issue is a subtle one. On the one hand, it seems so innocent. We might ask, “So what’s wrong with just telling someone who our choice would be for President?” That may seem innocent enough, but perhaps it is just this type of subtlety that warranted Jesus casting this rebuke: “Beware of the leaven of Herod.” Akin to the insidious pathos of pharisaical thinking, Jesus warned that the infection of “worldly political thinking” can grow in us, leading to our eventual spiritual destruction.
Jesus’ use of the metaphor “leaven” in this context is sobering. This word picture brings to mind the way we use leaven (today called yeast) in cooking. The small amount of yeast necessary to make a loaf of bread rise starts out seemingly innocuous and insignificant. However, once added to the dough, it is not long before that small bit of yeast affects the entire loaf, often swelling it to two or three times its original size. It happened to the Mennonites in Germany during WWII, and it can easily happen today if we look to worldly politics for our answers.
How is it with us today—in what way do we apply Jesus’ warning to “beware of the leaven of Herod?” Have we learned our lesson from history? We must learn from history that the world never has, and never will, come up with a lasting ultimate solution to their problems. Their shortsighted cures will always lack the clarity to see the root causes of their disease. As Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
If through this political season you have felt yourself infatuated with the agenda of worldly solutions, then please accept this lesson from the Mennonite Nazis and repent before you find yourself venerating the devil himself!
 For example, the Mennonites of Danzig shared a formal relationship with the Moravians of Herrnhut, who were only a few hundred kilometers away. When these Mennonites made their way to Russia, a large revival followed.
 This salute is often translated as “Hail, Hitler.” However, the German word “Heil” can also have connotations of “salvation” or “healing.” Thus the salute could have been used in the sense of seeing Hitler as a savior or healer of the German nation.
 Hans-Jürgen Goertz, “Nationale Erhebung und Religiöser Niedergang,” Mennonitsche Geschichtsblätter 31 (1974): 64. Quoted in: Mennonite Life, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Prussian Mennonites, the Third Reich, and Coming to Terms with a Difficult Past, James Peter Regier, March 2004. http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/2004Mar/regier.php (Without Regier’s article, my article would not have been possible.)
 Emmy Barth. No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness. Plough Publishing House, 2009, 39-48. Available online at: http://cdn.plough.com/~/media/Files/Plough/ebooks/pdfs/n/nolastinghomeEN.pdf
 “Emil Händiges offered his public repentance at the Fourth Mennonite World Conference in 1948. Referring to such Anabaptist and Mennonite founders as Conrad Grebel, Thomas Müntzer, and Menno Simons, Händiges recalled that the movement had, among other things, been founded on a teaching of nonresistance.” (Quoted from: Regier, Mennonitische Vergangenheitsbewältigung.)
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (November/December 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
Did you enjoy this article? You may enjoy these resources as well!
My concern for this message is to expose a detour that our Anabaptist churches took in the past century. As I was growing up, the message that I heard was what I call a “save ME gospel.” Now the term “kingdom of God” was used very loosely—as it is in many church circles—but I don’t think I ever heard, in all my growing up years, a message specifically on the kingdom. In this message I want to make it very clear what the kingdom of God is.
It is not about us! That is where the problem came in the shift of focus when I was growing up. The main thing in the messages that I heard was “We need to get saved!”
That certainly is true, but “getting saved” is a means to an end; not an end in itself. Unfortunately, “getting saved” was made an end in itself, and much of the revival preaching was focused on that end. Therefore, I would like to make it clear what the original gospel of Jesus Christ really was.
The original gospel message
The original gospel was the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Repent …” Now, the classic words usually following this would be, “… or you will be lost,” or “you will go to hell!”
But Jesus did not say that. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, “The kingdom is right there for you to grasp, it’s at hand.” Six verses later, after calling His first four disciples, it says He “went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” Mt. 4:23 Do you know that Jesus never called the gospel anything else but “the gospel of the kingdom”? In every instance where you find the content of the gospel described, it is “the gospel of the kingdom.” Every time, in the entire gospel record!
Jesus’ two most important statements were the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Both of these begin and end with an emphasis on the kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of God.” “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Referring to the end of time, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” I ask you a searching question: Has the gospel of the kingdom been preached unto the ends of the earth, or has it been a “save ME gospel”?
Now I want to make one thing clear before proceeding: God uses imperfect means. I believe the gospel has been preached in many parts of the world, and despite a wrong emphasis, many people have been reconciled to God.
Parables of the kingdom
Basically all of Jesus’ parables focus on the kingdom: the kingdom is as a treasure in a field, the kingdom is as a merchant, the kingdom is as a net, the kingdom is as leaven, the kingdom is as a mustard seed …
I want to ask you a question: If I were to ask you what the seed was in the parable of the sower, what would you say?
[Response from someone in the audience: “The Word of God!”]
That’s what most people say! And that is true in a general sense, but specifically it says it is the “word of the kingdom”! I never noticed that until recently. We are so used to reading our Bible through certain lenses. Six months ago I would have probably said the same thing [as the responder from the audience.] When Jesus interprets the parable of the tares, He says the seed is “the children of the kingdom.” That excites me!
Here I am, speaking to approximately 400 seeds! What should happen is that all you seeds will go out there and be planted and grow up to be a kingdom expression of the gospel! Not just a personal experience of people getting ready to go to heaven, but a kingdom expression of the gospel should grow up around every kingdom Christian. Because you are the “seed of the kingdom.”
The kingdom in church history
But, when we turn to the history of the church, it is not very far along before we see a drastic change in focus. How many of you can recite the “Apostles’ Creed”? [A few raise hands.] Tell me, what is the word that the Apostles’ Creed begins with?
That’s interesting! The Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father.” Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor any of those other major creeds after the first centuries say a single thing about the kingdom. Only the Creed of Constantinople says at the end, “… and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” It places the kingdom “out there” somewhere in the future, but says nothing about its present reality.
The result of losing the kingdom centrality in the gospel is a difference in a person’s outlook. If the focus is on ME, then the preaching I heard all my life was truly “gospel preaching,” where the most important thing in the world is for me to “get saved.” And before I proceed, I want to make it clear that “getting saved” is a very important thing, and heaven and hell are two very important realities we must resolve in the right way.
But that is not God’s most important concern for the present age. What God wants is a corporate expression, a society of the redeemed. Thus, personal salvation is an important means to an end and not an end in itself. God cannot express His kingdom until He has redeemed people that He can use to show to everyone what the whole world would be like if everybody obeyed the King!
That’s what Christianity is all about. We are talking about community, society, corporate relationships, so that the world looking on can say, “Wow!” It is like what the queen of Sheba said when she saw Solomon’s court: “What a great God they must have! What a beautiful kingdom! I cannot believe what I see! I did not know that human beings could live together this way!”
That’s what kingdom is all about!
But you see, if you concentrate only on your personal salvation and you don’t really make the kingdom to be the heart of your gospel—as did Jesus, Paul, and the others labored to teach it—then you have individual Christians who have no vision for submission to a corporate practice. I wonder just what the world looking on does see?
The great paradigm shift
Now, I stand here guilty with all of you; we have all been involved in this paradigm shift. It is because we have not been taught that the end of our salvation is to be involved in something larger than ourselves.
The kingdom of God is the society of the redeemed. As I mentioned, this gospel of the kingdom was lost in the early centuries to an individualistic salvation. And during the last century Anabaptism swallowed it also, and we wonder why we have so much individualism now. It is the fruit of a distorted gospel. We need to get back—it is a burden of my heart—to the kingdom gospel, instead of a “save ME gospel.”
Jesus used the word “kingdom” (in reference to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God) at least 124 times, and He never referred to the gospel as anything else. If Jesus focused on the kingdom, then that is the centrality of His message, not a marginal issue. He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.” Lk. 4:43 He tells us very explicitly why He came—to preach the kingdom!
Is the kingdom ever taught today? Well, in dispensationalist circles, the kingdom is to happen somewhere off in the future. You know, I think the Devil has used every strategy he can think of to get the focus off the kingdom. I really do! So the dispensationalist has put the kingdom off into the future … it is coming. This makes Jesus’ teaching irrelevant for today. That is what some people do with the teaching about the kingdom.
Other people, such as Augustine and Calvin, made the kingdom the central theme of their teaching, but it was a carnal kingdom ruled by force. Thus we have these two distortions, two wrong concepts, of the kingdom of God. So the message is lost.
Why did Jesus focus His message on the kingdom of God? Because that was God’s original purpose; that is why man was created. Salvation was not the main theme of God’s original work with man. Man was not “lost” when he was created. God created man so that he would have dominion and express God’s authority on this earth.
The first use of the word kingdom in the Bible is in Exodus 19:6, where it states, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests …” That makes it very clear what serving God is all about. We are mediating God’s rule on earth. He is the King; we are simply His subjects expressing His rule and authority, first of all in our own lives and fellowships, and then to the conscience of the world around us. Notice God says “ye shall be unto me,” not unto us (as humans) a kingdom of priests. The purpose of the kingdom is to show God’s benevolent rule, through us.
The world does not understand God. When they think about God, they view Him as a negative entity, as some sort of grumpy sovereign out there who enjoys giving lots of rules to make life hard … His ways are not good, and if you follow them, you will never be happy. That is the world’s concept of God. Therefore God’s purpose is that through this society of the redeemed, this little colony of heaven on earth, the world would get a glimpse of His true attractive character and have a desire to respond properly to Him.
Now the Devil has perverted the idea of the kingdom, which is why people have difficulty with it. Some leaders have perverted the idea of God’s kingdom and left a bad taste in our mouth. In the Old Testament, God initially wanted all men to be that kingdom of priests, but this purpose got lost, so He chose a nation. We will not take the time to do so now, but it is an interesting study to go through the Old Testament and see what God wanted to do with that nation. He told them, “I want to lift you up on high, so that all the nations will say, ‘What a God they have! What laws they have! What nation has been more blessed?’” He said, “I will make you the lender and not the borrower. You will be number one among the nations … if you keep all of my commandments.”
You see, that is the only way people will be blessed, by a total surrender. Now, I told you of the fragmentation that has taken place in our churches. We don’t understand submission of our lives to God and to each other for the sake of the kingdom of God.
We saw that in the Old Testament that God wanted a kingdom that would demonstrate to the whole world what a nation would look like if God was the King. And only briefly did the world ever see that, under David and somewhat under Solomon. That was it. Then we come into the New Testament.
I want to show you that the preaching of the gospel as being the gospel of the kingdom didn’t end with Christ. My goal with this message is to make all of you passionate church builders. I want you to forget about yourself, and get your relationship with God established, and then lose yourself in something bigger than yourself!
Look in Acts 19:8. What did Paul preach? “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God was Paul’s message; it was not a “save ME gospel.” Now look at Acts 20:25. “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.”
I want to ask you another searching question. When you “preach the gospel,” do you preach the kingdom of God? I hope so, and if you haven’t been doing so, I hope you start! Now let’s go to the end of Paul’s life, described in Acts 28:23. “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God.” Again, we see that the kingdom was the message! Then after Paul ends up a prisoner in his own rented house, what is he preaching in the very last verse of Acts? “The kingdom of God!”
Now, I think if Paul’s gospel had been a “save ME gospel” it would not have been stated that way. The coming of the kingdom of God was the message.
A present reality
This kingdom is a present reality, and the effects of the kingdom show, as in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. This is what should happen when the kingdom is genuinely expressed.
If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
This is the kind of authority that the gathered body has when it is gathered in unity. It is a true kingdom expression of authority. Psalm 89:7 tells us that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.”
What is the church, as denoted by the Greek term ekklesia? If you ask most people what that means, they will say, “the called out ones.” My question is, “called out to what?” Are they called out just to enjoy each other’s fellowship?
In Acts 19, when the uproar took place in Ephesus, the town clerk came on the scene and said, “We are going to be criticized for this disorder. If something needs to be resolved, there is a proper order. If anything needs to be done, it shall be determined in a lawful ekklesia (assembly).”
If you had gone to a Greek town and asked for the ekklesia, they would have taken you to the town council! It was a governing body; ekklesia means a body of people called out to govern (guide, lead). Now suppose you went to the U.S. Congress when they were dismissing, and asked them what had happened that day. Suppose they said, “We had a wonderful fellowship together! We were so encouraged! We had a fellowship meal, and it was a wonderful potluck dinner; you should have seen it! I was so glad I came to Congress, because I was so discouraged, but now I am really inspired!”
You would probably say, “That is not the reason you were supposed to be meeting together! You were not supposed to be there for yourself! You were supposed to be there to make good laws for this country, for yourself, for the assembly, and for the whole nation.”
A kingdom of peace
And that is why we are here, to give guidance to the nations. The early church demonstrated that. Concerning the Pax Romana, history books tell you that it was because the Roman army was so formidable and its punishments so terrifying that other nations dared not resist Rome’s rule. But if you read the early church writings, you get a different story. They say the reason for those 200 years of peace—which coincided with the first centuries of the church—was that the Prince of Peace had come and established a kingdom of peace, and this kingdom’s prayers and influence were keeping the world at peace! Interestingly, those 200 years of peace ended about the same time that the early church began to lose its practice of nonresistance.
The most tragic compromise the church ever made was its compromise of nonresistance.
Since that time, some of the most horrible things have happened “in the name of Jesus”: the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery in America, the American Civil War, and World Wars I and II.
People say, “What do you do with a man like Hitler?” Well, most of the people in Germany were Lutherans. If the church had never lost its stand on nonresistance, Hitler would have had no army! Almost none of the wars in Western civilization would have ever occurred. Do you see now what happened to this kingdom? It got messed up with tragic and unspeakably horrible consequences.
I have to tell you—and I have heard this in testimonies from various people—that the most powerful testimony of the church has been its testimony of nonresistance. We live in a world that is sick of war, hatred, violence, killing, and all the things that go along with war. To hear that there is a group of people—the Anabaptists—who for 500 years has been able to live together in peace without the sword is about the most appealing message we could ever give to the world.
I hope that by now you understand what the gospel of the kingdom is: a gospel that says, “Yes, God wants to save human beings and take them to heaven, but the most important part is that He wants them to be an expression of His kingdom here on earth.” I will again state my definition of the kingdom of God: A group of people who show to everyone what the whole world would look like if everybody obeyed the King!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (September/October 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
This November is another presidential election in the United States. Once again the people of the United States have the opportunity to choose the next President and other elected officials. In the midst of the heated campaign cycle, we who claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus would do well to ask the question: “should Christians vote?” Are there compelling reasons to abstain from voting? Indeed there are.
Voting and political involvement promotes dissension in the brotherhood. Political affiliations and opinions promote division among Christ’s body. One man is convinced that the conservatives are right and is excited to vote Republican; the next is convinced that a liberal agenda will do the country better and will vote Democrat. A third says that everyone should vote for a third party. They then proceed to debate and argue, then go away holding anger in their hearts toward each other. Such things happening in the world is bad enough; why would we ever want to bring this horrid, division-creating plague into the church? There has been enough bitterness, dissension, and division among those who call themselves Christians already; why would we want to add yet another controversial subject into the church which has no relevance to the Christian’s mission?
A friend of mine told me about how his father, who was a minister in his denomination, ran as a Republican for Congress. When his political views became known, he was nearly thrown out of the church which was predominantly Democrat.
Voting and political involvement detracts from the Gospel. Jesus has given His church the mission of taking the Gospel to every creature, baptizing them, and teaching them to keep every commandment He gave (Matthew 28:19-20). Add to this the commands of the Apostles, and the church has a full-time job. Why would we want to add to this divinely-given mission any efforts to campaign for political issues or people? May God forbid that any effort would ever be made to convince people to vote one way or another across a pulpit meant for the proclamation of the Gospel and obedience to God’s commands!
Not only does politics detract from the Gospel in time and effort, it also detracts from the Gospel in credibility. What if the church expends time, energy, and effort into a political candidate who is successfully elected, then it is discovered that the candidate was not what the church thought he was? What if he gets the country into a deeper mess than it already is in? The church will find itself discredited in the eyes of the world, and when she tries to proclaim the Gospel, the world will turn a deaf ear. “You told us about the wonders of the political candidate last year and we believed you; it did not turn out; why should we pay attention to your Gospel this year?”
I heard a missionary to Africa once tell the story of how in an election year, some politicians came into the area where he was working. They met with the native ministers and asked them to help campaign for their candidate, for which they would be paid. The native ministers met together and discussed the situation in the missionary’s absence. Having never discussed politics with the missionary, they came to the conclusion on their own that doing so would detract from the Gospel, so they refrained from doing it.
God will put in power whom He will, regardless of what we do or do not do. God sent a dream to Nebuchadnezzar the king, warning him of the punishment awaiting his pride. In the dream, it was stated that Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment would be “to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Daniel 4:17). Daniel the prophet praised God because “he removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Daniel 2:21).
God will set up as President (or Congressman, or governor, etc.) whomever He has chosen to allow to use that office. His purposes will be accomplished. If God has chosen to set up a certain person as President, all of earth can oppose it – but in vain. God’s will shall be accomplished. If God has chosen to set up a certain person as President, it will not matter if I vote in favor of that person or another – my vote will not make a difference. God’s will shall be accomplished.
Voting and political involvement consumes valuable time which could be spent on the Kingdom of God. Even if one never says a word to another person about politics, if he votes and keeps himself informed on the issues and candidates, he must pour a large amount of time into politics. Imagine all the time spent reading, researching, pondering, forming resolutions, and acting on political subjects! Now imagine how much could be accomplished for the Kingdom of God in that much time! Time spent reading the Word of God and good books, researching and studying important topics, pondering God’s truth, making resolves, and then acting on them! How much time which could be spent furthering the church’s God-given mission is wasted on the worthless politics of this hell-bound earth!
Voting and political involvement compromises nonresistance. Jesus was clear about nonresistance: “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). “Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39). We who profess to be Christians must obey Jesus’ commandments, including these ones. How then is it an expression of nonresistance and love for our enemies when a man, professing to be a Christian, casts his vote for the Commander-in-Chief of the American military? How is it an expression of nonresistance when he purposely votes (if he chooses to do so) for a man whose principles are to attack the enemies of America and to fight in war against those who attack our country? War is the way the kingdoms of this world settle their disputes; let us, followers of the Prince of Peace, keep far away from partaking, even indirectly, in their diabolical method of “problem-solving”.
Voting and involvement with politics blurs the line between the church and the world. Earthly government, politics, voting, lobbying – all are worldly methods to take care of worldly issues. Christians involving themselves in such activities are at best compromising with the world on these issues (if not completely giving up to the world). The Bible talks again and again about the necessity of keeping separation from the world:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15-17).
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (II Timothy 2:4).
Fellow-Christians, we have a divinely given mission – to spread the Gospel, baptize, and teach the commands of Jesus and His Apostles. We have no time or resources to waste on the vanity of politics. We must not compromise nonresistance or separation from the world; we must not mix the Two Kingdoms (the Kingdomof Godand the kingdoms of this world) by involvement in politics. May we carefully avoid any political entanglement or any involvement with other things with which our enemy, the Devil, seeks to ensnare the church and turn it from its mission.
“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).
Originally published in The Witness, September 2012.
From the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7
And seeing the multitudes, he [Jesus Christ] went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: ) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
By Mike Atnip
I have a baptism to be baptized with … Luke 12:50
One could fill a library with the books that have been written about the first two baptisms. In the life of Jesus, our Perfect Example, we find Him being baptized with water by John the Baptist. In quick succession, the Holy Spirit “descend[ed] like a dove, and light[ed] upon him.” It is easy to see two baptisms here; one with water, and the other with the Holy Ghost.
But further on in the Gospel story, we see Jesus commenting about a baptism that He had not yet accomplished: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Lu. 12:50
It was this baptism that the early Anabaptists called “the third baptism.” Sometimes it was referred to as the “baptism of suffering,” or “the baptism of blood.” This latter term came from 1 John 5:8, which tells us, “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
The “forgotten” baptism
This third baptism is largely ignored today. In fact, it has in some cases been replaced with a baptism that is just the opposite of suffering. By this I mean what may well be called a “baptism of blessings.” This so-called “Prosperity Gospel” is what the Apostle Paul called “another gospel” in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:16. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of “another spirit” and “another Jesus.” So if someone comes preaching a Jesus that does not live and act like the Jesus in the four Gospels, then we need to beware. In connection with the theme of this article, we can easily deduce that whoever does not preach that the disciples of Jesus should follow their Master into His baptism of suffering, it is “another Jesus.” The Jesus that Paul preached told His disciples, “he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Mt 10:38
Yet today we see preachers, famous in this world, telling people about a Jesus that offers them material prosperity. The “proof” is the preacher’s $23,000 toilet, air-conditioned doghouse, or the $20 million dollar jet. So instead of preaching a bloody, painful baptism of suffering, a baptism of material blessings is promised to those who believe in their “Jesus.”
I promise you …
It would seem that a person who is looking for people to follow him would offer his devotees something better than a lifetime of suffering. How many political candidates would get elected if in his campaign speeches he said, “Hey, vote for me and I promise you that I will lead you into the biggest economic depression this country has seen yet!” Yet, Jesus—the Jesus of the Bible—essentially tells His followers something very close to that. “Follow Me,” He told them. And then He voluntarily allowed Himself to be martyred without the least resistance—and He could have called 10,000 angels if He wanted to!
One of the big causes of unbelief that people stumble over concerning the God of the Bible is the question as to how a “good God” can allow evil to happen. How can a supposedly omnipotent [All-powerful] God allow suffering and evil to continue in the world? How could He, who is stronger than Satan, have allowed him to continue for so long? How can it be that a good God allows innocent children to starve?
Those are valid questions, ones that I don’t claim to be able to give a complete answer to, other than two points: 1. Man’s choice to sin is the cause of evil in the world, and God allows humanity a free choice. The freedom for a man to choose unrighteousness will affect others around them. Although God sometimes does limit a man from harming others, He does not totally stop sin and its consequences from happening. 2. Suffering is necessary in this world so that the righteous character of God can be made manifest.
We will examine the second point in this article.
When Adam chose to disobey God, God was forced to separate from Adam. Adam and his posterity were then left to the whims of their own mind and the temptations of their flesh and those of Satan. By nature—without God’s Spirit within to guide and empower—humans will choose that which serves to bring them the most pleasure. This is the opposite of God’s nature, which is love, the opposite of self-centeredness. Thus man’s fallen state left his character opposed to God’s character. Self and love cannot be mixed, just like oil and water do not mix.
When man began to follow his own ways, it was anarchy. In anarchy, every man does that which he thinks best, and this usually translates into doing what brings him the most personal gain and pleasure. So if Bob has 100 acres, but he sees Joe has 200 acres and better cows, Bob plans a midnight raid and kills Joe and takes over his land and cows.
We call that “unrighteousness” because it is not morally right, not what God’s character is like. And God’s character is the basis that determines if something is “righteous” or “unrighteous.”
Man without God will basically act like an animal, as Ecclesiastes 3:18 tells us: “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.” So just like a wild animal will fight for its survival, killing one of its own over who gets to eat the prey, man fights and kills and strives for the mastery over his fellow man.
Righteous vs. unrighteousness
Humanity without God will be unrighteous. As their morals and integrity degrade (which is the natural course for people without God), humans will cheat and hurt and deceive even those who try to help them. Think of those men who will cheat old grandmothers out of their bank accounts and houses, even though the old lady is very kind to them. This is total unrighteousness: returning evil for good.
To limit this unrighteousness and help humanity from slipping into total degeneracy, God instituted human governments. These usually form some sort of basic guidelines to help limit the worst forms of unrighteousness, with applicable punishments for those who break the guidelines. The Law of Moses was one of these governments, albeit a special law that also had many types and shadows of the Gospel built into it.
These laws did not restore humanity to the fullness of God’s nature and character, but they did try to put a harness on the worst of man’s unrighteous actions. Most governments recognize that murder, stealing, and cheating are wrong and make laws to limit these evils. Basically, instead of evil for good, civil laws say evil for evil and good for good. This means that Bob should not kill Joe for his land and his cows, but if Bob does break the moral code and attack Joe, Joe is allowed to return the evil and defend himself. Most of the civil governments of this world operate on this basis, more or less. Under the threat of punishment, most men can live up to the “evil for evil” standard of righteousness. And of course, it is not hard to return good for good. If Bob invites Joe for a barbecue, Joe may well invite him for some watermelon on a hot day.
A kingdom of righteousness
Then came the kingdom of God. Jesus began the Gospel message by laying out the righteousness upon which His kingdom would operate. Of course, it would not be unrighteousness: evil for good. But, neither would it be evil for evil, good for good. It was to be a radically new kingdom. Actually, it was simply a return to God’s original intent for man in the Garden of Eden. Christ’s kingdom would be a kingdom based upon the heavenly concept of good for evil! Now, when Joe hears the rumor that Bob is about to attack him and take his land and cows, Joe visits Bob and blesses him.
So we see the three “levels” of righteousness:Total unrighteousness: evil for good. Righteousness by civil law, or human righteousness: evil for evil, good for good. The righteousness of God: good for evil.
Let’s look at a few issues in the light of these three levels of righteousness, starting with war. In total unrighteousness, one nation can attack another for whatever reason. In human righteousness, war is often limited to what may be called “just war”: if one nation does attack another, then the attacked people have a right to fight back. In God’s righteousness, when a people are attacked, they do not fight back, but even bless the attackers.
In boundary disputes, total unrighteousness may flare into a shootout if the two parties involved get into an argument. When one side has killed the other, “to the victor go the spoils.” In human righteousness, boundary disputes are taken before a judge, who tries to hear both sides and make a just decision. In the kingdom of God, if one side tries to move the boundary marker illegitimately, the other lets him do so without a fight, and may even tell the offender to take double.
Back to suffering
What place does a baptism of suffering have in the kingdom of God? The answer is that suffering is the only way in which the righteousness of God can be manifested. One early Anabaptist writer even put it this way: “A man can only be made righteous through suffering.” If you are like me, that little sentence will make you shake your head on the first time reading it. But after contemplation as to what he meant, I began to concur. Let me explain.
Jesus told his disciples in Luke 6:32-34 that “if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” In other words, is it really anything extra-ordinary for a man to practice human righteousness? Of course, those who do practice “evil for evil, good for good” can congratulate themselves that they are not like the totally unrighteous person who practices “evil for good.” But Jesus came preaching a higher level of righteousness, the righteousness of God, the righteousness that is inherent to His holy character. He told His disciples in Matthew 5:20, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees measured themselves with was the Mosaic law. And this law did hold men accountable to a measure of righteousness that was better than total unrighteousness. Poking out a man’s eye for no reason was prohibited. But if someone poked out your eye, you had a right to poke his out: eye for eye. “Evil for evil” was okay in Moses’ law, but “evil for good” was outlawed. Jesus told His followers that if they were going to enter into and live in His kingdom, they had to move beyond the “evil for evil” level of righteousness.
Jesus did not leave His disciples in the dark as to some practical applications. He took them through several points of the Mosaic law and lifted the standard up to the righteous character of God, and how that would work out in practical terms.
His disciples were a bit taken aback. At one point, they exclaimed, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” It seems they questioned, like many people do, whether it would be possible to live up to the new standard.
The role of suffering
Let’s contemplate the heavenly kingdom’s standard of righteousness. Jesus said it plainly when He told His followers, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 12:21: “Overcome evil with good.”
Now, here is the “big” question: how could a man practice the kingdom righteousness of “good for evil,” if there were no evil in this world? If all that was in the world was good, there would be no opportunities for the character of God’s righteousness to fully manifest itself. If there were no unjust (unrighteous) people in the earth, God could never manifest His full righteous character of returning “good for evil.”
Obviously, we would all prefer to live in a world in which there was no unrighteousness. But when we ponder this whole point, suddenly we see the “need” for evil. If all were good, there would never be the opportunity to manifest the character of our good God in its fullness. Only when the true righteousness of God confronts evil, and overcomes it by good, can God’s glory shine its brightest. One cannot suffer triumphantly if he never suffers!
And so to reveal the glory of God, God had to come into an evil place, a place where He would suffer evil, so that He could practice—make manifest—His righteous character trait of “good for evil.”
Thus God came into this world through His Son Jesus to suffer, to triumph over evil by returning good to those who abused Him. His name was glorified through it all.
Made righteous through suffering
The author of Hebrews tells us that the Messiah, “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” It is a little hard for us to think of Jesus having to “learn obedience,” but the author continues, saying, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
That word “perfect” can throw us into a tailspin if we are not careful. The word “perfect” in the KJV usually means “completed,” or “brought to its finished state.” So when Jesus passed through the final “test” of suffering, and “passed the test” by forgiving and returning a blessing on those who had unrighteously treated Him, His obedience was “perfected.” He had proved that He “had what it takes” to always return good for evil. The righteous character of God within Him had triumphed over every temptation. He now had the right to become the “author of eternal salvation.” In Hebrews 2:10, it is written “For it became him [was necessary for Him], for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
An analogy could be like a construction company that is looking for an experienced backhoe operator. When the applicant shows up, they may well take him out back and show him the machine that he will be operating, and say, “Fire it up and dig me a hole over there. I want to see if you can really do this.”
God could have planned it somehow that Jesus just stayed in heaven, and then told everyone to believe that it was possible for a man to walk on earth in a human body without sinning. But God “proved” to the world that it was possible. He proved, through His son Jesus, that it is possible to live righteously among unredeemed people, practicing “good for evil” and holiness. He sent Jesus, permitting great abuse to be heaped upon Him, to prove that this Jesus was capable in all circumstances to overcome the evil with good. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him,” (Is. 53:10) because the Father knew the Son would overcome the evil with good. The righteous response of the Son towards the evil inflicted upon Him was a beautiful aroma in the Father’s nose, qualifying Him to be the “author of eternal salvation.”
The Lion of the tribe of Judah prevailed over evil, and His blood was taken from Him and sprinkled in the inner sanctuary [spirit] of dead humanity to enliven, purify, and forgive. Whosoever would look upon the victorious Son on the tree could be quickened into a new life of righteousness, by the Holy Spirit.
He suffers still
But the Messiah still suffers today … in His body. And He still overcomes today … in His body. He is still going through the third baptism, yet today … in His body. His people are still being “baptized” with unrighteous deeds against them, so that the righteousness of God can manifest itself in every generation. Persecutions, banishments, lawsuits, divorces, angry words, abuse, and cursings are still heaped upon the saints.
Yes, it still pleases God to “bruise” His people with suffering, because He knows that the beautiful aroma of His righteous character—which He planted in them—will arise from the situation. Just like a crushed flower gives off a greater aroma, so God’s people produce more righteousness when they are “crushed” in suffering.
God is not a sadist. He does not enjoy watching people suffer because He enjoys watching twisted faces, looks of despair, and hearing screams of pains. But it is only when we suffer that we can return good for evil. If we never pass through evil circumstances, we could never respond righteously to evil circumstances. Thus it remains the lot of God’s people to suffer.
The first letter of Peter is filled with the idea of suffering, and how suffering fits into the Christian life. Although we will not look at all of that letter now, notice one phrase in 1 Peter 3:14: “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.” While I would not insist that the following is what Peter meant, let us consider what may be a new way of looking at this sentence. We probably tend to think that Peter is saying that “If you did what was right and got blasted for it, rejoice.” That is certainly true, and may be what Peter intended. But let’s suppose that Peter means, “If God sends you into a situation where you suffer terrible, unjust treatment—just so God can have you respond with “good for evil” righteousness—rejoice!” In other words, God may allow one of your employees to embezzle $50,000 from your business, just so that the world can see you respond like Christ would in the situation. God is “bruising” you to get a sweet odor! And we are supposed to rejoice at the opportunity!
There are no opt-out options to the third baptism in the Christian life! No opt-outs allowed
When a man or a woman comes to Christ to be a disciple, no alternative is given to opt out of any of the three baptisms. We definitely need the baptism of the Holy Spirit. How else could we be empowered to live like Christ? We are commanded to go into the whole world, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Our flesh usually has no problem accepting baptism with water or with the Holy Ghost. But it screams in defiance at the third baptism: the baptism of a bloody suffering. There are no little boxes to check off in the “contract” of the New Covenant, that is, a little box that says, “Check here if you would like to opt out of any of the following baptisms.” Entrance into the kingdom is a total surrender of the will to whatever God has in store; we don’t “bargain” with God.
Jesus told us we need to count the cost before following Him. He said that we must take up the cross and follow Him. No opt-outs. As we have already seen in this article, the only way that the righteousness of the kingdom of God can manifest itself is when evil happens. Evil must happen, or we cannot overcome it with good.
So we must count the cost. If we don’t want to have any suffering in our lives … then don’t even think of becoming a disciple of Jesus! It is true; God may choose some of us to have less suffering, but if we want to conquer unrighteousness, unrighteousness has to happen to us. We cannot overcome bitterness unless we experience a situation that tempts us to hold a grudge. Being treated nicely doesn’t usually tempt us to bitterness, so we must needs experience treatment—a mistreatment—that isn’t so nice!
Glorification through suffering
Right after Judas left the room on the night before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” Jn 13:32
When we think of glorifying God, we often think of singing praises or testifying of the great things God has done. While this is one way to glorify God, there is a better way. That way is to manifest God’s character in trying situations. Others looking on will see the righteous response and glorify the Father.
Jesus glorified the Father on the cross when He openly revealed that He had something within Him that was stronger than the terrible injustice being done to Him. [He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city … Pr. 16:32] In return, God glorified the Son. It is recorded that when the centurion who was at the crucifixion “saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” Lu. 23:47
Peter, preaching after Pentecost, told the crowd about the glory of the cross: “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.” The glorification of Jesus happened when He was unjustly crucified and responded with forgiveness.
God will also glorify us, if we will accept the suffering in our life and respond righteously. Paul wrote that we are “joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” And in another place Paul expressed the great longing to know God. Not just know about Him, but to really know Him. And in that context, Paul speaks of the role of sufferings in his relationship with Christ, saying, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” Fellowship with Christ consisted of cosuffering with Him. In his letter to Timothy, Paul states that “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” That simply means that if we will take Christ and His power with us into an unjust situation that we are put into, He will give us grace to return good for evil, thus conquering evil. If we let an evil circumstance move us to respond back with evil, evil has conquered us. But when we let Christ move us to respond to evil with good, we have conquered evil.
Destroying sin by suffering
Peter tells us in his letter, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” 1 Pe. 4:1
In 1527, the Anabaptist Leonard Schiemer wrote a letter to the church at Rattenberg, saying, “It is true, Christ’s suffering destroys sin, but only if He suffers in man. For as the water does not quench my thirst unless I drink it, and as the bread does not drive away my hunger unless I eat it, even so Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until He suffers in me.” When Jesus suffered unrighteous treatment, He “ceased from sin” by not returning evil for evil. In the same way, we can “cease from sin” when we return good for the evil done to us. In this way, sin is destroyed and conquered … by the Christ living in us!
One favorite analogy among the early Anabaptists was that of a tree in the woods. That tree is a house; but only a potential house. Only after the tree suffers the pain of the axe and saw, turning the tree into useful boards, is the tree really a house.
And so it is with the Christian and righteousness. A child of God, birthed into a new life by a baptism of the Holy Ghost, is a fountain of righteous deeds—or like the tree in the woods, a potential fountain. It is only after the believer has been sawn and shaped by sufferings does his righteous character come to any fruitful use. In this analogy, we can now grasp how the one Anabaptist could write that we can only be made righteous through suffering. We are made righteous when God regenerates us, but that righteousness becomes tangible through our responses to unrighteous actions against us.
Fruits of righteousness
In 1536, Andres Keller wrote an anguished plea to the lords who had him imprisoned for his faith:
I hope, dear lords, that you will not act rashly against me. I say this not from deceitful motives, but because I do not want you to incriminate yourselves by doing me violence. What good is it to you to reduce me to this miserable condition? I am distressed beyond misery, I am poverty-stricken and robbed of my ability to work, beyond what I could ever overcome in my lifetime [They had tortured him so severely he didn’t think he would ever heal enough to be able to work again.] I have been starved so that I cannot now eat or drink, and my body is broken. How would you like to live for five weeks with only boiled water and unflavored bread soup?
I have been lying in the darkness on straw. All this would not be possible if God had not given me an equal measure of His love. I marvel that I have not become confused or insane. I would have frozen if God had not strengthened me, for you can well imagine how a little bit of hot water will warm one. In addition to this, I suffered great torture twice from the executioner, who has ruined my hands, unless the Lord heals them. I have had enough [torture] to last me the rest of my days.
However, I know that God never forsakes me if I suffer for the sake of his word. I know full well that I have experienced with great pain the Enemy’s temptations against you. May God forgive you and all the dear people who have falsely accused me before you.
Did you catch the righteousness of God manifesting itself? The returning of good for evil, the blessing for cursing? Mangled for life because of false accusations, yet forgiving … that is the righteousness of Christ coming out of suffering! That is the tree being sawn into boards to create a house.
Such poignant accounts of suffering should strike us here in North America as to how little we suffer in our time. We think it is “suffering” if we leave our lights on at Walmart and have a dead battery when we get back out to our vehicle. Or, perhaps we rip our dress on the rose bush while we pass.
Yet, I know that we all do suffer injustice in some degree. It is part and parcel of life on Earth, and it is a required part of being a disciple of Jesus. People mock us. People steal our goods. People cheat us. Friends turn their back on us. Although the Bible doesn’t clearly say so, I personally believe that God purposely lines Christians up to suffer some of these things, quite on purpose, just to manifest His glory.
These are hard things to go through, but if we would just stop and consider the matter, it is the only way that we can clearly manifest the righteous character of God that He has given to us as a great, undeserved gift. And just like the tree needs some working to become useful, we must pass through suffering to produce the full righteousness of Christ.
Perhaps it will help us to look upon our future sufferings not as “trials” (which they are), but as opportunities for God to overcome evil with good. When evil is overcome by good, then the kingdom of God has come to earth. Someday, all evil will be banished forever, and the kings of God’s kingdom (those who overcame evil) will be taken to a place where there will never be any more evil to conquer. What a day that will be!
But until that time, we must, as Conrad Grebel wrote to Thomas Muntzer, “be baptized in anguish and affliction, tribulation, persecution, suffering, and death. [We] must be tried with fire, and must reach the fatherland of eternal rest, not by killing [our] bodily enemies, but by killing [our] spiritual enemies.”
Jesus has told us, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life!” Re. 2:10
May the grace of God take you through your third baptism! A crown awaits those who overcome!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2011), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By John M. Brenneman
Editor’s Note: The following piece was written in 1863, in the height of the Civil War, by a bishop in the (Old) Mennonite Church who lived in Elida, Ohio. It was part of Brenneman’s first booklet, Christianity and War and was part of the appendix, titled “An Address to the Mennonite Brethren”. This brief writing is as relevant today as it was in the Civil War. Bold emphasis has been added. Christianity and War is one of the best defenses of nonresistance I have ever read. It is available from Sermon on the Mount Publishing.—Ed.
Whereas we have now met with perilous times—times of sorrow and distress, while the whole world, as it seems, is lying in wickedness and in rebellion against God and His laws, it is surely high time for us to “awake out of sleep,” and be on our guard: for we are surrounded with snares and temptations on every side, wherewith Satan is aiming to ensnare us. Let us, therefore, “watch and pray, that we fall not into temptation.”
And, whereas thousands are now engaged in fighting for a worldly kingdom, which is but transitory and vain, ought we not then also, who profess to seek a heavenly country, to “fight the good fight of faith,” and be more vigorously engaged in fortifying ourselves against the assaults of our spiritual enemies, lest they break in upon us unawares, and rob us of our rights and privileges. Let us be as Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil: for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore, take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God: pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” Eph. 6:10-18. Thus we can see, my dear brethren, that a soldier of Jesus Christ must be well armed from head to foot, in order to be able to withstand the attacks of the enemy. Oh, let us not delay to seek fresh recruits, and to have them all well armed, for we may yet have hard battles to fight. Do not be discouraged, for our Captain is strong and well experienced; only follow in His footsteps—do as He bids you—keep close to His banner, and by His all-powerful aid, we shall finally be more than conquerors; yea, triumphant over sin and Satan, death and hell.
Although we wrestle not against flesh and blood, and war not after the flesh, as the weapons of our warfare “are not carnal;” yet it becomes us, nevertheless, to be true, loyal, and faithful citizens to our worldly government in all points that do not militate against the laws of our blessed Redeemer; and as our government has thus far allowed us freedom, and liberty of conscience, to worship God agreeably to the promptings of our most holy faith, we ought, therefore, to regard and respect our government, and earnestly and sincerely pray for its continuance; yea, we ought to support such a government in all things it may demand of us, if it be not against the pure doctrine of Christ. But should our government ask of us anything that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus, then we must obey God rather than man. But we ought to be truly thankful to God and our government, that such provisions have thus far been made for the “defenseless Christians”, that instead of taking up arms to slay their enemies, they have always been permitted to pay an equivalent in money; and in reason we could ask no more. Oh, let us, then, all be true loyal and faithful subjects: and whereas we cannot, for conscience sake, help uphold the government with carnal weapons, let us, at least, give to it this advantage—the assurance that it never need fear a rebellion from us; and let none be in anywise injurious to the government of our land; but pay willingly and without murmuring all its demands and just dues, without defrauding (if we even could) in the least; knowing that, even if we could escape the punishment of men, we could not escape the punishment of God. What a self-contradiction it would be, if, after professing a non-resistant Christianity, we should be found guilty of resisting the government by rebellion and disloyalty! I would say to my ministering brethren, Expel from the church every brother that dares rebel or in any way act injuriously to the government. And, my brethren, let us not forget to pray for the government and for all those in authority, that under them, by the grace of God, “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty” (I Tim. 2:2): yea, let us pray for the restoration of peace and union in our distressed and troubled country, remembering that the “effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Jas. 5:16. Let us cast all our cares upon God, knowing that he careth for us, and you, my dear brethren, who are placed as watchmen over the flock, “blow the trumpet, give the alarm, be instant in season and out of season,” as those who must give an account of the precious souls placed under their care; for these are alarming times.
And, oh, my dear brethren, could I only persuade you all to lay aside and banish from your minds that hurtful and baneful [political] party spirit. Behold, what havoc it has made in our states! and now it has also entered into the churches and is separating them. Is it not enough for us to be Christians? Or must we also be called, or call ourselves, after a worldly name—a Democrat or a Republican? Surely, we ought also to guard against this evil. If we are Christians it is enough to qualify us for every duty. Oh, let no party names tear asunder the bond of love and brotherhood! We ought, by no means, to allow ourselves to be called by party names; and, oh, how shameful for Christian professors to dispute and quarrel about political matters! For those who profess to be followers of Christ, walking in His steps, and who are to be of one mind, one heart, and one soul—for one of them to say, “I am a Democrat,” and another, “I am a Republican,” and then to commence to dispute and quarrel with each other! I say, it is a shame for a Christian professor to do this; and I believe that a true Christian will not be guilty of such follies. And as political matters are now carried on to extremes—to excess—beyond the bounds of reason and religion, I would say, Stand aloof! Keep at a proper distance and within the bounds of Christianity! Dear brethren, suffer yourselves to be persuaded and convinced of the inconsistency of non-resistant professors taking part in worldly elections, and in the choosing of worldly rulers. Is it not overstepping the bounds of a non-resistant Christianity, when we help choose men into office in which it becomes their duty to use deadly weapons? Is it not, then, plain that whosoever does this, acts in opposition to the non-resistant principles and their profession? Therefore, be separate and touch not the unclean thing—run not with others “to the same excess of riot” (I Pet. 4:4), and let our moderation in this respect “be known unto all men.” Phil. 4:5.
Let us, by our walk and conversation, declare plainly, that we seek a heavenly country; and let us not be entangled with the trifles and follies of this present evil world, as to neglect the “one thing needful.” Surely, a man may be useful in upholding and supporting the government, without going beyond the bounds of reason and sense. Let us seek more those things which are above, “having our conversation (or walk) in heaven,” and letting our “light shine before men, that they may see our good works.” Let us be good and kind to all who stand in need, especially at this time. Let us not forget the widows and the orphans, but open to them our hearts and hands, and not only say to them, “Be ye warmed and filled,” but give them what is “needful for the body.” Jas. 2:16. Oh, let us live as Christians: in love, peace, and union. Let us build up each other in our “most holy faith,” and let us “follow after the things which make for peace and things wherewith one may edify another.” Phil. 4:19. “Finally, brethren, be perfect, be of good comfort; be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” II Cor. 13:11.
“I will go in the strength of the Lord.” Psa. 71:16.
“Trust in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” Isa. 26:4.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
If I asked you, “What is the message of the book of Romans?” what would you say? My guess is most people would answer, “We are saved by grace through faith, not of works.”
Let me ask another question: in Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, we are told that Jesus Christ has made the saints “kings and priests” to God. What does it mean that Jesus made us kings? I would guess that most people would say “we are going to reign on Earth with Jesus during the millennium.”
I am not saying that these answers are completely wrong, but I do believe that there are deeper, more significant answers to these questions. In addition, I believe the book of Romans gives valuable insight into what Revelation means when it says that Jesus “has made us kings.”
Let us go back to the typical answer for the first question. It is true that we are born again by grace by means of faith, not by doing the works of the Mosaic law (Ep. 2:8,9), but what does it mean to be saved “by grace”? What does grace do to save us?
Let us examine Romans 5:12-21:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
What can we learn from this passage? First, we notice that sin and death once reigned over the entire human race. Who was king of my life before I was born again? Sin and death had co-regency over me. Sin reigned over me, forcing me to do its will. Death reigned over me, so that whenever my spirit rebelled against the sin I found in me, death held fast onto me so that I would not have the strength (life) to be able to carry on warfare against sin. Together, they made a powerful tyrannical government that would have dragged me right to hell.
We often talk about the “gospel,” and many people know that the word gospel means “good news.” What is the “good news” for people ruled by the cruel tyrants sin and death? It is found in verse 17: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ!”
This is the Gospel in a nutshell! Sin and death can be defeated! When I realize that I can by no means overthrow these terrible despots by my own strength (remember, I am dead, after all), but Jesus Christ can overthrow them, then I can receive (by means of faith) “abundance of grace,” the free gift of God apart from which I cannot be saved. How wonderful! Not just a little bit of grace, not just some grace, not a whole lot, not an enormous amount, but abundance! Praise God! Strong’s Concordance defines this word as “surplusage, i.e. superabundance … superfluity.” He gives us so much grace, it is “surplusage,” more than we need!
Not only do we receive the “abundance of grace,” but we also receive “the gift of righteousness.” Grace overcomes death, reviving and resurrecting our spirits. (Did you ever wonder why being saved is called being “born again”?) The gift of righteousness overcomes sin! What is the best way to overcome fire? Usually, with water. What is the best way to overcome sin? With righteousness! In order to dethrone the tyrant sin, God gives us righteousness!
This passage mentions “justification” several times. Many people think justification means to be “declared righteous by God” (sometimes expressed as “just-as-if-I’d never sinned”). Actually, justification means “made (i.e., actually, truly transformed) from an unjust person into a righteous person by God.” The way God gives us the gift of righteousness to overthrow sin is through justification of life, the actual transforming of our dead, sinful lives into righteous ones, made alive by God’s Spirit! Notice that verse 19 tells us that by the obedience of Jesus “shall many be made righteous.” We will be transformed into righteous, holy people!I think our short little theological statements about being “saved by grace” have missed something—something extremely significant and exciting!
Once the co-regency of sin and death has been overthrown, who reigns now? Again, it is a co-regency. First of all, Jesus Christ is the Head of the church (Ep. 5:23) and should have supreme rule over our lives. If you like to think of it this way, Jesus is the Emperor, but He has appointed a co-regency of two lesser kings to reign over the lives of each believer. Who is the first of these two kings? The first is grace! Verse 21 says, “That as sin hath reigned unto death [sin used to be king …], even so might grace reign [now grace is king!] through righteousness [grace rules our lives through the instrumentality of righteousness and holiness] unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord!” Praise the LORD!
Who is the other king? As surprising as it may seem (it surprised me), the regenerated [i.e., made alive again] believer is king! You may be thinking, “What?!? I rule my own life?” No, not your fleshly, sinful nature, but the real you—the part of you which was made alive when Jesus saved you—now reigns. Yes, Jesus has ordained that the regenerated spirit of the believer is supposed to reign!
Over whom is the believer supposed to reign? Sin! The government of the believer has turned upside down—now I am ruling over sin instead of sin ruling over me. Read verse 17 again: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ”! Did you catch that? “They” who have received God’s grace and righteousness will reign, and not just reign, but reign in life! Brothers and sisters, we do not have to wait until the second coming of Christ to start reigning! Through Jesus Christ, we reign in this life!When grace comes in, it reigns in righteousness and makes us reign in life as well over our former tyrant, sin!
Do you now catch a glimpse of how grace saves us? Surely, I do not claim to have plumbed the depths of this glorious mystery—certainly not in this brief article. Nevertheless, I think our short little theological statements about being “saved by grace” have missed something—something extremely significant and exciting! They have missed the glorious truth that when grace comes in, it reigns in righteousness and—ah, the solving of the mystery of being made a king—makes us reign in life as well over our former tyrant, sin! This reigning is not “sinless perfection” where the believer never stumbles or makes a mistake again, but it is a life of victory over sin!
Hallelujah! Brothers and sisters, are you ready to sing with the saints in heaven?
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Re. 5:9-10
Are you reigning? If you are not reigning, you are not a king! If you find that you are not a king, put grace on the throne of your life today!
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold,
the kingdom of God is within you.
From The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By John Newton (author of the hymn Amazing Grace)
Dear Friend: Allow me to say that it excites both my wonder and concern that a Christian minister such as yourself should think it worth his while to attempt political reforms. When I look around upon the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me to be no less vain and foolish, than it would be to paint the cabin—while the ship is sinking! Or to decorate the parlor—while the house is on fire! When our Lord Jesus was upon earth, He refused to get involved in disputes or politics, “Friend, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14) “My kingdom is not of this world! If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight!” (John 18:36). God’s children belong to a kingdom which is not of this world; they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and a part of their Scriptural character is that they are the “quiet in the land.” (Psalm 35:20) Satan has many contrivances to amuse people and to divert their thoughts from their real danger! My dear sir, my prayer to God for you is that He may induce you to employ the talents He has given you, in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of every existing evil; and to engage those who love and fear Him (instead of wasting time in political speculations, for which very few of them are competent) to sigh and cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, by prayer, that God’s wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged! This, I think, is true patriotism—the best way in which people in private life may serve their country. I consider the ungodly as saws and hammers in the hand of the Lord. So far as they are His instruments, they will succeed—but not an inch further! Their wrath shall praise Him and be subservient to His designs! If our lot is so cast that we can exercise our ministry free from stripes, fines, imprisonments, and death—it is more than the gospel has promised to us! If Christians were quiet when under the cruel governments of Nero and other wicked persecutors, when they were hunted down like wild beasts—then we ought to be not only quiet, but very thankful now! It was then accounted an honor to suffer for Christ and the “offence of the cross!” Those are to be greatly pitied who boast of their ‘liberty’—and yet they do not consider that they are in the most deplorable bondage as the slaves of sin and Satan, under the curse of God’s law and His eternal wrath! Oh! for a voice to reach their hearts, that they may know their true and dreadful state—and seek deliverance from their horrific thraldom! May you and I labor to direct them to the one thing, which is absolutely needful, and abundantly sufficient. If I had the wisdom or influence to soothe the angry passions of mankind—I would gladly employ them! But I am a stranger and a pilgrim here in this world. My charter, my rights, and my treasures are all in heaven—and there my heart ought to be. In a very short time, I may be removed (and perhaps suddenly) into the unseen and eternal world—where all that now causes so much bustle upon earth will be of no more importance to me than the events which took place among the antediluvians! In the hour, when death shall open the door into eternity—many things which now assume an ‘air of importance’ will be found as light and unsubstantial as a child’s dream! How crucial, then, is it for me to be found watching, with my lamp burning, diligently engaged in my proper calling! For the Lord has not called me to set governments right—but to preach the gospel, to proclaim the glory of His name, and to endeavor to win souls! “Let the dead bury their own dead—but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!” (Luke 9:60) Happy is that servant whom his Master finds so doing when He returns! As you have forced me to respond—both duty and love have obliged me to be faithful and free in giving you my thoughts. I recommend you to the care and blessing of the great Shepherd and Savior; and remain for His sake, your affectionate friend and brother, John Newton
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“The Kingdom of God means Heaven,” most people would answer the question in the title. This answer is partially correct – the Kingdom of God includes Heaven. However, that is not all it is.
Have you ever heard the Gospel? “Yes,” most people would think. “Of course!” How about another question: have you ever heard the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel which John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul preached?
If not, I encourage you to thoughtfully read this article, then go to your Bible and search out the truth about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel.
The Kingdom Foretold
The Kingdom of God did not simply spring onto the scene in the New Testament. Through the prophets, God foretold what would happen when His Kingdom was given to men.
In Isaiah 9:6-7, we read:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
This prophecy foretells the birth of Jesus. It reveals that He would be a governor and ruler. It also reveals how the throne of David was a forerunner or foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God ruled by Jesus Christ.
Another prophecy about the Kingdom was given by the prophet Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of an image with a golden head, silver chest and arms, brass belly and thighs, iron legs, and mixed iron and clay feet. The image was then destroyed by a great stone. Daniel told the king that he was the head of gold, and that his kingdom would be followed by other, progressively inferior, empires. Finally,
“in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter” (Daniel 2:44-45a).
In this prophecy, we notice, among other things, the following about the Kingdom of God:
1. It will be set up “in the days of these kings” – not at the end of the world. 2. It shall never be destroyed. 3. There is a basic enmity between the worldly kingdoms and empires and the Kingdom of God.
In Daniel 7, we have another prophecy related to the Kingdom of God. In the vision, Daniel sees several beasts representing different earthly kingdoms. Then,
“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire…I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:9, 13-14).
This prophecy shows that the Kingdom of God will be ruled by Jesus Christ. Notice that it is the same indestructible, everlasting kingdom mentioned in Daniel 2. Notice the extent of Jesus’ Kingdom: all people, nations, and languages would serve Him – not just worship Him, but serve Him.
The Kingdom Announced
About the year 5 B.C., the little town of Bethlehem had been stirred by the birth of a young boy in a stable – the son of a virgin, announced by angels, visited by shepherds. About 30 years later, a relative of the boy born at Bethlehem suddenly appeared, preaching in the wilderness and drawing huge crowds. What was his message?
“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! This fact motivated the people to repentance and receiving the baptism of John. Their repentance was not simply a sorrow for their sins – it was a turning from the old life. John preached a Gospel of repentance to prepare for the coming Kingdom. He told the Pharisees,
“Bring forth therefore fruits meet [suitable] for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:8-9).
John revealed the nature of the repentance necessary for readiness for the Kingdom of Heaven – fruits suitable for repentance must be brought forth. (In case you have been told that this emphasis on repentance was absent from the Gospel which Paul preached, see Acts 26:20.) Furthermore, mere genetic relationship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not be sufficient grounds for an easy entrance into the Kingdom. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and the requirements for entrance would be the same for Jew and Gentile.
The Kingdom Defined
Jesus began His public ministry after being baptized by John the Baptist. The King of the new Kingdom had finally arrived! What kind of a Kingdom was it? What would His message be? What did Jesus first preach?
“Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17b).
It puzzled me for years why Jesus did not give a long, detailed, exhaustive theological explanation of salvation by grace, the relationship of faith and works to salvation, the atonement…Jesus discusses none of that. He simply announces the Kingdom and commands repentance, just as John had!
What else did Jesus preach? Well, soon after His first recorded “sermon” in Matthew 4, He gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. If you read through the whole Sermon (which I would highly encourage all my readers to do), you will notice that the entire sermon is about the Kingdom of God! In fact, the first sentence of the sermon is “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amazing!
At this point I want to point out that the different terms “kingdom of heaven,” “kingdom of God,” and “kingdom of Christ” used in the New Testament are interchangeable terms. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” whereas the other Gospel writers use “kingdom of God” – sometimes in parallel passages. For instance, in Matthew 13:31-32 (parable of the mustard seed), the “kingdom of heaven” is the phrase used, whereas in the parallel passages in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19, the “kingdom of God” is used. They are clearly interchangeable. The “kingdom of Christ,” used for example in Ephesians 5:5, is also the same because Christ is the ruler of the Kingdom as shown in Daniel 7.
To return to our examination of the Sermon on the Mount, we notice that Jesus defines the “class distinctions” (if we can use that phrase) in the Kingdom.
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
In this verse, Jesus tells His followers how Kingdom citizens evaluate the “greatness” or “least-ness” of other people. Whereas the world looks at wealth, authority, military prowess, beauty, strength, or some other criterion, Jesus gives the criterion whereby He wanted His followers to think of people: the great are those who obey Jesus’ commandments and teach others to obey them. The “least” are those who disobey and teach other men to disobey.
Most of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is composed of laws for Kingdom life. Near the conclusion, Jesus said,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Would anyone think of becoming an American citizen just by waving a flag and saying “God bless America”? Of course not. It takes a bigger commitment than that. The prospective citizen needs to promise to obey the laws of America and submit to the military draft. In the same way, Jesus does not accept as citizens anyone who says “I love Jesus” and goes on in his old ways of sin. That is not the way the Kingdom of God works! It takes a much bigger commitment than a simple “I love Jesus.” One must do the will of God the Father.
In Matthew 13 (and paralleled in Mark and Luke), we have the Kingdom Parables of Jesus. These parables reveal the nature of the Kingdom of God. Most of them have the same basic message: the Kingdom would start small, grow over all the earth, and some false disciples would be present in it until the Judgment Day where they would be cast into Hell.
Do you remember what Jesus said not long before His transfiguration?
“Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1).
Because most churches view the kingdom of God as a future reality only, they have traditionally explained these words of Jesus as referring to His transfiguration. Perhaps this has an element of truth to it because in Matthew 16, Mark 9, and Luke 9, these words are put immediately before the account of the transfiguration. However, what about the transfiguration could truthfully be called the “kingdom of God” coming “with power”? A kingdom is not the glorification of one man – it is an entire system, complete with rulers, citizens, laws, and structure. Perhaps this verse needs to be reconsidered. In John 3:3, 5, Jesus gave the entrance requirements for the Kingdom of God:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…Verily verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
The New Birth is a radical change of the heart, accomplished only by the Spirit of God, imparting to a person a new mind, new desires, and a new heart, and is marked by a passing away of the old ways and desires. The man now despises and hates sin and with the Holy Spirit’s help fights it until it is vanquished in him. It is accompanied by baptism and followed by a new life of victory over sin and following Christ in His Kingdom.
In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus points out another condition of entering the Kingdom of God:
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
This sounds quite different from Martin Luther’s “gospel” of faith alone…
Not only did Jesus Himself preach the Kingdom, He also instructed others to do so.
“Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Mark 9:60).
The Kingdom was what Jesus wanted to be preached!
Jesus also explicitly said that the Kingdom of God was a present reality in His day.
“But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
There is no hint here that the Kingdom was simply an offer to Israel for an earthly kingdom or something strictly in the future.
The Pharisees apparently did not miss Jesus’ emphasis on the Kingdom of God. On one occasion, they asked Him a question about the Kingdom which gave Jesus the opportunity to give us one of the clearest statements on the nature of the Kingdom in the New Testament.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
These verses ought to forever lay to rest the idea that the Kingdom which Jesus preached was simply an offer to the Jews of a restored Jewish kingdom on Earth, which when they rejected, God ushered in a “Church Age” as a backup plan until such time as the Jews would be ready for Jesus to rule them as a nation. No – the Kingdom which Jesus preached was much different. It was a kingdom unlike any other kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not limited to any earthly territory, although it has citizens throughout the globe. It is a kingdom which is “within you,” within the hearts of its subjects.
Just a couple chapters after this had occurred, Jesus told another parable “because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11b). Jesus was not offering any immediate physical kingdom to the Jews. The kingdom of God was much different than what they had imagined, and the earthly ruling of Jesus was going to occur much later.
Jesus also told us what the nature of authority would be in His Kingdom.
“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 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. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30).
In Jesus’ Kingdom, all would be in direct submission to Jesus Christ. There would not be people exercising hierarchical, religious authority over others. This does not mean there would be no human authority in the church, but rather that those who have authority would use it as servants. In John 18:36-37, we learn more about the Kingdom:
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Jesus reveals that His Kingdom is not an earthly one. It was not His intent to set up an earthly Jewish Kingdom, but an other-worldly kingdom come down from Heaven. This Kingdom does not operate the way the world’s kingdoms operate – for instance, regarding the sword. Jesus points out that if His Kingdom were like the kingdoms of the world, His servants would have fought for Him, just the same way any earthly kingdom works. Caesar’s servants fought for Caesar; Alexander the Great’s servants fought for him; Nebuchadnezzar’s servants fought for him, etc. But Jesus’ servants do not take up the earthly sword to fight for Him. This is a kingdom different from any other kingdom which has ever existed. Jesus’ servants do fight, but not with a physical sword. They fight spiritual wickedness with a spiritual sword.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:3-5).
The Kingdom Preached
Did Jesus’ Apostles continue to preach the Kingdom of God after His ascension to Heaven? The answer is yes.
Philip preached the Kingdom of God.
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
Paul also preached the Kingdom of God. This should end the myth that Jesus and Peter preached the Gospel of the Kingdom while Paul preached a different Gospel, the Gospel of Grace.
“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).
“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more” (Acts 20:25).
“And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening…Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:23, 31).
Paul clearly preached the Kingdom of God in the places he went. The Gospel did not change between Peter and Paul.
But is the Kingdom of God found in Paul’s epistles? Yes it is!
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17).
“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (I Corinthians 4:20).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).
Notice how Paul continues to teach the Kingdom of God as a present reality. The Kingdom is
1. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost 2. In power 3. We have already been translated into it.
If you have any lingering doubts that the Kingdom of God is a present reality, read Revelation 1:9:
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).
Notice that John says he and the other believers were “in the kingdom” just as much as they were “in tribulation” and in “patience of Jesus Christ”.
The Kingdom Laws
There is no such thing as a kingdom without laws, and the Kingdom of God is no exception. Jesus and His Apostles gave the laws for the Kingdom of God, which are contained in the New Testament. Kingdom Christians take seriously these laws which Jesus and the Apostles gave. Search the New Testament and find the laws of the Kingdom, such as:
• “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32). • “Swear not at all” (Matthew 5:34) • “Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39) • “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) • “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19) • “ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14) • “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Romans 13:1) • “Salute one another with an holy kiss” (Romans 16:16) • “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (I Corinthians 14:34)
The Kingdom in Practice
The Kingdom of God is perhaps a radical new way for you to look at the Scriptures. I know that until it was pointed out to me, I had hardly noticed the many passages in the New Testament which speak of the Kingdom of God as a present reality. This reality does have an enormous impact on how we live. In this section, I want to outline only one such area – that of politics.
I am an intensely political person. I am heavily involved in politics. I have and continue to campaign heavily and actually hold a political office.
I do not have a party or a candidate; I have a Kingdom and a King: the Kingdom of God, ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. My office in this Kingdom is that of ambassador to this present world. As such, I am not a citizen of this present world system (even though by my first birth I inherited a citizen status in the United States) but am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I am only a tolerated stranger and alien here. This is not my home – I will leave someday and go to my real home. As such, I have no business meddling in the politics of this world: not of the United States nor of any other country.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners [from God’s people], but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (II Timothy 2:3-4).
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11).
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Imagine for a moment an American citizen working temporarily in Germany. As an American citizen, he would have to pay American taxes and obey American laws regarding coming and going from the country, etc. As a guest in Germany, he would have to obey the German rules and pay the German taxes, drive the speed limits, do what they said in regard to working in their country, etc. But because he is not a German citizen, he would have no right nor reason to vote or get involved in any German politics whatsoever. He is only a guest, an alien, a “stranger and pilgrim” in Germany. However, he would have the right, as an American citizen, to vote in American elections even though he is not present in that country.
The Kingdom of God works the same way as our parable. Because the citizens of God’s Kingdom are not citizens of this present world system, they have no right or reason to vote, get involved in politics, or to run for political office. As guests in this world, we hope to be treated respectfully as human beings and be allowed to carry out our work for the Kingdom in peace. We have the responsibility to obey the secular state, including paying taxes and acknowledging their power to wield the sword (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17). We also have the responsibility of praying for them and petitioning God that we may have peaceable conditions to be able to carry out His work.
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4).
Notice the bolded portion: can you honestly thank God for the President? If you are in God’s Kingdom and detached from the kingdoms of this world, it should not be too hard to do so.
Although the citizens of God’s Kingdom keep from getting involved in the politics of this world, just as in our parable of the American in Germany, we have the right and duty to be as involved as possible in God’s Kingdom. Every Kingdom citizen alive is an ambassador for God’s Kingdom and should be recruiting new citizens. This is our duty – not fixing up the political entities of this world. As John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” once said, getting involved in this world’s politics is like painting the captain’s cabin while the ship is sinking.
The Kingdom in Peace
Throughout this article, the present aspect of the Kingdom of God has been emphasized. This is not meant to detract from the fact that there are some aspects of the Kingdom which will only be realized in the future world. In the next life, the Kingdom of God will be completely realized, the battle will be won – all other kingdoms will be utterly vanquished. The Kingdom of God will be triumphant and the saints will reign with Christ. The Kingdom will be in peace.
I would encourage each and every reader of this article not to accept anything here just because I said it, but to search the Scriptures for yourself. Find out if what I have said is true. Study the Kingdom of God, especially in the New Testament, and see how many references to it show it as a present reality. Study, consider, and pray about the relationship of the Kingdom of God to the present kingdoms of this world, and how you should relate to the kingdoms of this world.
If you are not a citizen of the Kingdom of God but would like to be, I would encourage you to join. Jesus clearly gave the entrance requirements for the Kingdom in John 3:5: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Experience the New Birth, allow the Spirit of God to recreate you into a completely new man “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Begin living in God’s Kingdom in fellowship with your fellow citizens, and be sure to write to me and let me know of your decision!
The LORD sitteth upon the flood;
the LORD sitteth
King for ever.