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Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Kingdom of God

Matthew 6:31-33 states: "therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you".

Too often we allow our worries and cares to dictate our thinking and behaviours.  Certainly it can be stressful if we are finding it hard to feed and clothe our families and ourselves, yet God tells us to not to make this our priority, but to seek His Kingdom first.

Romans 14:17 explains what His Kingdom is and is a great explanation of the above verse: 'for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'.

Matthew 6:34 goes on to tell us: 'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble'.

God knows that we face troubles, that we have cares and concerns.  He knows that these things can overshadow our faith in him.  Yet that is why we need to put his Kingdom first.  By establishing our priorities correctly we won't have to stress about other issues.

Some years ago, a number of the modern churches embraced "prosperity teaching", the idea that God will bless us with wealth and riches beyond our wildest dreams.  Yet the bible does not say this at all.  In Matthew 19, Jesus tells a rich, young ruler who obeyed the commandments, that in order to be perfect he had to sell everything. These verses do not just relate specifically to the young ruler, but to all of us.  Following this parable, in Matthew 19:24, Jesus says "and again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God".  Camels were used to carry material belongings .  The eye of the needle was a small security entrance through the wall of the city.  In order for camels to pass through this "eye", the goods they were carrying had to be removed, hence the analogy that it is easier to remove goods from a camel, then from a rich man.

By embracing prosperity teaching we incorrectly prioritise our needs, wants and desires ahead of God.  Instead of pursuing the kingdom of God, prosperity proponents believe that God is there to bless us with riches and wealth. It puts "us" first, not God. Matthew 6:31 doesn't speak of wealth, it speaks of necessity.  It tells us to not worry about those things that we need in our lives, but instead to seek first the kingdom of God and our needs will be taken care of.

Similarly, Psalm 37:4 states 'delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart'.  God will certainly bless us as we delight in the Lord, but this doesn't mean that He will making us filthy rich. If that was the case then there are millions of poor people who delight in God and should be rolling in riches.

Matthew 6:31 tells us that food, drink and clothes are sought by Gentiles, in other words, non-Christians. These worldly concerns are their priority.  Christians should not be giving first priority to worldly concerns, even if it is a basic necessity.  Sadly, some of us use scriptures such as Psalm 37:4 and Matthew 6:31 as motivation to gain all those worldly desires that we have, even beyond receiving our basic necessities.

Although the scriptures above promise reward, God is not trying to buy our devotion or friendship.  In James 2:23, we are told that " ... 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted toward Him for righteousness'. And he was called a friend of God.God had promised Abraham that he would make him the father of many nations.  Yet Abraham wasn't considered righteous because of what God was giving him, but because he believed what God had promised.  It was his belief in God, not the fulfillment of promise, that made Abraham righteous and made him God's friend.

We should delight in God and seek His Kingdom, not because of any reward we believe we will receive in this world or the next, but because we want to, because we love God.

Another verse which is often cited out of context is Matthew 26:11 'For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not always have'.  This verse is not a call to ignore the poor, it is simply stating that the disciples needed to put Jesus first, bless Him and anoint Him, for He was going to be crucified not long after, whereas the poor were always going to be there and we are required to care for them always. With literally thousands of verses commanding us to care for the poor we cannot possibly translate this verse as a justification to ignore the impoverished and put our own wealth first. Deuteronomy 15:11 tells us, 'for the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying 'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.'. Additionally, Proverbs 14:31 states 'Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy, honours God'.

In Acts 20:35 the Apostle Paul tells us "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'. "

The Kingdom of God is not the church building or even individual church communities, yet too often we focus on church growth (which is often achieved through shuffling the decks of existing believers) and church wealth.  We now see the rise of the mega-church; churches which have thousands of members and have taken over other churches in a mergers and acquisitions program that would be the envy of Wall Street.  The bible says 'go into the world', it doesn't say 'sit in church'. Mark 16:15 - '... go into all the world and preach the gospel ...' The great commission is about 'going out', not 'coming in'. 

God tells us that we are forgiven, we need only believe. That is all that we have to do - believe God, believe His Word ... and it will be accounted as righteousness - as it was with Abraham.  Believing God for his forgiveness, salvation and provision, and knowing that we therefore are righteous should give us peace and joy in God! That is the Kingdom of God that we should seek and that is the gospel that should be preached to the world.

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