The Kingdom of God cont'd...
Last Sunday, we heard regarding what exactly the kingdom is. New Creations are what His kingdom is made up of because His kingdom is within us. We are chosen generation, royal priesthood, a holy nation as the Apostle Peter describes.
I will want to give special attention to what Peter spoke in just a moment, but first allow me to bring our attention to the words of Jesus when He stood before Pilot. Pilot’s line of interrogation involved whether or not Jesus truly was a King and had a kingdom to rule.
John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
This moment in history was used by Paul the Apostle in his encouragement to Timothy. Paul used it as a reason to stand strong in a good confession of faith. Paul reminded Timothy that Jesus gave a good confession before Pilot. This is the confession Paul was referring to.
I want us to notice a couple of key things about the confession of Jesus before moving on to what I believe we need to see from Peter.
Notice that Jesus is speaking of something not visible when He is speaking of His kingdom. Last week I shared how he stated that the kingdom does not come with observation. Pilot doesn’t see Jesus’ kingdom.
To a man such as Pilot it would appear that this kingdom of which Jesus speaks is but a mere illusion. The Jews used this claim of being a king to accuse him before Pilot declaring it was treason. But Pilot can find no evidence of treason since he sees no visible kingdom, and thus Pilot sees no fault in Jesus. He writes it off as Jesus being odd in his thinking. Jesus operates in faith, Pilot does not. Pilot must see to believe.
But seeing like Pilot is not the reality of faith. Hebrews 11 describes faith in this way.
Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. 2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. 3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
This tells me that faith and feeling can often be opposed. My feelings can betray me in a moment because they can seem so real to me when faith would say deny my feelings and hope in what I cannot see.
In the 80’s the prophets warned the church regarding psychology. Their warnings stated that this type of thinking in the church would lead to people becoming to familiar with their feelings and thus diminishing true faith. There are times when how something made us feel can have a place, but it has become an obsession in these modern times, and it is creating no small problem for society and the church at large.
Becoming overly aware of ones feelings can be a path to all kinds of difficulties. In such cases, emotions begin to rule choices, and often many of those choices can be very rebellious in nature as a result.
Putting feelings ahead of faith is a dangerous prospect. The kingdom of God is real even though people cannot see it and at times do not feel it. God is real, even though He is invisible. God is with us, even when we do not feel it. We know this to be true based on the promise He made. Jesus promised to never leave nor forsake us. That means He is always with us even when we do not feel it.
Jesus made His confession before Pilot, based on the reality of what is unseen in the natural. It was a clear example of what faith looks like in practice. I could be moved to think that Pilot was amused at Jesus’ answer and likely thought Him to be somewhat silly, if not to some degree mentally deranged. Faith can appear to the unbelieving as being deranged, or as being imaginative, or metaphysical, or magical in our thinking.
But mind you, faith is not metaphysical or magical. It is not to be compared with a child’s imaginary friend, or the deceptive skills of a famous magician. It is a belief in something unseen that is very real, and therefore possible to hope for. In fact, the unseen becomes so real to us in faith that we are willing to die to everything else in life to pursue what we can see through the eyes of faith.
So when we speak of the kingdom of God we are talking about something that is very real to us, although to many others, it is unseen. So now it is time to see what Peter the Apostle has to say to us.
1Peter 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to doffer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” 8 and, “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense:” for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
What is the purpose that Peter gives for desiring the word? VS 2 so that by it we may grow by in respect to salvation, if we have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
But notice this reality follows on the heels of having put something way from us as is noted in VS 1. Malice~(The intention to do evil), deceit~(tricking another person by concealing or mishandling the truth), hypocrisy~(behavior that goes against our confession), envy~(a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck), and slander~(make false and damaging statements about a situation or someone).
These types of behaviors are not supposed to adorn believers in Jesus. After coming to Christ we do not want our character to be defined by these kinds of behaviors. We should desire to grow in our salvation experience having received the kindness of God given to us through faith in Jesus. That means we should want to study His word effectively.
Peter goes on to describe how that, after being saved, we are placed with other believers to make up a spiritual house so we might offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus. God joins us to other believers for the purpose of building His house. Building implies connection to others not just attending meetings. It is the nature of His kingdom to connect us together in order to build His kingdom!
But then, Peter goes on to say:
1Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Did you notice the kingdom language being used in this text? Chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, aliens, strangers. These are terms used to denote a people belonging to a kingdom.
I am going to say something that I think we all need to hear clearly, and grasp by faith. The church, which represents the kingdom of God, will seem strange even in a nation like America when America is at it’s very best. We, as His holy people are very different from even the best this world has to offer. We are different because we are a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession. As such we find ourselves un- interested in the things they tend to find acceptable. To them it is odd behavior not to like and do everything they do.
When we live as a people who are very different because we have embraced the values of our King, people who are not a part of His kingdom can think we are evil. They can accuse us of wanting to destroy their lives, and ruin their happiness. For example: Various pop culture social groups today who champion things that go against the truth of God’s word. When all we are doing is living out the values of the kingdom we are a part of. That is why it is so important that believers in Jesus conduct themselves in an excellent way among unbelievers. Otherwise we discredit ourselves from claiming to being from a kingdom not of this world.
I am sad to report that I have known plenty of professing Christians that made it easy for unbelievers to slander the faith, rather than glorify God. When believers act poorly and hypocritically it brings contempt as opposed to removing an accusation.
There are Christians right now in danger of doing this very thing on the heels of the recent election. They are fighting with each other, arguing, complaining, whining, and some may even be protesting. If you were for the candidate who won, the manner by which you speak to others concerning the outcome says something about the kingdom you claim to belong to. The same holds true if you were on the side of the candidate who lost. All believers should desire to be excellent in their behavior regardless of their political persuasion because God’s kingdom comes before all other kingdoms of this earth.
The way to achieve an excellent attitude is to make sure our hope rests in Christ and His kingdom first. It’s helps us gain a right perspective on how earthly kingdoms can work in our favor even if they are evil kingdoms.
So how do we gain a healthy perspective regarding the different kingdoms?
1Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
In an age of being spoiled with having our own way, in an expedited manner, I would imagine the idea of being submitted is not exactly popular. When feelings are made the thing of greatest importance for experiencing a meaningful life, convenience and affluence can become overly prized and thus interfere with our ability to rightly represent the kingdom of God. That is why this message is necessary at this time.
To what were these believers called to submit to? Every human institution. What reason were they given for being told to do this? For the Lord’s sake.
When it comes to recognizing human authorities and being submitted to them in life, it is presented as being our opportunity to do something for the Lord’s sake.
So we should be asking how is this for the Lord’s sake?
VS 15 gives us the key. It is the will of God that by doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
We are being given a clear motivation to aid us in accepting this call to action. In other words, our behavior matters as it pertains to the kingdom of God and His work of salvation in our lives and to do that we must be continually growing in our faith and knowledge of Him.
While it is most true we are free in Christ, it is also true that God does not want us to use our freedom as a covering for evil. Our freedom is given to us so we might demonstrate how glorious it is to lovingly obey Him, and be surrendered to Him.
If obedience is missing, our example declares that we do not value His kindness and do not care about His glory. Such behavior creates stumbling blocks for others who are being called and for those who are young in their faith. Paul confirms this idea in Romans 14
Romans 14:16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
Being part of His kingdom is a great privilege. We have been delivered from kingdom of darkness where the enemy of our souls reigned, desiring the destruction of our souls. We have been bought with a price and brought into the kingdom of Christ through whom we are accepted and given eternal life as a result of our faith in Him. By this means we have been made new creations in Jesus and delivered from being slaves to sin. He has empowered us to bring forth a credible testimony of His love and power to transform. But this testimony is invalidated if we live as those who are without Christ. If we adopt the values of the kingdoms of this world, as opposed to knowing the values of His kingdom and allowing them to shape our choices, we do not testify to a heavenly kingdom. Earthly kingdoms can serve us in some ways, but we do not serve earthly kingdoms.
In Acts 21 - 22 Paul is placed in chains by a Roman commander after being beaten by a mob. He is asked if he is the Egyptian that led 4000 assassins into the desert to revolt. To which Paul uses an earthly kingdom citizenship to his favor and says, I am from Tarsus which is no mean city. Then the Roman commander orders Paul be stripped and beaten. As a soldier is binding him and preparing him to be whipped Paul asks, “Is it lawful for you to bind and whip a Roman citizen without a trial?” Because of this citizenship, the soldier and the commander were put in fear for having bound a Roman citizen. Why? Because Rome defended it’s citizens.
In this sense belonging to a good earthly kingdom has advantages. But we know Paul did not go about promoting the values and causes of Rome or Tarsus as though they were what he was willing to give his life for. Paul was in trouble for preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and thus he was beaten and falsely accused by the Jews who hated him for it. But upon examination there was nothing found by which they could concretely condemn him. Paul’s behavior was above board and he was able to use it to gain audience with certain groups and leaders and enabled to share the gospel as a result.
Bad behavior is not a good means of opening a heart to hear good news. I remember witnessing to my brother shortly after I had been saved. I was still smoking cigarettes as was common where I was in fellowship at the time. But one night while testifying of the power of Christ to set someone free from sin, he asked why then was I still smoking cigarettes. I looked at him and replied as of right now I no longer do. I tore a fresh pack of Marlboro’s in half, threw them in the garbage and I have never touched another one since. That led to a powerful Holy Ghost conviction in his life. He needed to see that the freedom I preached was working in my life in areas of bondage and addiction.
Titus 2:9 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Let’s adorn the gospel by living for His glory and by putting His kingdom first. And let’s be thankful when an earthly kingdom He has placed us in can serve us well in our practice of promoting His kingdom.