The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are two very separate things. One uses the sword (power over) to influence people; the other uses love (power under). To understand this distinction is much easier than letting it affect the way we live. Greg continued to discuss the differences between these kingdoms and how we are to live within the distinction.
Greg opened this week’s sermon by reading from John 18 verse 36. Here, and many other places, Jesus clearly teaches that the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ Kingdom, is not the same as the kingdom of this world. In one sense this s a simple distinction, but to really apply this can be quite challenging. But that is our task: not to simply understand the distinction, but to let it affect the way we live.
To summarize, the kingdom of this world uses the sword to enforce the law and control behavior. This is necessary for an orderly society. There are powers who rule over the masses and determine what is considered criminal behavior and how conflicts will be resolved. Our loyalty to the differing powers stems from how those powers will benefit or harm our own agendas, whether they be personal benefit, or the benefit of our “causes.” This creates what Greg referred to as a “tribal” mentality where most things are understood in terms of “us” versus “them.” At the international level, this can become “nationalism” where the desires and benefits of our own nation may outweigh what is truly good for the global community. The Bible refers to these sorts of alliances as the kingdom of this world. This is the domain of the “flesh,” not the “spirit,” and things are accomplished by force through power over others.
On the other hand, there is the Kingdom of God. This is as different as can be imagined! Here the means of action is not the sword, but the cross. This means that those who operate out of the love of God are willing to sacrifice personally so that God’s will may be done. Justice and the law do not and cannot require such sacrifice, but love does indeed require this of us (Phil. 2:1-11). Whereas the lord of the world is the enemy, Christ is Lord in the Kingdom of God. Our influence is not gained through force and power over others, but we win people over through love and sacrificial service (power under others). Violations in this kingdom are not necessarily crimes punishable by law, but they are sins before God. Rather than having the tribal and national conflicts that the world has, we work as ambassadors of reconciliation to tear down all that divides us. The concern is not so much for the behavior as it is with the inner transformation of the heart, so that true peace can prevail for all. Our Kingdom is not of this world.
But yet we do live in this world, don’t we? Are we so heavenly minded that we don’t do any earthly good? Greg proposed two different questions that we are faced with as Americans.
1. What’s your opinion about how the sword should be wielded in our version of the kingdom of this world? Another way of putting this is: How shall we best keep law and order? What will truly serve the good of the whole? How can we become a more just society? What really is “crime”?
2. What are we called to do to further the Kingdom of God? How is God calling us to imitate what Jesus did for us on the cross? What is clearly “sin,” and how can we bring reconciliation and healing?
Greg’s illustration was that Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot would have had radically opposed opinions on the first question, but they would agree on the second. As Christians, we need to be focused on who Christ is so intensely that we all agree and can work together as the one reconciled Body of Christ in question number two, acting to bring about the Kingdom of God!
Here in America we are in the unusual position of having the freedom to speak into both of the questions listed above. This is principally a blessing, but if we confuse the two questions it can become a curse. It is good that we can vote and offer our opinion on question #1. We should all do this out of ethical obligation and an interest in the common good of society. Vote with justice in mind and with a clear conscience – this is our civic duty. But this is not our first loyalty. Only God is our first loyalty, and only God deserves our total obedience. Do not enlist the energy and spiritual fervor for God’s Kingdom for service in the affairs of this world (2 Tim. 2:4).
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