If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Matthew, you’ve probably noticed that Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe it’s about 55 times in Matthew – 126 times throughout all four Gospels – that Jesus talks about this kingdom. He tells all kinds of parables and gives all kinds of illustrations to help us understand what the Kingdom of God is like. And of course, Jesus isn’t talking about a kingdom with physical borders and castles and armies and things like that. The kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom. In fact, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, Pilate asks him, “Are you a king?” And Jesus says in John 18:36…
36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36
Jesus was saying his kingdom was very different from the kingdom of Rome or any other kingdom that we might be familiar with. You see, unlike most kingdoms, the Kingdom of God is not centered around some physical location like a city or a castle or a country. The Kingdom of God is centered around God. And God of course is not limited by location – he’s omni-present. He’s present everywhere all the time. So God’s kingdom is not defined by a physical location, but it’s defined by the people who carry out the will of their king.
Two weeks ago we looked at the Lord’s prayer and there’s a key part of that prayer – one that you’re probably familiar with – which goes like this:
“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 KJV
We talked about how, when we pray that, we are inviting God’s will as King to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as his will is being carried out in heaven.
And so when Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven – he’s talking about the people who submit to and carry out the will of God in their lives.
And it makes sense that we should pray that prayer – “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – We should be eager to carry out God’s will because we know that God’s will is good and pleasing and perfect. We read that from Romans 12:2 three weeks ago:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2
Our will is often flawed. I can’t speak for you, but I know that my will is often selfish and sometimes I make decisions that hurt others or even myself. We are not perfect people and we do not make perfect decisions.
But God is perfect. And his will is perfect. It’s good and it’s pleasing. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always see the good immediately. But if God really is how the Bible describes Him – loving, just, faithful, and all those other things – then we can trust that his will is good and pleasing and perfect.
And I’ve certainly seen that to be true in my life. I’ve had a lot of regrets doing things my way, but I’ve never regretted doing things God’s way.
But that’s sure not to say that it’s been easy. Doing things God’s way often means doing things the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing. We’ve talked about how the Kingdom of God is very different from the Kingdom of this world. In fact, that’s probably why Jesus talked about it so often. If we are going to live in the kingdom of God, then we need to be prepared to live very differently – different from how we used to live – different from how the world around us lives.
And so that’s what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks as we’ve been going through this message series – which we’ve titled “Kingdom Living”.
What is God’s will for us in how we should live? If Jesus is our King and His will is good and pleasing and perfect, it would seem to me that we would want his will to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as it is in heaven. And if so, then what is that good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does He want us to live? What does Kingdom Living look like?
Well, thankfully, the Bible has made most of that pretty clear for us. You don’t have to hold a theology degree to know that God wants us to love one another – we should be honest, we should care for those in need, we should be faithful to our spouse, we should strive to see justice be done, we shouldn’t steal from each other or take advanced of one another. These aren’t new crazy ideas that are hidden aways in some obscure part of the Bible. In fact western society was originally founded on many of these principles that are laid out in the Bible that show us how God wants us to live.
However, as our culture drifts further and further from those founding Biblical principles, it’s become more and more important for us to go back to the Word of God and to remind ourselves “This is how God wants us to live. This is his good and pleasing and perfect will for us.” And as we do that, more and more we’re going to find that Kingdom living is very different from worldly living.
And so that’s the plan for the next several weeks. I want us to look at some of the principles that God has laid out for how he wants us to live. And I’m not really aiming for the most obvious ones like some of those founding principles that I’ve just mentioned (although it seems even those founding principles are getting side-lined by our society) – but for this series anyway, I want to look at the principles that even as long-time Christians, maybe we’ve forgotten. I mentioned in one of my earlier message that these are things that even I, a pastor, have neglected and need to work on so that I can live my life more inline with God’s good and pleasing and perfect will for me. And so maybe some of these will apply to you as well.
To find our first principle, I want us to look in the book of Acts. In Acts chapter 2, we get one of the first snapshots of the early New Testament Church. This was just a short time after Jesus’ death & resurrection and accession back into heaven. The Holy Spirit had just come upon that initial group of believers and they were learning how to live in the Kingdom of God for the very first time. So in Acts chapter 2 we find a summary of how the Bible describes that very first group. Acts chapter 2 verse 42.
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
Now there is a lot that could be said about this passage but for today I just want to make one clarification and one observation.
First of all, the clarification. I don’t want you to read this as a description of the ideal church. The early church was not a perfect church. What we read here is not the blueprints for a perfect church. This passage isn’t intended as a “Here’s what they did – so here’s what you need to do.”
So you don’t have to worry – It’s not telling us to sell our property and possessions and give the money to the poor. It’s not telling us to that we need to meet and have church here seven days a week.
This is simply a description of what happened. That being said, I think they did a lot of things right. I think there are a lot of things in here that line up really well with what the rest of the Bible teaches about how we are to live in the Kingdom of God. And that brings me to my one observation.
Now as I’ve said, there’s lots of good stuff in here, but I can’t help but notice how communal this group of believers was. They did everything as a group – as a family. It sounds like they were together all the time. They ate together, they worshipped together, they shared their homes, they shared their meals, they shared their wealth. Everything about their faith and everything about their life was shared.
Four times in this passage we see word “shared” or “sharing”. These guys were serious about living life together. This communal kind of life is a stark contrast to our north american culture today. We are completely an individualistic society almost to the extreme. We promote self-expression and self-fulfillment and self-identity. We are so wrapped up with ourselves that in 2013, the word “selfie” was named The Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year and it’s no wonder. I read that in 2016, we took 93 million selfies… every single day – that’s about 33 Billion selfies that year. And that was two years ago!
Our obsession with self is having a profound impact on our society. Many, if not all, of the moral issues that society is wrestling with today – like abortion, euthanasia, gender-issues, parental rights in school, even the legalization of Marijuana – they all stem from a ‘me-centered’ individualistic society. The question is always “What’s best for me?’ – never “What’s best for us?” And of course, this ‘me-centeredness’ impacts all of us – even Christians.
I read an article this week by Joseph Hellerman – he wrote a book called “When the Church Was Family”. And I want to share just a snippet from what he wrote:
We are a radically individualistic society, oriented toward personal fulfillment in ways profoundly more ‘me-centered’ than any other culture or people-group in world history. It is our individualism—our insistence that the rights and satisfaction of the individual must take priority over any group to which one belongs—that has seriously compromised our ability to stay in relationship and grow with one another as God intends. ~ Joseph Hellerman
And I think that’s so true! When we insist that our rights and our satisfaction take priority over our family, over our church, over our community – that seriously compromises our ability to stay in relationship and grow with one another as God intends.
One of the hallmarks of Christianity – one of the most distinct characteristics of God Himself, is self-sacrificing love. It’s putting others before ourselves. Jesus said to his disciples in John 13:34…
Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
In other words, what Jesus is saying here is that one of the ways that the Kingdom of God is radically different from the kingdom of the world is that in the kingdom of God, we live for the good of others. We sacrifice for someone else’s benefit. We give up our rights and our privileges for the sake of someone else. That’s certainly what Jesus did. That’s what love is.
I think that today being Mother’s Day is a great reminder and a great example of that.
Mother’s are prime examples of living for the good of others, of sacrificing for someone else’s benefit, or giving up their rights and privileges for the sake of someone else.
Mother’s do that all time. They give up sleep. They give up incredible amounts of time. Many sacrifice their career and personal ambitions to raise their kids. They change dirty diapers. They wash mountains of laundry. They cook and clean. (And I do recognize that dad’s do a lot of that stuff too, but today’s Mother’s Day so we’ll focus on them today!)
But why do they do all that? Easy. Because they love their families. And when you love someone, you live for their good, you sacrifice for their benefit, you give up your rights and your privileges for their sake. When you love someone, you want them to flourish and to prosper and to have every possible advantage, right? That’s why Mom’s willingly sacrifice so much – they want what’s best for their kids.
And it is God’s good and pleasing and perfect will for us to show that same kind of love for others. People should be able to tell that we are His followers – that we live in the Kingdom of God – because of our self-sacrificing, almost mother-like love that we have for each other.
Which, by the way, is exactly the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated for all of us. It wasn’t for Jesus’ benefit that he came to earth as a man. It wasn’t to his advantage to be arrested and beaten and mocked and spit on. It wasn’t in his best interest to be nailed to a cross and to die an excruciating death. That was all for our sake. He willingly endured all that because he loved us. He was willing to make that sacrifice because he wanted what’s best for us.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:3
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus has given us the greatest example of self-sacrificing love and Paul says that, as his followers – as those who live in the Kingdom of God – we are to have the same attitude that Jesus had. I like how the NET translates those first three verses in that passage. It says:
Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3-5
That’s a big ask. Especially in our individualistic me-centred society. It is hard to give up our rights and the things we’re entitled to in order to put others first. It is hard to put the needs and the desires of others ahead your own. Now granted, Mother’s do a pretty good job of that when it comes to their kids, but God calls each one of us to do that – and not just for our kids – but for one another.
That why, when we read in that Acts passage about these guys who were selling their possessions and property and giving the money those in need – that sounds pretty crazy in the Kingdom of the world – but that’s not surprising the in Kingdom of God.
Think back to when you were growing up – If your family was in a financial crunch and you didn’t have money for food, wouldn’t your mom be willing to sell some of her stuff to feed you? Sure she would. That wouldn’t be surprising at all. You’d almost expect that. No loving mother would allow her kids go without food or clothes while she still had plenty. In fact, most mother’s I know would go themselves without food if it meant providing for their kids.
And that’s exactly why these guys in Acts did the same thing. Because they had a self-sacrificing love for the family of God – it was a no-brainer to sell some of their stuff to share with those in need. Not because they were told to – but because they loved those guys. They were not about to let them suffer and go without while they had plenty.
So this morning, I’d encourage you to have the same attitude that those guys in Acts had – the same attitude that moms have – the same attitude that Christ Jesus had – and live for the good of others, be willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others – be willing to give up your rights and privileges for the sake of someone else. That’s Kingdom Living.
And I know that sounds backwards. You might even think – “I can’t do that. I can’t take care of everyone else! I’ve got limited resources! If I’m constantly giving, before too long, I’ll run out. I’ll burn out. Who’s gonna take care of me?”
And certainly, if we’re living in the kingdom of the world, that would be a legitimate concern.
But here’s the great news. In the Kingdom of God, we serve a limitless King who has unlimited resources and who loves us with an never-ending love. We don’t have to worry about running out or burning out. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19…
19 “And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
When we understand who our king is and how much he loves us – we never have to be concerned about who’s gonna take care of us? We know who’s gonna take care of us. We can be absolutely free to give generously, to love lavishly, and to serve sacrificially – knowing that our God will supply our every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. In the Kingdom of God, we are free to put others before ourselves because we know we are already taken care of.
And of course, this goes way beyond just our physical resources – we’re not just talking about money & stuff – although that’s certainly part of it. But living like this in the Kingdom of God impacts every part of our life.
Moms don’t just sacrifice money & stuff for their kids. They do all kinds of things out of love.
For example, moms give their time – how many times a day do mom’s interrupt whatever it is they’re doing to apply a bandaid or look at some scribbled crayon artwork or to drive their kids to dance or soccer practice or whatever else. A mom’s day is constantly interrupted.
That’s how it works in the kingdom of God too. We willingly allow interruptions to our day and our plans to serve one another. Maybe we give up our golf plans to help a buddy move – maybe we miss that hockey game to go and be part of a town event – maybe we give up our sleep-in time on Sunday morning to come and worship and fellowship together. We don’t do that because its necessarily for our benefit – but we do it for the benefit of others.
When I was growing up, my parents were absolutely committed to our local church family. They never missed a Sunday morning (or a Sunday evening or a Wednesday night prayer meeting). They were there all the time. And as a kid, I didn’t always appreciate that. All that church attendance wasn’t really all that exciting. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized that they didn’t do that for themselves – for their own sake. It wasn’t that they had nothing better to do – it wasn’t that they loved the services so much – it was because they loved their church family. They were committed to being there for them. They faithfully attended all those services to serve and to encourage and to support everyone else. And I think that’s an awesome example of Kingdom Living. They didn’t do that for their own benefit – but they did that for the benefit of others.
And I love that there are so many of you just like that in our church. You faithfully come Sunday after Sunday. And it’s not because our services are so great – because I know they’re not. And it’s not because you have nothing better to do – because I know you do. You do it because you love your church family.
You come and you serve in the nursery or in Sunday School. You setup and tear down the chairs. You run the powerpoint, you help on the music team. You sweep the floors. You bring snacks. You help with kids club. You give your hard-earned money to the church and to missionaries. You open your home for Bible studies or to make visitors feel welcome. You cook brunch for a group of hungry moms!
I’m blown away by the fact that it’s Mother’s Day today and Cherie (a mother herself) has volunteered to work hard all day to make brunch for all of us. What a mom! What a great example of self-sacrificing love! What a great example of Kingdom Living.
As you go home this afternoon and go into your week, you’re once again going to be immersed in me-centered world. But I would just encourage you to remember that your King loves you more than you can imagine and He will happily supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus – leaving you completely free to mimic those guys in Acts, mimic our mothers, mimic so many of these people in our church as we all mimic our Heavenly Father and give generously, love lavishly, and serve sacrificially out of love for one another.