Monday, September 12, 2005

We are members one of another (Eph. 4:25)

Ephesians 4:25 Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“We are members of one another.” What does it mean that we are members of one another? The image is clear enough. Paul taught that we are a body in 1 Corinthians 12. Hands, eyes, head—they are vitally connected to each other. Vital connection involves mutual dependence. The well-being of each part of my body contributes to my total health. It’s not difficult to understand that in physical terms.

But do I really view myself as so vitally connected to other believers that my spiritual well-being affects theirs? The issue is not “Is it true?” The issue is what am I doing about this truth?

When I am spiritually weak, dry, or diseased, my ill health spiritually affects the spiritual health of the Body of Christ. When I am growing in Christlikeness, feeding my soul well, and living in the Spirit, my spiritual good health contributes to the overall health of the Body.

In other words, our spiritual well-being is not just our business. It is actually a matter of concern for the whole body. On an individual level, when I sit down to nourish my relationship with God through His word and prayer, I am also contributing to the nourishment of other believers in a real, yet often unseen fashion.

How is that nourishment communicated to the rest of the body of which I am a part? My attitude is infectious. The health of my soul is the subtext of my words. I cannot avoid the osmosis of my spirit any more than a cell in my body can avoid the osmosis of oxygen or carbon dioxide. In fact, any attempt to prevent such osmosis would necessarily be detrimental both to me and fellow body members.

That gives significance to the “least” of the members of the Body. That transforms my perception of the importance of my personal spiritual health. I must stay healthy! That enhances my concern for those who are members of me: please stay healthy!

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Culture of the Kingdom of God

Culture, according to Webster, is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group of people. Does the Kingdom of God have a distinctive, normative culture? I mean by that, is there a set of attitudes, values, goals, and practices that citizens of the Kingdom of God share? And what is the nature of that sharing? Is it an accident* of citizenship or is it an essential? Do citizen have to share these attitudes, values, goals, and practices, or are they optional—like most elements of human culture?

I submit that the Kingdom of God has a normative, non-optional culture. I further submit that one of the purposes of God’s word is to teach the attitudes, values, goals, and practices that constitute the Kingdom’s culture. If that is so, then one of the chief goals of pastoral teaching is to facilitate the acculturation of new citizens with the Kingdom’s culture.

Imagine being in a new converts’ class where the leader begins the class with, “Welcome to the Kingdom of God. When you placed your faith in Christ, you were not only born into the family of God, but you were transferred out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of God. You are now citizens of God’s Kingdom. One of the top priorities of this class is to introduce you to the ways things operate in the Kingdom of God. A few things won’t be much different than what you are used to. On the other hand, there are many ways in which God’s Kingdom is radically different, even completely opposite from the Kingdom of Darkness. Its nature, its laws, its culture—they’re all quite different. You will probably experience a bit of “culture shock” as you begin to grow in your faith and develop as a new citizen. Please feel free to ask any questions you have as we go along. I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. I hope you are ready to get to down to business learning how to live as a citizen in God’s Kingdom.”

I asked my students that question this week. One of them responded that it almost sounded cultish. Actually that thought went through my mind as I thought about this. However, I’m convinced that the reason this sounds so strange is that we have either dispensationalized the Kingdom so that it relates only to the Eschaton. Or, we simply have never given any serious thought to the Biblical data regarding the Kingdom of God. In my case, it is the latter.

*In philosophy, accident refers to “a nonessential attribute or characteristic of something.”

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Kingdom of God & The Gospel

The Kingdom of God (aka Kingdom of Heaven) has been a subject of interest to me for at least the last 5 years. I remember starting a Bible study on it with Marianne when we were dating. I quit after the first session because I realized I didn’t know enough to continue.

Two things about the Kingdom of God have piqued my interest over the last three years: (1) the realization that the Kingdom of God was core to the Gospel message that Christ preached, yet I can’t ever remember hearing a gospel message that had the Kingdom at the core of the message; and (2) the realization that the Kingdom of God has a culture and the Bible is its manual for acculturation.

Here’s the data that shows how integral the Kingdom of God was to the gospel preaching of the NT:

  1. John the Baptist’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 3:2).

  2. Jesusmessage was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17); “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3)

  3. Jesus’ teaching, as recorded in the Gospels, include around 80 references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven.

  4. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe Jesus as preaching a “gospel of the kingdom of God” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 16:16)

  5. Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry was characterized by “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

  6. Philip the evangelist preached “the good news about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

  7. Paul’s missionary message consistently included the Kingdom of God as theme (Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).

  8. Paul’s epistles reference the Kingdom of God across the span of his ministry (Gal. 5:21; 2 Thess. 1:5; 1 Corinthians 4:20; 6:9, 10; 15:24, 50; Romans 14:17; Col. 1:13; 4:11; Eph. 5:5).

Hard to argue with that kind of ubiquity! It is central to the gospel.  Why have we lost sight of this?