Kingdom life is…
The Great Commandment is one of a trio of defining moments for our understanding of living the kingdom life. Of course, that is imperfect — the kingdom of God will not come in its fullness until Jesus returns in judgment. In the meantime we have the realm of God’s good influence in the hearts and minds of those who know and believe in Jesus — not a majority but not a few either, as it’s now roughly a third of the world population.
God’s kingdom is about our acceptance of God and His values, HIS way of doing things which is a challenge to OUR way of doing things. And so it quickly takes us into a discussion of holiness — the distinctiveness and separateness of God, and what it means to be holy, like Him.
In medieval times this was shown by distinctive dress and the tonsured hairstyle. But the uniform could hide some worldly ambition and selfishness — some monastic foundations became large, wealthy — and politically controlling. Reading was an important Thames-side town with one of the largest and wealthiest abbeys, owning much of the land and property and exercising effective control of all that went on in the town and its markets.
Meanwhile, by complete contrast, in Northern Italy a young nobleman called Francis renounced his family wealth and church preferment, and started making a difference to the poor — God’s love in action. This radical direction created rather a strained relationship with the class-conscious church and this founder of a major religious order never actually became a priest. It’s a good lead-in to the way Jesus cut through the religious complexities of keeping the letter of the law in every little detail, to state what it the spirit behind the law meant in the spiritual kingdom He had come to inaugurate.
…To love God and love others
The essence of the law and the teaching of the Scriptures, Jesus said, was headlined in two sayings that every Jew was familiar with: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind”… and “love your neighbour as yourself”. And so two sayings that had been regarded as different, became one.
In effect He was proposing that we can’t claim to sincerely love God, without having His kind of love for those around us. And we can’t make much impact loving people, if we don’t have His love in us.
Jesus called twelve particular disciples to share life with Him and learn to minister to others in the way that He did, in the power of the Spirit. And that number of disciples grew… and particular following Pentecost. This was a time of exponential church growth, and soon churches would be planted to grow, spreading around the Mediterranean and beyond, Jews and Gentiles together.
Tested and demonstrated by the church planters
Paul and Silas were involved in a mission journey, taking the Good News out to places of Greek and Roman culture. They started with the Jews in those places — they were the ones who has a knowledge of the one true and living God, rather than pagan idols, and many received the message of the Messiah gladly. But others felt their traditions threatened, and they were the ones who caused riots in Philippi, had Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned, and slandered them with outrageous lies as they went on to Thessalonica — the very ones who should have been the support group in witnessing to the Gentiles. The principle of “love God, love others” was severely tested, but people could see how Paul and Silas took did not retaliate but concentrated on the main task, gently encouraging everyone in the truth. The proof was not just in the proclamation, it was in the life-style that went with it — the kingdom values of the gracious, loving servant king, Jesus.
This is the real holiness — daring to be different in a Jesus kind of way. It is often confused with religious devotion and piety, but really it’s about belonging to Jesus and living for Him in a world which prefers its own way. To be born again into new life, recreated spiritually as a new creation, from having accepted Jesus as Lord into our heart — that is being set apart to God. And we don’t have to perform in a certain way or be burdened by duty to prove it. The good fruit will grow in us, and that will be as much in character as in good deeds. This isn’t exactly what Paul was writing about. But he made some reasonable assumptions about his readers or hearers — that they had had an encounter with Jesus and probably been baptised on confession of their faith, and had experienced the empowering of the Holy Spirit. So, reading between the lines,Paul is encouraging them and reminding them of the example of Christ’s life and love that he and Silas had shown them.
This is kingdom holiness. The Great Commandment is as profound as it is uncomplicated — just two priorities, which are really one: to love God, and to love others with His love.
Return to Oct 25: The Great Commandment of the kingdom post