The Greatest Sermon
First the Kingdom of God
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
We call it “sitting on the stoop.” It is a Chicago thing. Often, in an evening, walking down the street (since very few houses in our neighborhood have porches), you will see people sitting on the front steps outside of their home. My wife and I sat on our stoop last evening on either side of a very troubled young couple.
The reasons that had brought them to our stoop were many and varied, but one of the consequences of those reasons was a very dire financial situation. These two people are believers, and I am convinced that they love the Lord. God knows, if I had the money they needed, I would have just given it to them, but I did not have the money. That is all for the best. After all, God does not just open Heaven and rain golden coins at our feet when we find ourselves in a jam. No, in the process of meeting our needs, God brings us to the place of full dependency.
As I sat on our stoop next to this dear couple last night, encouraging them to trust in the Lord, I had on my mind this exact passage of Scripture. I did not have the wherewithal to meet their needs, but I had no qualms about pointing them, unhesitatingly, to God's promises of provision. I live in the City of Big Shoulders. But the real big shoulders are God's, and He is perfectly capable of furnishing food, clothing, and shelter for them. And He will. He must. He said He would.
Please do not misunderstand me. I do not believe Matthew 6 or any other passage of Scripture (such as Philippians 4), is a blanket promise by God, obligating Him to make sure everyone is fine. But within the constructs God has placed upon it, yes, He will honor His financial guarantees. He is bound by His Word.
Thus it was, that as we sat together on the stoop, I encouraged them to do the right thing regardless of how it would appear to negatively affect them financially. My counsel to them, measured financially, probably would look foolish to most people in this world. But faith in God puts Him and His agenda first. That faith frees us up to focus on obeying Him first, secure in the confidence that He will surely supply our physical needs.
This precious part of the Sermon does not occur in a vacuum, of course. Jesus has been speaking about money for quite some time. He has taught us that our heart follows our money, and so we ought to invest in Heaven. He has taught us that we cannot serve God and mammon, and we need to choose the correct master. He has taught us that, having chosen God, we have nothing to worry about. After all, since God is our master, He will take very good care of us.
So many Christians in our generation hone in on all these things shall be added unto you. Worldwide, this bastardization of Christ's teaching, which is exploding in popularity, combines our natural greed with the glitter of the American dream and sells it pre-packaged as spirituality to all and sundry. Famous are its (false) prophets, preaching to enormous crowds, promising fabulous riches and good health to all who truly love the Lord. This gospel of prosperity turns God into a genie, popping out of a lamp to grant you three wishes. It equates gain with godliness, justifies a love of money, and cultivates certain destruction out of that foul root of evil.
Such people, when misapplying this passage so egregiously in this manner, fail to understand two things. First, Jesus is speaking here of basic necessities and not the twenty-first century American standard of living. Second, His entire aim here was to urge us to center ourselves, not on all these things shall be added unto you but on seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. The latter part of the verse is the result or byproduct of a proper emphasis on the former portion.
Many a Christian of my acquaintance seeks God and the kingdom of God, but they put Him somewhere down the list rather than placing Him at the very top. They want to add a dash of God to their life, like a pinch of salt to a fine dish, hoping He imparts flavor to everything but changes nothing. They desire an improved life but not a revolutionized one. They hunger for God to fix their problems without the necessity of undergoing any drastic and permanent transformation.
Such a desire flies in the face of what we know about God. For instance, salvation is termed “the new birth.” Once saved, we are new men with new natures. We are called to forsake all that we have and follow Him. We are told to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is not just a high god, but El Elyon, the Most High God. He demands not just a place of prominence in our lives but actual preeminence. All of these indicate a radical change, not just a muted modification. God does not want to be a part of our life. He demands to be in all of our life and to be first in all of it.
The phrase kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven occurs 119 times in the New Testament, and nine times alone in this Sermon, including in the very first sentence. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It would not be an injustice, in this respect, to say that the kingdom of God is the great theme of this Sermon. Jesus spends the majority of His time explaining or emphasizing how that kingdom is worked out in our lives in a variety of practical ways.
Earlier, we briefly discussed a classic definition for the kingdom of God. It is best described as the rule of God, but that rule or kingdom has several different manifestations. For instance, God has ruled over the entirety of Creation since its inception. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. (I Chronicles 29.11) In this respect, God rules over flora and fauna and the weather, as well as over natural laws such as gravity and time. In addition, God has ruled as sovereign over the nations of man since their founding. The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. (Daniel 4.17) There is not a single dictator, president, judge, or petty tribal chieftain that holds his position outside of the permissive will of God, and all of their decisions are in His purview as well. The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. (Proverbs 21.1)
There is also the sense, beyond the supreme lordship of the Creator, in which the kingdom of God is rule of God that will come to the earth when Christ returns. The angel that brought the news of Jesus' first advent to the Virgin Mary told her He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1.32-33) This millennial rule surpasses the national boundary of Israel and encompasses the entire earth. It continues through the devil's final rebellion, through his resulting sentence to hell, and into the timeless and wonderful eternity that is the New Heaven and the New Earth. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7.14)
Although both of these are absolutely true, I do not believe they are the main ideas which Christ intended to get across to us in this section of the Sermon. Both of them are, for lack of a better term, above us. They are fulfilled or will be fulfilled completely outside of our agreement, and no yielding on our part will hasten or accomplish them. I write that carefully, for I am fully conscious of the fact that Almighty God does not need (now or ever) our contribution for His kingdom to be in effect in any sense of the phrase. We do not make Him Lord. He is Lord. But understanding that, there is another sense in which the rule of God is explained in Scripture. It is beyond, or in addition to, the supreme lordship of the Creator and the understanding that the King is coming the second time to establish God's direct rule on earth. It is the notion that the kingdom of God is the rule of God that Christ establishes in our hearts and lives when we receive Him as our Saviour. This, in my opinion, is the primary understanding Jesus has in mind here.
In medieval times, it was common for a king to have more than one residence, and he would often be found traveling between various parts of his domain. Each of these manors or castles was based in either a town or city or had some kind of a community grow up around them. A system developed that allowed the townsfolk to know, at a glance, whether the king was in residence or not. Each king had his own personal standard or flag. It was flown above the castle when he was in residence and taken down when he moved on to another stronghold.
I find in this illustration a wonderful symbolism for the Christian life. There is a flag flying above the castle of your heart right now. It marks which king is in residence at the moment, whether it be your selfish nature or your rightful king, Jesus. He urges you, in this Sermon, to step down from the throne of your own heart and allow Christ to rule and reign in your life. God is after your heart. You have heard that somewhere before, have you not?
I do not believe in what is commonly labeled in our day as lordship salvation, for it treads perilously close to heresy. However, I do believe in a salvation which results in lordship. Once we belong to Him, He lays the claim of His rule over every single area of our life.
The Word of God is a wondrous example of this. Its primary purpose is to be the revelation of God, and in that vein, it gives us a complete understanding of what God expects and desires of us. Because of this, there is not a single aspect of life that is left uncovered by that old black Book, and thus, there is not a single aspect of life in which His instructions do not rule. Education? Money? Music? Sex? Food? Health? Entertainment? Friendships? Schedule? Work? Marriage? Family? Sorrow? Joy? Love? Hate? Politics? Self-defense? Patriotism? Parents? Comfort? Holidays? Character? Memories? Advertising? Animals? Travel? Books? Calamities? Dating? Fear? Clothes? Leadership? Weather? Fun? Neighbors? Old age? Philanthropy? Pollution? Prejudice? Speech? Sleep? Trouble? Violence? Alcohol? Yes, all of these and as many more as you can think of are discussed in sufficient detail for us to understand how God intends for us to approach them.
Thus it is that we dare not compartmentalize God. We dare not put Him into a box that we open up on Sunday morning, and when the church service is over, we gingerly place Him back inside for another week. Such an approach to Christianity reveals a complete misunderstanding of God, His Word, and His claim on our life. We are to consider what He wants in all things. We are to put His vision, His plans, His thinking, His approach, His worldview, His direction, and His instruction not just on our list to consider but at the very top of our list. What He wants must come first in every area of my life.
As a citizen of the kingdom of God, I forever lose the paltry right to utter such phrases as, “It's my life,” “I must be true to my own heart,” “I must follow my dreams,” or “It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.” Ye are not your own. (I Corinthians 6.19) As a citizen of the kingdom of God, I must forever renounce the right to live my own life, set my own pace, and march to the beat of my own drum. I must include Him in all spheres of my life. I am to not only include Him, but I am to yield to Him the preeminence. I must put Him first.
I do not have to be a missionary, but I do have to let Him decide if I am going to be a missionary. I do not have to give all of my money to the church, but I do have to let Him decide what to do with my money. I do not have to listen to only psalms and hymns on my iPod, but I do have to let Him choose every song on my playlist. I do not have to spend twenty-four hours a day in prayer, Bible study, and witnessing, but I do have to let Him decide how I spend each and every one of those twenty-four hours. I do not have to renounce marriage and enter a monastery, but I do have to follow each of His instructions in relation to choosing my life's partner. I do not have to lose my personality, but I do have to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We sat on the stoop, my wife and I, with this dear couple in between us. We told them some hard things, and the reason we told them those hard things is because Jesus told us in this Sermon to put the kingdom of God first in our lives. No, it does not make financial sense for them to follow our advice, but a thing is not necessarily against reason because it happens to be above it. God will take care of them. He has obligated Himself to do this, and He always fulfills His obligations. He honors those who honor Him, and together, my wife and I prayed on that stoop that God would give them the necessary grace to do so.
There is a flag flying over the castle of your heart. Is it your flag, or is the King in residence there?