Why Be a Kingdom-Driven Church?
Any degree of study in the Scriptures will reveal that the Kingdom of Heaven occupied a central theme in the ministry of Christ and his church. In revealing the significant position that John the Baptizer occupied in God’s plan for the ages, Jesus declared in Matthew 11:12: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” With this statement, Jesus made it clear that in a day of meaningless tradition, hollow ceremonies and empty religious practices, the power of God’s Word and Spirit were aggressively moving his sovereign spiritual dominion forward. And the credibility and progress of this spiritual kingdom was validated by the visible evidences of physical power that accompanied his activity (11:4-5). The healing of the sick and the mercy ministries to the disadvantaged and deserving would accompany the progressive proclamation of the gospel to the world. In other words, noticeable evidences in the physical realm would indicate progress in the spiritual realm. And the participants in this powerful advancement were not weak-minded wimps. They were men of determination, initiative, fortitude and courage. They were people who believed not only in the promise of God’s Spirit, but also in the spiritual authority and power that came with their calling.
If the Kingdom of God was such a prominent theme in the Scriptures, in the ministry of Christ and the First Century Church, you should expect to see any number of ministry models reflecting that divine prototype. Unfortunately, you don’t. Frankly, I’m astounded by that. We have “Purpose-Driven” models, “Seeker-Sensitive” models, “Irresistible-Influence” models and “Church-Growth” models and any number of other examples and combinations of the above out in the world-at-large today. Many of them emulate sensible and practical principles for ministry in our world. Many of them have points that need to be heard and considered. But I have yet to see a model for ministry in today’s culture that closely encompasses the theme that occupied the primary place of Jesus’ teaching and practice. If he sent his disciples to announce the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:2), shouldn’t we?
Why should we focus on the Kingdom of God as the driving theme of our ministry? Why should the spiritual dominion of Christ and the authority that comes with it be the central passion of our ministry?
1. The kingdom was the focus of Jesus’ model prayer. When he came to the point when his sermon on the mount focused on prayer, Jesus told us to revere and worship (hallow) our heavenly Father’s name and to pray as a priority: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:2). The elements of this model prayer were placed in order for a reason. We should start with the worship and reverence of the name of Almighty God. That is the reason we were created in the first place! Jesus said God the Father is seeking worshippers (John 4:23). And hallowing the name of our God means worshipping and adoring all the aspects of his sovereign character in a manner of heart and mind that’s pleasing to him.
Next to worship, Jesus told us that we should pray with passion for the coming and advancement of his kingdom and for his will to be done on this earth as it already exists in heaven. Certainly, one way we pray for God’s will to be done on this earth is to ask him for his power to help us align ministries and activities in his church that already express his stated will for our lives from his Word. To say it another way, when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” we should ask God to help us obey in our lives and in our actions the things he’s already told us to do from the Scriptures.
What has he told us to do? Here’s a starting list:
• Worship and love him with heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30).
• Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).
• Pray with God ward purpose (Matthew 6:5-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
• Teach the Word of God (Matthew 28:20).
• Evangelize the lost sheep (John 10:14-16).
• Servant/Mercy ministry (Matthew 5:7, Luke 6:36).
• Show Acts of Faith/Courage/Trust (Matthew 21:21-22, 14:29-33, John 14:12).
• The Demonstration of Medical/Healing Compassion (Matthew 25:39-40).
• Love and care for children (Mark 9:36-37).
• Wrestling/Battling spiritual powers/Satan’s schemes under the authority of Christ and the spiritual weapons of warfare (Luke 9:1, 10:19, Ephesians 6:10-18).
This list is not exhaustive but rather reflective of the numerous things God has already told us to do as a part of his will. When we make our obedience to his stated purposes a central part of our life’s calling, we make the advancement of the Kingdom of God the focus of our mission.
2. The kingdom was the theme of Jesus’ mission. Like a consistent drumbeat, Christ reminded people that he was a servant sent by God with the task of declaring and explaining the laws, values, realities and qualities of the Kingdom of God. For instance, in Luke 4:43, he states: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” We see clearly in his journeys to cities and to villages that the proclamation of God’s kingdom and the good news that was associated with it was a central thrust of his activity (Luke 8:1). In fact, the kingdom held a greater passion in his life than his own blood family (Luke 9:59-62). He wanted nothing to stand between him and the advancement of God’s sovereign spiritual domain on this earth. He came to this world to do the will of God (Hebrews 10:7).
With this in mind, the things we do in our life and work as true disciples should parallel the activities and themes in Christ’s work. If he commanded us to worship (John 4:24), evangelize the world (Matthew 4:19, 24:14), preach (Matthew 10:7), make disciples (Matthew 28:18-19), practice mercy and servant hood (John 13:14-17), show compassion to the poor and needy (Matthew 25:34-40), welcome and love children (Mark 10:13-16) and confront spiritual powers with his authority (Luke 10:1-20), then our active obedience to these directives reveal to a great degree the priorities we place on the values of his kingdom.
3. The kingdom was the context of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Wherever he journeyed, Jesus taught the crowds and his disciples the qualities and features of his heavenly Father’s kingdom, oftentimes prefacing his teaching with the words: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 18:23, 20:1, 22:2, 25:1, Mark 4:26, 30, Luke 13:18). In his communication, the Lord regularly used symbols, true-to-life stories and object lessons to illustrate the central truths of his messages. Although his presentation was simple, the truth was profound in its application and meaning. Many didn’t understand his parables because of their spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:11-17, Mark 4:10-12) and his statements on his authority in God’s kingdom provoked the religious leaders and rulers to attempt to arrest him on numerous occasions (Matthew 21:45-46, 26:3-5, Mark 10:33-34, 14:61-64, Luke 20:19, John 7:25-32, 10:22-42, 11:45-57). Like a good teacher, he used parables to help the humble, meek and uneducated remember their clear message so that they could tell them to others.
In one of his signature teaching times on a mountainside, Jesus told his disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to those who were humble in spirit and who live righteous lives to the point of persecution (Matthew 5:3, 10). Like a good king, he modeled his message with his own life. In his mind, a true disciple that followed him would display the characteristics of God’s kingdom in their life—love, peace, kindness, patience, gentleness, holiness, contentment, servant hood, joy, faith and surrender (John 13-16), despite the hardships and trials that came from the world. Because the days were evil, yet filled with tremendous opportunity (Ephesians 5:16), we must return to Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom so that we can know how to live as his true followers in this age.
4. The kingdom was the platform to launch profound truth. Numerous times Jesus used the theme of his kingdom to introduce powerful ironies and paradoxes that astonished his hearers who thought in traditional ways and means. When asked who was the greatest in God’s kingdom, Jesus, instead of pointing to a powerful proud religious ruler, shocked his disciples by using a child to show how surrender, faith and simple trust marked the honorable qualities of God’s kingdom (Matthew 18:1-5). On another occasion, when a rich young man questioned him about eternal life and boasted that he had kept all the commandments, Jesus told him that he lacked one basic thing—he had not surrendered his life and possessions to the Lord and followed him (Matthew 19:16-21). When this young ruler realized that this idolatry kept him from entering God’s kingdom, he left in sadness, giving Jesus the opportunity to say: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:22-23). This profound teaching astonished and shocked the man-centered thinking of the disciples (19:25), yet Jesus used this occasion to tell us that entrance into his kingdom was not about riches, traditions, legalistic perfection or human performances. Birth into his kingdom was a spiritual work, done only by God (19:26, John 3:3). The kingdom was not about man. It was all about God.
A return to kingdom teaching and truth is vitally needed these days. For the last several decades, professing Christians have been fed a human-centered message that has been as spiritually nutritious as cotton candy. Because of this diet, there has been little doctrinal stability, courage, evangelistic boldness, spiritual power and gospel advancement. Human kingdoms and achievements have accelerated in many places in the world, but in many of those same areas God’s kingdom has taken a back seat to Islam, post-modernism, rampant hedonistic sexuality and materialism. The reason why many churches are weak and defeated pastors have left the ministry is because they have not made the advancement of God’s kingdom and his truth their all-consuming passion. In his day, some of the most powerful and profound truths taught by Jesus were set in the context of the Kingdom of God. When you remove the Kingdom of God from your focus, you lose the power and blessing of God on your life and ministry (Matthew 12:28, 16:19, Luke 11:20, 12:31).
5. The kingdom holds the keys to spiritual authority. After Peter’s inspired confession of Christ’s identity, the Lord honored his boldness with the promise that the gates of hell would not be able to stop the advancement of his church (Matthew 16:17-18). Christians take great comfort and encouragement knowing that Christ is leading the charge against the forces of evil. But too often we omit the other promise mentioned by him to Peter and we fail to see how significant it is in understanding the power and place of God’s authority in the life of the church, his body.
I can’t recall a time in my life when I heard a sermon or a lesson on Matthew 16:19. Jesus states a profound truth: “I will give you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Most people who read this passage haven’t the foggiest clue what this verse means. The picture of spiritual keys in the hands of men that bind and release brings considerable confusion. What is Jesus talking about here?
What’s so significant about this verse is that it’s not difficult to understand, once you settle in your mind the issues surrounding the spiritual authority of Christ in the church. Practically everyone on this planet and even most Christians don’t like to hear the word “authority,” much less talk about it. Because of the continual effects of sin on our lives, we don’t like to live under authority, nor at times do we like being an authority when necessity demands it. We like to hear about Christ’s authority over the devil, but not about his authority over our lives.
In the advancement of God’s kingdom through the worship and mission of his church, Christ promised not only his power to prevail against the forces of evil, but also his own authority to work through his appointed leaders that would open and close entrance into his kingdom. In other words, the Spirit-empowered means that God would use through them would be so powerful and authoritative that it would literally open and close the entrance to his kingdom. What are these Spirit-filled means? What has God the Spirit entrusted to his appointed leaders in the church today?
Notice it says “keys” of the kingdom. More than one expression of Christ’s authority would be used by his Spirit-anointed leaders in the advancement of his cause. As you examine the ministry of the Early Church, it is believed that the “loosing” key referred to the preaching of the gospel (Acts 2:38, 3:16-20, 4:12, 10:34-43) and the “binding” key was the exercise of spiritual discipline and shepherding in an environment of accountability (Acts 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 13, 1 Peter 5:1-3). Through the power of the Spirit by faith, preaching would open the hearts of people to the realities of God’s domain, whereas discipline would account for and separate the sheep from the goats in the flock.
People get hung up too much about spiritual discipline these days. Often when professing believers fall into times of waywardness and moral compromise, they become offended when efforts to bring about spiritual discipline and restoration are attempted by the elders. Questions like: “What gives you the right to hold me accountable and tell me what to do?” often abound by those who have never read or understood verses like Matthew 16:19 or Hebrews 13:17.
The truth of the matter is that it’s not human authority we’re talking about. It’s Christ’s authority that’s working through his called and appointed leaders to bring about restoration, completeness and godliness back into the life of the wayward sheep. Therefore, since it’s a professing believer’s wayward life that’s on the table at this point, it’s Christ’s right to exercise his authority and discipline over them. And in Matthew 16:19 and in other places in the Scriptures, he tells us that his authority has been given to his appointed leaders. You can’t take Christ’s blessing in your life without taking his yoke also. And sometimes this yoke involves an accountable, shepherding discipline.
Therefore, if you want to see spiritual blessing, power, richness and growth in the church, you must make the keys of God’s Kingdom an important part of ministry. The reason is simple—it occupies an important position where Christ expresses his authority. Could it be that the reason too many churches have become weak, frail and some have boarded up is because they have not carefully and prayerfully used these spiritual keys to declare Christ’s authority in his kingdom?
6. The kingdom is the end result of redemption. When Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai, God spoke these words to him to give to the people: “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5b-6). Notice carefully what God is saying in this text. He’s telling them that of all the people groups and nations of the world, he’s chosen them to be his treasured possession for a reason—so that in their sacred setting apart of themselves to God from the world, they will be consecrated into a worshipping, serving, transforming nation that reflects the holiness and righteousness of God himself. In other words, they were released from slavery and bondage in Egypt in order to be formed into a holy people, set apart to God as a great army of worshippers and as a great kingdom that declares the holiness and power of God. Because of their physical salvation, they were made into a spiritual kingdom.
John saw it this way in Revelation 1:6: [Christ] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be the glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” Likewise, in Revelation 5:10 we see that part of the great song sung by the hosts of heaven to Christ, the Eternal Lamb includes these words: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” From the beginning of the Bible to its end, you see this overarching theme of God’s kingdom. In his great redemption, God didn’t simply save us to himself as individuals. He saved us in order to form us into a great spiritual nation! Let Peter speak: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Praise God for our salvation in Christ! It’s not an individualistic salvation. It’s a KINGDOM salvation! Therefore, if the church is going to act like a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, we need to have kingdom values, laws and priorities in our ministry and mission.
7. The kingdom is the channel of spiritual provision and power. At another point in his famous sermon on the mountainside, Jesus told his disciples not to worry about the provisions of their life—food, drink and clothing. At this point, he probably called their attention to some flying birds and to some swaying lilies in the fields to impress upon them how God takes care of their needs in every way. Jesus’ point is powerful—if his Father takes care of the things in his creation that are of less value than us, surely he will take care of us since we are created in God’s image with glory and honor, a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5). We shouldn’t run the rat race like the pagans run it (Matthew 6:32). After all, believers know that their all-knowing heavenly Father knows their every need.
The crux of the issue is this—how is worry removed from your life? How can you know for certain that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus?” (Philippians 4:19). The answer lies in understanding Matthew 6:33.
Jesus said: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When his followers make the pursuit of his kingdom and all the things that are associated with it the central focus of their life (righteousness, love, peace, the gospel, hope, joy, etc.), Jesus said God will give you the provisions of life that you need. This is a promise of profound proportions! The source of your daily sustenance will be supplied by God if you make His business YOUR business!
This was reiterated by Christ in his model prayer in the same chapter. Before he told us to pray “Give us today our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11), he first told us to revere (hallow) our heavenly Father’s name and to ask for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (6:9-10). Notice the inseparable connection between God’s provisions and God’s kingdom. If you make God’s kingdom your primary devotion, he’ll supply you the things you need to live in this world.
Could it be that one of the reasons why some believers and churches struggle with money and are overloaded with debt in their financial management is because they have focused on their own kingdom values rather than on the values and realities of God’s kingdom (the gospel, faith, hope and love). If we could only see that aligning our priorities with God’s priorities will open a channel of provision and blessing—the likes of which few see and enjoy in the world today. The issue is not God’s promise or his ability to do it. The question is whether we are willing to put his values ahead of our own.
8. The kingdom is the centerpiece of the Christian’s inheritance. Paul reminded the Colossian Christians that as a part of living a life worthy of God’s calling, we are continually to give thanks to the Father because of a major reason—he “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12). Notice carefully the connection between “inheritance” and “kingdom.” Not only is our ultimate treasure in Christ, but also along with him personally come the great riches of our redemption (Ephesians 1:3-14 is a good starting list). And if that wasn’t good enough, now we learn that in addition to Christ and his unsearchable riches, we now have a great kingdom on top of all that!
Think about this—all of God’s treasures in us—our calling, forgiveness, adoption, predestination, justification and every other spiritual blessing are centered in Christ and are showcased in his kingdom. James 2:5 says: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” Listen believers! You may not have much in the standards of what this world possesses, but if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are rich in faith! And that treasure is eternal, along with a vast kingdom that’s a part of your inheritance.
This should give us great motivation for ministry today. If we know we are receiving a great inheritance from Christ—innumerable spiritual blessings and a great kingdom of light, hope and peace, then it should inspire us to reflect the values and actions of that kingdom in our life and ministry. Hebrews 12:28-29 says: “therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” If an inexhaustible spiritual inheritance is already ours and also promised for eternity, who says we can’t start spending it now? Rejoice in your salvation, adoption, predestination, forgiveness and all the other spiritual blessings of your redemption in God’s kingdom. And start spending these treasures now and start living and serving in the kingdom that God created for you and for them. Go ahead—He wants you to do this!
9. The kingdom was the motivation of the early church. Philip preached the good news of the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12). In their evangelistic church-planting missions, Paul and Barnabus gave their newly converted disciples in the faith these encouraging words: “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul spoke boldly in the Ephesian Synagogue for three months on the Kingdom of God (Acts 19:8). In Rome, large numbers of Jews heard him teach the truths of God’s kingdom all day (Acts 28:23). While some believed, others were not convinced (28:24). He did this for two years under house arrest in a rented place and preached boldly and without hindrance about the claims of Christ and his kingdom (28:31). In fact, the Acts of the Apostles concludes on the theme of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
Without a doubt, many first-century believers were persecuted and killed because of their testimony for Christ. But notice the theme that gave them great encouragement in the midst of their suffering and trials—the Kingdom of God. Paul boasted about the Thessalonian Christians’ perseverance and faith during their times of immense persecution. Their stand for Christ was “evidence that God’s judgment is right and as a result you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5). Take fresh stock in this!
If many of the early believers were here today, they would not want us to have a pity-party with them over their suffering and trials (and many of them were killed for their faith); rather, they saw their times of persecution as opportunities to show the worth of their calling in God’s kingdom to the whole world. In fact, they thought of suffering in a way we don’t think about in our time. They saw suffering as a form of grace, given by God to help them become more like Christ and more like the embodiment of his kingdom. Therefore, they didn’t run from it; instead they embraced trials, rejoicing that they participated in the sufferings of Christ, so that they may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13). The early believers knew that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3). And all of this was set in the context of the Kingdom of God! What motivation! We need to get back to this mindset today! Stability, growth, perseverance, endurance and many other attributes of the Christian life come when we make the Kingdom of God our motivation.
10. The kingdom is inseparably connected with the Second Coming. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus told the story of five wise and five foolish women who took their lamps and went out to wait the unannounced coming of the bridegroom (Matthew 25). The five wise women’s lamps were carefully prepared and ready, but the five foolish women’s lamps were unattended. When the bridegroom announced his arrival, the foolish women had to go and to buy oil, but their lost time enabled the bridegroom to come and to go with the five wise virgins. When they entered the wedding banquet, the door was shut and no one could come in late (Matthew 25:10-12).
Jesus used this parable to teach us a powerful truth about the ultimate manifestation and restoration of his kingdom that will come when he returns to earth a second time. We must be ready for his appearing. And readiness means we’re praying, watching, working and advancing the cause of his kingdom now.
Someday soon, “The end will come, when he [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). Until that time, we are to be faithful and fruitful to God’s kingdom work, much like Paul said to Timothy: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word: be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). There’s a close relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Second Coming. Jesus, Paul, John (see Revelation 1:9, 5:10, 11:15, 12:10) and James (James 2:5) see them as inseparable bookends in God’s plan. If you are kingdom-driven, you will work faithfully with the Second Coming in mind. If you long for the Second Coming, you will align your priorities and values with the Kingdom of God.
Both hands are full. Can there be any reason why we shouldn’t be a kingdom-driven church? Jesus taught us to pray for it, work faithfully in it, teach it and model its values in our daily life. He gave his spiritual leaders in his church the keys of his authority to bind and to loose the activity of his gospel. He told us to seek first his kingdom and all the necessary provisions for life would come. When we see the kingdom as the result of our redemption in Christ, we know that our inheritance is great in his sight. This should motivate us to watch, work, wait and strive for the advancement of his kingdom, knowing that he is coming soon to usher in the fullness of his glory and redemption in the restoration of the whole cosmos to its greatest consummation.
It’s time to start worshipping, working and living like a kingdom-driven church and people.