My dear friend Charles Fleming sent me a personal email after the denominational celebration. He was deeply moved by the kingdom of God theme. Charles is an analytical thinker and he has much to add to the theme of the kingdom. I’ve invited him to share, and before we get to his thoughts, let me go on record and thank him for serving as a regional team member for the Southeast US alongside Anthony Mullins. Thank you, Charles, for your good words. May we continue to seek first the kingdom of God in our pursuit of healthy church and healthy lives.
– Greg Williams, President
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval – Romans 14:17-18
The recent Denominational Celebration fed my soul at many levels. Seeing and hearing of God’s kindness and generosity to his people around the world was a high point. But what has stayed with me longest was the reminder that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God. We are already enjoying some of the greatest blessings that await the entire human family when that kingdom is established in all its glory. In our Covid-weary, disaster-riddled world, I needed that.
It’s been too long since we have had any teaching on the present reality of the Kingdom of God. So, I thank God for inspiring our President, Greg Williams, to devote his keynote address to the subject. As he introduced his message, he called on us to think and talk about the present reality of the kingdom. Here is a sampling of some of what he said.
(As I was preparing for this sermon) “it just kept coming back to me that we need to talk about the kingdom of God and the reality of the kingdom of God… seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the priority… the kingdom and what that means.”
He did not just call on us to reflect on our new reality. He set the tone by highlighting three kingdom realities that the apostle Paul says are already available to us – righteousness, peace and joy.
I decided to take Greg’s encouragement to think deeply on the kingdom as a personal challenge. And now I want to take the second step he recommended. I want to talk about it with the hope of encouraging you to similarly think and talk about the kingdom. I gave more thought to what Paul wrote in Romans 14. Here are two things that I found particularly inspiring.
First, I was struck by the fact that the joy and peace Paul is talking about are not just the natural peace and joy we humans experience. Verse 18 shows there are two dimensions to this peace and joy. On the horizontal level we have right relationships with fellow humans. He says that when anyone “serves Christ in this way” the result is he or she “receives human approval.” And what does he mean by “in this way”? In the context Paul is writing in, it is following Christ’s example of accepting and not judging others (vv. 1-4) as well as joining Jesus in giving up personal rights to meet the needs of others (vv. 13-15, 19-23). There is a natural experience of joy and peace when we do the right thing.
But – and this is the truly inspiring part – there is more!
There is also a vertical dimension. What makes this version of peace and joy hallmarks of the kingdom is that the King himself is filled with joy. In verse 18, Paul also said that when anyone “serves Christ in this way (that) is pleasing to God.” What makes Paul declare the presence of the kingdom is that the King himself is filled with joy when he sees his people living true to their calling. And his joy is contagious. We get to experience it.
Living lives of inclusive, sacrificial love leads to the fulfillment – in this life – of promises of joy that Jesus made to his disciples. In one of his parables of the kingdom, Jesus promises the “good and faithful servant” that she or he will enter into or experience the very joy of his or her master (Matthew 25:21). Our ultimate reward is that for all eternity we will participate fully in the joy that Jesus experiences. But we do not have to wait for the resurrection to begin experiencing some of King Jesus’ joy. In John 17, he prayed for us to receive and experience, not just our (horizonal level) human joy, but his very joy even now!
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you…. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:11, 13).
The same can be said of peace. Jesus promised us not just our human-level peace, but an experience of his very own peace.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27).
My first great encouragement from thinking of this scripture is that when we are under the reign of King Jesus, we even get to participate in his emotions. He gives us a capacity for joy and peace that is beyond our natural, human ability to generate. Oh, how we need that just to keep going in our broken world!
My second reason for being encouraged is that we also get to share that joy and peace with others by participating with the Spirit in helping others know and accept the loving rule of King Jesus. Dallas Willard has a definition for the kingdom of God that captures what Paul says in Romans 14, “The Kingdom of God is God reigning. It is present wherever what God wants done is done.”
The kingdom of God is present wherever what God wants done is done
The kingdom is present whenever we allow the love of God shed abroad in our hearts to move us to serve others. In doing so we are bringing to others an experience of life under the rule of the King of love. It’s as if a new reality flashes into the conscious life of another person. And – wonder of wonders – we get to be loving, walking, talking representatives of that kingdom because Jesus lives in us by his Spirit!
Why should we actively think and talk about the kingdom of God? There are lots of reasons, but here are two. In a world that can lead us to despair and high anxiety, we are “hooked up” with a source of joy and peace that not only sustains and emboldens us but makes us beacons of hope for others.
Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you to take our President’s encouragement as a personal challenge to think and talk about the kingdom of God. Having an imagination shaped by Jesus’ kingdom gives us eyes to better understand the new creation life that Paul says is now ours (2 Corinthians 5:16-21.)
By Charles Fleming
GCI-USA Southeast Regional Support Team Member