Taking Kingdom Personally
Our Lord commanded, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” This is one of the imperatives that defines the essence of Christian discipleship – “if any man will come after me;” “if you love me;” “love one another. We must take it with utmost seriousness.
Think of those who first heard these words. Most were of the common sort of laborers, humble men and women despised by Jewish leadership and grist for Roman imperialism – “not many mighty or noble.” Many were fathers and mothers with households for which to provide and a hundred daily cares. Jesus told them not to worry about their temporal needs but to trust God’s faithfulness – look at the birds and the lilies of the field. Then, this mighty directive came – “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” I am here. The kingdom of God has come. Seek it. Seek it first.
About this kingdom, there have been many misconceptions that Jesus progressively corrected. Two stand out. Unlike the kingdoms and movements of men, God’s kingdom does not come with “observation.” Its manifestations and progress are not always or usually visible or measurable in the way that men normally measure success and power (Luke 17:20). We tend to look for the kingdom in impressive movements that capture the world’s attention, but Jesus said otherwise. This is because “the kingdom is within you” (Luke 17:21). The chief manifestation of God’s kingdom is to be found in the lives of believers, individually and collectively as the body of Christ. It extends from there and is present everywhere, as God rules over all things, but it is uniquely seated in the child of God. Taken together, these two ideas give a very dynamic and personal view of the kingdom of God. We are not to be paralyzed by what we see happening in the world or by our individual circumstances but overcome evil with good by seeking the kingdom of God.
We must take this inwardness of the kingdom one step deeper, or we shall completely miss its transforming glory and power. The kingdom of God is not an “it” but a HIM. The kingdom of God is within us because of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” He is the long-promised, life-giving, Redeemer- King. By his Spirit, he is the Lord and Giver of new life and new power. The kingdom we are to seek, therefore, is the rule of Jesus, the mediatorial King, in our life – over all that we are and do. We come to the Father through him; we honor the Father by honoring him; we know God as our Father as the Son reveals him to us. God’s kingdom is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
He is Lord of all. He is Lord of our attitudes and priorities, our checkbook, relationships, and phones. We must surrender our tongue and words to him, using them as he commands. He is Lord and King over our bodies and appetites and sexual impulses. We must surrender them to him. One reason we are so slow to seek God’s kingdom is that we think of it impersonally rather than intensely, radically personal. It is God with us, Christ in us, the Spirit indwelling in us. We shall know and feel its power as we submit to the King of the kingdom, Jesus Christ, yield to him, and take his yoke upon us.
When Jesus adds “and his righteousness,” we are confronted with a personal decision we make each day. Will we obey Jesus Christ? Do we love him? To love and obey him is to enjoy and seek the kingdom of God. His kingdom is not far away but always near through his word, able to be sought by the grace and strength he gives us when we ask. Because the King is with us and rules in us, true change is possible. Victory over sin is a reality in the King’s subjects, for we are his friends, and he dwells with us. We are led by the Savior-King, have his word as our guide, and his Spirit as his abiding presence within us. In rough places of our lives, and there will be many, we are tempted to become flustered and confused. What should I do? Where should I turn? One clear implication of Jesus’ directive is to obey God where you are. Yield to Christ the King. Call upon him for help. Do what promotes his rule in your life, regardless of personal cost. Obey the known commands of God and leave the rest to him.
This is challenging but liberating. If your husband is treating you badly, love and submit to him. It is the will of your King. If your wife seems not to care about your struggles, keep laying down your life for her, as the King did for his Bride. If your parents are cold and harsh, obey them; they stand in the King’s place and represent his authority. If your boss is unappreciative and dictatorial, endeavor to do your best work the worse he treats you, for you are doing it for your King. If you do not see how to make ends meet, trust the Lord of all to provide for you. If your heart is cold as you prepare for worship, think on God’s mercy, Christ’s grace, and the Spirit’s help – then, call upon him in faith and come into his presence with singing. This is seeking God’s kingdom with an obedient heart. It is loving Jesus and depending upon him when you feel like giving up. Since the kingdom does not come with observation, do not expect all your troubles to go away. Often God simply wants us to obey him in the midst of tears and struggles. He does not provide immediate relief because he wants us to love and trust him and not make an idol of relief.
How? I do not want to do this. There is a war within me. Can you give me some steps to do what I do not want to do, believe what I do not want to believe, feel what I do not feel? Jesus answered these kinds of questions by saying, “Seek my kingdom first. Obey me. Take up your cross.” This may not seem helpful, but this is because we know little of the strength of seeking the kingdom, of seeking Jesus. There is not a separate list of principles to make the challenges of seeking God’s kingdom easier. There is only Jesus Christ, his indwelling power and his sufficient word. He would have us come before him, confess our weakness, and declare our allegiance to him. Then, he calls us to obey his word: sometimes against feeling and friend, against even what we may want to do at a given moment. The essence of being a Christian is that the dominion of sin and self has been broken by the powerful presence of Christ in the believer. In union with him in his saving death and empowering resurrection; in honest, self-denying communion with him, we can walk as he commands.
True relevance, strength, personal contentment and purposeful living require that our lives be lined up with God’s agenda. His agenda is his rule over all, especially gathering all things into one under Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). Obedient Christians are thus the happy ones, God’s friends and even his coworkers. They live and reign with Christ. They are one with God’s kingdom working. On a daily basis, pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Lord, rule over me today. Teach me that you are in charge, not me. Make it my delight to please you. In every little thing, ask for grace to obey God. He ordained your course, and you will run it well if you run it obediently. Consecrate each new day to him, and close each day thanking him for his mercy, repenting of fighting against his rule in your life, and seeking grace to do better tomorrow. This is simple and solid Christian living.
Make the growth of his kingdom in your life and in the lives of those around you a regular subject of your prayers. Lord, help my children to see me obeying you joyfully and give them a heart to follow my good example. Forgive me where I have been morose, unthankful, moody, and angry, thus giving the impression that your service is hard and joyless and judgmental. Rejoice that you are part of God’s kingdom, a living stone in his temple. You will not crumble if you build upon the rock of Jesus Christ and his everlasting kingdom. As his kingdom grows in you, as you grow up into Christ, you will find God’s kingdom stretching out into new areas of service, or perhaps simply giving you fresh perspective on the old ones. But, his kingdom will grow in you. Jesus Christ will grow in you. He is too large, his plans to big, to be held in the narrow ruts in which we try to confine it. He is the King, and he is working out his broad and wise plans. Ask him to stretch you in faith and love and service.