Post Title: Tips for Kingdom Seekers
Messiah's proclamation of the kingdom and his direction to seek it first has implications for every aspect of our lives. Here are some.
First of all, it means giving Jesus authority over your earthly possessions. I have been thinking about this because our ministry, like all ministries, exists by contributions.
I recently read a report based on an extensive, thirty-year study of 30 million Christians representing 100,000 congregations in America, both mainline and evangelical. It says that Christians today are giving less than they ever have. With respect to the Southern Baptist denomination and ten of the major mainline Protestant churches in America, Christians today are proportionally giving less than in 1933, amid the Great Depression. On average, Christians give 2.5% of their disposable income to the church and ministries.
Another finding in the report that I found quite discouraging is that an ever-increasing amount of money going into churches is spent on salaries, maintenance of buildings, and programs. As a result, less and less is going to need-meeting ministry like food kitchens, orphanages, and missional outreaches. Is this the King's vision of the kingdom?
The study concludes that if evangelical Christians gave an actual tithe, there would be an extra $131 billion to feed the poor, carry the good news to the lost, and advance the kingdom.
Jesus emphasized that money, in some respects, is a barometer of where you are in the kingdom. No servant can serve two masters. It is either worldly wealth or God. On the other hand, those who have a generous, giving spirit are filled with the light of God's kingdom (Matt 6:22). For most of us, the mixture in our hearts has to do with trying to serve both God and mammon. As a result, we struggle to let go and let God.
I am not trying to bring any condemnation upon anyone. Instead, I want to show you how the kingdom means getting out of the abstract and getting down to where Jesus lives. The generosity of giving is an essential aspect of the kingdom. In the time of Jesus, the Hebrew word for righteousness (tzedakah) had come to mean charity, giving to the poor, taking care of widows and orphans.
The seek first the kingdom text we're studying comes from Matthew chapter 6, which opens with the phrase practicing your righteousness. Jesus captures this ancient understanding of tzedakah with his explanation in verse 2, Thus, when you give to the needy. When Jesus says here, do your deeds of righteousness, he means, give to the poor. It helps us understand that when Jesus exhorts us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, later in the chapter, he is referring to tangible things, specific deeds.
It is not about some warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart. Affection for God has to do with how you live. And one of the most measurable of actions is how you give.
To put first the kingdom in your life, look for opportunities to advance God's work on earth. It is an honor to support missions. It is an honor to support widows and orphans, those who are poor. It is an honor to support the persecuted church. It is an honor to support our believing Jewish brethren in Israel and struggling congregations there. All of this is a privilege. Can you say, amen?
Second, if you learn to seek the kingdom first, then you will love to study, and you will study in order to love.
If you truly love God, you want to know his will, you want to know his wishes, you want to know his nature. All of this and more awaits you in his Word. My beloved wife and I exchanged two and three letters a day by e-mail when we were courting. Why? Because I wanted to know all about her. "Tell me about your past. Tell me about your family." I want to know her because I love her. If you love God, you want to know all about Him.
That's why he has written you a Book. In it, he describes his nature and character, his will and wishes for you. That is why I invite you to study, and why we work so hard to equip you to study at JC Studies. (Read my teaching called, To Study, to Do, to Teach.)
Indeed to the biblical mind, the study of God's Word is the highest expression of worship because that is how God's Spirit helps you discern the Father's. Listen to the Hebraic reasoning of Paul in this familiar text,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
As you read and study, you are being renewed in your mind, transformed in your heart, empowered in your will.
Part of what it means for me to seek God's kingdom first is to, once again, ask him to put into my heart a love for study. Specifically the kind of study that leads to love because the biblical revelation from Genesis to Revelation is all about love. Love is the Great Commandment. And remember, as we have been discussing, love has to do with actions, not with feelings and affections.
My third and final implication is the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5). When we are seeking the kingdom first, we obey the king.
If you love me, obey my commandments. (John 14:15)
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. (James 2:8, Leviticus 19:18)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal 5:14, Leviticus 19:18)
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Messiah. (Gal 6:2)
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
It was that love that conquered the conquering nation, Rome. It was not the theological sophistication, the wealth, the power, the authority of the early church—they had none. They were a persecuted minority. But they proved that love overcomes a multitude of false dominions.
Not even the power and pomp of Rome with its multiplicity and plurality of gods and deities had ever seen anything like the love of the early church. A love born of the Spirit, evidenced by acts of mercy and lovingkindness given in the name of Jesus. Theirs was a passion for seeking the wellbeing of the other, imitating and obeying King Jesus.
Rome had never seen the likes of it and would never be the same as a result.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
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