Thy Kingdom Come: And the Instrument (Sept-Dec 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jay Guin
September – December, 2010

Accompanied or A Capella?We have a tendency to think that God sent Jesus to live, die, and be resurrected in order to found a church in which God would be worshiped on Sunday morning under a new, better set of rules. Therefore we go looking in the scriptures for that better set of rules. And if we can’t find them in the words — well, God surely gave us rules! — and so we find them in the silences and in the writings of early church bishops (all the while calling these same men apostate for being a single bishop overseeing the elders!)

Of course, if God is all about the rules, he wouldn’t have revealed them through silences and Third Century bishops. They’d be in the Bible. To conclude otherwise would be to deny the sufficiency of God’s revelation in the scriptures. And so, where are they?

Well, the rules are found in several places in the scriptures, but perhaps they are most plainly and prominently spoken in Matthew 5 – 7, the Sermon on the Mount. But, we protest, those are certainly rules for daily living, but they have nothing to do with how to do church! But, of course, they have everything to do with how to do church.

It would take too much space to cover the entirety of the Sermon, and so I’ll just take a few passages to illustrate the point — and hopefully the interpretation of the rest will become clear.

(Matthew 5:3-5 ESV)

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Who will be in the Kingdom? The poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek. Jesus doesn’t speak in terms of doctrinal expertise or mastery of the Laws of Generic and Specific Authority. Nor does he address the necessity of mastering Command, Example, and Necessary Inference. No, Jesus tells us that those who are in the Kingdom, those who will be saved, are those who have the right kind of heart.

(Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus’ disciples are to be salty, that is, to taste good. And salt doesn’t taste good at all by itself. Salt has to be on food to be any good. Just so, we are called to be light so that our “good works” can be seen by others, who will then give glory to God.

The Kingdom will be on mission. Its mission is to do such good works that the world sees the Kingdom and gives glory to God. Therefore, our works must include works of a sort that even the world can appreciate as good. We must be the kind of salt that the world can taste and praise.

(Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Jesus is speaking, of course, before the coming of the Kingdom, and so he speaks in contemporary terms. That is, he contextualizes the gospel by speaking to the crowd in terms of their culture.

But we Westerners have no trouble discerning the lesson: Get along! Jesus is addressing a community of disciples, and it’s critical that his disciples not speak contemptuously of each other. Rather, even more important than formal worship is reconciliation between brothers. And a true disciple will reach out to his brothers and seek reconciliation.

(Matthew 6:9-10 ESV)

9 “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”

“On earth as it is in heaven” modifies all three phrases. We should read —

Hallowed be your name on earth as it is in heaven.

Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Hallowed be” means “May your name be considered holy.” It’s not a praise of God, but rather a prayer that the entire world will revere the name of God as much as the saints in heaven. These verses are therefore a prayer that the world will be saved and so added to the Kingdom, where the entire world will consider God’s name holy and do God’s will.

This is a missional prayer, because you really can’t pray it without offering yourself as wanting to participate in the work for which you pray. This prayer is ultimately about the work of God through the church.

(Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)

1“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Paul’s lesson in Romans 14 is a commentary on this passage. We can’t be a church unless we stop judging each other in this way. We can’t condemn others while ignoring our own failings, as though our failings are covered by grace and theirs can’t be. What makes us so righteous that our sins covered and their sins are not?

(Matthew 7:12 ESV)

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Imagine a congregation — or even a denomination! — where this verse is lived. Imagine what church would be like if we were to subordinate our preferences to each other. Rather than demanding our turn or our rights or our traditions or our styles, we decided that others are more important than ourselves! Would that change things?

There is, of course, vastly more in the Sermon on the Mount regarding how to do church. This is but a sampling. But surely this is enough to see some critical points —

  • Jesus taught that the Kingdom is all about having the right kind of heart.
  • Jesus emphasized interpersonal relationships and making the necessary sacrifices so we can get along, pointedly saying that this comes before formal worship.
  • It’s our job to initiate reconciliation. We can’t wait for others to come to us.
  • The church is on mission for God, to be salt and light through good works that draw a lost world toward the Kingdom and into praise of God.
  • We communicate in the context of the culture where our listeners are.
  • We don’t judge each other, because we are all unworthy judges.
  • We put others before ourselves, subordinating our tastes, traditions, and heritage to what’s best for others.
  • We strive with God to bring about the Kingdom on earth just as it is in heaven.

Now, the reason I see this as being about church is because I’m an elder, and I find the Sermon on the Mount far more helpful in dealing with church issues and conflicts than much of what I was taught as a child growing up in the Churches of Christ.

This is the core of Christianity. And this is hard. It’s not easy to put others first and to submit our hearts and wants to God. Selfishness and comfort are far, far easier.

Now, notice this — every single time the authors of the New Testament reach the climax of their writings, they focus on Sermon on the Mount kinds of things. For example, Matthew concludes his presentation of Jesus’ ministry in chapter 25 with —

(Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Matthew begins Jesus’ ministry with the Sermon on the Mount and ends it with service to the “least of these.”

Paul culminates Romans, not with a lesson on the Five Acts of Worship, but a lesson on gifts (Romans 12:1-8), on love for fellow Christians (Romans 12:9-13:14), and mutual tolerance of those with differing beliefs (Romans 14:1 – 15:7).

In a masterpiece of theology written to a church he’d never visited, Paul doesn’t deal for a moment with ecclesiology (rules for the assembly and church leadership) but focuses instead on relational issues, insisting on love, unity, and mutual tolerance.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul culminates his discussion on the Lord’s Supper, women’s role in the assembly, and spiritual gifts by emphasizing the supremacy of love (1 Corinthians 13) and testing proposed activities in the assembly by asking, not whether the activities are on a pre-approved list of “acts of worship,” but whether these actions build up, encourage, and console the saints (1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV) or might cause a visiting unbeliever to fall “on his face, … worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:25 ESV).

Those who use 1 Corinthians 14 in their anti-instrumental polemics never approach the question asking the same questions Paul asks: does the instrument help build up, encourage, or console the saints or draw unbelievers toward worship? If so, they are approved. That’s Paul’s reasoning.

Just so, in Galatians, where the issue was circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, you’d think Paul would straighten them out by telling them the correct laws. And he does — but he doesn’t say a word about the order of worship or what is or isn’t authorized. He doesn’t argue from the lack of authority for circumcision. Rather, he tells us what matters: “faith working through love” and that nothing else “counts for anything” (Galatians 5:6 ESV).

We don’t like this result, and so we invent doctrines utterly foreign to the text in order to answer questions that the text doesn’t even ask. You see, one of the essential keys to hermeneutics — to Bible study — is to let the text tells us not only the answers but also the questions. And we’d be far better off studying the questions the Bible actually does pose.

Will we care for the poor and needy? Will we love each other? Will we tolerate differences? Will we assemble to encourage, build up, and console one another? Will we conduct our assemblies in a way that brings unbelievers to their knees in worship? Will we put each other’s interests ahead of our own for the sake of the Kingdom? Will we join God in pursuing his mission to redeem a lost and hurting world?

Will we teach a gospel of faith in Jesus so powerful that it drives us to a love for others that draws the world to Jesus — a gospel so powerful that nothing else counts for anything.New Wineskins

Jay GuinJay Guin is the author of The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace: God’s antidotes for division within the Churches of Christ and the blog OneInJesus.info. He graduated from David Lipscomb College in 1975 and the University of Alabama School of Law in 1978. He now practices law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Jay is an elder with the University Church of Christ and married to Denise Hendrix Guin, with four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip.

Jay can be contacted at [jfguin@comcast.net].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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