In the World for God’s Kingdom
David gave this talk at the 2015 Catalyst Festival at Stoneleigh Park. Click here to download the audio version.
The reason we gather for the Catalyst Festival is to celebrate the ruling of Jesus over every part of life and in every nation on earth. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me", and this is what we mean by “Kingdom of God”.
We felt that God was speaking to us prophetically as we prepared for the festival through the words "Exploration" and "Revelation". Explorers do not settle for the status quo but are looking for new opportunities for what they are doing and are prepared to break into new ground. We want to encourage you to do that in terms of your Kingdom mission. However it should come from “revelation” along the lines of “set aside for me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them” rather than just being a "good idea". Our goal for many here is for you to hear from God about being in the world for God’s Kingdom in what you do and for some where you go.
I am going to describe 3 scenes from Scripture about the Kingdom of God to help us with that.
SCENE 1 - A STORY ABOUT THE KINGDOM FROM JESUS
A wealthy landowner with many servants arranged for his servants to sow seeds of wheat in his fields. After the wheat had been sown, whilst everybody slept an enemy came. Sleeping here is not a bad thing, it is perfectly natural, what you do after a hard day’s work. But an enemy started to work as well. The enemy was deceptive. He sowed a weed called darnel, which looks like wheat in its early stages.
When the ears of wheat began to show, it was obvious that darnel was there too. His servants came to him and said didn’t you sow good seed? They were honouring him, saying you sowed – in fact they would have done so. The landowner recognised that an enemy had done this. Shall we pull up the weeds? No said the landowner wisely. If you do that you may pull up some of the good wheat; leave it till harvest. It may not look very good, weed and wheat growing together but the best thing to do, is to leave it so that none of the smaller shoots of wheat will suffer and be wasted. Darnel has strong deep roots and it would be almost impossible to pull them up without pulling up wheat too.
Later, the disciples asked Jesus – please explain the Parable of the Weeds. Jesus explained this is what the growth of the Kingdom will be like. The one who sows is the Son of Man, Jesus himself. In the story it was sowed but here in the explanation Jesus uses the “continuous present” tense – i.e. Jesus is still sowing!
The good seed is not here “the Word of God” as in the more familiar story of the Sower earlier in the chapter. The good seed is the “sons of the Kingdom” (includes daughters!). It is us and every believer through the centuries. You are sown for Kingdom purposes. The field is the world – not the church. You are sown into the world by Jesus himself. Whatever you do, wherever you are, you are sown – school teachers, business people, social workers, health professionals, musicians, dancers, caterers, carpenters, plumbers etc. You don’t just choose a career, Jesus sows you into the world, where you live, where you work. Sometimes he will sow you like an explorer into a different place – another nation, or into another job where you can shine for the Kingdom, or into a new social action venture.
But an enemy, the devil, is at work in the field, the world not the church, as well. There will be spiritual warfare, the good will grow, the work of the enemy will grow.
Is this to stop, surely we don’t want both growing together? No, because dealing with it may destroy the growth of the good in the kingdom as well. Rather it is going to be like this until the end. Right until we have taken the gospel to every nation, it will be like this. The enemy will be at work as well as the power of the gospel. It is why the problems of the world grow as well as the gospel growing. Sometimes even the church gets affected by what the enemy is doing in the world. The darnel looks like wheat and we can get confused, so racism, materialism, corruption, humanistic teaching and the like come into the church like darnel.
This is a principle of doing kingdom work. It is as well to understand it when frustration comes. However, at the end all will be made clear and all the fruitfulness of the wheat will be rewarded. There is a final day of God’s judgement when Jesus returns and the good is gathered in and the evil thrown out of the Kingdom.
So Jesus is saying be patient. The Kingdom grows overall but in a particular place it may ebb and flow. Take a long term view – we may think 20 years is a long time – no, even 2000 years is not long – just 2 days to God. But be encouraged – as we plant churches in this nation and across the world, through us Jesus is sowing sons and daughters of the Kingdom (many new believers) who cause the Kingdom of God to advance in the world. You may not see the final picture in your own lifetime. Don’t become discouraged, sow people for the future. It always takes a long time. Evil grows alongside the good – don’t worry, be faithful (and happy). “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.
A long term view is necessary: Beautiful cathedrals we admire take a long time. The first architect made the first drawing of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the dust in 1160, the ground breaking and laying of the cornerstone happened in 1163, and it was completed in 1345, with 4 known architects throughout this time but probably many more. Children planting oak trees – when will it be a great tree? – in 200 years! Unreached people groups – sometimes a long time to plant a church.
At the end, the righteous, (Sons of the Kingdom) will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father, Jesus says. Have you seen the brightness of the sun in the Middle East, glorious, hot, intensely bright, that’s your wonderful future, sons and daughters of the Kingdom. Now however you shine where Jesus has sown you but not so intensely. Notice Jesus says their “Father” – King’s sons and daughters. Sons of the Kingdom can sound like function but , no, it’s pleasing your loving, accepting, gracious Father.
Two other stories from Jesus for our encouragement
Firstly, the Kingdom is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field. It’s a very small seed, when it grows it becomes a tree – larger than all other garden plants – it can grow up to 4 metres high. Birds of the air come and roost in its branches. The Birds of the air represent the nations of the world – but it takes time for the mustard seed to grow.
Jesus also told another story – a different picture conveying the same truth. A woman puts leaven in some flour – until everything was penetrated by the leaven.
There are 2 of the purposes of this Festival:
- Nations reached all over the world (including so far unreached) – the mustard seed
- Society penetrated by Kingdom people throughout – leaven penetrating the dough.
SCENE 2 – THE PURPOSE OF LEADERSHIP GIFTS TO THE CHURCH
Earlier this year we gathered all our Catalyst Network church leaders and I taught on a fresh look at Ephesians 4 in the light of the church’s role to extend the Kingdom (ruling of Christ).
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.’
9 (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:7-13
What I taught at the leaders day was that usually we have rightly taught that verse as referring to equipping the church so it functions as it should. However I now understand more clearly that this Scripture is in a “Kingdom” context. It relates to the ruling of Jesus throughout the world, which is one of the key messages of Ephesians. “Having achieved dominion over all the powers through his victorious ascent, he sovereignly distributes gifts to the members of his body. The building of the body is inextricably linked with his intention of filling the universe with his rule, since the church is his instrument in carrying out his purposes for the cosmos.” O’Brien.
To each of us “grace has been given” – i.e. each of us has something from Jesus to enable his rule, his “filling” to work out through us (each is “sown” into the world for this purpose). You therefore are part of God’s purpose, and have grace from God to achieve what you are sown for. Leadership gifts (and this is what we are endeavouring to do at this Festival) are to equip you to do that. “Christ’s giving of ministers of the word to build up the whole body into his fullness is interwoven with the goal of his pervading the cosmos with his presence and rule”. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers have this objective – to equip you to play your part in Christ filling everything – so Christ is involved in what you do.
This Festival demonstrates the purpose then of these ministry gifts serving you and your churches for your place in the “field” that is the world.
SCENE 3 – WHAT’S THE KINGDOM GOING TO BE LIKE?
Scene 1 and 2 look forward to another scene where the Kingdom will be here in all its fullness. When the sons of the Kingdom are shining like the sun, when Christ, according to Ephesians 4, is filling all things, ruling everywhere. Because we are people of the Kingdom, we let that big vision of the Kingdom of the future affect our lives now.
This is presented in Revelation, particularly chapters 21 and 22. This is what the Kingdom will be like.
- A City – God started in a garden but ended in a city. Abraham started in tents (an explorer by revelation from God) but looked towards a city that had foundations built by God (Heb 11). The final purpose is a city but a garden city full of fruit trees and refreshment. What is a city in this context? :
- A City has – architecture and craftsmanship and organisation and planning etc.
- A City has culture – Who built the first city? Who were the first craftsman and first musician? Cain’s descendants. But the message of Scripture is that what was first developed by the world is redeemed and restored by the people of God – including cities and art. So that later in the Old Testament, Moses said God had chosen Bezalel, “and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts”. Exod 35:30-33. Similarly music redeemed, particularly under David and Solomon.
- This City has beauty – jewels, streets of gold.
- A City has crowds of people – this city a people that can’t be numbered from every culture and language. Its dimensions are massive and fill the earth.
- It has a river and fruit trees to heal all nations – the sin, pain, sickness, suffering, of all nations will be healed.
- God will bring together in reconciliation every nation, tribe and language.
- There is no disease, death or crying (every tear).
- We will enjoy a renewed earth which creation is now groaning for – waiting for these end time (eschatological) sons of God, sons and daughters of the Kingdom. The purpose of men and women to care for God’s earth is realised.
- God will be present, known, enjoyed, worshipped, his presence always manifest.
- This is the vision of the future kingdom – we let that vision affect our lives in the “not yet” Kingdom even though we know there are weeds etc too.
- Some of you are frustrated that you’re not making progress in life and work – you are sown by God. There is grace.
- Some of you feel misunderstood by cities in the world or even the church.
- Know God is speaking to you about church and a fresh venture – there’s grace for it.
- To go to another nation – God will sow you.
- Christian businessmen – is that calling an opportunity for Kingdom?
- Social workers.