What is the Kingdom of God?

by Rich Stearns, President of World Vision US on July 19, 2015

“You can’t see the forest for the trees!” I love this metaphor, because it describes a state of mind that we recognize constantly in other people and yet regularly fall prey to ourselves.

I was rutted in this thinking for years in my Christian life. I went to church and small groups. I was involved in my children’s Christian school. I gave generously and encouraged my church to support missions. I found appropriate opportunities at work to share my faith. But in all my activities, I missed the forest for the trees.

It was only as I grew in my Christian life that I understood that Jesus was driven by one big idea: The Kingdom of God. It was what propelled his ministry. When we understand Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God it can change the way we live our Christian life.

The Great Commandment and the Great Commision
So, what is the Kingdom of God? Jesus gave us both the Great Commandment (to love our neighbors as ourselves) and the Great Commission (to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded). These two together form the foundation for Jesus’ big idea. This is the “forest” which encompasses all the details of our Christian life. In fact Jesus mentions the Kingdom of God more than 100 times in the New Testament.

To be honest, for a good portion of my Christian life I found all of the verses about the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of heaven to be kind of fluffy—if I can use a technical theological term. I always thought those verses referred to some future state of being after we have all died and passed on to eternal life. 

But what I have understood increasingly in recent years was that Jesus was speaking about the Kingdom of God coming into being in the here and now. This was not some future pie in the sky dream about heaven. 

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say the words “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, the Great Commission—to go into the world to make disciples—was a call to establish and expand a new kind of kingdom. God’s Kingdom wasn’t for later but right now—on earth as it is in heaven. 

Our Role in the Kingdom of God
We are to be his witnesses, his ambassadors, in this kingdom building business. This Great Commission given to us by Jesus is much more than just some shallow evangelistic campaign to boost church membership. No, the spread of the Kingdom of God is meant to be nothing less than a social and spiritual revolution that would take the world by storm. 

The revolution is about restoring, repairing, rebuilding, and redeeming every dimension of human life. It is a call to show the world a different way to live, a different approach to human flourishing based on God’s rule, God’s values, and God’s love.

Christians are to go to the cold places, the broken places, the ragged edges of our world – not just to proclaim the good news – but to be the good news of God’s love in action. We become a healing balm on the open sores in our societies: poverty, disease, hunger, injustice, and exploitation; and we are drawn to the hurting, the marginalized, the excluded, and the discarded. 

In Jesus’ vision, our generosity astounds, our determination amazes, and our love is irresistible.  The church of Jesus Christ is to be a beacon of light in a dark world – attractive to all. 

That is Jesus’ big idea. It’s that vision of the Kingdom of God—the Great Commandment and the Great Commission—that should determine all the other details of our lives.

It isn’t our work that brings purpose to our lives; nor is it our spouses, our families, our educations, our abilities, our money, or our accomplishments. It isn’t even our Christian activities. Rather, it is our role in building the Kingdom of God that brings meaning to everything else. Jesus calls us out into the world to live as his ambassadors.

When we get the big picture, all the details fall into place. At work and at home—no matter where we are or what we do—we can be building the Kingdom of God by loving hurting people and making disciples. Whatever the “trees” are in your life, you are called to be building God’s Kingdom.

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