I’ve been reading through Matthew these days and have been drawn to the many things the Big 12 (not football!) had to unlearn about the nonKingdom. Double negatives notwithstanding, the apostles grew up in a religious culture that taught them the correctness of many behaviors – behaviors that were taught to them as necessary and/or approved for “righteousness” in God’s Kingdom. Can we pause and imagine what Christianity might be like had they not willingly released the legalism and programs that were, as Jesus illustrated, NOT part of God’s kingdom plan?
In Matthew 5, we learn that in their religious culture…
- Divorce was commonly accepted with a simple legal document. – vss 31-32
- Payback, getting “even”, retaliation was the norm – vss 38-42
- Hating your enemy was proper and good – vss 43-48
In Matthew 6, we also learn that…
- Righteousness was more about your reputation with others than a relationship with God – vss 1-2
- Prayer was more about enhancing your reputation than engaging in relationship with God – vss 5-8
- Fasting was more about perception than spiritual power – vs 16
In Matthew 7, we see that religionists (those who practice righteousness without being righteous) know and use the words and works of prophets and disciples, but are actually neither.
From their very formative years (2 years to 6 years), they had been taught and modeled that pretending was sufficient, “acting” righteous was the same as “being” righteous; that the approval of men validated your righteousness; that following a list of do’s and don’ts (which, by the way, changed from time to time and place to place) was sufficient.
All of these things, and more, needed to be unlearned by the apostles. These are the structure and paradigm of the nonKingdom. Jesus lived the change; modeled it, taught it, and expected it. And you then see the apostles value it and begin to unlearn the nonKingdom.
In Matthew 12, we see that …
- The disciples had already unlearned some of the legalism around the Sabbath – vss 1-13
- It’s OK to tell the “emperor that he has no clothes”, as Jesus clearly identified and challenged the illogic of the Pharisees logic – vss25-29
The paradigm of the nonKingdom was so ingrained in the apostles lives, that even the simplest of parables (simple for us who have been raised in a post-nonKingdom religious culture) was confusing to them. But where we see the greatest hope is in their desire to unlearn and learn, to understand the meaning of the teachings of our Lord.
In Matthew 13, they (we) unlearn that family is the most important thing. Jesus was unwilling to subjugate his call to the preferences of his friends, family, and neighbors (vss 53-58). This is in alignment with His experience and response in Matthew 12:46-50. Now, don’t hear me say that Jesus taught that family wasn’t important. But He did teach that it was not the most important. In fact, he clearly taught that the Kingdom is more important than family (Matthew 10:34-39). In the nonKingdom, the importance of family outweighs every other relationship and call.
In Matthew 15, they (we) unlearn the value of traditions. It is part of the nature of man to value traditions. This is a value of the nonKingdom. Our own comfort, our own preferences, our own experiences, and our own relationships form traditions. Jesus did not come to enhance, empower, or empathize with any of our traditions. He came so that those in the nonKingdom would have the opportunity to change their citizenship. He chose to do this with ambassadors from the Kingdom – you and I.
He taught us that we must be in the world, but not of the world. We have taken that to mean that we should not “smoke, drink or chew, or run with those that do.” While there is some wisdom in that position, we, unfortunately, have become “of the world” in more deceptively dangerous ways. We too often take on the values of the nonKingdom. And, as is the nature of man, we live and behave out of our values.
This is the path to becoming a Pharisee – a religious person that does not personally practice what they professionally preach, because they preach what is traditionally expected, the way it is traditionally expected, with the expectation of traditional results. We so value the traditional church experience that we spend thousands of man hours each year accomplishing them, while we may spend less than one man hour in the deliberate and active search for the lost. We so value our brick and mortar that we spend thousands of dollars and thousands of man hours in the care and upkeep, the cleaning and upgrading of this traditional place.
But because the lost are not inside our brick and mortar – they are not inside our church – they fall outside of our values, and we may not spend even one dollar or one man hour in the hope of them coming to know our Savior, Lord, and Friend.
It is long past the time were we should be concerned about our reputation among our “sister churches” and our “denominational brand”. Far better that we be concerned about our reputation among the lost. That was Jesus’ concern – he chose to hang out with sinners rather than traditional saints.
What kind of a medical practice would a doctor have if his values and energy were spent on the healthy? Compare that to the one who values and cares for the sick. That’s what Jesus did. He did not come for the spiritually healthy – He came for the spiritually sick.
It’s time that we unlearned the unKingdom. We have to confess and repent of our sin of self-interest, self-value, self-comfort, self-church, and selfishness. We must value the lost more than the saved. We must value God’s call more than self, more than family, more than tradition, more than comfort… more than the life that we’ve so carefully carved out for ourselves.
“Here am I. Send me.” It will still work because this has always been the plan for ambassadors of the Kingdom.