Summary: How you treat people is perhaps the greatest evidence that God reins in your heart.
Dominating Theme: How you treat people is perhaps the greatest evidence that God reins in your heart.
Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 13:18-21. “Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? 19It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. 20And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”
There will be a test on what I preach tonight shortly following the service. First, let’s define once again Kingdom of God. It is, chiefly, the reign of God in your heart. You may be a member in good standing with your church, but if you are hateful toward your fellow man, then God does not reign in your heart.
Consider the ruler of the synagogue. He was religious. He was in good standing. He was upright. But in spite of all this, when he was inconsiderate of the woman who needed to be healed, Jesus harshly rebukes him. How you treat people is perhaps the greatest evidence that God reigns in your heart. I wonder how many upright church members have denied God’s kingdom by how they behaved toward others in the community? The ruler of the synagogue was such a man; his gaze was so fixed on the shadow that he missed the substance: so fixed on the Law and religion in general that he misses Jesus. The warning for us is that we not become so focused on doing church that we neglect and scornfully treat the people around us who are not in the church.
If we are faithful to, as Jesus summarized, treat others like we want to be treated, if we are faithful to uphold the greatest commandments before the lesser commandments, that is, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then, critically, to love our neighbor as ourselves, then only one thing can possibly happe4n. The Kingdom grows. It is the nature of the kingdom to grow. To not grow is to die.
The Kingdom of God grows in at least two ways: externally and internally. Externally, because people were made to be loved. They yearn for it, thirst for it, fight for it, hurt for it. Even the most hardened, calloused soldier yearns for love. Napoleon, who by age 33 was the first counsel of France, and a year or two later the Emperor of France; Napoleon, whose wars claimed the lives of three million men, was captivated by the love of his wife Josephine. But not only romantic love, which is shallower than God’s love. Romantic love is but a surface reflection of the love for which God gives us such a hunger.
When you love someone, they respond. Not abstract, hypothetical, condition love, but love that is simple, evident and real. I have little patience for sweet words of love that demonstrate themselves with hateful behavior, hateful sneers, and hateful words. That love is a lie. But when you are kind to one who has wronged you, when you go the extra mile to make peace, when you sacrifice your own pride and reach out to another human being, you expand the kingdom of God. People are drawn to that. Unbelievers and believers, young and old, rich and poor strong and weak, mean and nice – we are created by Love (God is Love, remember?) and therefore it is natural for us to crave it. Do you want to expand God’s kingdom? Then practice kindness toward all people, in public and private. Not shallow kindness, but deep, God-loving, God-honoring kindness toward all, and then let God vindicate you. Let God be the Judge. When you do this, God’s kingdom grows. How can it not? Who can refuse that kind of love?
What follows is then inward Kingdom growth. Your obedience to God in loving others, showing kindness to those who least deserve it, the kind that make your skin blush, heart race, and eyes scowl, when you force that down and extend kindness, sympathy, and compassion to them in spite of yourself, the Kingdom grows also inside of you.
Like physical exercise, spiritual exercise demands movement against resistance. Anyone can love the easy people. This is the whole of Jesus’ argument in the sermon on the mount: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do no even the publicans so? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)