The Kingdom of God 6: An alternative society
Introduction: where have we come so far with the Kingdom of God?
(Click on any one of these to review)
Today: we are looking at an overview of the Kingdom of God as an alternative society.
This comes before we look in more detail at a number of ways in which Jesus has helped us to see what our lives in this Kingdom should be like.
We will also have a very down-to-earth application of some of these topics under the heading of “My life in the Kingdom of God”
I want to help us to understand something about Kingdom living that is based upon a single thought:
The Kingdom of God is about who occupies the driving seat and rules in our lives.
Another way of putting this is:
Making Jesus Lord of your life in practical daily terms
- Ephesians 1:10 NASB – “an administration suitable to the fullness of the times”
- Romans 14:17 AV – “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Definition of Society:
n. pl. so·ci·e·ties
a. The totality of social relationships among humans.
b. A group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture.
c. The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group.
2. An organization or association of persons engaged in a common profession, activity, or interest: a folklore society; a society of bird watchers.
a. The rich, privileged, and fashionable social class.
b. The socially dominant members of a community.
4. Companionship; company: enjoys the society of friends and family members.
5. Biology A colony or community of organisms, usually of the same species: an insect society.
[French société, from Old French, from Latin societ s, fellowship, from socius, companion; see sekw-1 in Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.. All rights reserved.
Therefore we can draw a conclusion that a society, of whatever type, has a number of things in common:
- Historical background
- Legal Framework
- Cultural Framework
- Political Framework
- Social norms of behaviour (what is and is not acceptable)
This is despite Margaret Thatcher, quite early in her time in power, declaring “There is no such thing as society” by which she meant that we did not need people to act collectively, but individual choice was the key element of her policy framework. This individual freedom and choice policy framework persists today and New Labour came to power in the 1990’s on the back of adopting much of the Thatcherite vision of society.
I am not here today to talk about a political viewpoint; but to show that we can live our lives differently within the current society. This is what I believe the Bible means when it talks of us being salt and light; and in the world but not of the world.
It is very important for us to understand how Kingdom Society works and that’s what we will spend a chunk of our time on, but first I want to help us to understand why I have chosen the title an alternative society, rather than just sharing with you about Kingdom Society.
An “Alternative” Society?
If the KoG is an alternative then what do we mean by the society to which the KoG is an alternative? What are the characteristics of British Society in the 21st Century?
- Moral decline: easy divorce; civil partnerships; teenage pregnancy rates
- Financial centrality – the only value we share in common about things is the money; and that is what drives us
- Constitutional Monarchy and multi-party democratic government
- The rule of law
An alternative has been needed ever since man’s fall in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3); and Paul described a decadent society in the first century that we can easily recognise in the twenty first century (Romans 1: 21-32). In so many ways we have not changed over that last 2,000 years!!
The RSA commissioned work in 2004 to identify characteristics associated with “great britishness” they are reproduced here:
The criteria are:
This characteristic stems from a seemingly contradictory combination of tradition and modernity. People who work within the system are sometimes perceived as more “typically” British than those who subvert it, but there is also a strong school of thought that Britain is fundamentally a subversive, revolutionary, challenging society – which is why we have such a strong record of invention and creativity.
Exemplified by Lord Foster and Laurie Pycroft
A tricky characteristic since the more modest people are, the less likely it is that the public will have heard of them. But people who are a little reserved, who are not known to boast, who are perhaps even understated – these people are more “typically” British than those who are more vocal about their achievements.
Exemplified by Charles Dunstone and David Robinson
3. Sense of humour
Not in a slapstick way, but a clever sense of humour is a typically British characteristic. People who have a strong sense of humour often combined with reserve to appear self-deprecatory are more “typically” British than people who are humourless, or people who are too attention-seeking.
Exemplified by Nick Park and Stuart Rose
4. Strength & determination
Almost the bulldog spirit. People who are perceived to have achieved things despite the odds are regarded as more “typically” British than people who are perceived to have had an easier time of it.
Exemplified by Lord Coe and Dame Kelly Holmes
I believe these are positive characteristics, and some of them are exemplified in our society; but they seem to be in spite of our general standards rather than because of them.
There are also other studies of “Britishness” which draw out aspects of the culture and society that we share
What do I mean by the Kingdom of God as an alternative society? What practical application can I now turn to in this “administration suitable for the times” which Paul spoke about to the Ephesians?
Let me fist characterise what I believe Jesus meant by telling us we are “in the world but not of the world”:
In a radio 4 panel game called “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue!” they often play a round called “One song to the tune of another!”. This means each team has to sing the words of one song whilst the pianist plays another (not something we do in worship too often, I’m pleased to say!).
Another way of looking at this is to think of playing one game to the rules of another similar one; such as: rugby league to the rules of rugby union; or cricket to the rules of baseball.
All of these have a bit of a comic element to them; but what they are doing is expressing this thought. It is possible to do things one way when the exterior rules suggest you should be doing something slightly, but significantly different.
This is what Jesus meant, we live by the framework of the Kingdom of God; within the society we live in that is playing by a rather different set of rules.
Fundamentally this is because we live in a Theocracy. We have made God the Head of State of the Kngdom, given Him the role of Lord of our lives. We have made Jesus our boss, our gov’nor.
The Bible talks of us as “ambassadors for Christ” – we need to consider the role of an ambassador in this context. An embassy, the office of an ambassador, is a place in one country that comes under the legal framework of another. Therefore, if I go into the Chinese Embassy in London, I step into a place where Chinese customs, traditions, society and laws are in place, despite being in London. Vice versa if I step into the British Embassy in Beijing I am then in a place where British society, customs and laws are in place despite being in the heart of China!!
To explain this a little further – I mean that each of our homes is a Kingdom of God Embassy – a place where the Kingdom of God is present and God’s laws are in place, despite living in the UK.
This means that our underpinning values, the ones that persist are (I Cor 13):
What Romans 14:17 is getting at is:
- Everything can look very similar on the outside
- The values that drive our behaviour (FAITH; HOPE; LOVE) on the inside are very different
- Therefore we actually behave differently:
We have made an exchange of systems:
James A Fowler expresses this as:
“Responsible participation in kingdom”
F. F. Bruce expresses his thoughts in these terms:
“here and now believers in Christ may know the power of His resurrection (Phil. iii. 10) and walk in newness of life (Rom. vi. 4), that endless life which He shares with His followers because He lives in them (John xiv. 19; Gal. ii. 20). Thus in every Christian sphere to-day, be it the Christian individual or the Christian Church, the Christian home or the Christian business-house, those qualities ought to be seen which are to characterise the golden age for which all creation longs.”
The way the world operates
The ways we operate when we have become ambassadors for Christ in the Kingdom of God
1. Selfishly and self-centred to the point of self-obsession
Selflessly; giving ourselves for others; serving one another
2. Genuine love is gone and substituted for lust; giving way to any urge
Real love evidenced by self-control and making way for one another
3. Unrighteousness justified for selfish gain
Righteous dealings, honesty and loyalty
4. Get away with doing as little as possible for a maximum payment
Go the extra mile and offer additional service beyond what is required
5. View progress as climbing a slippery pole and it does not matter who you tread on to succeed
See promotion as coming from God and take care of one another, ensuring my success never depends on harming someone else
6. Greed and the desire to own more and more are key drivers
Our goods are held lightly and we are prepared to give away as God directs
7. External beauty and “eternal youth” are sought by all
Internal beauty and good attitudes are critical
Questions for Small Groups
1) Think about the role of an ambassador; for example a British Ambassador in a foreign land; how can we act as ambassadors in these ways for Christ?
2) Keith used the phrase “making Jesus Lord of your life” consider what this means and especially any adjustments we might need to make. How can we grow in this?
3) Keith considered 7 examples of practical ways in which we behave differently from the world around us (see table below); add to this examples from your own Christian lives and also examples of challenges Jesus is making to you to change.