9. Maths of the Kingdom

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  9. Maths of the Kingdom

Matt 13:10-12   The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There were times when Jesus appeared to speak in riddles, we might say today, and in our verses above is one of those: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Now this is one of those times when context is very important (it usually is!).  Jesus has just referred to “the secrets of the kingdom”. In other words he is speaking about how the way His Father’s kingdom works.

If we were talking about material possession it would sound quite unfair: whoever has a lot will be given more and whoever is poor will have the little he has taken away. Yes, in material terms that sounds quite unjust. And surely the Bible shows that God is concerned for the poor!  But if this is about the principles of how God works then it is more likely to be about spiritual principles than about material ones.

So what is the ‘has’ and ‘more’ and ‘abundance’ that is being referred to? Look at the text: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more.”   It is the knowledge of how things work in the kingdom. As you come to God, and His Holy Spirit starts teaching you about the new way to live as a Christian, you first of all start learning basics: you can now pray,  worship, read your Bible; those are what are sometimes called spiritual disciplines. But then we learn that this new life means no to bad attitudes, words and behaviour and yes to good, Jesus-like behaviour. Christians are good and loving people as they are being remade in the image of Jesus.

Then we start finding that God has equipped us by the presence of His Holy Spirit and has given us gifts and abilities to be used to bless us and bless His world. Some we may call natural talents and so a person may be a good dancer, or artist, or homemaker, or a hundred and one other things that help them enjoy living in this world and making it a better place. But then we find out about spiritual gifts and we realise that as God leads us we can do the things Jesus did, bringing revelation and power into His world as he enables us.

But in a sense, this is merely the start. As we grow in Christ, we grow in our understanding of how God works. Moses asked, “Teach me your ways,” (Ex 33:13) meaning teach me the ways you work so I can know and understand you more fully, obey you and please you.  What he actually said was, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He wanted to know God and please Him. That was Moses heart and it is the heart of the seeker.

And that brings us back to our starting verses. Again and again in Scripture there is this clarification that it is seekers who will find and know God.  Moses’ call to Israel was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4) That was a basic. But before that he had warned about Israel going astray and the path back was quite clear: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Note in each case it is a whole-hearted seeking after God. The person who is wishy-washy in their intent towards God is not going to find.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount taught about right priorities: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The “these things” in this verse are material things and so Jesus is saying make spiritual issues priorities and God will sort out your material issues for you. Jesus also taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7) but the tense in each case there means, for the present context, “seek and go on seeking and you will find.”

It’s a little bit like the meaning behind James’ teaching: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) If you ask for wisdom believe that God WILL give it to you. The faint hearted half-believer won’t get it because they won’t believe it when it comes!

So returning to our original verses,  “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” it is the whole hearted seeker who will have insights and understanding of the ways God works and what God wants, and the more he has the more he will see and want to see more. Seeing and understanding is satisfying and makes you want more. Thus the seeker isn’t a seeker just for a moment but for a lifetime.

But then we have the other person: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is the half-hearted person who is really little concerned for the kingdom, little concerned for what God wants and, although at the beginning of their spiritual life the Holy Spirit does a work in them, their response is still half-hearted and, failing to have a whole-hearted seeking approach, they shrivel spiritually or stay in a state of suspended spiritual animation, losing any real signs of life.

Jesus taught this in the parable of the Sower that precedes this teaching and is explained after this teaching: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Mt 13:3-7) and then, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Mt 13:20-22)

The message is clear: different heart conditions produce different results. The final one is “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Mt 13:23) Good ground is a good heart. A good heart is a seeking heart. A seeking heart gets more and more from God. What a gem of truth!

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25. A New Way

Meditations in Romans : 25:  A New Way

Rom 7:5,6     For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

For those who know Romans 7, you will see words in these verses that will trigger memories of what is to come. The crucial words that Paul is going on to expound are, “the sinful passions aroused by the law.” He is looking backwards yet again to the time before we knew Christ when the motivating force within us was that self-centred and godless disposition at the heart of Sin, which in itself was subject to the pressures of human desires – to eat, drink, have sex, get one’s own way – more and more. We were driven by these things. What made it worse was that if we were challenged and someone quoted moral laws at us, we got all defensive and made excuses why we did what we did because, deep down, we knew we’d prefer not to be like that, but however hard we tried we found we couldn’t keep the rules, even ones we set for ourselves.

This old lifestyle sometimes made great hopeful flourishes – turning over a new leaf, making New Year resolutions, or doing a self-help course, but after a while, after the initial enthusiasm had died down, we were back where we started. It was a deadly existence. We hoped for new life and none came. Again and again we faced the rules as we set ourselves fresh targets. We knew what people expected of ‘nice’ people, of successful people and so on, and so there were these expectations leering at us, challenging us to struggle to meet them, knowing all the while we never would. Whatever we did was self-centred and we had no time for God, and it seemed we just didn’t have the resources to bring change to our tired lives. Spiritually we were dead on our feet. God seemed a million miles away. Some of us made a pretence of spirituality but whatever we did was still self-centred, and we were the ones we were trying to escape from. We were the walking dead and nothing seemed able to help us.

But then we came to a crisis point in life and although we didn’t realise what was happening, God’s Holy Spirit started convicting us of our need, showing us our plight as we’d never seen it before. Suddenly we started feeling disconcerted with what we saw of ourselves and we recognised that we didn’t like what we saw. We wanted to be free from it but we knew, if this was just another set of expectations, we were still helpless to change. But in our yearning and openness we were ready to hear about Jesus Christ. Suddenly what we were told about him was like a straw to a drowning man and we grabbed for it. Nothing else mattered. The old life, we recognised, had been a waste of time and we gladly turned our back on it as we knelt before God.  We surrendered our lives to Him, willing for Him to do whatever He wanted to do with us; we died to the old and with longing held our arms out to Him in surrender.

And with that death to our old selves came death to all the striving to meet the expectations that had been laid on us, the ‘Law’ from the world around us. We had strived for those expectations and failed and given them up.  It was a waste of time striving to meet all the expectations that we and others laid on us. Any moral rules, ethical standards, self imposed hopes, all went into the dustbin at the point we surrendered to God. They died in our thinking and as we turned from them to God, they lost their power to inflict a sense of failure and guilt upon us. No longer were these ‘rules’, these ‘laws’, these ‘expectations’ leering at us any longer for we saw them for what they were – unobtainable goals. When we came to God, He seemed to be merely asking us to believe in His Son and follow him as he would lead us by his Spirit. No longer were we led by the world’s expectations, but by a man, the Son of God.

Yes, as his Spirit came into us, we felt different, we were born again, and we were filled with joy. Something wonderful had happened. We didn’t understand it but we knew it had happened. Suddenly we started having new thoughts, new ideas, a new purpose in life. The Bible started coming alive to us and we found a new purpose and new direction emerging and as it went on, we learnt that it was God by His Spirit now leading us, now motivating us, and it was wonderful! Hallelujah!