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Participating Fully in the Kingdom: A Theology of God’s Abundance
What makes the Christian church different from all other entities in the world is tied up in our understanding of what it means to be the church, not meaning the building or the Sunday services, but what it means for Christian people to be the church of Jesus Christ.
The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which is a combination of two words: ek, which means “out,” and kaleo, which means “call,” so it literally means “the called out ones.” At the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus called his disciples out of their worldly pursuits and charged them to be His witnesses throughout the world. Jesus’s disciples in turn took the gospel, the good news of Jesus, to the ends of the known world, and people who heard the gospel and accepted that good news became disciples themselves.
What is it about the gospel that made it so attractive that people were willing to leave their worldly lives to become disciples of Jesus? The answer is tied up in the fact that, when Jesus talked about the gospel, it was always in conjunction with something He referred to as the “kingdom of God.” Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God as a place where there is hope for the needy; where justice and righteousness are the norm; and where kindness and mercy take precedence over selfishness and self-centeredness.
Based on Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of God, the gospel cannot simply be expressed as a way for people to get to heaven when they die. Rather, the good news is that God’s eternity has moved into the current age and carries through into the life to come. As a result, for those who have accepted Christ’s substitutionary death, death is already behind them, such that they are freed from the fears and occupations of this life in order that they may have new lives in Christ.
A natural outgrowth of this freedom is that we who belong to Jesus are called to join Him in transforming the world into God’s kingdom. As the church, we are called to advance God’s kingdom into the world, not as a means of helping people avoid bad things when they die, but rather to be able to see God’s kingdom being made real, right here and now.
In the Biblical narrative, we are repeatedly confronted with God’s merciful generosity. And if we are created in the image of God, and this God in whose image we are created is a generous, merciful God, then we were created by God to be generous and merciful ourselves. Furthermore, if the kingdom of God is to reflect the values of its king, then we are called in turn to be instruments of God’s merciful generosity.
As a result, in God’s kingdom it is not about what we attain. It never will be. Instead, it’s about what we give. And in order to follow God in giving, we need to start living our lives according to God’s economics, which are founded in God’s assertion of abundance.
Time and again, Jesus showed through miracles that God is perfectly capable of providing what people need to survive and flourish. This is not to say that God will support our human greed. God does not promise us that we will all be rich according to the world’s terms. God’s promise, rather, is that we as his children will have enough.
Understanding this is the key to following God’s merciful generosity because, if we can have faith in God’s abundance, then we as his disciples are far more willing to be generous, and that generosity in turn creates further abundance, in an ever-upward cycle.
Of course, such merciful generosity is something that the economic paradigm of consumption simply cannot support, given the standard of living to which today’s Americans are expected to live. This is evident in the fact that, despite per capita income growth since World War II, the proportion of income given away by the average family has declined. Why?
Think about the way our parents and grandparents lived, and compare that to the way we live today. In 1950, the average family of four lived in 1,000 square feet, owned one car, worked less, and went on vacation once a year. Today, though, that same family of four lives in 2,400 square feet, is constantly shopping and buying things in order to fill that 2,400 square feet, owns two or more cars, works far more hours in order to afford all of the stuff, and ends up going on several vacations a year just to escape the stress.
When we say we can’t afford to be generous, then, for many of us it’s because our society has imposed so many expectations that we can’t keep up and be generous. Remember, though, that as the church we are called out of the world, which means we need to rethink the way we’re living in order to bring it in line with God’s economics.
God’s economics calls us to seek contentment in what we have, and to learn to say, “Enough.” After all, the Biblical concept of a steward is that we aren’t owners of any of it, but merely God’s stewards, tending what we’ve been given. We’ve been entrusted to care for the property of our master, and our master is generous and merciful, which means he expects us to be generous and merciful with the property entrusted to us.
That’s why we have stewardship. It’s not just about supporting the church and meeting the budget. It’s about discipleship. It’s about giving back to God from what we’ve been given, in order to financially step away from the world and move into the kingdom of God. When we do this, we are answering God’s call to love others as He has loved us.