Thursday, July 27, 2017

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Kingdom Growth, not Church Growth

KEY TEXT: Matthew 13:31-32 He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

KEY THOT: Jesus told many parables--and they are related to the kingdom of God. From the start of his ministry ("The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel"-Mark 1:15) to the last 40 days before his ascension, he was teaching about the kingdom of God: "To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). It is the key focus of his gospel. Even when Jesus taught about ethics in the Sermon on the Mount, he was describing kingdom ethics. And this kingdom of God is at hand. 

In fact, in Matthew 12:28, he went even further--he said the kingdom has come: "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." And this kingdom is closely associated with the coming of the Spirit. So when he taught his disciples to pray, "Your kingdom come!" he was not asking them to pray they will "go to heaven" but rather that heaven would come down! And so the kingdom has come on the Day of Pentecost--and has been growing since.

In the parable of the mustard seed, the first lesson for churches is this: if they proclaim the gospel (good news) of the kingdom, they will grow. The kingdom of God is God's life and it will grow when planted: "The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field...it becomes a tree" (v.31-32). The main reason why some churches don't grow is because they are no longer focused on proclaiming the kingdom of God, but promoting their own particular brands of Christianity. The first lesson of the parable is this: the kingdom of God is the only message the church should proclaim and promote because it introduces God's life (seed) into the congregation. And once implanted in the church DNA, it will grow like all life-forms of God's creation.

The second lesson of the parable of the mustard seed is this: the kingdom may start small but it will become "larger than other garden plants and become a tree". Most of the present-day mega-churches were small congregations once upon a time. They didn't start out to become mega-churches--most of them were simply faithful in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preaches, and so they grow as a consequence by attracting pre-believers. If a church keeps its focus on proclaiming God's kingdom, rather than promoting its own brand, it will ultimately grows. In other words, churches should not seek for church growth but seek for kingdom growth: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). The "all these things" would include new members added to the congregation: "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47)..

The third lesson of the parable of the mustard seed is that we seek kingdom growth for the sake of birds that have no nesting place: "so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches" (v.32). We don't grow God's kingdom to satisfy our ego needs, but in order that all who seek a place to nest and rest may find it in our church. We should therefore be generous and accommodating, not narrow and exclusive. We don't exclude anyone who don't necessarily agree with our pet doctrines, as long as they are seeking rest in God's kingdom.

Abba-Father, help us grow Your kingdom so that Your kingdom may come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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