Minister's Blog

How does the kingdom grow?

By Steve Jeffery, 20 Nov 2017

How does the kingdom grow?

Yesterday's sermon was on Habakkuk chapter 2, which touches (among other things) on the growth of the Kingdom of God throughout history. This growth arises in part from the impact that following Christ has on the way that all of us go about our daily vocations. So what difference should it make for us to be followers of Jesus? This extract from Peter Leithart’s superb book The Kingdom and the Power gives a few ideas. If your vocation isn't mentioned explicity, I'm sure you can figure out how to extrapolate from those that are:

Suppose a businessman is converted. In an obvious sense, his working skills as a businessman have not automatically improved. He still has the same training and skills in management, forecasting, and marketing as he had before his conversion. Nonetheless his faithfulness to God will make him a better businessman. He realises the God expects his “yes” to be “yes” and his “no” to be “no,” and he begins to acquire a reputation as a fair dealer. He treats his employees respectfully and sympathetically, and their personal affection to him makes them work harder. After sitting through a series of sermons on the prophecy of Malachi, moreover, he becomes convinced that, like Abraham, he should tithe if he is to accept bread and wine from the Greater Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20). He learns that the businessman who does not tithe is foolish. On the other hand, God has promised to bless tithing (Malachi 3:8-10). Other things being equal, a tithing businessman is a better businessman than a non-tithing businessman. A non-tithing businessman has not taken account of the most important economic factor in the business climate: God.

Suppose an English professor is converted. Does his conversion make him a better scholar? In one sense, no. He still has the same reservoir of knowledge, the same linguistic skills, the same trained sensitivity to the nuances of meaning in a literary text. But in another sense the faithful Christian English professor will be superior as a scholar. Because he seeks to govern his mind by the word of God, he will resist nihilistic and fundamentally stupid literary fads and will not waste his time pursuing what he knows to be barren theories. Because he is a Christian, he will know instinctively that radical deconstructionism is a dead end and Derrida a pretentious phony. The Spirit will give him boldness to say so, and he will seem prophetic to his colleagues. As he absorbs the Bible, he will begin to understand the patterns and archetypes that God has built into the creation, patterns and archetypes that are reflected in the literary texts that he studies as a scholar. He will begin to have a better understanding of those works as he begins to share the thought-world of the authors.

Suppose a physician is converted. Again, she will have no more technical skill after her conversion than she had before. If trained as an orthopaedist, she will not suddenly be able to practice obstetrics. On the other hand, being a Christian will make her a superior physician in a number of ways. As she studies her Bible, she will learn that it God is the One who heals, and she will begin to recognize the limited power of medical technology. As she draws nearer to the Lord, she will learn more and more that her patients are not machines, and that they are more than bodies. She will begin to see that physical illnesses sometimes have moral and spiritual causes. She will treat her patients as distorted images of God. Because that is the truth about her patients, she will be more effective as a physician. She may become convinced that socialized medicine is another pretension of the messianic state, and she will oppose the system on both professional and moral grounds.

Suppose an assembly line worker becomes a Christian. As with the others, there is an obvious sense in which he will not be a better worker after his conversion. Yet, because he goes to a church that practices weekly communion and is serious about church discipline, he is motivated to make every effort to get along with people. When he has an argument with a co-worker, he takes him aside to work things out. Realizing that he has been stealing his employer’s time, he stops taking the extra ten minutes on his lunch break and even offers to make restitution by working several hours of free overtime. Instead of concentrating on protecting himself, he tries to help his fellow workers do a better job – giving encouragement or nudging them when they slack off. His boss begins to see him as a potential shift supervisor.

“All this does not, of course, necessarily imply that the Christian businessman, doctor, or physician will be more “successful” by contemporary standards. The tithing businessman’s cash flow may actually decline; the English professor may be denied tenure; the physician may lose patients who expect a quick fix for their pain; and the assembly line worker’s fellows may resent his chances for advancement. But their conversion will, in an important sense, make them more effective in their vocations that they would have been otherwise. Eating with the King [at the Lord’s Supper] every weekend changes people.”

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