Phil Cox

Not far from the Kingdom of God

(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)

Not far from the Kingdom of God
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Not far from the Kingdom of God

Part 1

15th November 2007

Consider this passage from Mark's gospel:

Mark 12v28-34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these."
"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
And from then on no-one dared ask him any more questions.

I've heard it said that you can't be "near" the Kingdom of God. People say that either you're spiritually dead, or you're spiritually alive; you can't be "almost alive". And they extrapolate from that to say that you can't be "nearly saved". But Jesus says different! Jesus describes this scribe as "not far from the kingdom of God". The truth is, we're all on a journey. There's a point in that journey at which we cross an international boundary - we cross from Satan's kingdom of darkness into God's kingdom of light:

Colossians 1v13
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

But the journey starts before we enter the Kingdom of God:

Matthew 7v7 and you will find...

And it never finishes:

John 6v51v7
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever..."

Thus far, the scribe's journey had taken him to a point near the border. How did Jesus know?

Firstly, of course, we can say that Jesus was so close to His Father that he received all kinds of knowledge from Him. Perhaps at this moment Jesus had what Paul calls a "word of knowledge" (1 Corinthians 12v8) - a statement of fact given to a man or woman by the Holy Spirit - that the scribe would soon find saving faith.

But I think Jesus said this for those who were listening (both then and now) not just for the scribe. I think He was saying that there are things that happen on the journey, and some of them happen at a point near to the border of the Kingdom. Jesus is saying that a person is near the Kingdom - close to salvation - if he realises:

  • The most important guideline for our lives is: dedicate everything you have to loving God. Very few people realise this.
  • The second most important guideline for our lives is: love everybody else. Jesus made it clear, in the parable of the good Samaritan and elsewhere, that "your neighbour" means every person in every aspect of society, regardless of age, race, sin, politics, class or anything else.
  • This love for God and for other people is far more important than church meetings and other religious observances.

If you've got this far - if you've gained this much understanding - but you've still not found peace with God, then press on - you're not far from the Kingdom!

Of course, church meetings and other religious observances are important. They're just nothing like as important as God, or as important as people.

When the scribe spoke about "all burnt offerings and sacrifice", he was talking about the church (actually, temple) services of his day. He could equally well have said "all church attendance, and hymns and prayers and breaking bread and offerings". All these things are important. But how we do them is vastly less important than why we do them or, if you prefer, who we do them for.

We can go through the motions of church attendance, and achieve the semblance of worship, without God. But God is the whole point - the whole point of church, the whole point of human life. The Bible teaches that Christ is the head of the church (e.g. Ephesians 4v15, Ephesians 5v23, Colossians 1v18) and Paul talks about Christians who have "lost connection with the head" (Colossians 2v19). It's awful but true - Christians can carry on going to church, singing the songs, doing the works of charity but at the same time they can lose all contact with God.

Those of us who, by God's grace, are already in the Kingdom of God need to be careful that we don't forget that church is not about church - church is about God. What matters is that we do whatever we believe God wants, the way we believe he wants us to do it.

To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than any songs, or actions, or gatherings, or anything.