Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10 NKJV).
You probably recognize these words that come from the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Don't miss the thunder in the first two words: "Our Father ..."! When we talk about moving from today's view of church to the Lord's view of the Kingdom (C2K), from playing the religious games of churchland to living in the power of the Lord's will, we cannot miss the power of these first two words: "Our Father ..."!
I know, I know, nearly every church likes to use the language of family: "Welcome to the family of God at ... (insert your church name here)." But is it real? Does it stick? Is it more than just a cliché?
The bigger question for me is this: "By using all this family language about church, but not really living it, are we just inoculating people to Jesus' call to be real family ... radical family ... God's Kingdom family?" I promise, I'm not asking this out of cynicism. I have a deep yearning that we can be the Kingdom family of God — people who live the values of the Kingdom and who love with the intensity of the Father who loved and adopted them into his family as his beloved children.
I believe that our neglect of the Gospel of Matthew has hurt us in being the family of God. Each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is the story of Jesus. Yet each has an important point or two to make about Jesus and the kind of community, the kind of people, that Jesus wants us to be. I would never want to decrease our attention on any of the four gospels, but our practice in the last 100 years has been to neglect Matthew.
Matthew's focus is on our being the Kingdom family of God — a people where the will of God not only captures our hearts, but also changes our daily lives. Much as Paul's "one another passages" do, Matthew's five collections of Jesus' teaching really help us hear what it means to be God's Kingdom family. Matthew concentrates Jesus' teaching into five major blocks of instruction, each ending with a phrase similar to "when Jesus had finished" (Matthew 7:28; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 13:53; Matthew 19:1; & Matthew 26:1 — for the exact references to these blocks of Jesus' teaching, see * below.). As you read these passages, notice the prevalence of terms like Kingdom, brother, sons, children, and Father.
So what are we to do? What am I recommending?
Nothing wild or crazy, but the impact of this simple two part challenge does have dramatic implications:
- Let's go read these teaching blocks. I'm not talking about reading them once, but reading them again and again. Over the next year, let's read through them at least once per month in two different translations. Let's commit portions of these blocks of Jesus' teaching to memory — this was probably the reason Matthew concentrated them into the five blocks of teaching to begin with!
- Let's live what we've learned. Jesus' emphasis is on putting into practice, obeying, and faithfully living God's will (Matthew 7:21-27; Matthew 12:48-50; & Matthew 28:20). So let's remember life application must be the focus of our learning the words of Jesus.
Now let me share a warning. We have a tendency to try to explain away the bite out of Jesus' teaching in these passages. So rather than running to the simple explanations that make these teachings more palatable to us and more consistent to our normal way of doing life and church, let's be careful not to rush to judgment. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to use these words of Jesus to work on us and change us, rather than trying to justify our current way of doing things. Let's reawaken to the call to obey. And instead of being overwhelmed at the challenge, let's try to put one practice, one act of obedience into place each month. (Click to download a simple spreadsheet to help you keep track of the places you find one key life principle in Matthew's gospel, and an evaluation of how you think you are doing at putting it into practice.)
Finally, I want to offer a word of encouragement. I am just back from Thailand. I have been immersed in the world of sharing the story of Jesus and living as Christian family. The Holy Spirit has deeply convicted me that I had forgotten the power of simply sharing the story of Jesus and then living them as a Christian family. The message that was drilled into us as we were preparing to leave involved two things:
- The story of Jesus is the teacher.
- We are the illustration.
I saw the truth of these principles powerfully illustrated in reaching out to cultures (Thai and Chinese) that are far different from our own and that had little or no knowledge of God and Jesus.
I am convicted that as Western Culture continues its drift from the heart of Jesus, that our real hope will be found in our willingness to be God's Kingdom family.
* 5:1-7:29; 10:5-11:1; 18:1-19:1; 23:1-26:1
The following are for your personal reflection, although I'd love to get your reaction to them or to the article on my blog: http://www.heartlight.org/thephilfiles/2010/06/02/kingdom-family/
What keeps us from reading and meditating on the teaching of Jesus more?
Why do you think Matthew is not the favorite gospel today and that people tend to gravitate to John, Mark, or Luke as their personal favorite?
What is the most powerful teaching of Jesus you remember from Matthew?
The article above began by quoting the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer: what do you think are the most important parts of those opening lines for you and why?