From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
One of the emphases of my life’s purpose and ministry is to “extend the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.” I like the word “extend” because it means to stretch, lengthen, prolong, continue, expand, enlarge, offer, put forth, give, impart, and present, just to name a few. And while each of those words is similar, each represents a slightly different emphasis. That’s just what I want to stress when talking about the Christian’s mission regarding the Kingdom of God.
But in our text today, Jesus focuses on the Kingdom “advancing.” This has a military-ring to it. Jesus also says that forceful men lay hold of this forcefully advancing Kingdom. My NIV footnote says,
“They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever-increasing persecution.”
What is described here is what John Piper refers to as a “wartime mentality.” The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing. The kingdom of darkness resists this advancement. We are daily fighting for our lives and for the lives of those we love and those who have been entrusted to our care. The world, the flesh, and the devil are formidable adversaries. And if we don’t maintain a wartime mentality – being ever vigilant, standing firm, being prepared, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ – then we should know that we will, in fact, suffer the ravages of war, the consequences of poor preparation and lax attentiveness, and all the collateral damage that attends war – even the loss of loved ones.
We must fight the good fight of faith. We must enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). Peter tells us that many have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness (2 Peter 2:15), which is death (Romans 6:23). So we must stand firm in the faith, or we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9). And we ought to know in advance that people will hate us for standing firm, but he who does stand firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).
But standing firm will take a wartime mentality. We cannot assume that we are ever safe from attack. We must be ever watching and on our guard. Our Defender is strong to be sure. We draw from his strength. He continually intercedes for us, and our cause would be lost if this was not the case. We would indeed be sifted like wheat. However, as true as that is, we are still called, commanded, and expected to fight, to persevere, to press on, to grow and mature, to stand firm, and so on. If we don’t, we could very well wander from the faith (1 Timothy 6:20-21), and become shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19). Jesus had his Judas. Paul had his Demas. We shouldn’t therefore think that we’re safe and secure. Our defenses are only as strong as our diligence.
And yet our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. Does this contradict all that I just said? That matters very little to me for two reasons. First, the Bible affirms this. And second, I know that because the Bible teaches it, it is not, therefore, contradictory in the mind of God. Getting my puny little mind around it just doesn’t matter a great deal to me.
Forceful men lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which our Lord is causing to advance in and through his power. And yet he calls us to take it to the far reaches of our own hearts, as well as those of our families, our places of work, community, culture, and to the very ends of the earth.
This will not be a waltz. It is a battle. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at us daily (Ephesians 6:16). He hides and waits to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The world sends out its false teachers to lead God’s people astray (2 Peter 2:1ff). Add to that the weakness of our own frame. We may indeed count ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11), but sin has not yet been utterly eradicated.
And yet the Kingdom advances still.
So “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). And to do so you must begin with faith and trust in our King, not by pulling yourself up by our own bootstraps. It will also end with faith and trust. For that matter, it will require being saturated with faith and trust all the way through. And because of his grace and your faith and trust, God will make you stand firm in Christ Jesus, our Lord (2 Corinthians 1:21). This is how we advance – or extend – the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.
Grace and Truth,