Matthew 4:12-25

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 4:12–25 (HCSB): When He heard that John had been arrested,  He withdrew into Galilee.  He left Nazareth behind and went to live in Capernaum  by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the sea road, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the shadowland of death, light has dawned.   

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven  has come near! 


There is a lot of movement in this passage. Jesus was in Judea where he was baptised by John and been through a time of testing in the wilderness. Things were heating up with John’s arrest, so Jesus returned to Galilee region but moved head-quarters from his home town of Nazareth to Capernaum – a city of maybe 10000 people that boasted a customs office (Mt 9:9) and a centurion (Mt 8:5) presumably with his 100 soldiers or so. It was a strategic location militarily due to its situation on major north-south routes (map)  and contained two Roman-built cities (Sephorrus and Tiberius).


These cities would have been culturally Hellenistic not Jewish. In Jesus’ day Galilee was ruled by the tetrarch Herod Antipas (Lk 3:1) – son of Herod the Great who had been the Herod we read about in the birth accounts of Jesus.  John the Baptist had had a fatal encounter with this Herod (Mt 14:1-11) and although Jesus had come on to Herod’s radar (Lk 9:7-9), Jesus did not suffer the same fate at Herod’s hands (Lk 23:7-12). Herod had been curious about Jesus for some time, however when Jesus refused to play ball, Herod made his point about “who was really king here” through ridicule. 

The southern Galilean region was much more cosmopolitan and mixed-race than Jerusalem and Judea to the south. Perhaps Jesus’ message had more of a chance of getting through to people in Galilee than in the religious centre of Jerusalem. And that message was the same as John’s: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

It’s the kind of message that demands a response. 

The Question

So what does it mean that the kingdom of heaven has come near, why is repentance connected to it, and what does this repentance look like?

Reading on, we can get some clues.

As  He was walking along the Sea of Galilee,  He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen.  “Follow Me,” He told them, “and I will make you fish for  people!” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. 

Jesus was going all over Galilee,  teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria.  So they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics.  And He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. (Mt 4:18-25)

So we can see what Jesus is doing as he preaches this message: He is:

  • Calling some everyday people to follow him as his disciples.
  • Travelling a lot.
  • Teaching in the synagogues.
  • Preaching the good news of the kingdom.
  • Healing many.

He is gaining a large following from a diverse range of people coming from both Jewish and Gentile regions. No doubt, at this early stage, the news of his healing ministry would have accounted for a large part of the interest, but his authoritative speaking style (Mt 7:29) would have played a role as well.

So what is this good news of the kingdom? Are we any closer to finding out?


Well the healing must be part of it. Healing is certainly good news if it’s you or a loved one getting the healing, but is there   a substantive connection between the act and the content of the message? And were we really expecting healing to be part of the messiah package?

The prophets spoke of healing as being a part of future restoration (e.g. Jer. 30:17, 33:6). Ezekiel clarifies the job description of a godly leader as the opposite of: 

Ezekiel 34:4 (HCSB): You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost.  Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 

Healing and paying attention to the plight of the sick, the injured, the strayed or the lost are very core traits of the kind of leader God is looking for in His kingdom. Jesus goes on later to amplify this further in his later teaching and in his practical ministry.

Peter was right there with Jesus during these early days (Mt 4:18), and he recalls these events a decade or so later when speaking about this business of letting the Gentiles into the kingdom:

Acts 10:34–39 (HCSB): Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism,  but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.  You know the events  that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him.  We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree.  

So we learn from Peter that what Jesus was doing was freeing people from the tyranny of the Devil. Jesus was rolling back the territory of the Devil’s rule and increasing the territory of God’s rule every time someone was healed. He was bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. And the direct result of that was major improvements in people’s lives. Peter also speaks of the good news of peace, and here he seems to be referring to an establishment of peace on a relational, cultural and racial level. Somehow this good news of the kingdom has the ability to weld together the unweldable.


Jesus is calling for a response, and that response is summed up in one word – ‘Repent”. The Greek word is μετανοέω (metanoeo) and the verb in this case is present tense, active voice, imperative mood, second person, plural. This is to say “I am calling all of you to repent now – you must repent!” The meaning of the Greek word speaks to a change of mind, or to think differently about something – an after-thought. Usually connected with sin (Lk 15:10, Lk 17:3, Acts 3:19, Acts 8:22), but not always? This after thought strand of meaning leads us to ideas of “sorrow” or “regret”. There is a Hebrew word teshuvah which is translated by this Greek word, and it carries the idea of “a turning to God”. Jesus is not specific about sin in this call to repentance, so perhaps he is looking for a whole-of-life allegiance and purpose level of changed thinking. Jesus is saying: “Following me into this kingdom of God is a completely new ball game, a whole new way of thinking and operating, a whole new set of priorities, attitudes and markers – so different from the way you are living now. We are saying good-bye to religious-act style religion and getting into bringing God’s kingdom and following Jesus style. Reflect on that!”

In fact his whole ministry approach seems to be quite new. Calling fishermen to be disciples? Dealing with the sick? A ministry focussed on people – catching men and working with them. On the road a lot. First century rabbis had their cream-of-the-crop talmidim for sure, but there is something different about this guy.

The euangelion

And then there is this good news of the kingdom (Mt 4:17). Sometimes translated as the gospel or glad tidings, the Greek word is εὐαγγέλιον – euangelion. This word pre-existed Jesus but Jesus is giving it a new twist.

In Jesus’ day, euangelion was a word used in proclamations in the political world. A well-known example is from the so-called Priene calendar inscription, published in 9 BC. It was found in Priene (an Ancient Greek city in the west of Turkey) in 1899. It reads:

“Since Providence which ordains all things in our life, has restored enterprise and love of honor, it has accomplished for [our] life the most perfect thing by producing the August One, whom it has filled with virtue for the welfare of the people; having sent him to us and ours as a Saviour who should stop war and ordain all things. Having appeared, however, the Caesar has fulfilled the hope of prophecies, since he has not only outdone the benefactors who had come before him, but also has not left to future ones the hope of doing better; the birthday of this God has become through him a beginning of the good tidings.

The purpose of the inscription was to announce a realignment of the calendar to begin with the birthday of emperor. Notice the themes going on here : the emperor is a Saviour, he fulfills prophecies, he is God, his birth is extremely significant, and the very coming of this king is good news – the euangelion. 

Sound familiar? The gospel writers portray Jesus as a direct challenger to the gospel of Rome. Jesus brings the true gospel of peace (Eph 6:19), not a Pax Romana enforced by the tip of a spear.

Matthew 5:1-10

From the The Kingdom series.

Matthew 5:1–10 (HCSB)

The Beatitudes

Itinerant preacher goes up mountain, sits down on the ground and starts to teach his followers.

The Beatitudes. The blessings. The makarisms.

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain,  and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.  Then  He began to teach them, saying: “The poor in spirit are blessed,  for the kingdom of heaven  is theirs.  Those who mourn are blessed,  for they will be comforted.  The gentle are blessed,  for they will inherit the earth.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed,  for they will be filled.  The merciful are blessed,  for they will be shown mercy.  The pure in heart are blessed,  for they will see God.  The peacemakers are blessed,  for they will be called sons of God.  Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed,  for the kingdom of heaven  is theirs.“ 

So this how God wants us to be then? Find something to mourn about?  If we live out these 8 points  we will get some kind of blessing? Or maybe this is a handy to-do list to get through before you die so you can get into heaven?

That is not the way to read the Beatitudes.

One clue is that there is a phrase that book-ends these verses – v3 an v10 both mention the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps Jesus is talking about the way the kingdom of heaven operates. He is describing what it is like when the kingdom is reigning. It is a complete reversal of everything the world holds dear. This kingdom is starting to look like an upside down world where the loser wins. Right up front in this block of Jesus’ teachings the blueprint is being laid out. The kingdom is near (Mt 4), and this is what it looks like (Mt 5).

Look at it:

  • In V3 poor in spirit gain the kingdom.
  • In V4 mourners are comforted.
  • In V5 the gentle get the inheritance.
  • In V6 the hungry are filled.
  • In V7 the merciful get mercy.
  • In V8 the pure get to see God.
  • In V9 the peacemakers will be in God’s family.
  • In V10 the persecuted get the kingdom.

Normally, the poor in spirit get trampled, the mourners get depressed, the gentle get nothing, the hungry starve, the merciful get taken advantage of, the pure get laughed at, the peacemakers lose territory and the persecuted get locked up.

But now Jesus is saying that his followers will have a different spirit and way of behaving in this life because they want to bring the kingdom of God to this earth. They will no longer operate using the ways of the world. Instead they employ meekness, mercy, and a desire for peace rather than a desire for division. And the world will think they are nuts for doing it. Nice guys finish last right?

But Jesus knows all this and still says that “in My kingdom – this is how we do things. And if you do too, you stand to gain more than you ever could have got through conventional means.’ 

A little word-study

It is easy for us to miss the radicalness of Jesus’ words. His listeners were tired of persecution and oppression. They were ready for a proper fight with their Roman occupiers and likely would have lined up behind any leader who looked like they could mount a decent attack. And now here is Jesus doing his first big stump speech to the expectant crowd telling them that being a merciful peacemaker is the key to their success.

Not only that, but the Greek word used here being translated as blessed, or happy is μακάριος (makarios). This is not your everyday level of happiness. This word describes those who enjoy the absolute best of everything – no mourning or hunger here. Jesus is insulting them now (at least to Greek readers).

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint or LXX) uses this same word  to translate the Hebrew word אֶשֶׁר(pronounced esher ) which occurs 45 times. For example, Deut 33:29 says:

How happy you are, Israel! 
Who is like you, 
a people saved by the Lord? 
He is the shield that protects you, 
the sword you boast in. 
Your enemies will cringe before you, 
and you will tread on their back

The whole book of Psalms kicks off with this word:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Ps 1:1).

And a few more:

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Ps 32:1).

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. (Ps 119:1)

Jesus’ audience would have known these Psalms. This type of blessedness comes about from the choices you make about the way you walk. In sync with the Lord, or something else? Your life will go well if you wisely choose to listen to God’s instruction. 

There is also this blessing of having your sins covered (Deut 33:29, Ps 32:1). This has always been part of God’s kingdom plans.

So blessedness seems to be a condition of being in God’s protective realm. Your physical life might not be all that great right now (mourning, hunger), but you still are blessed.

What to do

Do not make economic calculations here, the gain is of far greater value than simple cash – you get to gain the kingdom, receive true comfort, inherit the very earth itself, be filled, receive great mercy, and get to see God, be sons of God, and did I say, receive the kingdom?

So, sit down and listen up! Hearts, ears and minds open. You are in for a radical re-education about what it really means to serve God. 

Matthew 6:33

From The Kingdom series.
We need to read around this verse a bit.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

(Mt 6:33)

Matthew 6:19–24 (HCSB)

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures  on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven,  where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness—how deep is that darkness! 

“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money. 

Matthew 6:25–34 (HCSB)

“This is why I tell you:  Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?  Can any of you add a single cubit to his height  by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these!  If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith?  So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters  eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God  and His righteousness,  and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own

What do I notice here?

  • Do not worry about your life (eat/drink) or body (clothing).
  • God provides these things.
  • God values you.
  • Little Faith = inability to trust in God’s provision.
  • In fact it is idolatry to seek these (physical) things.
  • Rather, seek the kingdom of God as your priority, and God will take care of the physical needs.
  • Today, tomorrow and worry.

Jesus has made worry a spiritual issue. It goes to being able to trust that God is in the business of providing for needs. This is God’s character, He is a giver, a provider, a blesser.

Food, drink, clothes

In the previous chapter we have been taught to pray “give us this day our daily bread” with the obvious call-back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness (Ex 16, Num 11, Deut 8). The reflective Deuteronomist says: “ He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut 8:3). This is the verse Jesus uses to fend off Satan’s temptation in the wilderness to make bread out of rocks. So maybe some hunger is not such a bad thing? It can be a teacher for us to rely on God rather than on the physical.

As to what you are to drink (Mt 6:5) – we have the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarepath (1 Ki 17). Elijah runs out of water in one place, asks for a drink in another (1 Ki 17:8) and God comes through magnificently, with a widow and her son sharing the blessings for months.

And clothes? Solomon in all his splendour was not dressed like of these! And one greater than Solomon is here (Mt 12:42).


There is a common underlying theme here of learning to be dependant on God on a daily basis. This is there to train our hearts to not forget about our need for God and also to not fantasise destructively into the future. There is wisdom in the time-boxing interval of a single day. 

It’s starting to feel like Jesus is saying something about cultivating a heart that listens and depends on Him and his words as a daily habit, rather than operating from a default setting of unmetered preoccupation with merely human concerns and worries.
So, maybe this whole passage is really about having an intentional focus on today. Live life out today, and be concerned with bringing God’s kingdom to earth where you are, today. Don’t fall into the trap of dreaming about future prosperity, nice meals or fancy clothes, or going the other way and being anxious about the prospect of there being nothing to eat at all.

Genuine Need

This teaching may seem to be cold comfort to the one who is genuinely in need and has no idea about where even their very next meal is coming from. Or where they will sleep that night. They have clothes for today and they will wear the same again tomorrow, but these clothes rob dignity on both days. Perhaps if you are sharing this passage with such a person, then their immediate problem is solved because it would be impossible for you not to be the on-the-ground deliverer of God’s providence! The Good News for a person in need like this is that the gospel demands compassionate responses from Jesus’ followers to alleviate the suffering of people like them. 


This paragraph has just been preceded by Jesus’ teaching about attitudes to money and possessions. In summary: Be a slave of God, not a slave of money. The two passages are connected. “This is why I tell you don’t worry about your life…” Jesus says. Jesus reveals the truth that worry is connected to where you are placing your affections – we call them concerns or even needs, but the truth is that it is the desires of our hearts that produce worry.  See that your “what shall I eat?” or “what shall I wear?” questions are nothing more than  smoke-screens – palatable-sounding excuses for your idolatrous greed. Well Jesus sees right through it!

If you really are a slave of God as you claim, then these worries would simply wither and die because your heart would be such inhospitable soil for greed to even take root. Such a heart provides no nourishment for these desires, as it so full of the mission of gathering treasures in heaven through bringing the kingdom to earth rather than seeking out treasures there.


Some people do struggle with anxiety as a clinical condition. Such anxiety may not necessarily be connected with what this passage is talking about, but connected with other factors such as trauma and chemical imbalances. God loves too much to be the source of pat answers such as “you need to just trust God more and everything will work out.” He values personal connection and a walking alongside with those in need. “Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the poor” remember? In His kingdom it is the disenfranchised and vulnerable that have the special honour. This may take some time to work out in practice in our world, but this is the direction God has set for his disciples to follow. In the meantime, Php 4:6-10 is wonderfully practical in dealing with anxiety and worry.

Philippians 4:6–9 (HCSB): Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses  every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Finally brothers, whatever is true,  whatever is honorable,  whatever is just,  whatever is pure,  whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence  and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received  and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 

The key here is in verse 6: make your request! What is it exactly you would like God to do for you in this anxious situation? Simply being able to identify what would actually help and presenting that in a request to God can be a major step forward for the anxious mind. Maybe even write it down.


So, seek first the kingdom. What does it mean? From the analysis above it’s something about being in step with how God wants to operate in this world. If we partner up with Him, His kingdom advances and we get to be less worried!

Matthew 3:1-3

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 3:1–3 (HCSB):  In those days John the Baptist came,  preaching in the Wilderness of Judea  and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”  For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!  

This is the first mention of “kingdom” in Matthew’s gospel. Let’s establish some context. The setting is in the wilderness of Judea – southern Israel, around 30AD give or take. The people of the land were Jewish, but did not enjoy self-rule. The land had been ruled by foreigners for most of the previous six hundred years by the world super-power du jour – first the Babylonians, then the Persians, followed by the Greeks, a hundred years of Jewish Hasmonean rule, and now the Romans. This history parallels the kingdoms in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream (Dan 2:2-45). But for our purposes, one verse of that interpretation really stands out:

In the the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will shatter all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself stand forever. (Dan 2:44).

And that kingdom is the kingdom we are talking about. The Jews were well aware of this idea of a coming king, an anointed one, a messiah. We are told that Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilate for Jesus’ body was one who was “waiting for the kingdom to come” (Mk 15:43). The people were expecting a Messiah – “Are you the one who is to come?” (Mt 11:3). Mark just comes right out and says it “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). Also worth knowing that during the period before the Romans arrived, the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots arose (as well as the reclusive Essenes), who Jesus encounters in various ways in his ministry. The Jews wrote and wrote also, leaving us apocalyptic tales of a vanquishing king as well as a body of “tradition” which were interpretive add-ons to the Torah – the Old Testament law, among other inter-testamental works.

From a literary standpoint, we are at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, just after the accounts of Jesus birth. We have already seen an earthly king act out in vicious paranoia to the prospect of a rival “king of the Jews” (Mt 2:1-18). A detailed genealogy (Mt 1:1-17), makes it very clear that Jesus being descended from king David is a very important point. Joseph was spared the angst of coming up with a name for the baby when an angel told him in a dream to call the Christ-child Immanuel – which means God is with us (Mt 1:30-23).

Do you see the set-up here? God is coming into the world to be the king of all kings, but a very different kind of king. Not wielding brutal political or military power, but coming on the scene disarmingly as a baby. God is establishing outposts of his kingdom on earth, for the time in history is now just right to bring the message and the life that would lay the ground work for God’s eternal, long-promised, perfect kingdom.


So why is Philemon in the Bible?

What’s with Philemon? There’s no doctrine. There’s no history. There’s not really any ethical teaching. So why is Philemon in the Bible then? To ask those three questions and come up empty-handed is part of the reason! If our approach to the Scriptures is such that we are looking for everything to be s-p-e-l-l-e-d out in “do thisdon’t do that” terms we will miss most of what God wants us to learn. Such an approach is actually quite shallow, and perhaps lazy also. Much of Biblical teaching is implicit not explicit.

For example, when reading the Old Testament you find respected men of faith living polygamous lives  -e.g. Abraham (Gen 16). If we took an explicit approach to the Scriptures we could say: So the Bible condones polygamy then, it must be OK – just look at Abraham. However, if we take an implicit approach we observe the outcomes of such a domestic arrangement and then gather up the evidence. So when we see the marital disharmony that resulted from two wives in the house perhaps we can conclude it’s not such a good idea. Look also at king David – great king, great poet, lousy husband. Seemed to be in the habit of not only marrying more than one woman, but going to the extreme of taking that woman from another man (2 Sam 3:14-16, 2 Sam 11). The family disharmony that swirled around David would make Jerry Springer blush. His approach to family life led to murder, incestuous rape, political crisis. Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba took polygamy to legendary heights (1 Kings 11:1-6) which eventually led to spiritual disaster… I think we can safely say that the Bible does not paint a glowing picture of a polygamous life-style. If we still want something explicit on the subject, see Gen 2:24.

So, back to Philemon. Who’s involved? Main characters are Paul – apostle to the Gentiles, author of great slabs of the New Testament, founder of Christianity in Asia minor and Italy. Also, we have Onesimus –  a runaway slave (Phm 16-18) who had stolen his bus money on the way out. And finally, Philemon to whom this letter has been written (Phm 1). The letter is a wonderful redemptive tale. Paul was in jail again – in chains for the gospel (Phm 13) and he crosses paths with Onesimus the runaway slave. They form a friendship and Paul shares the gospel with him. Onesimus then becomes a Christian (Phm 10-12). During their discussions (which would have included Onesimus coming clean about his past) they discover they have a mutual relationship in Philemon – a fellow gospel worker to Paul and erstwhile master to Philemon. Paul’s a Christian. Philemon’s a Christian. Onesimus is now a Christian too, but now there is the tricky issue of the fact that Onesimus was AWOL and stole from Philemon. How to resolve this tension?

How Paul handles this issue is the reason we have Philemon in the canon. Paul is a major major church heavy-weight. If we were to look to ecclesiastical history for guidance on how to deal with tricky issues, we would assume that the use of blunt instruments such as threats, murder, excommunication, spiritual abuse and other unsavoury techniques are the way to go, particular for someone who had some real clout as Paul did. However, that is not what we see here. Rather:

(Phile 1:8-9 NIV)  Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, {9} yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. 

Paul could have thrown his weight around. He could have ordered Philemon to accept  and forgive Paul’s new buddy Onesimus. But no! Instead, he appeals on the basis of love. He builds up Philemon (Phm 4-7) and then humbly makes his appeal (Phm 10). He gives Philemon the respect of providing reasons for accepting Onesimus back (Phm 15). Paul does not want to act unilaterally but in partnership with Philemon (Phm 14,17). He offers to make the restitution (Phm 18). He appeals on the basis of their friendship (Phm 17). He is intensely personal (Phm 19). Paul is making a strong and compelling argument but he is not overstepping. At every point along the way, the love and respect for Philemon is maintained.

So what we have in the book of Philemon is a wonderful example of how a godly leader is to exercise influence. Philemon is all about showing how the gospel of love can work when the rubber meets the road in a conflict situation.  Without God, the one in authority can over-exert and damage the dignity of those he wishes to influence. With God, the dignity of all is maintained, love prevails and the best outcome results.

Which evidently it did as we find Onesimus popping up as a useful brother in Colossae (Col 4:9). All is good and we get to have a great practical lesson in leadership style.

The Kingdom – Introduction

From the The Kingdom series.

John said it. Jesus said it. “Repent for the kingdom has come near” (Mt 3:2, 4:17). But what did they mean? What is this kingdom all about, and who is the king? It’s a movable kingdom? How does it come near? And how does repentance fit in?

As a first century Jew, we know something about kings. We’ve had lots of them – some good, some not-so-good, and some were just awful. We were warned (1 Sam 8:4-22). These days we have the Romans calling the shots, they’ve been here for decades now. We really don’t like them at all, although they do let us have our temple in Jerusalem and our synagogues. Many of us dream about a king that will march into town one day and sweep the occupiers from our land in a blaze of glory. A messiah. Maybe that’s what this kingdom is about…

Bottom-up Unity

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:11-13)

So if there are unity problems in your church (or churches), maybe it’s related to not doing this well enough!

We know Paul is serious about unity in the church (Eph 4:3). If we took a guess at his top three priorities, based on his activity, they could well be:

  1. Preach the gospel.
  2. Plant Churches.
  3. Keep said churches unified. 

In this passage he lays out a blue-print for achieving goal #3. Christ has given people with teaching gifts to the church to equip the people in those churches. This activity  builds up the body until it becomes unified and mature. (Eph 4:11-13)

What this means is that unity must be built from the bottom-up, not from the top-down. If the people aren’t taught properly it is impossible for unity to exist. The primary role the leaders have is to do the equipping. They can have unity meetings with other leaders for sure, but there will be no actual unity without it existing throughout the membership of the whole church.

We have all seen and heard the rancour that can occur in the political world. Disunity in the electorate is often-times a completely desirable goal for some political operators. 

Features include having no universally accepted standard of acceptable debate. People vilifying and slandering one another. No standard of truthfulness is required – say whatever you want in the moment, true or not – the news cycle moves on much more quickly than the fact checkers. People speculate about the motivations of others. It can seem difficult to get politicians to face the spotlight in a serious media interview. Straw-man arguments, bare-faced denials, lies and distraction are the tools of the day. Concepts of honour, decency and equal time seem quaint. The market place of ideas looks more like a pawn-shop for alternative facts.

Why the political illustration? Because it shows what you can get if your people aren’t equipped with godly motivations or godly rules of engagement. The passage itself paints a picture of what can happen if you’re not careful. You will be: tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (Eph 4:14)

The image is a frightening one. Hapless sail-boat in a violent storm, taking in water, miles from land and starting to sink. And the protagonists are scary people too – cunning, crafty, deceitful,…and motivated.

So, how to avoid all of this? By placing an intentional focus on equipping the church to be able to defend themselves and advance the quest for unity at an individual level. This type of equipping does not come from a one-shot seminar series. It’s an open-ended, ongoing process with an end-goal of the whole church attaining to the measure of the fullness of Christ. I think that’s Paul way of saying that this work never stops.

What should be the subject matter of this teaching then? The first thing the passage mentions is “knowledge of the son of God”. An ever-increasing and deepening acquaintance with the person of Jesus Christ – his heart, his character, his teaching, his way of life, how he dealt with different kinds of people, his strength, his compassion, his love, his courage. 

Tactics: Speaking the truth in love. This does not come that naturally to many people, particularly given that matters of faith and identity are involved. We might even need a few role-plays to teach this one out. What does it look like and sound like to speak the truth in love? Again, familiarity with Jesus will help (Jn 4:1-42Lk 7:40-50, Mk 10:17-22). How can someone know when to use both barrels (Mt 12:34) or when to walk away instead (Mt 15:14)? This kind of situational assessment ability is not gained in a day. 

Ongoing:  we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Every respect. What would it take for everyone in your local church to become in every respect like Jesus? I think about this a lot in my own life, and I know I have a fair way to go yet! My question at this point is, is this even an agenda item in your church? If you categorised all the sermon points you have heard in a year, what proportion would overlap somehow with the “becoming like Jesus” idea I wonder?

The key to church unity is  serious and deliberate equipping of the whole congregation towards maturity in Christ. Because when this pursued, something amazing happens: From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:16)

Unity is achieved because each part can do its work. And each part can do it’s work because each part has been equipped to do so. It even becomes self-perpetuating when it reaches the “builds itself up in love” stage.

Biblical teaching and preaching should not primarily seek to be motivational. Shouldn’t be shoddy, inarticulate or boring either. But it should be an out-growth of the project to present everyone mature in Christ, and in so doing ensure the strength, unity and effectiveness of the church in its mission to be God’s partners in ministering to our broken world. The motivation will come all by itself if this path is followed.


This is an article I wrote several years ago. It has been available also on Douglas Jacoby’s website.

Perhaps the key differentiator Christianity has in the field of world religions is the unique concept of grace. In a world driven by competitiveness, performance measurement and the relentless march for increased return on investment and corporate profits, God’s grace and everything it affects is not well valued, simply ignored or even despised. Yet it is at the very core of our religion. If we have no other virtue as Christians, we must at the very least explain grace to the world in our actions, our words, and in our very thoughts. Yet we are far from this being the case. It is my contention that we have fostered a culture long on performance benchmarks but short on promulgating grace. In the quest for fast growth in our churches, the message of God’s grace has often been distorted, ignored or even hijacked.

The stage of world history is littered with the corpses of men and women who have been trampled in the quest for world domination of an ideology. Christianity, Islam, Communism, Imperialism, Nazism and so forth have all sought worldwide influence and impact. The leaders of these movements in their respective day were driven by the deep belief of the superiority and excellence of their cause. But of course the excellence or purity of a cause in the minds of its leaders is not a sufficient measure of its excellence overall. The human costs of spreading social, political or religious doctrine has been enormous. A curious paradox has emerged’in the pursuit of something so “high” as the pervasiveness of a guiding ideology, the results have been so “low”. The collateral damage of untold millions of wrecked lives did not appear to enter into the calculations. After all, the world was being won…

The word of God however seeks to protect mankind from all of this. Yes, the stakes are high -eternal salvation, but the central tenet that provides this salvation in the first place must not be betrayed in the achievement of it. Paul expresses it succinctly “If I have the faith to move mountains but have not love, I am nothing(1 Cor 13:1-3). World evangelism at the expense of love for the individual has proved to be a costly error. However apparently noble the mission may be, if it is one without true love and grace, it is in the final analysis and potential effects, no different to the worldwide spread of any other manmade ideology.

Many Christians in our churches today subscribe to a mindset of “burdened-ness”. They have been taught to equate a sense of spiritual acceptability or maturity with a notion of “feeling the burden” sufficiently. One’s burdened-ness can be measured by a blanket evaluation of one’s preparedness to “go anywhere, do anything, give up everything”. Any residual desire to place emphasis on other facets of life could be interpreted as not having an adequate love for the mission or the lost, or even as being ‘worldly’ in outlook. This dynamic is well recognised. The purpose of this article is to provide some Biblical help to embrace what I believe to be a state of heart and mind that God wants his children to have:’a state of being unburdened.

There is a pattern throughout both the Old and New Testaments, about the way God interacts with his people. What we find is a theme of God being all about being a lifter of burdens, not a placer of them.

(Num 11:11-17 NIV) He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? {12} Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? {13} Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ {14} I cannot carry all these people by myself the burden is too heavy for me. {15} If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.” {16} The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. {17} I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Here we get an insight into how Moses was feeling as the leader of an ungrateful nation and people of God. He complains of the heavy burden he feels leading all those people. How does God respond to Moses? Does God admonish him to stop his whining? “Be more faithful Moses!” No! Rather God acts to lift the burden. It was a burden. No wonder Moses was feeling it’he was understaffed by a factor of 70!

Let us now examine a key passage in the New Testament. In Mt 11:1-30. Jesus had send out the twelve, and was now on a preaching and teaching tour of Galilee. John sends his disciples with some questions to Jesus. Jesus talks about John, and goes on to address his audience. There seems to be confusion reigning in this passage: John is confused about Jesus, the people are confused about John, and about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Cities that saw miracles are cursed. Worldly seaports and the byword of Sodom itself are lifted up. Religion has blinded the people, and God wants that turned upside down.

There is a common thread running through these incidents. Jesus is challenging the concepts and ideas people have about their religion. John wasn’t sure about Jesus it seems. Healing the sick, curing the lepers, opening the eyes of the blind was perhaps not what John was anticipating. Jesus corrected that notion with a Scripture. Then Jesus addresses the people. “What were you expecting with John? A weak and insipid religious guy? Or a wealthy tele-evangelist type? You got more than you bargained for didn’t you!’ It’s always easier to complain about the messenger than to embrace the message and change.

Jesus goes on to denounce the Jewish cities of Korazin, Betsaida and Capernaum. The Bible belt of the Holy land perhaps. Sodom would be better off? What was Sodom known for? Sodomy. Imagine the furore in conservative religious circles today if Jesus came preaching this!

Jesus thanks God for hiding the truth from the “wise”, and revealing it to the child-like. Soft hearts are needed for this message, not hardened religiosity.

As the true explanation of God (v27), we are encouraged to listen again to Jesus’ message rather than continue to stumble along blindly with deeply held traditional but off-centre religious beliefs. Grace? Are you really sure that’s what the gospel is all about?…

Then there is the key passage of all:

(Mat 11:28-30 NLT) Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

What are the burdens Jesus is talking about? Many people would quickly apply this passage to difficulties in their own lives: their busy job or difficult relationship perhaps. This might be possible, but the context of the passage as discussed above seems to demand that the application of these verses lies in the realm of one’s faith and relationship with God.

Consider also Psalm 146, referred to by Jesus:

(Psa 146:6-9 NLT) He is the one who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He is the one who keeps every promise forever, {7} who gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners. {8} The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts the burdens of those bent beneath their loads. The LORD loves the righteous. {9} The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.

Jesus appealed to this Psalm when answering John’s questions. It portrays God as a keeper of promises, a freer of prisoners, and a lifter of burdens.

A true relationship with God is not about heavy burdens. Jesus makes this point clearly in his famous “woe to you Pharisees’ discourse:

(Mat 23:4 NIV) They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

(Mat 23:4 NLT) They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden.

The religious world imposes burdens. Jesus states explicitly that he will lighten the burden.

A doctor working with leprosy sufferers in India wrote of burdens, stress and yokes:

Too much stress on ones body is detrimental. Conversely, too little stress also affects living tissue. Cells need exercise. Without it, they will atrophy’a condition common to anyone who has worn a plaster cast. I once treated an Indian fakir who had held his hand over his head uselessly for twenty years, as a religious act. The muscles had shrunk to nothing, and all the joints had fused together so that his hand was like a stiff paddle. Healthy tissue needs stress, but appropriate stress that is distributed among many cells.

Those principles apply directly to the stress caused by a joke on the neck of an ox. In the hospital carpentry shop in India, I helped fashion such yokes.

If I put a flat, uncarved piece of wood on an ox’s neck and use it to pull a cart, very quickly pressure sores will break out on that animal’s neck, and he will be useless. A good yoke must be formed to the shape of an ox’s neck. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It should also be smooth, rounded, and polished with no sharp edges, so that no one point will endure unduly high stress. If I succeed in my workshop, the yoke I make will fit snugly around the ox’s neck and cause him no discomfort. He can haul heavy loads every day for years, and his skin will remain perfectly healthy, with no pressure sores.

And now, I think I understand the strange juxtaposition of phrases in (Matthew 11:28-29). Jesus offers each of us a well-fitted yoke, of custom design. He does not call us to the kind of rest that means inactivity or laziness’that would lead to spiritual atrophy. Instead, he promises a burden designed to fit my frame, my individual needs, strengths, and capabilities. I come to him weary and heavy-laden. He removes those crushing burdens that would destroy any human being, and replaces them with a yoke of appropriate stress designed specifically for me. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he says, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We are to take Jesus’ yoke upon us. The promise is that the burden will be light. This flows from the yoke being one of custom design, tailored to fit the needs and situation of the individual Christian. Managing such an inventory of one-off yokes does not fit with any man-made system, but it is typical of the glorious variability we see throughout God’s creation.

We however have sought to standardize Christianity and have taught or implied that everyone needs to perform to the same single standard in God’s kingdom. This teaching seems to be at odds with what Jesus is saying here. Jesus’ yoke is a snug fit, not an impossible fit.

If we take an area of spiritual activity such as evangelism for example, what we must acknowledge is that different individuals will have different evangelistic impacts throughout their lives. Some will influence many directly to become Christians. Others will influence only a few. Some may influence no one. The constant admonition to bear fruit evangelistically that has been a feature in many of our churches has produced an ill-fitting yoke on the necks of many disciples. Thy feel burdened, unable to measure up to this demand. Such burdens are not of God, they are of man and his programs. No wonder people feel burdened! They are not carrying Jesus’ load, but somebody else’s!

To add to this notion that God is a lifter of burdens, consider the following:

– (Psa 55:22 NLT) Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

– (Psa 145:14 NLT) The LORD helps the fallen and lifts up those bent beneath their loads.

– (1 John 5:3 NIV) This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

– (1 John 5:3 NLT) Loving God means keeping his commandments, and really, that isn’t difficult.

What then does God expect of his leaders? There are many examples of both good and bad leadership to be found in the Bible. Let us look at two of the good ones: Nehemiah and Paul.

(Neh 5:14-19 NIV) Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year–twelve years–neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. {15} But the earlier governors–those preceding me–placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. {16} Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work we did not acquire any land. {17} Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. {18} Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. {19} Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.

Nehemiah’s actions were in stark contrast to the worldly leaders that preceded him. He willingly forsook certain privileges available to him out of his reverence for God and for the sake of his people. The earlier leaders placed a heavy burden on the people, in the form of taxes. Encouraged no doubt by their superior’s attitudes, the assistants too lorded it over the people. Nehemiah however refused to be like that. Instead, he set a personal example by devoting himself to the work. Instead of dining off the backs of his countrymen, he fed 150 of them every night. He never made use if his rights.

What do we learn from the example of Nehemiah? Great leaders sacrifice for their people. Worldly leaders burden their people.

Let us turn to the example of Paul, perhaps best illustrated in his relationship with the Thessalonian Christians.

(1 Th 2:6-12 NIV) We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, {7} but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. {8} We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. {9} Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. {10} You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. {11} For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, {12} encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

(2 Th 3:8-9 NIV) …nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. {9} We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.

Paul writing to the Thessalonians, asserts that ‘as apostles they could have been a burden to them”. He means, they could have supported him financially while he was with them. But he chose to work night and day so as not to burden this fledgling church. Rather, he was determined to encourage, comfort and urge them as a father does his children. As it turned out, the Macedonian churches did end up supporting Paul financially as we see in 2 Corinthians 11:9.

(2 Cor 11:9 NIV) And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.

Such example teaches powerful lessons. Paul didn’t want to be a burden to those he was preaching to. His example taught The Macedonian churches (of which Thessalonica was one) well. We learn that after Paul had moved on from there, they were spectacularly generous despite their severe poverty (2 Cor 8:1-2). There seems to be a strong link between people’s willingness to give financially and the leaders willingness to not take advantage of it.

Time and time again we see godly leaders determined NOT to burden their people, but to serve them.


Serving and burden-bearing leaders are not sufficient for a healthy church however. What is required is that we all become burden lifters in our relationships with one another. This will be a major cultural shift for some, but a Biblically mandated one.

One of the greatest burdens we routinely face in our spiritual lives can be in dealing with our sin.

(Psa 38:4-5 NLT) My guilt overwhelms me’it is a burden too heavy to bear. {5} My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins.

Paul talks of vulnerable women, burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by many desires (2 Tim 3:6), a spiritual condition not limited to women necessarily.

Sin can be a big deal to people. We are all familiar with the power of sin and guilt. It stops people from coming to church or reading the Bible. This is Satan’s home turf. When people need the succour of spiritual encouragement, they feel more driven to avoid it. It is like saying “I am too sick to go to hospital”.

Sin in our lives is certainly a burden. Some however, are over-burdened with “imagined sin”. Every act or thought is put under the microscope and examined for the slightest trace of sin. ‘You’re not submissive enough, faithful enough, bold enough, humble enough, committed enough. Sin, sin ,sin ,sin, sin, sin!’ This type of thinking has also been a feature of our church culture unfortunately, and needs to be reversed.

As Christians, we need to take sin seriously, but not neurotically. Mark 9:42-45 shows that we must deal decisively with the causes of sin, yet we do not see a continual scrutiny on the sin in people’s lives in the pages of the New Testament.

As an example of this, the apostles had a great opportunity to spell out moral requirements to the Gentile churches when they circulated the letter that bore the landmark outcomes of the Jerusalem Council in the mid first-Century. What we see however is just four sins mentioned!

(Acts 15:28-29 NIV) It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: {29} You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

The focus was not on burdening people, but on freeing them. The name the sins to avoid and then encourage them by saying ‘You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell!’ They didn’t berate the point. The apostles did not want to burden the people turning to God. We shouldn’t either.

Finally, the Bible has some advice for us in our relationships with one another, in dealing with sin in each other’s lives.

(Gal 6:1-2 NIV) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. {2} Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

The first lesson here is that if you are not spiritual, perhaps don’t get personally involved. But more importantly, we are taught to restore your brother gently. Some of us are more likely to burden people down than to effectively restore. We draw ourselves up to our full height: “Brother, that’s a disgusting sin. How could you. You need to go away and repent. You make me sick.” Such words spring from a false notion of God’s attitude toward the sinner. The ‘go away and don’t come back until you repent’ school of theology is not of God. It does not reflect God’s graciousness and it carves out a deeper foothold for Satan.

We are to restore our brothers gently. Draw him in. Build him up. Point him to God. Carry his burden.

The message of the gospel is good news. It is unburdening news. God is a lifter of burdens, not a placer of burdens. Our teaching and our example need to reflect this strongly. We have some work to do in our churches to reverse an ingrained mindset that is the opposite to this. It starts with our individual relationship with God and view of God as a burden lifter. It requires leaders who are prepared to be burden-bearers and it ultimately devolves to how we interact with one another on an individual level as channels of God’s grace, mercy, love and peace.

(Mat 11:28-30 NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Drawing Lines

 We love to draw lines. Lines of affiliation. Lines of identity. Lines to be defended. Lines not to be crossed. We see them in the political world, the sporting world, the technology world, and sadly, in our religious world.

Christians will tell you they believe the church is the body of Christ – and rightly so (Rom 12:5). But, along with this spiritual reality there also seems to be an unspoken belief that there are some very real physical boundaries as well. “We need to be able to determine and control who is part of our fellowship”.  I wonder if Jesus agrees with that. Let’s us look at a few passages from the gospels.

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Mt 13:24-30)

Jesus is wanting to explain what his kingdom is like. And he needs to explain it because it is so unlike anything that mankind could come up with. It is radically different – so different in fact that we might take a life-time to really understand it.

In this parable, the farmer seemed remarkably relaxed about his enemy’s economic vandalism attempt. His loyal servants want to go and fix it, but the master just instructs them to leave be,  we’ll sort it all out at harvest time. In fact, the very process of trying to separate the weeds from the grain may do actual damage to the good crop.

This is one of the parables that comes with a handy explanatory guide. We shouldn’t be too upset with ourselves if we don’t quite get it. It seems the disciples didn’t get it either on the first pass.

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Mt 5:36-43)

Jesus sows the good seed of the gospel in the world. Over time, it germinates and grows, producing kingdom people. There is an enemy hard at work also, sowing a different kind of seed yielding different results. At the end of the age there will be a harvest and it’s going to matter which message you listened to. Here is your chance.

The second parable I want to consider is the Parable of the Net.

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all these things?”

“Yes,” they replied.

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. (Mt 13:47-52)

Again we see Jesus painting a picture of the good and the bad co-existing until their day of judgment. Both the whole field and the entire catch were harvested and divided.

The disciples understood. They had probably seen a harvest or two in their lives and remembered poking sticks into the bon-fires. And the fishermen’s sons knew everything there was to know about what to do with a haul of fish. But then Jesus says something really interesting about the teachers of the Law – the highly trained Jewish teachers with detailed knowledge of the Torah and oral tradition. It was possible for someone like that to become a disciple in the kingdom. Rare, maybe, but certainly possible. Maybe Jesus was saying to his disciples – “you are up there with the teachers of the Law boys!” Or, the teacher who becomes a disciple is up there with you. This kingdom stuff is new treasure. We are not throwing away the Law – that’s a real family jewel, but what I am talking about now is a treasure also – hidden in a field or found in an oyster.

One of the unfortunate features of the church landscape throughout history  has been the tendency to line-draw. Who’s in and who’s out. Who is in fellowship and who is not. Who is a member, who can be part of our group, and who can’t be.

Reading these parables, this spirit does not appear to be a concern Jesus shared. “In my kingdom”, Jesus said, “we leave it be and sort it all out on judgment day. Don’t try and dig out  the weeds – you risk damaging the good crop”.  Perhaps “church membership” is an over-rated, possibly harmful, and un-kingdom-like concept.

 Young John received a practical lesson about this idea:

Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mt 9:38-41)

Jesus was not bothered at all by the demon-buster who hadn’t signed the franchise agreement. ‘Whoever is not against us is for us” you see.

Of course, there are some passages which discuss church discipline and how it should be applied to “protect the flock”. 1 Cor 5:11 says “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”

Fair enough – you don’t want people controlled by these sins, calling themselves a brother or sister anywhere close to your fellowship. 

Trickier however, is Paul’s advice to Titus to “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned”. (Tit 3:10). This verse is probably the acid test. Fresh ideas or a progressive agenda can feel threatening in a church setting, but is it divisive in this same sense?  The line-drawer can invoke such a verse to maintain a status quo, but worth noting that Jesus and Paul, (and indeed a long list of prophets) both found themselves on the wrong side of the line (Lk 6:11Acts 13:44-46), so perhaps it’s not a bad place to be.

The gold-medal line-drawer in the New Testament would have to have been Diotrophes.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 9)..

Diotrophes uses a trifecta of tried and true line-drawing techniques. Not welcoming others in, spreading malicious lies, and expelling those who don’t follow his way. Yet, somehow he is running that church. At every turn he has shown himself to be operating totally outside God’s kingdom through his toxic mix of lack of hospitality, lack of love, and lack of truth. John’s response is instructive, he says he will “call attention to what he is doing”. Not a tit-for-tat reply, but a bringing into the light.

 Jesus did draw some lines… The gate is still narrow (Mt 7:13-14). You still need to love your enemy to be a son or daughter of the kingdom (Mt 5:44-45). Still need to obey Jesus (Mt 7:21-23). However we would well to remember that we are not the gate-keepers- that is the spot Jesus has reserved for himself  (Jn 10).


 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 1:18-19)

Think about what it would be like to be completely connected with God, with our spouse, with our kids, with our wider family and friends. We would know with certainty how we fit into the fabric of those around us. We would feel totally loved, totally secure, totally certain about the point of life.

Problem is however that many of us suck at connection! Awkwardness,  uncertainty or self-absorption get in the way. And what is the motivation anyway? It takes a lot of effort to connect with people,  and our overtures may not always be well-received. For some of us, connection may simply be outside of our lived experience – disconnection, violence and dysfunction may have been the norm for us growing up. 

Yes there are many barriers, but isn’t connection something we all still crave? We may not say it out loud, but the desire we each feel for connection is inside all of us. It is  a universal need. It’s what it means to be human. A deep longing inside all of us, but as we peer into that particular well, many of us see that it is far from full, and we have no idea where the bucket is.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is written to a church in which members were struggling to properly connect. There were two groups in this church – Jews and Gentiles. They came from very different religious and cultural backgrounds (Eph 2:11-22). Old ways of thinking and cultural differences died hard. So much so, it could be said that this was the number one problem, not just there in Ephesus, but in the first century church as a whole. 

Yet God has done his bit (Eph 2:14-16), and paraphrasing Ephesians 4, Paul is saying: 

”C’mon guys – think about it! How many bodies are there? One. How many spirits are there here? One. Lords, faiths, baptisms? One. Are you getting it? … How many groups should there be in your church then? Multiple choice question: one… or two? “

They needed to connect… with God and with each other.

So much for the theory lesson. How’s this actually going to work?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 1:18-19)

The number one New Testament problem is to be met with the number one New Testament solution – love. Starting point  for them was to be rooted and established in love. Some digging required! Breaking up some rocky ground maybe. Deliberate spiritual gardening… getting to being rooted and established in love. 

Paul’s number one prayer for them was that they would be able to come to an understanding of just how massively cubic Christ’s love for them is. To really know it. Even though the extent of it is actually unknowable. Why? So they can be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.. Now that kind of filling sounds like you don’t have to bend down very far at all to get a drink from that well.

And so, when you have resources like this to draw from, cross-cultural unity doesn’t seem like such a big problem any more. 

So, connection, that thing we all crave, doesn’t happen by accident. We must be individually deliberately determined. Intentional. Could be as simple as setting up a coffee or lunch with a friend. Make a time. Spend some time. Connect.