SBC Life Articles

The Kingdom and the Fatherhood of God

Any preacher worth his salt can preach a moving Mother's Day message; it takes a skilled expositor to move the crowd on Father's Day. I had worked hard on my Father's Day message and had illustrated it with anecdotes from my own father, who had loved me with an unconditional love. Dad was a man's man, a country preacher, and a great dad. I was proud of my effort and the members of my small seminary church were rewarding me with warm accolades as they filed by me on their way to the parking lot. I happened to notice a young teenage girl waiting in line. Her countenance told me she had not enjoyed my message. When it was her turn to speak, she sobbed, "My father left me and my stepfather hates me. Now tell me about a father's love." My stunned silence indicated I was not prepared to respond to her question.

Decades later I was visiting in Central Asia. We were having dinner with a young Muslim woman. During the course of the evening, she asked me why Christians did not pray. Her question and its implication must have been prompted by the obvious contrast presented by Muslims who rolled out their prayer rugs and bowed toward Mecca whenever the call to pray was broadcast from the local mosque. Their times of prayer were visible and marked. I attempted to respond with honesty and candor. I told her that sometimes we were more casual about prayer than we should be but that prayer for the believer was not a ritual response to a call to prayer but a day-long dialogue with our Father. I could tell that our devout Muslim friend was perplexed by the intimacy implicit in calling God Father.

Two events separated by decades but both pointing to a profound reality that is at the heart of Christianity — the Fatherhood of God. Let's examine the Fatherhood of God and its relationship to the Kingdom of God.

Kingdom Citizenship Means Kingdom Sonship

The Sermon on the Mount is sometimes referred to as the Kingdom Manifesto. It is the introduction to the life and work of Jesus. It begins with a promise that the poor in spirit will inherit the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Persons who will enter the Kingdom must first declare personal spiritual bankruptcy. We must recognize that we bring nothing to the table but our own need. This radical recognition and confession of utter dependence is integral to being born into the Kingdom. We may well recall the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus about entering the Kingdom. Since the Kingdom cannot be inherited by flesh and blood, one must be born again by the Spirit of God.

Later in the Beatitudes, Jesus indicates that the blessing of being a "peacemaker" in this world is to be known as "sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). It is not that we earn sonship through peacemaking. It is simply that no other Kingdom activity bears a more powerful testimony to the character of our Father than the breaking down of barriers that separate men from men and men from God. We must not miss nor gloss over the promise that we shall be "sons of God."

Participation in the Kingdom is not a matter of one's earthly citizenship. Being born a Jew or being a "son of Abraham" does not qualify one for the Kingdom any more than being born a Baptist does. Now one can enjoy a personal relationship with the King Himself.

Immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus indicates that Kingdom children will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Kingdom children let their light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Next, Jesus discusses His relationship with the Law and the Prophets, which He came to fulfill. As you read this section you will notice that He both intensifies and internalizes the Law. What appears to be an "impossible ethic" is reality for Kingdom children for they now have the DNA of their heavenly Father and thus the Spirit of God produces the fruit of the Father in our lives. Notice, for example, verses 45 and 48 of Matthew 5 indicate that this radical Kingdom lifestyle will indicate that we are sons of our Father in heaven.

Kingdom Children Live for Their Father's Pleasure

As a child, nothing gave me greater joy than pleasing my father. To hear him say "well done" was the greatest reward I could receive. It is therefore not surprising that the motivation for Kingdom children is to practice their righteousness before their Father to receive His reward (Matthew 6:1). Thus, Matthew looks at prayer, alms, and fasting with the singular concern of receiving our Father's reward.

Now the child of the King is properly motivated in his giving for he knows that your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:4). He is unconcerned about impressing men with his prayer life. Thus, he is comfortable going into his private room with the assurance your Father who sees in secret will reward you (6:6). Our prayers are not like the vain babbling of the unsaved for we know your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him (6:8).

When we fast or participate in any behavior that appears to be sacrificial, we do not need the accolades of men for our great piety. We are fully aware that your Father who sees in secret will reward you (6:18).

As Kingdom children, we are no longer compelled to accumulate treasures on earth, either for our own sense of security or to impress men. We know that life is more than earthly possessions. Further, we know that the present kingdom is already in the process of dissolution. Therefore, we have discovered a radical new lifestyle that enables us to live in such a manner that our earthly possessions can have an eternal impact. Since our heart belongs to the King, so too do our treasures. Our singular passion is to live for our Father's pleasure and His eternal reward.

Kingdom Children Live in Their Father's Presence

The freedom to address the sovereign God as "our Father in heaven" probably sounded as radical to the first century believers as it did to my Muslim friend who inquired about the prayer life of Christians. This constant access to the Father is never to be taken lightly for it was procured by the Son Himself. When Jesus declared, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6), He was not only speaking of salvation — He was speaking of direct access through prayer. No one was qualified to address God as "Father" except the Son and those to whom He granted access.

You may recall that Paul declared his willingness to consider all his earthly attainments as rubbish for the privilege of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Philippians 3:7-11). It was this intimate "knowledge" that caused him to declare that Christians are God's sons by the Spirit of adoption. This new Kingdom relationship allowed Paul to join other believers in crying out, "Abba, Father!" Further, the Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God's children (Romans 8:15-16).

Thus, for Kingdom children, prayer becomes the very essence of life. It is not an occasional activity with specified words and formulas but an ongoing daily dialogue between the Father and His children. It makes us constantly aware that we live every moment of every day in the presence of the Father as we seek to live for His pleasure.

Kingdom Children Prioritize the Kingdom

Immediately after the instructions on prayer, Jesus informs Kingdom children that they no longer need to live with anxiety. He repeats the word "anxious" five times — three are imperatives. The "needs" he addresses are the everyday realities of life on earth: food, clothes, your body, and tomorrow's agenda. How, you might ask, do Kingdom children live anxiety-free lives? The answer is found in the understanding of the Fatherhood of God.

You may recall that Jesus began this section on prayer with the gentle reminder that our Father knows all our needs before we ask (Matthew 6:8). It is not insignificant that He ends this section with a similar reminder: For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (6:32).

The result is Kingdom children seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The word "first" not only establishes priority, it also indicates purity of focus. All of life is lived with the Kingdom in view.

    About the Author

  • Kenneth S. Hemphill