SBC Life Articles

True Kingdom Vision

If Empowering Kingdom Growth is to become more than just another of our slogans, we must be willing to grapple with the weight of this critical question: "How important is it for me, and for my church, to have Kingdom vision?"

I believe that there is nothing more important. I believe that we are at a place in history where Kingdom vision can turn the world upside down. I believe that genuine revival truly awaits us if we will unite in capturing and living out what the Bible defines as a Kingdom orientation.

So I believe the first priority of the Kingdom citizen should be, "How can I use my gifts and abilities to expand the King's rule?" Now let's be honest: Do you approach every day with this passion? Do you look at your day-planner and see "Kingdom opportunities?" Do you ever flip through your cancelled checks at the end of the month and see how effectively you have used the resources at your disposal to advance God's Kingdom?

Adopting this kind of thinking would enable us to constantly experience life at the center of His will. This is the kind of approach that could birth local and global ministries that line up perfectly with the desires of the Father. This is the kind of daily dependence on God that would help us lead people to Christ as a natural part of our day.

This is Kingdom vision, as seen in the pages of Scripture.

The Old Testament Foundations

When we read Matthew's Gospel, we are struck by the announcement that immediately follows the birth narrative: John the Baptist came preaching: "Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." This stark and unsettling message is given without introduction or explanation, apparently because John anticipated that his hearers had some historical context that already influenced their understanding of his message.

In the Old Testament there are two distinct but clearly intertwined themes that are essentially linked to the New Testament emphasis on the Kingdom. Throughout we find that God desired to raise up a people who would: 1) embody His name and 2) embrace His mission. Let's trace these themes through several different texts.

Exodus 19:6

Early in Israel's history the Lord introduced the connection between His Kingdom and His character. From Mount Sinai He declared, And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. From the outset He expected His people to reflect His holiness to the surrounding nations.

2 Samuel 7:22-26

David wanted to build a permanent place of worship where the Israelites could meet with God. God told David, though, that He would allow one of his descendents to build a house for His name (v. 13). Far from being disappointed, David was moved to profound thanksgiving and began to pour out his heart to God. He noted that there was no god like the one true God (v.22) and no nation like His people, Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself (v. 23). Yes, God redeemed Israel that they might make a name for Him (cf v. 26). The blessings He desired to pour out on His people were intended to cause the inhabitants of other nations to magnify His name.

2 Chronicles 6:20-33

When we move forward to the dedication of the temple built by David's son, Solomon, we find the focus throughout is on God's name, both in the promise that God would put His name there (v. 20) and in the repeated formula: Thy people … confess Thy name (v. 24, 26). This was far more than the reciting of a verbal confession but also required obeying of His word and embodying of His character.

At the end of this prayer of dedication, we begin to see the second Kingdom emphasis intertwine with the first, as Solomon mentions that foreigners will be drawn from a far country for Thy great names' sake and Thy mighty hand (v. 32). In other words, the foreigner would see the evidence of God's presence and power in the lives of His people and be drawn into God's family, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name and fear Thee, as do Thy people Israel (v. 33). Simply put, character and witness are wed in Kingdom thought. We cannot fully embrace His mission until we are willing to embody His name. Our character and lifestyle should be so compelling that unbelievers are drawn to our witness.

Ezekiel 36:16-36

This Old Testament text finds Israel in captivity because they had profaned [God's] holy name (v. 20). Yet God declared that He was prepared to deliver Israel for the purpose of vindicating His own name (v. 22-23a). Why? 'Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,' declares the Lord God, 'when I prove myself holy among you in their sight' (v. 23b). When God's holiness is manifest among His people, His mission to the nations will be advanced.

God's purpose with the Jewish people was not merely to establish a political, geographical kingdom, but rather to establish a people who would embody His name and embrace His mission.

The Kingdom's New Testament Introduction

John's Declaration

Despite these images from the Old Testament, many first-century Jews still understood Kingdom concepts in terms of political goals and nationalistic aims. Most of John's audience in Matthew 3 were looking for a political Messiah who would restore Israel to political prominence. But his linking of the word "repent" with the phrase "Kingdom of heaven" demonstrated that the Kingdom he was announcing required a spiritual response and not a political one.

Matthew 4:8

John's announcement was followed by the temptation narrative. In the final temptation Jesus was offered all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. His response to Satan — You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve him only — was essentially linked to His first recorded message — Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). Do you desire the kingdoms of the world and their glory, or the Kingdom of God and your Father's reward? This is an essential issue that each of us faces every day. This is the litmus test for answering the question, "Am I a Kingdom person? Do I have Kingdom vision?"

The Sermon on the Mount

These three chapters from Matthew are fundamental to our understanding of Kingdom thought. Throughout chapter 5 Jesus describes Kingdom citizens, starting with the Beatitudes. The first beatitude declared, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 5:3). Those who will inherit the Kingdom must recognize their spiritual poverty and have a desperate longing and hunger for God.

Jesus also compared the action of Kingdom citizens to the effects of salt and light (v. 13-16). He brought back into focus the twin themes of character and witness from the Old Testament — that Kingdom children should live in such a manner that their lifestyle reflects the Father's nature and makes people thirsty for God's truth. He went on to intensify and internalize the Kingdom citizen's standard of living by declaring that our behavior gives evidence of sonship (v. 45) and bears witness to the character of our Father (v. 48).

The focus in chapter 6 is on how Kingdom children practice religious activities (v. 1). Jesus specifically mentioned giving alms (v. 2), prayer (v. 5), and fasting (v. 16). In each instance He warned against practicing righteousness in a manner that would garner the accolades of men. Kingdom children, instead, live with one preeminent concern — to receive the reward of their Father.

At the very heart of this Sermon on the Mount is the instruction on how Kingdom children should pray.* The focus of prayer is on the Father, not on the needs of the one praying. The Kingdom person focuses on the Father's name, the Father's Kingdom, and the Father's will. Once again we are thrust back to the twin themes of character and mission. A key verse for all of our Kingdom thinking is Matthew 6:33, Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

The Lord's emphasis in chapter 7 on the way Kingdom citizens treat each other, pray, and obey the King again raises this combined focus on character and mission.

The Unavoidable Conclusion

Can you honestly say that your primary concern is to represent your Father's name through your behavior and to advance His Kingdom by joining God in His activity as you see Him at work?

Can you imagine the impact a Kingdom-focused person could have on the worldwide expansion of the gospel? Can you imagine the impact of thousands of Southern Baptist men and women, boys and girls determining to live daily with their Father's name, Kingdom, and will as their top priority?

Can you — will you — join Southern Baptists around the world in seeking to possess and perpetuate a true Kingdom vision?

* Editor's Note: For a deeper study of the Kingdom focus of this prayer, we recommend Dr. Hemphill's book, The Prayer of Jesus, from Broadman & Holman Publishers and the companion video series.

    About the Author

  • Kenneth S. Hemphill