“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19 NIV)
Jesus told his followers their position in God’s kingdom was relative to their faithfulness to God’s commands. The people must have been stunned. Position was always something determined at birth. Status with God was different. Rule in the kingdom was attainable through obedience to, and the accurate teaching of, God’s commandments.
I want to link the kingdom teaching of Jesus to an issue dividing some Americans. When the presidential pendulum swung to the right last fall, opposing forces began to prepare for war; the anticipated battle over the next U.S. Supreme Court justice. The sides are fixed. At stake is the role of the judiciary. Will the nominee (who turns out to be Neil Gorsuch) interpret the constitution in a literal way, or will they take a “judicial activist” approach? Activists are subjective. Their interest is in achieving the “correct” outcome. Allegiance to their ideology is primary, which makes liberal judges political. To them, the constitution is outdated and must change with the times.
Our political ideas and arguments have spiritual roots. Outcome-oriented spiritual leaders are filling our seminaries and pulpits. Churches are abandoning the Scriptures as their constitution and taking an activist’s role. Rather than bringing culture into conformity with God’s Word, their ideology argues for accommodating the Word to culture.
The Book of Judges details Israel’s history during an era of steep spiritual decline. The people were all about outcomes. Everyone did what they saw fit. God raised up judges (leaders) who would return Israel to the rule of law, but no sooner had their enemy been defeated then the people again set God’s Word aside and did what they wanted.
It is ironic that proponents who praise and honor America’s Constitution, favoring a literal interpretation, do not show Scripture the same reverence. While raising the alarm about a nation without laws or regard for tradition, some political conservatives flaunt their independence from God’s commands. Those on the right are many times spiritual liberals. They read into Scripture the outcome that suits them, if they read it at all.
In a real twist, we have self-proclaimed Christian conservatives who maintain they believe the Bible, yet obey a maximum of nine of the Ten Commandments. If the Bible is indeed their constitution, why do they only give lip service to Jesus’ Great Commission? If they deplore judges who serve as political hacks making law out of thin air, why do they honor teachers of doctrine that does not exist in Scripture?
Why is it taught that Jesus’ coming is not really accompanied by signs and is, therefore, at any moment? Pre-tribulation Rapture (PTR) teachers offer opinions rather than substance. There is no (zero) Scriptural backing for their teaching, but that does not stop them.
I see a parallel in U.S. judicial history. In a case that gave precedent for Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote that he saw a “penumbra” (a term for “shadow”) of “a right” in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. I challenge any objective reader of that amendment to find in the wording a woman’s right to abort her baby. Others who wanted to find the penumbra somehow saw it too. As a result, the activist Warren Court legislated from the bench, and in 1973 added abortion to U.S. law after earlier banning prayer in public school. The teaching of Pre-tribulation Rapturism also had as its origin, a penumbra. (See “Shadows” in Lifesaver: Rescuing God’s People from the PTR Ship.)
The Bible is God’s Constitution. Those who hear Jesus’ teaching (above) on the kingdom should heed his warning that was confirmed in Matthew 7.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (Matthew 7:26)