The Boundaries of God’s Kingdom
IN HIS well-known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized the importance of seeking God’s kingdom in direct relation to its boundaries, that is, the persons whom it would include in its membership. Mentioning first the need for Kingdom heirs to have humility and a suppliant attitude, he said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.” By way of warning and encouragement, he also stressed the need for Kingdom heirs to keep within the bounds of God’s commandments, saying: “Whoever, therefore, breaks one of these least commandments [of the Mosaic Law] and teaches mankind to that effect, he will be called ‘least’ [hence unfit] in relation to the kingdom of the heavens. As for anyone who does them and teaches them, this one will be called ‘great’ in relation to the kingdom of the heavens.”—Matt. 5:3, 19.
2. How can and should the opening petitions of the Lord’s Prayer be applied personally?
2 Consider next the opening words of the model prayer forming part of that talk: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:9, 10) These are not just general petitions. In effect, they form boundaries, or guiding lines, that we must apply to ourselves personally. We must sanctify Jehovah’s name in our hearts and minds and in all our conduct. As the apostle Paul wrote regarding our conduct: “This is what God wills, the sanctifying of you, that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor . . . For God called us, not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification. May the very God of peace sanctify you completely.” We must not only desire to see God’s will done on earth in a general way, but sincerely seek to know and carry out his will in our own lives right now, and thus prove our love for him. This means our dedication. The apostle John wrote: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him . . . the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 Thess. 4:3-7; 5:23; 1 John 2:15-17.
3. Besides seeking the Kingdom, what else did Jesus mention, and how have many stumbled over this?
3 Later in Jesus’ talk, after warning of the dangers of materialism, “the things the nations are eagerly pursuing,” he says: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his [God’s] righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:32, 33) Strange as it may seem, Jesus here touched on one of the chief barriers encountered in seeking God, not only for the Jews, but for people generally. Most people are anxious to justify themselves and appear in the right, at least in the eyes of their associates. This is determined by their own standards, which vary greatly among different peoples, especially in the modern permissive society. The Jews generally sought to establish their own righteousness, trusting in their ability to keep the Law given through Moses. As Paul said: “They have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.”—Rom. 10:2-4; see also Galatians 3:10-14.
4. What is the cause of the difficulty? How does it operate, and how can it be overcome?
4 Surely, pride, the opposite of humility, is at the root of such a difficulty. It started with the Devil, “the god of this system of things,” and is a means by which he “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” Pride acts as a barrier to our seeking the true God. It turns our hearts inward upon ourselves in admiration. So there is a dulling of our mental powers in unbelief, and this acts like a veil. “But when there is a turning to Jehovah [in humility and sincerity], the veil is taken away.” Pride may well be a part of our natural makeup, but, as Paul said, we must “strip off the old personality,” and, instead, ‘clothe ourselves with lowliness of mind.’—2 Cor. 4:4; 3:13-16; Col. 3:9, 12.
5. (a) How did Jesus describe the requirements for seeking life, and why so? (b) Is the way of the world really one of true freedom?
5 Toward the conclusion of his talk on that mountain in Galilee, Jesus specified definite boundaries for those seeking life, saying: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matt. 7:13, 14) Do not let this discourage you. Jesus did not say that it was God’s will that only a few should find it. You can be among the ones finding that restricted entrance and road leading to life, if you are prepared to accept the terms of discipleship involved. (Luke 9:23, 24) In passing, we might add that the way of the world, the course of self-indulgence and self-determination, though seemingly without boundaries, “broad and spacious,” is actually a course of slavery, bounded by sin and selfishness, leading to frustration and destruction.—Rom. 6:16, 21.
6. What final warning did Jesus give, backed by what forceful illustration?
6 Finally, again stressing the need for obedience and warning against a mere profession of seeking God, Jesus said: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.” He concluded with a forceful illustration, showing the outcome to the one that “hears these sayings of mine and does them,” and the outcome to the one “hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them.”—Matt. 7:21-27; 15:7-9.
APPRECIATION LEADING TO MOTIVATION
7. (a) What qualities are vital in seeking God, leading to what fine result? (b) How was this demonstrated by Abel, Enoch and Noah?
7 With these sayings of Jesus in mind, we can appreciate more fully that in seeking God we must be ready and anxious to conform to all his requirements. Faith and devotion are essential. These are not just abstract qualities. If cultivated aright, they will motivate us to draw near to God in a close relationship with him, causing us to walk with him. This was true of those men and women of faith mentioned at Hebrews, chapter eleven. Like Abel, Enoch “had the witness that he had pleased God well.” Next, Noah “showed godly fear and constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” Concerning these men, it is said that they “walked with the true God.” Of course, you cannot be searching for a person if you are already walking with that one, can you? For those men the search was ended, though at all times they sought to retain Jehovah’s favor and approval. All those pre-Christian witnesses proved their faith and devotion by their works, their faithfulness and endurance.—Heb. 11:5, 7; Gen. 5:22; 6:9; Jas. 2:17; 1 John 3:18.
8. What truth is stated at Hebrews 11:6, and how do we today have strong grounds for faith?
8 Take to heart the fundamental truth expressed by Paul in that same connection: “Without faith it is impossible to please him well, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6) Actually, we have stronger grounds for faith than did those early witnesses. We have the complete Word of God with its wealth of information and experience. We also have the fine experiences of a great crowd of modern witnesses as given in the annual Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Additionally, we can see in our day the fulfillment of many of the God-given prophecies recorded by the faithful men of old. As foretold, all the evidence shows that Christ Jesus, the heavenly King, was enthroned in 1914 C.E. This is a day when people of all nations are being separated, just as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. Soon will come Armageddon, followed by the thousand-year judgment day in which God will “judge the inhabited earth in righteousness” by the one appointed and guaranteed, the Son of man. We are living in the day looked forward to by Abel and Enoch, and foreshadowed by the days of Noah. And Jesus said that, “as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near . . . [because you] know that the kingdom of God is near.”—Acts 17:31; Luke 21:28-31; see also Genesis 3:15; Matthew 24:37-39; Jude 14, 15; Revelation 20:1-3.
9. How does James link faith with endurance, and what further counsel does he give?
9 To increase our appreciation, our sense of values, so that our hearts impel us to maintain the right course of action, take note of James’ practical counsel: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance.” If you “let endurance have its work complete,” it will result in “the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” James also stresses humility and definite action in seeking God: “‘God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.’ Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.” To acquire such a depth of appreciation, motivating us to a course of unwavering devotion, calls for patience, as James explains: “The farmer keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, exercising patience over it until he gets the early rain and the late rain. You too exercise patience; make your hearts firm.”—Jas. 1:2-4, 12; 4:6-8; 5:7, 8.
10. On what two-way principle does God act, and toward whom?
10 James was not the first to mention the two-way principle on which God acts in meeting halfway, so to speak, those who desire to draw close to him. Centuries earlier, David was inspired to give this encouragement and warning to his son: “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart and with a delightful soul; for all hearts Jehovah is searching . . . If you search for him, he will let himself be found by you; but if you leave him, he will cast you off forever.” Similarly, Hanani the seer later said to King Asa: “As regards Jehovah, his eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him. You have acted foolishly respecting this [in leaning on the king of Syria instead of on Jehovah], for from now on there will exist wars against you.”—1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 16:9.
11. How and why can this two-way principle operate in a reverse manner?
11 Yes, this two-way principle can operate in a reverse manner. By his spirit, his invisible active force, Jehovah reveals himself and shows his strength in behalf of those who have a right heart attitude. God, “who knows the heart,” will give his holy spirit to those sincerely asking him. But he can and will withdraw his spirit if one turns one’s heart away from Him, as happened with Solomon. As recorded of him: “It came about in the time of Solomon’s growing old that his wives themselves had inclined his heart to follow other gods; and his heart did not prove to be complete with Jehovah his God like the heart of David his father.”—Acts 15:8; Luke 11:13; 1 Ki. 11:4.
12. (a) What was emphasized in God’s word respecting Solomon, leading to what fine motivation? (b) But what finally resulted regarding Solomon, and why?
12 Note the emphasis laid on the importance of getting to know God’s commandments and keeping well within their theocratic bounds. Just before the words spoken at 1 Chronicles 28:9, David told Solomon what God had said to him: “I shall certainly establish his [Solomon’s] kingship firmly to time indefinite if he will be strongly resolved to do my commandments and my judicial decisions, as at this day,” to which David added his own appeal. David concluded by giving his son this stirring exhortation: “See, now, for Jehovah himself has chosen you to build a house as a sanctuary. Be courageous and act.” He fulfilled that commission, but later failed in the vital test of keeping true heart devotion to Jehovah. With what result? “Jehovah now said to Solomon: ‘For the reason that this has taken place with you [in going after other gods] and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I laid in command upon you, I shall without fail rip the kingdom away from off you, and I shall certainly give it to your servant.’”—1 Chron. 28:7, 8, 10; 1 Ki. 11:9-11.
13. Through Malachi, what appeal did Jehovah make, and how has this had a minor and a major fulfillment?
13 With Solomon, the two-way principle ended in the reverse manner, to his shame and reproach. But it does not have to be that way. To Israel, though in Malachi’s day they had a long record in their disfavor, Jehovah made this direct and positive appeal: “From the days of your forefathers you have turned aside from my regulations and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you.” In a final day of judgment on Israel, a remnant did return and become disciples of Jesus their Messiah. Likewise in this judgment day on Christendom, which is the foremost part of Babylon the Great, a remnant of true Christians has been refined and cleansed and are proving to be Christian witnesses of Jehovah. Note what distinguishes them. “‘And they will certainly become mine,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘at the day when I am producing a special property. . . . And you people will again certainly see the distinction between a righteous one and a wicked one, between one serving God and one who has not served him.’”—Mal. 3:2-4, 7, 17, 18; see also Luke 12:8, 9.
14. (a) What fine building work got under way at Pentecost of 33 C.E.? (b) What worldwide ingathering is in operation today? (c) As noted by Peter, what requirements are essential for good building?
14 Solomon truly had a fine commission in building the temple, God’s sanctuary, but we today have an even greater privilege. The many buildings for which Solomon was responsible were built of timber and stone. However, since Pentecost, 33 C.E., the Christian congregation is identified as “God’s building.” “Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone. In union with him the whole building . . . is growing into a holy temple . . . a place for God to inhabit by spirit.” What a lofty conception of “God’s building,” comprised of “living stones”! Today, besides the remnant of the Christian congregation, Jehovah has inaugurated a worldwide ingathering in which you can share, resulting in a “great crowd” who take their stand on the side of God and his kingdom, in close association with the remnant of Kingdom heirs. Referring to Christ Jesus as the chief “living stone,” Peter quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy: “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am laying as a foundation in Zion a stone, a tried stone, the precious corner of a sure foundation. . . . And I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the leveling instrument.’” How important that we observe the boundaries marked by God’s “measuring line” and “leveling instrument” in this judgment day!—1 Cor. 3:9, 17; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-6; Isa. 28:16, 17.
RIGHTEOUSNESS—THE CHIEF BOUNDARY
15. How can righteousness be defined, highlighting what two attributes of God?
15 In contrast to the present wicked system of things, Peter says: “There are new heavens and a new earth . . . and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) Righteousness describes that which is upright, equitable and just. However, in the eyes and affairs of men the standard of what is right varies considerably, and is often influenced, if not governed, by expediency. In bitter conflicts over territorial boundaries between nations, each side claims to be in the right, but the outcome is according to the old saying that ‘might is right.’ It is never that way with Jehovah. True, he is “God the Almighty.” He is also infinitely wise. In fact, all his attributes are in the superlative degree and in perfect balance. His righteousness, however, is particularly exemplified in his love and justice. He is “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” His sovereignty, especially as related to his kingdom under Christ, who gave his life as a ransom, magnifies God’s love and justice in a wonderful way.—Rev. 16:14; Deut. 32:4; see also Malachi 3:6.
16. (a) Is it possible to pattern our lives after God’s standard, and how so? (b) What fine provision has God made to help us keep within proper bounds?
16 The more we appreciate this, the more our hearts are drawn out in deep gratitude, motivating us to pattern our own lives after the same standard. As Paul said: “You should be made new in the force actuating your mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” Specially concerning love, keep in mind that it is laid upon us as a law and a command, not merely an invitation. (Eph. 4:23, 24; see also Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:34; James 2:8; 1 John 4:7-12.) To help and guide you in this, Jehovah has gathered his people into a closely knit unity, like dwelling in a city of Bible times, bounded by a strong wall for protection. This is beautifully described at Isaiah 26:1-4, 7: “We have a strong city. He sets salvation itself for walls and rampart. Open the gates, you men, that the righteous nation that is keeping faithful conduct may enter. . . . Trust in Jehovah, you people, for all times, for in Jah Jehovah is the Rock of times indefinite. The path of the righteous one is uprightness. You being upright, you will smooth out the very course of a righteous one.”—See also Revelation 22:15-21.
17. If we feel that the standard is too high, how does God’s Word provide help and encouragement?
17 Perhaps you feel somewhat discouraged, feeling that the standard is too high for you personally. You may say you know yourself only too well. If so, do not forget that Jehovah knows you far better than you do. “As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” Much of the difficulty, even much of the wickedness, is due largely to ignorance of God’s purpose and kindly provisions. Do you recall Paul’s words to the Court of the Areopagus about this? “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance, yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.” This is not an empty statement. The time for ignorance is past; the time for repentance is here. Repeatedly the Scriptures show that in the final analysis, there is not only the matter of individual responsibility, but also the possibility of making an individual choice. Your past record and personality may reveal inherent weaknesses, or even worse things, that you feel cannot be overcome. However, the fact that God has many times appealed even to the wicked shows that no one’s case is hopeless, unless one has willfully opposed God and his standards, with no plea of ignorance or display of repentance. God’s warning and appeal to Cain show that at that time he could have recovered himself, especially if he had asked for help.—Ps. 103:13, 14; Acts 17:30; Gen. 4:6, 7.
18. Coupled with individual responsibility, what appeals are made to the wicked in Ezekiel’s prophecy?
18 Throughout the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapter 18, individual responsibility is stressed. “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” Repeated appeal is also made “as regards someone wicked, in case he should turn back from all his sins that he has committed and he should actually keep all my statutes and execute justice and righteousness, he will positively keep living. He will not die.” A similar appeal was made to the nation: “‘Turn back, yes, cause a turning back from all your transgressions, . . . and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit . . . For I do not take any delight in the death of someone dying,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘So cause a turning back and keep living, O you people.’”—Ezek. 18:4, 20, 21, 27, 30-32; 33:11, 14-19; see also Joel 2:12-14.
19. What responsibility and possibility rest with each of us, and how does Paul’s own record aid us in this regard?
19 As noted before, the same principle can operate in a reverse way. (Ezek. 18:26) Either way, the choice and responsibility are there. You can make a fresh choice, a right one, and make a fresh start to ‘seek God, if you desire to grope for him and really find him.’ He is not far off. Did you know that Paul puts himself on record as a striking example of one who had an extremely bad record as regards his former personality and deeds, but who, as he says, “was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith”?—Acts 17:27; 1 Tim. 1:12-16; Gal. 1:13.
20. How did Jesus stress this same possibility and responsibility?
20 The same merciful argument is inherent in Jesus’ words at John 3:16-19: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, . . . not for him to judge [condemn] the world, but for the world to be saved through him.” That was not said in mockery. It was a real possibility. Jesus was the “true light that gives light to every sort of man.” But, as Jesus said: “Men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked.” That was their choice. They preferred to stay that way.—John 1:9.
21. How is the generation of those seeking Jehovah described at Psalm 24:3-6?
21 For your part, why not join the generation described at Psalm 24:3-6? “Who may ascend into the mountain of Jehovah, and who may rise up in his holy place? Anyone innocent in his hands and clean in heart, who has not carried My soul to sheer worthlessness, nor taken an oath deceitfully. He will carry away blessing from Jehovah and righteousness from his God of salvation. This is the generation of those seeking him, of those searching for your face, O God of Jacob.”
22. What fine appeal is expressed at Isaiah 55:6, 7?
22 Why not respond to the appeal as expressed at Isaiah 55:6, 7? “Search for Jehovah, you people, while he may be found. Call to him while he proves to be near. Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will forgive in a large way.” This can be your experience and blessing.