My Kingdom? or God’s Kingdom?
by Jack Wald | October 25th, 2015

I Samuel 18:1-4

I’m reading a book titled, Summer of ‘49 by David Halberstam. It talks about the competition between two baseball teams in 1949: the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. You don’t need to know anything about the game of baseball to understand what I want to tell you, so relax.

One of the most important defensive positions in baseball is the shortstop and the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers had the two best shortstops in the league: Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese. In 1949 Pee Wee Reese was in his prime and the Red Sox would have loved to have him playing on their team. The irony was that ten years earlier he had been with the Boston Red Sox but they sold him to the Dodgers. Why did the Red Sox sell him to the Dodgers in 1939? Was it because his talent was not obvious? No. Was it because he was not playing well? No. The reason he was sold is because in 1939 the manager of the Red Sox was also a player and the position he played was shortstop. So the manager/player kept telling the owner Pee Wee Reese was not a good player until finally the owner sold him. The Red Sox lost a great shortstop because the manager wanted to protect his position.

This is, unfortunately, how much of the world works.

Saul was anointed by Samuel to be the first king of Israel. He was successful in battle and the people were happy with him. Then came a standoff between Israel and the Philistines. The Philistine champion warrior, Goliath, came out to taunt Israel each day but there was no Israelite willing to go out on the field and fight him.

When David came to bring food to his brothers and saw that no one was responding to Goliath’s taunts, he volunteered to fight him. David defeated Goliath and Israel defeated the Philistines. This was a great military victory and the people of Israel were delighted.

How did Saul react? (1 Samuel 18:5–9)
5 Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.
6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. 7 As they danced, they sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.”
8 Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

Saul reacted just like the manager of the Boston Red Sox. He saw someone who would make his military stronger and instead of rejoicing in this, he saw David as a threat and began a series of moves to kill him. His daughter Michal was in love with David and so he let David know that if he killed one hundred Philistines he would give him his daughter to be his wife. Saul did this thinking that in the process David would be killed by the Philistines. (This is a strategy David later used to kill Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba.) But David killed two hundred Philistines, married Michal, and moved from success to success.

Saul then began trying to kill David himself. For the next eleven years David hid from Saul and his soldiers. Because of this the army of Israel was weakened and less able to defend themselves in battle. Finally Israel was defeated by the Philistines and Saul and his son Jonathan were killed. What would have happened if Saul had embraced David and encouraged him as a military leader for Israel? We will never know.

In contrast to Saul we read about Jonathan who recognized the anointing of God on David and supported and encouraged him. Saul was king of Israel and Jonathan was prince of Israel. Jonathan was the heir to the throne. When Saul died, Jonathan would be king. But then came David. (1 Samuel 18:1–4)
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

David returned with Saul and Jonathan from the battlefield, after the victory over the Philistines, and Saul kept David with him. In addition to being a warrior, David played the lyre which soothed Saul in his bad moods. There is a lot of speculation about the relationship between David and Jonathan. In our current age there is a move to go back in history and paint as many relationships as possible with a homosexual brush. When we read that Jonathan loved David as himself, that is interpreted as physical, sexual love. But this is a false interpretation. David was clearly heterosexual, unfortunately sometimes as when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. There are friendships that are intensely emotional and this was one of them.

Jonathan was a bold warrior himself. In an earlier victory over the Philistines, Jonathan and his young armor-bearer had launched a surprise attack against the Philistines. This threw the Philistine army into a panic and Israel’s army joined the attack.

Jonathan had his own moment against the Philistines but when he saw David, a young teenager, defeat Goliath, he saw David’s faith in God and he saw the anointing of God on him.

What happens when one person has power and someone comes along who is a threat to that power? Most often Saul’s actions are the actions we observe. But Jonathan chose a different path. Saul chose the path of death and Jonathan chose the path of life. Jonathan took off his princely symbols and gave them to David. Jonathan saw that God had anointed David to be king of Israel and stepped aside to help that happen. How often do we read about that in history? Not very often. This is a rare, amazing, beautiful act on the part of Jonathan.

Who else comes to mind in the Bible who acted like Jonathan? How about John the Baptist?

John and Jesus were cousins, born about three months apart from each other. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was with Elizabeth, the mother of John, almost to the time when Elizabeth gave birth. In the years that followed, at least during the three annual festivals in Jerusalem, they met together. It is likely they lived and ate together when they were in Jerusalem. They may have visited each other at other times of the year as well.

The point is that Jesus and John knew each other as children. When they were older and Jesus was working as a carpenter, John might have been part of a religious community, the Essenes. There are also those who speculate that Jesus was one of John’s disciples before it was revealed that he was the Messiah. There is a lot of speculation about their relationship, but what is clear is that they knew each other from their earliest years.

John began his ministry and large crowds came to hear him preach. It had been four hundred years since there had been a prophet in Israel and people were eager to see if John might be a prophet sent by God. Israel desperately wanted to be set free from Roman occupation and if God sent them a prophet, perhaps this was their time of deliverance. If I had been a rabbi in Israel, I would have talked about the four hundred year wait for God to bring Israel out of Egypt and drawn a comparison to the four hundred years Israel had been waiting for a prophet.

The point is that John the Baptist did not have a small ministry. He was not modestly successful. He was a huge success. He had many disciples. Crowds traveled from Jerusalem to hear him and to be baptized in the Jordan River.

There are many remarkable character qualities in John. When people came and asked if he was the Messiah, he said no, he was the forerunner to the Messiah. He did not let his success go to his head. That alone is a rare quality.

Then God revealed to him that he would see the Holy Spirit descend on the one who was the Messiah. When John saw that this was Jesus, I expect he was shocked. How could his cousin be the Messiah? How could the little boy he had played with be the Messiah?

The people in Jesus’ home town were not able to see this. (Mark 6:1–4)
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and even his mother with all that had been revealed to her, had difficulty seeing this. When Jesus began his ministry and the crowds came to him, (Mark 3:20–21)
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

But John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus and now he had a choice to make. He could chose death and fight for control of his ministry, as churches and parachurch organizations have done over the ages, or he could chose life and submit to Jesus on whom he saw God’s favor rest.

The gospel writer John writes about the choice John the Baptist made. (John 3:22–30)
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

He must become greater; I must become less.

Two ministries in the same general area. Two university ministries. Two churches. Two ministries working to feed the poor. Anyone who has been involved in ministry in the church knows that ministries compete with each other. Who has more people coming? Who is building a better building? Who is raising more money? Who is more successful?

When I was a university student there was Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, Navigators, as well as churches with student groups including the Park Street Church Seekers where I was active. We all talked about our unity in Jesus but the reality is that we kept a close eye on how each other were doing and were pleased when we were “more successful” than the other groups. When we tried to do events together, it did not seem to work very well.

So John’s disciples came to him to talk about the competition.
“Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

“Jesus is getting larger crowds than we are. We are losing people and he is gaining people.” What do we do when that happens? Wars have been fought by Catholics and Protestants. The Balkan war in the early 1990s was led by nationalistic Orthodox against nationalistic Catholics against Muslims. Many of the actions of the institutional church in history have been directed at building up the share of the pie each church has.

John the Baptist is a stunning example of how we all ought to behave.
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

Jonathan the prince who gave up the throne to support David. John the Baptist who allowed his ministry to fade as the ministry of Jesus grew. There is a third person who comes to mind.

Barnabas was a Levite from the island of Cyprus and a cousin of Mark, the writer of the gospel. He sold a piece of land he owned and gave it to the apostles for their ministry. His name was Joseph but the disciples gave him a new name, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”, because of his generous character.

When Saul came back from Damascus, no one dared go near him because of his past persecution of the church. They suspected, perhaps, that this was just a new trick on his part to get more inside information so he could resume his persecution. But Barnabas came to him. Barnabas met with him and used his influence to have him meet with the apostles.

After Stephen was killed (remember that Saul had stood as witness to his death), the followers of Jerusalem left and spread out to surrounding countries. When the apostles heard that the number of followers of Jesus were increasing in Antioch (current southeast Turkey), they sent Barnabas to investigate. (Acts 11:23–26)
23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Barnabas was a trusted leader in the church and proof of this is that he was chosen for this important assignment. When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, his ministry was effective. “A great number of people were brought to the Lord.” But there was too much for him to handle by himself and then Barnabas remembered Saul and thought about how his gifts could be used in Antioch.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Who did the people of Antioch see as the leader? When we read the account in Luke it is always Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas was the leader. (Acts 13:1–3)
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.

There were five prophets and teachers in Antioch and Barnabas is the first named.

Then came the beginning of the first missionary journey.
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Barnabas and Saul were sent out. Barnabas to lead and Saul to join with him, but then there comes a shift. They arrived in Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. (Acts 13:6–12)
6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Saul took the lead in combating the evil of Elymas and in the next verse we see a change. Saul is now called Paul, his Greek name, and it is no longer Barnabas and Saul or Barnabas and Paul. (Acts 13:13)
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.

Paul and his companions sailed. Paul is now viewed as the leader. From here on through the book of Acts we read: “As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue,” “devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas,” “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly” In Lystra the crowd thought Paul and Barnabas were gods and called Paul Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

Barnabas was not a man who wanted to hold on to power. Barnabas was not threatened by competency. Barnabas did not see Paul as a threat; he viewed him as an asset. When Barnabas saw the work in front of him in Antioch, he did not look for someone with lesser talent to help. He did not look for someone who would not threaten his position in the church. Barnabas brought Saul who had impressed him with his intellect, passion, and heart.

Jonathan, John the Baptist, and Barnabas: three extraordinary men. Three men who chose not to hold on to power so that God’s work could advance.

How does their example challenge us?

The first challenge is to those who are leaders in ministry.

My first position in church ministry, after I graduated from seminary and then after Annie graduated from university, was as a youth director in a Methodist Church in West Virginia. The pastor of the church was a theological liberal but he had observed that the strongest youth ministries in the area had evangelicals as youth leaders.

We arrived and after one year, the youth ministry that had five or six youth coming had expanded to fifty energetic teens. The pastor had been leading the youth ministry himself and became threatened by my popularity. There was some tension because of theological differences but the real reason for our conflict was that he was threatened and in one conversation at the end of the year he accused me of trying to take members of his church and start my own church.

I ended up becoming ordained in the Presbyterian Church and pastoring two small churches in eastern Ohio. A few years later I interviewed at a larger church to be an associate pastor. The church seemed good and the pastor and church were interested in me but then I talked to some of the previous associate pastors. They told me the senior pastor was threatened by competent associates. One associate pastor told me she had been getting more requests to officiate at funerals than the senior pastor and so the senior pastor put out instructions that all requests would come to him and then he would decide who officiated.

There are a lot of fragile egos in ministry but successful senior pastors are not threatened by competency in their staff; they encourage those people. When they do this, ministry expands and the church thrives.

In church ministry, whether preaching, teaching, or worship leading on Sunday mornings or leading small groups and other events during the week, what is most important? Do we protect our position as leaders? Or do we encourage others to use their gifts and help people grow in their own leadership?

Over the years I have loved having men and women who were highly competent working with me at RIC. We have been a better church because of them. My only regret is that they have been part of the transitional nature of an international church and moved on to other parts of the world.

I have seen Elliot develop as a leader in the church. I watched him teach himself how to play the guitar and then other instruments. And then I have watched as he has taught others. I watched him develop as a leader of the university student ministry. I have seen him develop as a teacher and preacher.

If I had been threatened by his talents and worked against him, where would we be as a church today? The university student ministry has exploded this year. Retreats in the past had about eighty-five students who participated. This fall, there was a retreat for just the leaders of the ministry and that numbered eighty-five students. The AUSF ministry has grown from about one hundred students to four hundred fifty students this year. It is a privilege for me to work alongside Elliot in his ministry.

Elliot is also not threatened by competency. He is continually training people and encouraging them to take leadership. This summer, when he and Kachi took Emmachici to see their parents and get passports, the student ministry did not fall apart. There was a great summer program complete with a magnificent concert and the reason for this is because Elliot had developed leadership over the past few years.

Life is coming out of the AUSF ministry and that is because no one is holding on to power.

We work for God’s kingdom, not our own. If Saul had cared for Israel, he would have encouraged David, not tried to kill him. Jonathan, John the Baptist, and Barnabas saw the kingdom of God as being of more importance than their own place in it. When we do the same, the church thrives and the kingdom of God grows.

This is true in church ministry but I think it is true in the companies and organizations where we work as well. This is the second challenge. The company or organization where we work is not the kingdom of God, but what we do there does affect the kingdom of God.

Anyone with experience in diplomatic circles, the military, NGOs, or the corporate world can talk from personal experience about people who used and abused people to reach their position. I learned that in the business world, business friends are people who can help you advance. As soon as someone is not longer able to help, that business friend is discarded.

What matters is not how high you advance but how you treat people as you move through your career. In your work, do you encourage competency in the people with whom you work? When you fill out a performance appraisal, are you an advocate for someone with talent?

Over the course of a career, it might be that you advocate for someone who later advances further than you were able to advance. That person might get to where you had hoped one day to be, but how high you climb is not the key issue.

What matters most is whether you, in each decision you face, choose life or choose death. Someone can go through a career and promote themselves at the expense of others, use and abuse people to get to the top, but what awaits them when they get there is death, not life. The process of getting there has wounded their soul.

Someone who cares about the people who work with them and for them may or may not climb to the top, but however high they climb, they will have chosen life along the way.

In ministry or in secular work, we are encouraged in the Bible to follow the example of Christ. This is true for those working in the church as well as for those working outside the church.

Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3–11
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

That is our example. If you choose to build your kingdom, you may end up with a room in your home with photos and mementoes of an achievement filled career, but all of that will be left behind when you die. You will have a room filled with memories of achievements but a shriveled soul.

If you choose to work for the kingdom of God, regardless of what you have in your room at the end of your earthly life, you will have rich relationships, true friendships, and the hope of eternity in your heart.

Paul continues:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This is the kingdom for which we are called to work. Don’t allow the temporary rewards of this life to distract you and pull you away from the eternal rewards of having worked with Jesus to build his kingdom.