The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth. DC 65:1b
The year that I graduated from college, I was looking for something to do with my life. Specifically, I wanted to do something of worth for the world, and I looked into possibilities of volunteering for the Peace Corps or Vista. Shortly before graduation I talked about my plans with my father, a full-time missionary. He suggested that if I wanted to volunteer, I might consider traveling with him for the year and assisting in his ministry. I was thrilled with the possibilities, and asked if he really meant it. He did. And so, I embarked on a faith journey that shaped and molded my subsequent ministry.
It was during this time that we "discovered" the kingdom in the scriptures. It was not discovered all at once, but unfolded over several weeks in which, day after day, the scriptures began to come alive for me. Initially, we had been asked to go to Edmonton, Alberta, to help the congregations there focus their program. Members of the two branches had attended a regional meeting at which they had participated in a brainstorming session on goals and objectives for their congregations. They had come up with a list of 54 things to do, including everything from raising attendance to building a gymnasium for inner city kids. Where should they start? What was really important? These were the questions that we started to try to help them clarify. However, what we heard when we listened to the members of one congregation was quiet frustration over their inability to keep the church doors open. Wednesday prayer service attendance averaged 3 to 8 people. Sunday services were somewhat better attended. How will we do 54 new things? Someone observed that doing one new thing a week would result in the passage of a year before they ever got back around to the first item!
As we fasted and prayed about an appropriate response to this situation, the Lord impressed upon our minds the truth of the words, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you." Not knowing where it would lead, we called a meeting and read the scripture. Naturally, everyone thought we had something up our sleeves--some new program or technique--but we did not. All we had was the assurance that seeking the kingdom was extremely important. Over the next few weeks, there were five key scripture verses that helped us to understand some central truths about the kingdom. I would like to share them with you.
Key number five is the verse already quoted about the priority of the kingdom.
Key #5. Seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:38 (33)
But what is the kingdom? If you ask half a dozen people this question, you will get at least as many different answers. The spectrum covers everything from a nebulous purple blob to a city of righteousness to celestial glory. But what was Jesus talking about when he said the kingdom was at hand? I was reading through the book of Romans one day when this passage jumped out at me.
Key #4. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Romans 14:17
The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Here is a simple, clear definition of the kingdom of God! The kingdom is not the physical things, the meat and the drink, but it is the righteousness, the peace, and the joy that comes from the Holy Ghost.
The list "righteousness, peace, and joy" brings to mind another list that starts off "love, joy peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithÉ" These are the "fruit of the spirit," as given in Galatians 5:22. Picture a piece of fruit in your mind, say, an apple. Where does an apple come from? It comes from a tree, of course. And what kind of trees do apples come from? The answer is obvious: apple trees. The fact is, there is no other kind of tree that produces apples but apple trees. That is so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning, except that when the same questions are asked about the fruit of the Spirit, the answers suddenly seem obscure. Where does the fruit of the spirit come from? From the spirit, of course! But all over, we see people dying because they are looking for the fruit of the spirit and trying to get it from other sources. Take peace, for instance. Many try to obtain peace by filling their bodies with alcohol, or other drugs. But these things do not bring peace. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. It comes as a result of having the Spirit in your life. Many try to obtain joy by amassing money, or power, or having sex outside of marriage. But these things do not bring joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. And the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Just as we cannot expect to have the fruit of the apple tree if we cut down the tree after every harvest, we cannot expect to have the fruit of the spirit if we cut off the Spirit. So now it becomes clear that in order to build up the kingdom of God, it is necessary to have the Spirit of God with us always. Two questions present themselves.
First, is it desirable to have the Spirit always? One former pastor and long-time church member said he did not wish to have the Spirit always. Upon inquiry, he clarified his statement by saying that there were certain things that he did that he would not be able to do if he had the Spirit always. He was, I believe, being more honest than most of us in answering this question. Nevertheless, each of us must answer this question for ourself each day of our life.
If our answer is "yes, I wish to have the Spirit with me always," then the question of whether this is possible arises. Many saints do not believe that it is possible. At the same time, however, the phrase "that they may always have his spirit to be with them" is very familiar. Perhaps it is too familiar. It comes from the communion prayers. If we listen closely, we will find that the prayer on the bread lists three things that we are willing to do in order to have God's Spirit with us always.
Key #3. O God, the eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. DC 17:22d
According to this prayer, partaking of the bread symbolizes the fact that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus, to always remember him, and to keep all his commandments. In return, we will always have his Spirit to be with us.
The good news of the gospel is as simple as that. If we do these three things, God's spirit will be with us always. When that happens, we will begin to have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And when that happens, when righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost fill us, then we are part of the kingdom of God!
So there it is. Since taking the name of Christ and remembering Him always are commandments, the bottom line is that we are part of the Kingdom of God only when we keep the commandments of God. Only then can His will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven.
The hard part, of course, is keeping all the commandments. Who even knows them all? As faithful Latter Day Saints, we have more commandments than any other Christians. We have three books full of them! Is there any hope for us? For me, the key insight came from the very first section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Key #1. Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. DC 1:7
According to this passage, the commandments are made up of two sorts of things: prophecies and promises. I think of prophecies as those passages that tell of things that are certain to occur regardless of our individual action. For example: "A great and marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men," and "Zion shall be." Even if we choose not to be a part of these events, the prophecies will be fulfilled.
Promises, on the other hand, depend on our action as well as God's in order to be fulfilled. Each promise has two parts: a condition, and a blessing. The condition tells what we must do to be assured of the blessing, which is God's part. For example:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed; for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:10-12
Many people who read this passage say that it is a command to pay tithing. But paying tithing is only the condition. The blessing is that the windows of heaven will be opened and a blessing poured out that is so big that there will be no room to receive it! How long has it been since you have had a blessing so big that you had to tell the Lord, "Stop, I can't take any more blessing today! Please wait till tomorrow!" And besides this blessing, God is promising a physical blessing: crops will not be destroyed before they are harvested. Wow! Not only does God want to give us these blessings, but he also challenges us to put Him to the test on this one. "Prove me" in this context means "test me" or "try it out." What a promise!
Now promises by themselves are useless. We can search the scriptures finding promises until we are blue in the face and the kingdom will not come. But if we take the next step, the whole picture falls into place.
Key #2. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. I Thessalonians 5:21
In order to prove the promises, we must meet the condition. Then the blessing is received. As we begin to receive the blessings of the Spirit, we will have the fruit of that Spirit in our lives, which is righteousness, peace, and joy. And this is the Kingdom.
There is much more to say about the promises and the Kingdom of God, but for the moment, let us recall the key scriptures outlined here.
|#1. Find the promises.||DC 1:7|
|#2. Prove the promises.||I Thessalonians 5:21|
|#3. Keep the commandments.||DC 17:22d|
|#4. Have the Spirit.||Romans 14:17|
|#5. Build the Kingdom.||Matthew 6:38 (33)|