The Egalitarian World of the Kingdom

But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.  And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23.8-12)

Well, the New Year is upon us, and we here at RHM have hit the ground running. For the next few weeks, we’re going to be cycling through some different aspects of the Reign of Christ—which, as I look around at the societal landscape now present, I feel we are especially called to put on display. Remember, we are not called to force the Reign of Christ (Earth’s new King) on anyone: the Kingdom of God is without coercion. What we are called to do is to put on display what the world changed by the Reign of Christ looks like and invite others to embrace Him too as their new King.

This week, I want to take a look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 23.8-12. The phrase I want to zero in on is, “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” Jesus had just said, “You are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” What Jesus is commissioning us to put on display is a community characterized by humble egalitarian relationships rather than hierarchical ones. In all actuality, Jesus was death to any person using hierarchical authority over another: “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20.25-26)

According to the Hebrew creation narrative, hierarchical relationships are a fruit of the relational schisms that took place in the garden; they are not reflective of original creation (Genesis 1.26 mentions authority over creation, but not authority over others.) Even in a perfect state, the narrative seems to hint at humanity’s inability to exercise authority over one other. Nor are they reflective of the new creation that has come through Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 5.17, NIV.)

The early followers of Jesus understood this vision. Notice Paul’s description of how the church that met in Corinth functioned: “When you come together, each of youhas a hymn or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14.26, emphasis added) The gatherings of the early church, historical scholars agree, were not ones where the majority sat passively silent while the same person taught every week. These were communities that embraced the priesthood of all believers, each one possessing a gift to share that would contribute to and build up the body. They saw themselves as having only one teacher (the Messiah), and they were are all humble students, together, showing each other what Jesus was teaching them. They met to encourage each another to continue following Jesus and to build each other up. These were communities where following the “one-anothers” of the New Testament could be practiced as well as put on display for the world around them to see.

This is a far cry from how church gatherings function today. And although a more thorough treatment of the differences must wait for a later time, today gatherings are characterized much more by passive spectatorship at a service or program by the majority of attendees, rather than being small open, mutually participatory gatherings where each person is exercising his or her God-given gift. To be sure, some are gifted teachers; yet any arrangement where the same teacher is heard from week after week robs the church of others whom the spirit has gifted as well.

The early followers of Jesus believed that together, they equally became a dwelling place for God. (See Ephesians 2.22, where the “you” is plural, not singular, and 1 Peter 2.4-8.) They believed that together, they were functioning here on Earth as the visible “body of Christ,” with only Christ as their “head” (Ephesians 4.15)—not “lording” authority over each other, but humbly and lovingly serving one another. In this way, they, as a community, believed that together, they were partaking of the “divine nature” (see 2 Peter 1.4) and that “all of them” were “one,” just as the Father was in Christ and as Christ was in the Father. “They” saw themselves in Them. (See John 17.20-21.)

The body metaphor used by Paul is especially telling when taken with Jesus’ words in Matthew 23. When our head signals to our hands, it doesn’t first signal the arm to tell the hands to move; neither must the hand submit to the arm in order for it to obey the head. Anyone who has a working knowledge of human anatomy knows that this isn’t even remotely how the physical body works. The brain sends direct signals to those body parts it seeks to influence; consequently, the head controls all of the body’s parts immediately and directly. It doesn’t pass its impulses through a chain-of-command scheme invoking other body parts along the way.

It must be noted here that each body part must be connected to the head for the head to communicate with each part directly, as well as being a part of the actual body itself. (There are no rogue parts: to be severed is to die.) But it is exactly for this reason that this metaphor works! The proper application of the body metaphor preserves the unvarnished truth that in the world changed by Jesus, there is no hierarchical authority practiced by Jesus’ followers over other of His followers. There is only one source of authority in the church: Jesus Christ. All members are connected to each other equally by His life, and together they are directly under His control. Jesus Christ is the head of the body, and He is the only mediator providing a direct line from God to each body part as a part of the overall body. (1 Timothy 2.5) Members of Christ’s body, although they serve one another, do not need any mediator other than Jesus Himself to tell them how to know God and follow Him.

Note these words written by the author of the letter to the Hebrews: “But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one…. ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. IT WILL NOT BE LIKE THE COVENANT I made with their ancestor when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt…. This is the covenant I will establish with the House of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I WILL PUT my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I WILL BE their God, and they will be my people. NO LONGER WILL THEY TEACH THEIR NEIGHBORS, or say to one another, “Know the Lord,” because THEY WILL ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST’.” (Hebrews 8.6-11, emphasis added.)

It is mutual submission (i.e., being submitted to one another and then together to Christ), not hierarchical submission (i.e., being submitted to someone else as they are submitted to someone else who has submitted themselves to Christ), that engenders the proper coordination of the body of Christ. (For more on the topic of Hierarchical Authority in the New Testament, please see https://renewedheartministries.com/Sermons/jesusdialogue2/outlines/16hierarchy.pdf)

All of the foregoing brings us to our point, the aspect of Christ’s reign that we are looking at this week. We are not called to put on display simply a religious version of the corporate structures of this world. On the contrary, Jesus is inviting us to experience (and then to put on display) a world where, rather than exercising power over others, we—together, as a community—come under His authority , each of us together learning how to listen to Him. And instead of “lording” power or position over each other, we learn what it means and what it looks like to serve each other with humble servant love.

In short, this is a community that is learning how to practice the “one-anothers” themselves and then extending the invitation to the world to practice this beautiful way of doing life here on Planet Earth as well.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13.34, cf. John 15.15)
HeartGroup Application

Today it is no secret that the non-hierarchical, open, mutually participatory nature of the early church is rarely seen, much less experienced, by those who attend what is labeled incorrectly in our Western society as “church.” To be honest, it’s just easier to show up, sit up, and shut up, and let someone else do all teaching and sharing while I simply sit there and allow myself to be fed. If that’s what someone prefers, that’s okay: let’s just be honest about it. There will always be those who prefer passive spectatorship over mutual participation. But let’s also be honest that whatever it is we want to label gatherings of that nature, they’re not even remotely similar to the gatherings of the early church. And too much passive spectatorship leads to spiritual atrophy and, ultimately, death, both individually and collectively.

1. If you have not yet joined a HeartGroup, I want to strongly encourage you to do so. If there isn’t one in your area, then start one. The groups are simply environments where we learn how to practice the “one-anothers” of the New Testament. It doesn’t have to replace your present worship service. Pick a night of the week where you and some fellow Jesus followers can meet together to mutually share what Jesus is teaching each of you. Make some time to encourage each other, to bear each other’s burdens, to pray with and for one-another, and to spur each other on toward love. If you’d like more information on how you can start a HeartGroup or how you might find one in your area, go to: http://www.rhmheartgroups.com/

2. This week I want you to pick something from the life of Jesus: either a story, a parable, or a teaching (like those found in the Sermon on the Mount). I want you to prayerfully contemplate whatever you choose each day, writing down what Jesus shares with you from other parts of the scriptures, from life experiences, from your prayer time—anything in which Jesus is helping you directly understand what in the Jesus story He wants you to see.

3. I want you to share with your HeartGroup this upcoming week what you discover.
Think of it like a Fellowship Dinner. If the same person did all the cooking each week, they’d get pretty burnt out, and you’d miss out on all the other fine foods of the other cooks that you could be experiencing as well. (Not to mention how some would even be learning how to cook if that were the case.) But when each person brings something small, they each get to enjoy that which is prepared, brought, and lovingly shared with each other. What the early church did was practice this feeding of “one-another” spiritually, as well.

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come!” (2 Corinthians 5.17) Let’s go put on display what the “one-anothers” of the Reign of Christ look like!

Keep living in love, loving like Christ, till a world where love reigns is the only world that remains. Let’s go enlarge the Kingdom!

I love you guys, and I’ll see you next week. Oh, and Happy New Year!