Recalling what I was taught at Covenant Seminary, I can say that all kingdoms have three things in common: a ruler, a realm, and a reign. Thus, in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), Queen Elizabeth is the ruler. These and other states that consider Elizabeth their Queen are her realm. Her reign spans more than 60 years. Hers is a constitutional monarchy, and that fact greatly conditions how she rules. There is a law to which her rule conforms.
Psalm 47:7 says, “God is the King of all the earth.” Stating the obvious, in the Kingdom of our trinitarian God, God is the ruler. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God’s realm is the entire world. Psalm 145:13 says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.” God’s reign is everlasting.
Despite the simple clarity these verses provide, much controversy has surrounded our attempts to understand God’s Kingdom and especially the question of “how” God rules. At the risk of oversimplifying a tough subject, let’s start with the simple assertion that God rules by law.
In late 2006, I came back from two years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I had served as Food for the Hungry’s country director. I was then and am now totally convinced that the rule of law is one of the greatest gifts any nation can have. Congo is a “failed state” and, not being ruled by law, it is ruled by chaos. Millions have died there since the late 1990s from violence, malnutrition, and entirely preventable diseases.
In the broadest sense, laws are patterns imposed either by authority (e.g., the Ten Commandments from God or civil laws imposed by a human government) or built by God into creation (e.g., the laws of nature). The laws of nature are the laws of God every bit as much as the Ten Commandments.
We Christians believe salvation is by grace through faith and that obedience to the law, any law, cannot save us; however, law is not opposed to grace. In fact, in important ways, law and grace are mutually dependent. Like walls and a roof, they need each other. Like the physical and the spiritual, they can be distinguished, but not divided. Any nation or people that wishes to experience the grace of security and prosperity must be ruled by law, not by the whims of a ruler, a group, or the people themselves.
When God gave the Law to the Israelites through Moses, it was a great gift of grace to a people whose only identity was that of being slaves for hundreds of years. They were given a new identity as God’s people, a system of justice, basic hygiene and sanitation guidelines to maintain public health, and an economic system that provided protections for the poor.
In Mark 12:30–31, when asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Jesus clearly taught that love of God and love of neighbor were to be held together; neither is possible without the other.
Why? In 1 John 4:8 we read: “God is love.” At the center of creation is God, who is love. Creation’s laws or patterns come from love and lead to love. All creation, physical and spiritual, is accountable—and this too is grace. One of the great maladies of our time is lack of purpose in life. Accountability creates responsibility, responsibility creates purpose. Our being accountable to the “Law of Love” not only gives us responsibility, but also the purpose we so desperately need.
In my two previous posts (“You Will Always Have the Poor Among You” and “The Rich Man and Lazarus”) I’ve made the point that our tangible response to the physical poverty of the poor is central to the gospel, not peripheral. The Law of Love applies to all, but Christ’s followers have the special responsibility of demonstrating it for all to see so that they too might be drawn to the God who is love. Ultimately, what God commands will be done. “You shall” is both predictive and prescriptive. It points both to where God is guiding creation and how we are to get there. The Law of Love has been given to guide us, protect us, and enable us to experience life as God would have us experience it—all of us.
John the Baptist, called to “prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4), told the people, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none” (Luke 3:10). This was preparation for the gospel, foundational to all that would follow in the life and ministry of Jesus. The first public words of Jesus recorded by Luke are: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). In Luke 6:20, Jesus taught, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.”
These verses provide the context in which the gospel of the Kingdom was and is to be understood. Take the gospel message out of that context and it loses its meaning. One of the greatest needs in the Reformed and evangelical churches today is the consistent, coherent preaching of the gospel in its context of God’s special concern and affection for the poor.
Marty Martin recently retired as chief operating officer for Food for the Hungry (FH). He graduated from the US Air Force Academy and served as a rescue helicopter pilot in the US, Vietnam, and Greenland. Later, after graduating from Covenant Theological Seminary, he flew as an emergency medical helicopter pilot with Air Methods Corporation, eventually becoming vice president for operations. He continued in this role until called as executive pastor at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church (CCPC) in Denver. He joined the FH Board in 2003. In late 2004, on loan from CCPC, Marty left on a two-year assignment as country director for FH in the Democratic Republic of Congo, returning to CCPC in 2007 and to serving as an FH board member in 2008. He was awarded an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Colorado Christian University for his work in Congo. Marty joined FH’s staff in 2011 as chief operating officer and was based in FH’s Phoenix Global Service Center. He and his wife, Rosemary, have three children and four grandchildren.