Kingdom work is usually dirty, messy, and uncomfortable, but we don’t get to choose. We must remember that Jesus identifies totally and completely with humanity. When we deny others, we also deny Him. If we want to pick and choose what we will or won’t do, we risk His judgement – when we deny Jesus, He will also deny us.
Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:45)
I’m always awed by the perfect balance of boldness and compassion in Jesus. The same Saviour who wept over Jerusalem had no hesitation in clearing the temple with a whip. He lovingly healed the leper but had no compunction in rebuking those who needed it. Most of all, He spoke the truth without compromise. Yet behind everything was the mercy and grace of God. In all things, His heart was to turn the listener towards God and His divine purposes. Today’s verse is no exception. It may be a hard truth for some of us, but truth it is. Without hesitation, Jesus yanks back the curtain on one of mankind’s greatest failings. In doing so, He shows how well He knows us and the frailties and prejudices common to man. At the same time, He reminds all who seek to kingdom work that it’s on His terms, not ours.
The discomfort of kingdom work.
If we list the work Jesus did, the results are humbling. Very few of His works were for the affluent, the powerful, or the successful. Those people tended to be on the receiving end of His rebukes and challenges. Instead, we find lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and adulterers. He Himself said He came to heal the sick and save the lost. His kingdom work was with the outcasts, the beggars, the lame, and the diseased or disabled. There was nothing ‘socially correct’ about those He mixed with. He even took on the ‘very’ dead, as I once heard someone describe Lazarus. Even Martha protested the implications of opening Lazarus’ tomb after four days in their hot climate. There was nothing comfortable or appealing about the work Christ did. And, in all of this, He had no place to call home and no conveniences to make His ministry easier.
We can find the same pattern in the disciples in Acts. Scattered, in hiding, jailed, beaten, and even stoned, they paint a powerful picture of discomfort. Yet those early Christians had a zeal and passion for the purposes of God we seldom see in our churches today. The apostles didn’t ‘separate’ themselves into some kind of elite unit. They rolled up their sleeves and dived in, not hesitating to do the ‘dirty work’ of the kingdom. The reality is that if our ministry is all ‘good and clean and fresh,’ we need to rethink it. If we’re not challenged by the outcasts and the unlovely, we’re not really doing kingdom work. Ministry can be satisfying. It can bring greater fulfilment than anything the world has to offer. Work for God is its own reward, and brings a joy beyond measure. But it’s never comfortable, clean, or candy-coated.
Kingdom work is for all.
One of the truths highlighted by our verse is that it’s non-exclusionary. What this means is that kingdom work is for all, not some. While we may be called to different kinds of ministries, they all work for the good of the kingdom. There may be a particular focus to our ministry, but there are basic principles that apply to all of us. This is one of them. We are all called to ‘go’ and that means getting out there. Dealing with the broken and the hurting is part of the Gospel. Witnessing to the drug-ridden and dregs of society is too. Whether it’s the alcoholic begging on the corner or the stuck-up socialite who rubs us the wrong way, we don’t get to choose. Kingdom work is given and guided by the King. Today’s verse reminds us unequivocally that we’re ‘it’ if He says so.
We have a tendency to choose areas of ministry we’re comfortable with. I’m the perfect ‘for instance’ here. Left to my own devices, I would never have chosen to head off into the back of beyond. Yet this is the path He has chosen. On every trip, I encounter those He puts in my path who need His truth. Not all of them are ‘good and clean and fresh’ and not all are likeable. Human nature is such that we’ll go after the non-messy things and leave the grime to those who ‘have the anointing’ for that work. That’s a cop-out, a way to try to justify evading our kingdom responsibilities. If we have the Spirit, we have the anointing. Our verse makes it very clear that when we neglect those who brings to us, we neglect Him. Kingdom work, the nice and the not-so-nice, is for all.
We do kingdom work for and to Jesus.
Christ is central to the kingdom. It is through Him that the kingdom – the supernatural power of God – came to earth. He is in each of us, so His kingdom is still present. But the kingdom is always defined by and manifest in Jesus. We cannot separate kingdom work from Christ. This has a two-fold application. The first is that the work we do is for Him. It is a continuation of His own earthly ministry. This in turn means that we have to look to His example to find the ‘how’ of it. Remember, He said ‘these works and greater works’ so we have to look at the works He did. This brings us back to the outcasts, the lepers, the lame, and the unlovely. The works were great because the need was great. When we work for Jesus, this is what we must expect.
Secondly, kingdom work is always to Jesus. What we do or don’t do to others applies completely to Him. This isn’t simply clever talk on His part to make us feel guilty. It’s absolute spiritual truth – something we must understand and take hold of. The reason lies in the truth of identification which again, is two-fold. Jesus totally identified with us on the cross. He continues to identify with us now – Christ in us. We identify with Jesus on the cross and also continue to do so – us in Christ. This is grace that enables right standing and relationship with God. But Jesus identified fully with every single human being and continues to do so. If He didn’t, no one else could be saved. The identification that empowers salvation would not be available. If He doesn’t identify with us, our sin, and its punishment, we cannot be saved.
The servant heart of kingdom work.
The last truth highlighted by today’s verse is that a servant heart is needed for kingdom work. The moment we say, ‘I couldn’t do that,’ we have heart problems. We don’t get to pick our work, or who we work with, or even who we minister to. Like Him, we have to learn surrender and humility. The only way is in Christ. We cannot change our heart or our preferences and prejudices ourselves. The only solution is to have the new heart God promises – the heart of Christ in us. To receive that, we must first yield our own in exchange. But Jesus is very clear. He speaks openly of judgement, the result of refusing to do the kingdom work. And He’s not talking to outsiders. He’s talking to those who expect to be welcomed into His eternal kingdom. All of us need to reassess lest we deceive ourselves.
Lord, thank You for Your full identification with us and the grace that brought us into Your kingdom. Thank You for reminding us that this is an eternal spiritual truth and still applies to all. Forgive us for our prejudices and for seeking comfortable work rather than that You want done. Teach us to be humble and teachable, and give us a new heart to bring transformation. Enable us to do the work of the kingdom with joy and obedience, whatever You may call us to do.