What is the point of your life and your purpose for living? In this article I am going to review Tim Keller’s article Life in an Upside Down Kingdom.
Tim Keller expands upon the teaching of Christ’s sermon on the mount (Luke 6:17-26). Christ was teaching about a new kingdom.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. – Luke 6:20-23 (ESV)
Keller wants to make sure Christians understand the two kingdoms. It is an important detail which needs to be discerned. He sees parallel structures within the two kingdoms, which can be easily misunderstood.
For example, if you are going to talk to someone about flying, the person needs to understand the properties of air, wind currents, thermals, and storms.
If you are going to talk to someone about what it means to be a Christian, they will need to understand kingdoms and what makes them different.
He recommends we look at three things to help us understand kingdom living:
- The Pattern of Values: What is valued in the kingdom?
- The Power Source: What drives the kingdom?
- The Product: What is the effect of the kingdom?
The Bible does not speak of many kingdoms. There are just two: God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Keller describes these kingdoms as either right side up or upside down.
Right side up kingdom
The pattern of values – This is the kingdom Paul describes in Ephesians 2:2. It is the kingdom of the world, where the lost follow the prince of the power of the air.
This kingdom values winning and the spoils of victory; happiness, recognition, and acclaim. This is probably why movie stars are so exalted in our culture–they represent the values of this worldly kingdom.
The power source – What powers this kingdom is the power of “now”. Faith in the unknown is foolishness. We want the evil desires of our hearts now. We do not rest until it is ours. It leads to quarreling and fighting (James 4:1-3).
The product – This kingdom produces people divided by what they have attained. It’s class envy and class warfare. They look down at the less fortunate, possibly donating to their cause, but done in a way where status in the value categories are increased–they can add the tile of “philanthropist” to their glory.
On the down side, it also results in hopelessness when they lose the things which are valued. The loss of prestige leads to “my life is over”. It may be why stock brokers committed suicide during the market crash of the 1930s.
Upside down kingdom
The pattern of values – The other kingdom is upside down when compared to the kingdom of the world. It values humility, sacrifice, grief and weeping.
This upside down-ness can be seen in Luke 9:24: For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
The power source – The power comes from Christ. It’s the realization Christ exchanged positions with you. He took your place – taking your portion of God’s wrath and giving you His righteous life.
You took His place and are able to sit at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-3). The power comes from realizing we are poor in spirit – not having the illusion we are in control.
We know everything is a matter of grace; apart from Christ nothing in our lives merits righteousness (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9).
The product – The results of this kingdom looks much different. Because the values of the old kingdom have lost their control, Christians are able to live recklessly. Not in a foolish way, but the way Christ lived.
- It is okay if we are exploited.
- It is okay to give away our possessions.
- It is okay to do what is right.
Kingdom living illustrated
A Christian is somebody who says, “I’ve lost recognition, but I’m famous with God.” That’s weeping but blessed.
“I’ve been excluded, but I’m welcomed by God.” That’s exclusion but leaping for joy.
Because as a Christian you have that pattern, you’re not controlled by the world. – Tim Keller
Keller provides an illustration involving two men about to lose their jobs unless they overlook illegal activities taking place at the company.
The non-Christian is tempted to lie because he is controlled by the old kingdom’s values. He can’t do without the comforts of his home, nice car, and large screen TV.
The Christian does what is right, because he is not controlled by the old kingdom. He can speak the truth and not fear losing his job.
He is not controlled by his worldly circumstances. The following is a table which summarizes the differences between the two kingdoms.
|Right Side Up Kingdom||Upside Down Kingdom|
|Other Names: Old Kingdom or Darkness||Other Names: New Kingdom or Light|
|Values: Power, Comfort, Success, Recognition||Values: Weakness, Sacrifice, Grief, Exclusion|
|Power of “Now” – Drive to attain temporary things like beauty, things which rust and moths destroy.||Power from Christ – We live by His reversal. He took our place. He put us where He deserves to be.|
|Product: Hang out with people of your caliber and those who have achieved what you have achieved. Life is over with loss of values.||Product: Live reckless lives, but not foolish ones. Not afraid of weeping, emptiness, or sacrifice. Knowing it’s all by grace.|
|Biblical Example – Belshazzar in Daniel 5: we party now because tomorrow we die.||Biblical Example – Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4: he was made poor in spirit and realized he was living his life according to the old kingdom.|
Misunderstanding kingdom living
The power for upside down kingdom living comes from the life of Christ, but not so much from His example. If power came from His example, then we would do what He did in order to be strengthened.
This view results in work-centered salvation. His example would only provide another set of rules to follow. The power for kingdom living comes from our union with Him. It was His life lived which reversed our fortunes. His life took you to the new kingdom.
Another teaching states how the Christian life is a life of delayed gratification–we suffer now but our treasure will be in heaven. Scripture says, “great is your reward in heaven.”
This new kingdom is ours now. Stephen said, “I see the glory of God and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of the Father” (Acts 7:56). And Paul writes how a Christian is one whose life is hid in God (Colossians 3:1).
Double minded kingdom living
After reading this article, I started to see how often I try to live in both kingdoms. The influences of the old kingdom are still at work in my heart.
Spiritually I am in the new kingdom. I have died to sin and have risen with Christ (Romans 6). I am a new creation. I am now a slave to righteousness.
But the enemy uses the values of the old kingdom to entice the evil desires of my flesh (James 1:14-15). I try to use the new kingdom to attain the values of the old kingdom.
I think the power of the new kingdom will bless me with the things I want from the old kingdom. I want a job promotion, a Caribbean vacation, and the attention of the pretty female co-worker.
I guess I am like Lot’s wife, being delivered, but longing for the old kingdom (Genesis 19:26). Understanding we live in the new upside down kingdom, with its values and powers can have tremendous implications for the Christian.
- It helps the shy husband who has made marriage/sex his idol to finally serve his wife. He no longer needs his wife and thus has no fears losing her. He is able to be like Christ, giving his life away to her (Ephesians 5:25).
- It helps the woman who was sexually abused as a child and has carried the weight of shame around all of her adult life. She now sees how Christ has exchanged positions with her; He has taken her place along with all of the shame while taking her life and hiding it in Christ with God. Now she is able pour her life into other hurting women – providing comfort as she has received comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
- It helps the terminally ill patient who is way too young to have her life come to a close. She sees how she has spiritually left the old kingdom. Additionally her values of the old kingdom have lost their power over her body. She is able to look to serve God and bring Him glory as she counts the days until she will see Him face to face.
- It helps the angry stepmother whose stepson is wreaking havoc on the family due to a heroin addiction. He is a big financial risk. She has been exploited by his many schemes. But instead of reacting in sinful anger, she remembers Christ has switched places with her. “It’s nice to have money, privacy, and comfort; but I’m going to live like Jesus because of who I am before Him. I’m not controlled by these things, so I’m able to move out and live in a way the world will consider reckless because I’m poor in spirit, not middle class in spirit.”
- It helps the middle age husband who secretly battles his addiction to lustful thoughts and pornography. He is aware of how the enemy is enticing his sinful desires (2 Corinthians 2:11). He knows his flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). He knows radical actions must be taken in his battle against sin (Matthew 5:29). His battle is not won by knowledge, but by remembering he no longer needs the cravings of his flesh – those desires are from his former kingdom. He needs to starve is flesh (Galatians 6:8).
Personally applying kingdom living
One way to grow in our understanding of the Gospel is to ponder this teaching. We can dissect the life of Christ into different theological categories which can be helpful.
But we must also stop and remember the reason He came. He came not to just rescue us, but He came to switch places with us.
- Are you living for yourself, spending all your money on yourself? Are you living like Jesus Christ never lived? Like Belshazzar? If so, you are living in the old kingdom.
- If you lose all of the old kingdom values, do you proclaim, “My life is over”? If so, you are under the influence of the old kingdom.
- Where do you mix your kingdoms? What are the values of the old kingdom which you still cherish (Psalm 66:18)?
- What light does this teaching cast on the “Your best life now” theology?
- How would you respond to a co-worker who professes Christ and says, “ I think Christianity should be practiced in moderation”?
- How does this teaching apply to decisions regarding tithing?