Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Greatest or least in the Kingdom of God?

Matthew 5v19
'Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.'

Matthew 6v19-21
'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'

1 Corinthians 3v10-15
'By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.'

What will 'heaven' be like?
Will all people in 'heaven' be equal?

Not by my reading of the above scriptures.

The thing that always struck me about the verse from Matthew 5, above, is that both the characters mentioned in it are in the kingdom of heaven. Its not as if the actions of one send them to hell and the actions of the other send them to heaven, what we have here is two characters who are both going to heaven, but one will have greater esteem there than the other. They will not be equal.

The Matthew 6 verse also implies inequality. If you can store up treasure for yourself in heaven, then it is obvious that some will store up more than others. Therefore, in heaven, some will have more (possibly much more) than others. Inequality again.

And finally we have the verse from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. I thought about these verses long and hard several years ago. The sense is much the same as Jesus's 'store up treasure in heaven' saying, but Paul speaks of building a house. The interesting bit of the passage, in this regard, is the end of it. Here we have the case of a man who hasn't built with the right materials on the right foundation - in other words everything he has done is wrong - but, his salvation is assured, he is in the kingdom. When the judgement comes, all his (misdirected) efforts come to nothing, but he is still saved. He has nothing, and even has the pain of losing everything, but still makes it through to the kingdom of heaven. In contrast to this, of course, are the folk who have built on the right foundations with the right materials - they enter the kingdom with their buildings still standing, and probably with much treasure also.

So I think it is clear that both Jesus and Paul preach a message of inequality - even if we get to heaven, we will not all be equal. This is also clear from several of Jesus's parables. How many times does Jesus say 'the kingdom of God is like...' and go on to explain a situation where one man gets 10 talents, one gets 5 and one gets only 1, or similar? If I recall correctly, there are several parables like this.

The kingdom of God is not built on equality. There will be inequality in heaven.

What are you doing to store up treasure for yourself in heaven?

Oh, and by the way, I'd still rather be least in the kingdom of heaven, than be great in the kingdom of hell...


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Good post, Ricky. Well said.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Ps 84:10)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Ricky, Ricky Ricky. You've made a sandwich and then describe why the top piece of bread, the meat, and bottom piece of bread don't jive, and have overlooked the entire sandwich that was built around the meat. The whole sandwich is built around "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also". gotta go for now....I'll revisit here and continue later.

Ricky Carvel said...

Jojo, that's a strange sandwich analogy. But I haven't really missed the point of the Matthew 6 passage, as I was starting with a question 'will everybody in heaven be equal?' and then looking at the three passages which clearly seem to say 'no'. This post wasn't intended as an exposition of Matthew 6. But please come back and continue...

Anonymous said...

...continuing...what I meant by the sandwich analogy, in short was simply this: if you have a good grasp of the meaning of the Matthew 6 passage, applying the other 2 passages will take care of themselves. Perhaps I misunderstood, at first, your intent in this post, but I see it clearly now. I must admit my confusion as to why you would ask such a question as, "will everybody in heaven be equal?". As far as "rewards" are concerned, you are correct, but in my opinion, focusing on rewards is short sighted. Further, such short-sightedness tends to steer the reader away grom the deeper truths of scripture. Although your post was not intended to be an exposition, you may want to reconsider. After all, you wouldn't want to breed a bunch of Doubting Thomases, would you? I would like to comment on each passage:
Mt 5:19 You are correct; both are in the kingdom. One will be called least, the other greatest. I don't know why you see this "inequality" as a problem. All of creation is full of inequalities. The passage, however, is not emphasizing inequality, rather it emphasizes who will or will not be in the Kingdom. Read verse 20, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Therefore, even the least in the kingdom are in heaven and the Pharisees are not. Why? Because one is saved by grace and the other is not. The sins committed by a believer do not cancel his salvation, just as the "righteous" deeds of an unbeliever do not cancel his damnation. The intent of verse 19 is to instill humility in the believer; it speaks to the need for continually examining ourselves.
Mt 6:19-21 (By now you probably had enough of me, but let me continue). Again, context is key here. Christ is not emphasizing or implying that heaven will be full of believers whose "treasures" are not equal. See verse 24, "No one can serve two masters.....You cannot serve both God and money." Christ, in context of this larger passage, is distinguishing between those whose hearts are bent on amassing earthly treasure as opposed to those whose hearts are seeking heavenly treasure. The clincher is in verse 21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
1Cor 3:10-15 Ricky, you need to forget the inequality issue and remember context. Here Paul is teaching believers about the fate of those who teach and/or those who claim to know what true teaching is. There are consequences for sure, but not leading to eternal damnation. The larger issue (in context of ch. 3:1 through ch. 4:20) is their immature, worldly arrogant attitude in regards to teaching (see 3:1-5; 3:18-21; 4:6-7; 4:18-20).

jojo said...

Well Ricky, maybe I misunderstood at first what you were getting at; that's why I responded the way I did. Basically what I meant was the 1st and 3rd passage were a moot point if one had a good grasp of the Matthew 6 passage. But I see now that your post was not intended as an exposition. I am both relieved and sorry to hear that. Relieved because I first thought it was very poor exposition, and sorry because it is not exposition at all. Are you trying to make converts to the religion of doubt, Thomas? Even so, Thomas did not try to do that. I don't know what your intent was in this post except that you stated a premise (in the form of a question) and then took verses out of context to support your premise, all for the purpose of magnifying a trivial issue: inequality, [even] in heaven. Do you have a problem with inequality, even inequality in the kingdom? Are you trying to cast a shadow of doubt over the One in whom there is no shadow of turning? If you are a doubting Thomas, at least be an honest one like the original Thomas was. If you want exposition, I would be more than happy to accomodate you, but I fear that you couldn't handle it. Ricky, you really did miss the point, not only of the Matthew 6 passage, but the other two as well......remember: context, context, context.

Ricky Carvel said...


This blog is basically all about me 'thinking out loud' and opening up all my questions and doubts about the bible and Christian belief to an audience, perhaps of people who have thought these issues through.

I am not trying to create a religion of doubt, indeed, if you look at my previous posts on the subject of religion [1][2], you'll see that I think religion itself is the problem in many ways, and really don't want to start a new one.

My two reasons for this blog are:
(1) that I can't reasonably bring myself to believe some of the things in the bible. My primary example of this is Noah's Ark - there is just no way that that could have happened in the way presented, it must be a myth. But if even one story in the bible is a myth, then we must be careful not to blindly believe all the other stories.
(2) There are a great many assumptions made by Christians which aren't based on either the bible or common sense. I'd like to question those too.

Basically, I'd like to strip away all the unnecessary bits of the Christian religion and find out what the underlying truth is.

In this regard, the (usually implicit) assumption of many Christians I know is that all will be equal in heaven. This is not supported by the words of the bible, as pointed out above. Hence the post and the original question.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Perhaps Jojo's understanding of this post is coloured by the blog title. And he is seeing a sarcastic subtext that is not there. As I understand Ricky is not attacking the concept of inequality in heaven, but defending it.

I assume Ricky's post was provoked by a good exchange he had with an unbeliever over at my blog here. Which might help to give some context to the debate.

Thomas may have had his doubts, but he was still an Apostle of Christ who had a personal Christophany. So give the benefit of the doubt where it is due.

In the past Ricky has voiced concerns over some biblical doctrine, but in this particular post he is championing it, and doing a fine job!

Ricky Carvel said...

Thanks Chris!

Indeed. Here I am not taking the bible to task, but pointing out something in the bible that many Christians will not have considered.

On more than one occasion I have heard a Christian, when commenting on some tragic inequality in the world, offer up some barely-thought-through comment to the effect that all will be equal in heaven. But, according to the bible, this is not the case.

jojo said...

Sorry, Ricky, if I was a bit strong or harsh in my response. It comes basically from the same sentiments you have regarding "religion" and from the fact that many Christians are illiterate and blindly stumble around theologicl issues. One of the most irritating phrases for me is, "You just gotta have faith", as if it were some nebulous something that we can work up within ourselves. Maybe you are indeed a true doubting Thomas, and if so, maybe you can make that readily clear in all of your posts, ending each one with a request for help in understanding the issue at hand. If your blog is designed to rebut the teachings of your church, may I suggest to you that you go straight to your church's leadership instead of venting here in public? If you are truly looking for the underlying truth, then consider what the Messiah said, "I am the way and the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but through me." From my own experience I can tell you that when I began to seriously study the Bible, it was because of a ravenous desire to know the one who is the author and giver of life; it was not because I wanted to please any religious group or was protesting or had questions about their doctrine. I would like nothing more than to offer an answer to the questions you may have. If I cannot give a reasonable answer, I will tell you that as well. I'd like to know about your background; where you've been, where are you now, your age, your academic status, your relationship with God, to name a few. My guess is that you feel like you've been deprived of truth, not sure of what truth is, you probably have some college education, you have a somewhat disconnected relationship with God. So much for guessing, let's get to the truth.

Ricky Carvel said...

Jojo said:

'I'd like to know about your background; where you've been, where are you now, your age, your academic status, your relationship with God, to name a few.'

I'd encourage you to read back through the archives of both my blogs. That would give you a pretty good idea of where I'm comming from.

But if you want the summary: I'm Scottish, mid-30s, married with 2 kids, have been a Christian since I was 17, come from a (presbyterian) Christian home, I'm a 'research fellow' at a top UK university, educated to PhD level in science & engineering, I'm an internationally known name in my (quite small) field of academic research, I have read the bible in its entirety well over ten times and have studied quite a lot of it in detail (personal study, not academic study), I have experienced the presence and power of the Spirit and have known answers to prayer, BUT, while I know that some of what I have learned and been taught about God is true, I have begun to question some of the other stuff - to attempt to get rid of the chaff and keep only the wheat... I have come to believe that the collection of books we call the bible contains the speculation of man as well as the inspiration of the Spirit, and am seeking wisdom in trying to distinguish the two. I also see that many Christians believe a great deal of nonsense, and am trying to filter through that as well.

I think that pretty much sums up where I am.

Anonymous said...

A man had three sons in high school. One of them worked hard on his studies, even spending his spare time in an effort to expand upon the knowlege given to him during his classes. One of them listened and learned what was being taught, but worked no harder than was required. One of them paid no attention in his classes, nor did he do his homework; he spent his time with inconsequential things. The son who had refused the knowlege offered to him did not graduate. The son who had expended acceptable effort gained admission to college. The son who worked the hardest and had gained the most knowlege not only was accepted into college, but he was allowed to skip many of the introductory classes. Yet the father loved them all equally.