Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God in a Wicked Society
We do indeed live in a wicked society. Televisions can pump filth into our homes on a daily basis. The internet is saturated with pornography. Denominationalism is running rampant. One can walk down the streets of almost any community anywhere and see immodest dress and immodest behavior. God is being thrown out of our school system, rejected from our society and out of our government. We are governed for the most part by infidels. Islam is growing fast and it appears that the leader of our country is pro-Islam. Christianity is becoming less and less popular as society seeks its own interests over the righteousness of God. We do indeed live in a wicked and evil society. So what are we to do? How do we as Christians today seek first the kingdom of God in this present wicked society?
To answer this we are going to consider the wicked society in which the first century Christians lived and served God and make some applications from their circumstances to us today.
First we’ll look at the Jewish persecution of Christianity. When the church was established on Pentecost, the scriptures say there were about 3000 souls added to the church. The church in Jerusalem began growing rapidly and before long it had reached about 5000.
This started getting some attention and in Acts 4:4 we read of the Jewish high council confronting Peter and John about their teaching the gospel of Christ. By Acts 6, we see the church growing in Jerusalem to such proportions that the Jewish High Council brought Stephen before them where he confronted them directly with the hard facts of the truth and they killed him for it.
Now I want you all to just stop right here and think about this for just a minute. This is the same society that publicly scourged our Savior and spiked Him naked to a cross to die in shame and humiliation. Now they stoned Stephen to death. This was not just an isolated mob of angry people worked up to a frenzy folks. This was the Jewish high council; the leaders of the nation of the Jews. Now stop and think for just a minute. We live in a society that guarantees our right to the religion of our choice. We are free to worship and serve whoever we want and our government guarantees us this freedom.
As we go on I want to encourage each and every one of you in here to put yourselves in their shoes. I want you to imagine yourselves living in the first century as they did. You are no longer sitting in a padded pew in an air conditioned room, guaranteed the right to worship as you see fit under the protection of the most powerful nation on earth. Rather, you are living in the first century during some of the worst persecution that history has ever recorded. And let’s remember that the Christians who lived in that wicked society are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Jews hated the Christians intensely. In Acts 8, we read of Saul going into the houses of our brothers and sisters in Christ and having them drug out and imprisoned. Some of them were executed and Saul was in favor of it (Acts 26:8). Saul, acting under orders from the Jewish High Priest went about the land imprisoning and persecuting US. Not just them. Our brethren, US!!! Those were our brothers and sisters in Christ, Christians like US. WE were persecuted by Saul. He was operating under the direct authority and approval of the Jewish high priest. Saul came into OUR houses and he drug US out into the streets bound and imprisoned and had US taken back to Jerusalem as prisoners to face the Jewish High Council.
In Acts 8, we read that many of our brethren were driven from their homes and fled Jerusalem and went abroad. But we Christians didn’t just go quietly did we? We went abroad throughout the region preaching the word of God (Acts 8:4). We scattered out across the region and spread the gospel everywhere we went. But the Apostles stayed on in Jerusalem and continued to preach and teach Jesus Christ.
In Acts 12, we read of Herod having James the brother of John executed. The Jews were happy about that so Herod tried unsuccessfully to kill Peter as well. When Herod saw that he could win the favor of the Jews by persecuting Christians, he pursued that opportunity. Our Christianity, OUR faith in the first century was a life threatening religion. WE could not practice our faith under the protection of the government authorities. WE were hunted, persecuted and killed by OUR own countrymen. It was dangerous to be a Christian in Jewish Society.
In 70 AD, the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem because the Jews revolted against the Roman Empire. Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian leveled the city of Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the temple.
As a result of that devastation, WE were scattered across the Roman Empire. So what did WE have to look forward to under this development? Was the Roman Empire going to be any less cruel than the Jews?
The society living under the rule of the Roman Empire was a melting pot of all kinds of nationalities of people and religions. The Roman Empire was tolerant of other religions as long as they were not exclusive. As a Roman Citizen, there was an abundance of false gods one could choose from and worship. Some of them are even mentioned in scripture. Zeus and his supposed sons, Castor and Pollux; and then Hermes, Diana. Later after Saul repented and converted to Christianity, he preached a sermon in Athens where they had so many gods, they even had an idol set up to the unknown god in case they missed one.
The Roman society of the day had no concept of a single, all powerful God. The Roman Empire assimilated other cultures and nationalities into their society and they were tolerant of their gods. The result was a society with many gods they could worship. In their minds there were thousands of Gods and one could choose whichever one or however many they wanted to serve and do so as long as everyone paid their taxes and behaved themselves.
So the Christians might have been left alone except for one thing. Later in the first century, the Roman Empire required its citizens to bow down and worship her emperors as gods.
The confrontation between Rome and Christians arose for the most part because of OUR intolerance of other gods. A faithful Christian cannot and will not serve another god under any circumstances. To do so is, in the eyes of the God we serve, on the same level as marital infidelity. It is absolutely forbidden and carries with it the penalty of eternal damnation. Christians living in the Roman Empire rejected Rome’s pagan society with their numerous gods and they taught one body, and one Spirit, and one hope; One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all, (Ephesians 4:4-6). Eventually, Christianity became illegal according to Roman law.
So WE started assembling in secret, sometimes in the catacombs beneath the streets of Rome. Sometimes we gathered secretly in our homes, but this got to the point that it was not safe. Christians are required to assemble on the first day of the week and they did so at great personal peril to themselves. The Romans knew this and would learn of the secret gathering places of the Christians and would wait until they were assembled in their worship and raid their assemblies taking them prisoner.
Now keep in mind, we are not in the 21st century any more. We are assembled in the 1st century, in a secret place and we are worshipping God and conducting this lectureship in peril of our lives. Suddenly those doors burst open at the back and Roman soldiers storm in here and take us all prisoner because what we are doing here today is illegal by Roman law. What is our fate now? What do WE as Christians have ahead of us as prisoners of the Roman Empire?
Our sons might become slaves; our daughters often times faced a fate much worse than death. Our property was seized and we are taken as prisoners. In the latter part of the first century, we could be taken before a group of civil authorities known as the Concilia. The Concilia was an Imperial Cult of zealots who went about the Roman Empire and established the worship of the Roman Emperors as Gods. These people were acting under the direct authority of the Roman Empire and they had the power to do just about anything they wanted in order to promote the worship of the Roman Emperors on the citizenry of Rome. This was no problem for the Pagan citizens of Rome who were accustomed to worshipping many gods. The emperor was just another god among hundreds if not thousands.
Now this presents a real problem to a Christian. A faithful Christian cannot participate in any of this and have any hope of living a faithful life before God and inheriting a home in heaven.
So what did they do to US in this wicked society? We were sometimes piked in the streets of Rome, doused with an oily substance and set on fire to serve as street lights. We were sewn alive into animal skins and thrown to starving dogs or other wild beasts where they would mutilate and kill us as they tore through the skins to get to their victims. Sometimes they did this to US in the Coliseum in front of tens of thousands of jeering Romans. Sometimes we were pitted against the gladiators in the coliseum and butchered for an audience of Romans who were there for entertainment
The Concilia had the right to deny anyone in Rome the right to buy or sell property, to work for a wage and earn money to feed their families. They could seize the property of anyone and turn them into homeless beggars living on the streets, incapable of earning a living or buying food. They had a certificate that they would give out to the people living in Roman society. Without this certificate, one could not buy food to feed their families. You had to show the merchants this certificate before they could sell you food. Without this certificate, you could not work in a decent job and earn a decent wage. Without this certificate, no one was permitted to sell anything to you or hire you. Without this certificate, they were branded as traitors to the Roman Empire.
So how did one acquire this certificate? All one had to do was bow to the Roman Emperor and burn a pinch of incense in a brazier in front of them. Offer up a little worship to a statue of a Roman Emperor and you received your certificate and were good to go. Refuse and face persecution, your children sold off as slaves and your property seized. You might be forced to face the lions or the dogs or the gladiators in the coliseum. You might be forced to denounce Jesus Christ and Christianity while a Roman soldier held a sword to the throat of your spouse or your children. Refuse and you might have to watch your loved ones die under the knife.
Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire. Christians were hunted down, enslaved, tortured, mutilated or killed. Their property seized by the authorities, many who escaped imprisonment were homeless and unable to buy food to live on. They became the dregs of society, the ones you would see in the gutters of the streets, poor, destitute and seemingly without hope.
The circumstances under which our first century brethren lived were dreadful. They lived in a society so wicked that their lives were in constant peril. Now we have to ask ourselves right now, did the extreme circumstances under which OUR brethren lived in the first century have any effect on the expectations of the God we serve? In other words, did God cut them any slack because of the ordeals they had to endure?
In the pages of the Revelation, we have Jesus directly addressing several churches of Asia Minor through the inspiration of John. The Christians in these congregations were living in quite possibly the most wicked and hostile society that has ever existed in regards to Christianity. We don’t have to live our lives wondering what the expectations of Jesus Christ are for His church. We can open the pages of scripture and see it right there, left for us by inspiration.
Jesus addressed the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. That was where the temple to the false goddess named Diana was. There was no shortage of persecution there. The Christians in Ephesus certainly did live in a wicked and evil society. To the church in Ephesus who lost their first love, Jesus said in Revelation 2:5, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent“. He went on to say in V7 “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life“. They were commanded to repent and do the first works instead of the works they were doing which were obviously not right. They had lost their first love, which means they, as the bride of Christ, were not following the will of their groom. Their groom, Jesus Christ, told them to put Him first over everything else in their lives. The consequence for failure to repent, do the first works and return to their first love was to have their lampstand removed from its place. What does a lampstand hold? It holds a light. Who is the light of the world? Jesus Christ is. If one does not hold the light of the world, then one is not in fellowship with God. The Christians in Ephesus were warned that they would lose their right to Hold Jesus Christ as their light.
What was expected of the church in Pergamum where Satan’s seat was? The headquarters of the Imperial Cult known as the Concilia was in Pergamum. These Christians had some who had compromised their faith. Some of them were eating things sacrificed to idols. It was a customary thing in those times for the authorities to feed the meat that had been sacrificed to various pagan gods to the public. They held these wild riotous public feasts where this was done among other filthy and disgusting things. The Christians living in Pergamum were living right under the noses of the Concilia. You couldn’t hide from them because they had to witness your emperor worship personally before issuing a certificate that allowed you to buy and sell. If you did not have that certificate, you could not buy food. Faithful Christians could not buy food to feed themselves or their children. And God said to them I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality“, (Revelation 2:14-15). Sexual immorality was what went on in those riotous public feasts. Participation in these public feasts was prohibited by God. To participate in them would be to expose oneself to powerful temptations and God did not permit it. Christians were hungry but they were still not allowed to attend those feasts. What did He say to them? Revelation 2:16-17, “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.” These Christians living under the noses of the Concilia were hungry. These Christians were struggling for the food they needed to survive with. These Christians struggled just to feed their families. They were told by Jesus Christ to seek the kingdom of God first over their own physical needs rather than attend those feasts where sexual uncleanness ran rampant.
To the dead church in Sardis, Jesus said in Revelation 3:2-3, “for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” He went on to say in V-5, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life“. The Christians in Sardis were expected to seek first the kingdom in all their works. Their works were not perfect, they were not complete. Their works were not acceptable. Jesus Christ told them to seek the Kingdom of God first or have their names blotted from the book of life.
To the Lukewarm church in Laodicea, Jesus said, “you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). V-19, “Therefore be zealous and repent. V-21, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” They were told to overcome the evils of the world they were living in. Those Christians were expected to seek first the kingdom in their attitudes and their drive because they had grown too comfortable. Jesus was telling them to get off the fence and get to work. He expected them to do something; to show a little fire, to reach higher, to strive. It didn’t matter that Christianity was illegal. It didn’t matter that Christians were being persecuted and killed. It didn’t matter that Christianity was the least popular religion on the planet and that Christians were outcasts of society. It didn’t matter that almost every culture on the face of the earth was against them. They were still expected to serve Christ and to seek first the kingdom of God over everything else.
To the church in Smyrna, the persecuted church, He said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death“, (Revelation 2:10-11). The Christians in Smyrna were being slaughtered because of their faith.
During the Roman persecutions many Christians suffered the most dreadful torments in Smyrna. They were put to death at the stake, or by wild beasts in the amphitheater; their properties confiscated by the empire, enslaved, abused and tortured; and the only test applied to them was whether they would throw a few grains of incense into the fire as a sacrifice to the Roman emperor, or whether they would refuse.
These Christians living under these circumstances were expected to overcome and to seek first the kingdom of God even under the severest persecution or else suffer the consequences of the second death. Jesus Christ told them to seek first the kingdom of God over their own lives. They were told to die if necessary in order to remain faithful.
It made no difference how wicked their society was then. And it does not matter how evil our society is today either. Yes we live in an evil society, no doubt about it. It’s awful out there, but, nothing compared to what those who lived before us had to endure. If they had to overcome and seek first the kingdom, then what makes anybody today think we are expected to do any less? Who are we to set in here in this comfortable building with the lights and air conditioner and think we can ride a church pew through the gates of heaven? Who are we to leave this place of worship, under the protection of the constitution of the United States of America which guarantees our right and our freedom to worship, serve God and to spread the message of hope to a people are lost and dying and desperately need to hear the truth?
Who are we to miss a worship services today when our brothers and sisters in the first century attended them at peril of their lives?
Who are we today to think that God will accept anything less than our best efforts when many of our 1st century brethren lived and died for their faith?
And finally, where did our first century brethren get their instructions from? What was the source of their teaching? How did they know before the book of Revelation came along what was expected of them? They got their instructions in the first century from the same place that we get them today; from the scriptures. The society that existed at the time the scriptures were written was already wicked and hostile to Christianity. The New Testament church was established in a society far more wicked than the one we live in today. The instructions given by inspiration to the churches in Galatia, Thessalonica, Colossi, Philippi, Ephesus and others were all written to Christians living in a horribly wicked society and it was going to get much worse before it got any better.
They had the scriptures. They may not have been compiled exactly as we have them today, but they had them. They had the word of God, inspired, accurate and relevant to their circumstances. We have to always keep in mind that the scriptures were written to them. They have application for us today, but they were written to our brethren in the first century. Sometimes we tend to look at the scriptures as if they were written to us under our present circumstances. They were not. They were written to people living in a society so much more wicked and cruel than the one we live in today that it is beyond our comprehension. We have no frame of reference for that kind of society. We have no idea what it had to have been like. We can try to imagine it, but to actually live there in those circumstances and under those conditions and to read the word of God and understand what it meant to them is what we must do. Then we can see clearly enough to make the correct applications to our lives today.
Now we are going to read some scripture from the same word of God our first century brethren had. And while we read these scriptures, I encourage each and every one of you in this room to put yourselves in their shoes. We are not in Rush Springs, OK anymore. We don’t have Bibles printed out and sitting in the book rack on the back of the pew or at home on the coffee table. We don’t get to take them home with us and study them in leisure. We don’t get to leave this worship assembly and go set around in our homes and watch TV and visit with our families while we eat fried chicken and watermelon. Sunday is just another work day for us like Tuesday or Wednesday.
We have to organize our assemblies around our work days. Our work week is nothing at all like what we have today. Often times our assemblies are early in the mornings or late in the evenings and they are often conducted at great peril to ourselves. We are rejected by society, hunted, persecuted and despised by the wicked societies of the first century. Many of us are unable to work, unable to earn livings, homeless, living in streets or slaves to the Romans. Our brethren are being rounded up and slaughtered by the Roman Empire. Christians are being killed every day for their faith. Being identified as a staunch and faithful Christian was almost the equivalent of a death sentence. Many of you are hungry, barely able to feed your children. Many of you have become bondservants/slaves in order to survive. Our living conditions are horrific. There are temples and idols to literally thousands of false gods throughout the land. The government under which we live is trying to force us to worship their emperor and refusal to do so often times resulted in our deaths.
Now I want you all to close your eyes and imagine yourselves living in the first century under the Roman Persecution and I want you to listen to the scriptures I am about to read to you and try to imagine what they would mean to you living in the wicked society of the first century while trying to obey the commandment to seek first the kingdom of God, making it your number one priority.
First of all, what did Jesus teach?
Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Luke 13:24-25 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
John 6:27 “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Matthew 6:31-34 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Luke 21:36 “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Matthew 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Paul wrote this in 1 Corinthians 4:11-13
To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth, a Roman City filled with all of the corruption and persecution the Roman Empire could dish out. Remember, we aren’t setting in Rush Springs. We’re setting in Corinth in the midst hundreds of idols to false gods, surrounded by hostile enemies on all sides and we’re hearing this for the first time.
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” ‘I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”
Under certain circumstances in Corinth, to obey that was an automatic death sentence under Roman law.
Now we’re in Philippi, another Roman City in Asia. A wicked and evil society filled with idol worship and hostility to Christianity. Paul wrote this in Philippians 2:12-16
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”
There are literally hundreds of scriptures we could read but the point is, the Christians who lived and served and died in the first century under the Roman persecution understood what “seek ye first the kingdom of God” meant. In Jesus’ address to the churches mentioned in Revelation, He acknowledged their difficult circumstances and told them to remain faithful.
Jesus said, I know you’ve labored and not fainted. Now repent and do the first works or suffer the consequences. I know you’re poor, hungry and destitute, now repent and overcome that wicked society. I know you are hated, imprisoned, persecuted and being killed, now repent and overcome that wicked society. “Be thou faithful unto DEATH and I will give you the crown of life” Jesus acknowledged their difficulties but gave them zero tolerance for their circumstances. Of the seven churches Jesus addressed, He told all of them to overcome and six of them to repent.
They understood that to be a faithful Christian, the kingdom of God had to be their highest priority. Nothing could be allowed to come between them and God. They had nothing to live for other than that. Their only hope was in the kingdom. Their only chance for victory was in the kingdom of God. Their only chance for life was in the kingdom of God and they knew that. Their circumstances were horrible and they knew there was something better, they knew there was a place of refuge, they knew there was a place of safety and they knew the only way they could ever find it was to seek it first and foremost, making it their number one priority in life. Never looking back, never giving up, never stopping, never losing hope and seeking the kingdom no matter what. Jesus Christ was the only hope these people had and if they wanted to find Him and His kingdom they had to overcome their wicked society, living their lives according to the word of God and being faithful unto death.
How do we seek first the kingdom of God in our wicked society today? We have to realize and accept that there is a better place. We have to accept that our only hope is in Jesus Christ. We have to lay aside the things of the world, we have to separate ourselves from it, and realize that this world is the way of death and the path to destruction. We have to order our lives by the same word of God they lived by, patiently enduring and persevering, overcoming our wicked society and remaining faithful unto death.
If we are going to seek first the kingdom of God, then we have to place a value on it that is higher than the value of anything else in our lives. If we are going to seek first the kingdom of God in the wicked society we live in today, then the kingdom of God must mean as much to us as it did to our brethren in the first century. The kingdom of God was worth more than anything else on earth to them even more than their physical lives.
Our brethren in the first century knew that they had to seek first the kingdom of God in order to be in the Kingdom of God. It was their highest priority, It must be our highest priority. It was their only refuge It must be our only refuge. It was their only hope, it must be our only hope. The kingdom of God was sought ahead of their jobs or physical needs, therefore It has to come ahead of our jobs, our physical needs or our earthly ambitions. The kingdom of God was more valuable to them than their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, therefore it must be more valuable to us than our lives or the lives of our families. It must be number one on our list of priorities. They had to overcome, therefore we have to overcome.
Forget about the modern conveniences we have today. Forget about the luxuries our society lavishes upon us. Forget about the riches of this world because they are temporary. There is no other hope of salvation than through the kingdom of God. There is no hope of reconciliation to our creator outside the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the one and ONLY way to the throne room of heaven and there is nothing on this earth more valuable or precious than that.
We are a part of the church of Christ because we recognize that there is only one path to heaven, only one body, one faith, only one hope of our calling (Eph 4:4-6). We strive always to walk the path that must be right and than cannot be wrong. We strive always to be today what the faithful children of God were way back in the beginning. We know there were people saved then and we know beyond any doubt that we can be saved the same way they were.
We can go back to the source and in doing what the faithful first century Christians did, overcoming their wicked society and not giving into it, believing what they believed, living how they lived, striving for what they strived for and seeking the kingdom with the same fervency, urgency and devotion that they did, then we can live our lives of service to God in assurance and confidence of our hope.
We have it so much better than our brethren in the first century. We are blessed beyond comparison and often times we do not seem to fully realize it. Our lesson is drawing to a close but as we go, I want to leave you all with a final verse of scripture to consider. As we leave this place tonight, we need to ask ourselves if we are seeking first the kingdom of God. Is it our highest priority, is it the most valuable thing in our lives. Because if it isn’t, then we are living in a dangerous state and we need to repent and make the necessary adjustments to our priorities. With that said, I want to read one last teaching of Jesus from scripture and the lesson is yours. I encourage all of you to reflect on what Jesus is teaching after we leave this place of worship.
Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”