It was a confusing bit of Scripture presented in our weekly church service that sent me scrambling to the pages of my Bible and commentaries this week. Here is the verse in the translation in which it was presented to me.
"And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it." (Matthew 11:12, NLT)
Violence, attacking, forceful - these are not words modern-day believers want associated with their spiritual convictions, especially in a world that seems to highlight the radical and violent actions of some religious groups. It seems that many people of faith are trying to convince the world that a hallmark of spiritual belief is compassion and meekness.
What place of relevance does a verse like this have in the life of a modern believer? Is Scripture condoning violence as we understand it today?
I hope such verses also send you in search of answers from reputable sources and wise mentors. The explanation I found was so much more edifying than the unresearched conclusion to which I initially jumped. I'll rely on the eloquence of famed Bible commentator Matthew Henry:
"They who will make their calling and election sure must give diligence. The kingdom of heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers but to be the rest of them that labour. It is a blessed sight; Oh, that we could see a greater number, not with an angry contention thrusting others out of the kingdom of heaven, but with a holy contention thrusting themselves into it!"
The violent here are the strong, the forceful, who refuse to bend to self - to the internal struggle that would render them impotent and ineffective believers. They reject passivity and pursue God's will with abandon, realizing that it is He who imbues their actions with power.
Those with a calling take it by force, not their own but with an internal drive to see God's will accomplished. This isn't by violence, as modern connotations would imply, but with a personal determination.
And to further this point, God gave me a fantastic example by way of a casual conversation with a city official. I complimented him on a local development that will help build the Sumter community. He politely demurred then added that it wasn't him - it was God. Then he referenced the story of Joshua and the city of Jericho, a story in which a man of God obeys the call to walk around the formidable fortress of Jericho to conquer it. Joshua was obedient to the call, and because of it, God crumbled the walls around the city and gave Joshua's people the victory.
Joshua was simply obedient to his call, just like the official I spoke to. He mentioned that he prayed for his job and his call to serve his community. He was determined that God would use him. He wasn't abrasive or offensive but quietly and determinedly focused on God's will for His life.
Oh, to have the same determination in my own life! My prayer for you as well as me is that we would implement more discipline and forcefulness into God's calling in our own lives.
Email Jamie H. Wilson at email@example.com.