What Does Training for Reigning Mean?
What do you think God really wants? Why is God shaking the institutions of this world, both religious and secular? The way we attempt to answer these questions either highlights the hope we have or may unmask the fear or fatalism we harbour. It’s into this line of questioning that the concept of “training for reigning” applies.
Above all things, God is looking for mature sons who will govern wisely and lovingly; who, reflecting His glory, usher in His otherworldly Kingdom into every sphere of society, every nook and cranny of creation. For even “creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).
Right now … in this very moment, we’re training for reigning … learning to govern on His behalf. Whether it’s the way we steward our thoughts and our dollars, nurture our relationships and responsibilities, utilise our resources and influence, or manage our conflict and limitations … we are harnessing our potential in Christ to rule and reign. When? Where? Both now in this present age and in the age to come!
Continue reading as we look at what God may be doing today and why He’s perhaps shaking an institutional construct of church. In my opinion, grasping this understanding changes our viewpoint entirely; giving us perspective and substance.
So, what is training for reigning?
One of the reasons why I think God is deconstructing an institutional construct of church is to teach His people, one and all, how to govern.
In a hierarchical construct of church, a small group of people carry a back-breaking overdose of governmental expectations while most of the congregation they oversee, have little or no expectations at all (except to serve the will of the overseeing leadership; who are, let’s be fair, 99.9% of the time sincere in their attempts to lead).
And, in my opinion, a lot of the governance in institutional church is exercised over others (and the organisational systems and programs they’re entrenched in)—rather than with others and, when necessary, between others (1 Corinthians 6:5 c. Matthew 18:15-17) as we together rule over the principalities and powers that we ought to be driving ‘out of dodge’ (Ephesians 6:12).
(That is a rather wordy but significant sentence that is worth reading again).
As a senior pastor myself, two decades ago, I realised that I was starting to show minor cracks in my life. These cracks developed from the excessive expectations I saddled (by ego-driven choices of my own and the pastoral expectations of others); cracks that would become cavernous as time ticked by. I recall making a list of the expectations I felt I was labouring under, reducing them down to their bottom-line form rather than the myriad items of my (in part, self-crafted) job description…
…that I must have a clear sense of calling, that I must hear the voice of God, that I must know the Word of God, that I must be a man of faith, that I must walk in the Spirit, that I must be a man of prayer, that I must know how to draw on the wisdom of God, and so on…
Then it hit me: God desires this for us all!
For sure, we all have different gifts and responsibilities. But one of the reasons that God is, in my opinion, bringing us back to the Hebrew context of family in our understanding of church and leadership1 (as opposed to the Greek concept of a legal body and directors of such) is to remove the bottleneck created by a positional clergy (or “pastor role”) inviting all into the privilege and responsibility of governance2.
Of course, the subject of government underscores the entire Bible. Most notably, the Bible’s book-ends give us both the origin of this truth and the glorious celebration of it fulfilled. In Genesis 1:26-28, God created human beings in His image and entrusted us with a dominion, governmental mandate. In John’s Revelation, the triumphant conclusion of this dominion mandate is celebrated. For example, in Revelation 5:10, the host of heaven applaud the Lamb, declaring: “[You] have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth”. Again, as John’s revelation is wrapped up, he declares that the redeemed “shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).
Because of the victory of Christ, we are called to reign as the sons of God (Romans 5:17; 8:14-17, 18-23). And thus, in every moment of our life—whether we’re presented with a wonderful opportunity or faced with an overwhelming challenge—we are training for reigning; learning to govern (starting with our own motivations, attitudes, thoughts and emotions).
As the wisdom writer explained, “he who rules his own spirit is better than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). And again, “whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
Training for reigning does not merely happen because we clock in the card at “church” once or twice a week or get a good sermon from the pastor (or download a message off the internet from Steve Stunning the Evangelist)3. Nor does training for reigning happen because we serve on a church staff or feel “a call to the ministry” and become one of the “elite”4.
Training for reigning happens in a shared, missional life in which I learn to govern over my own life (with help from spiritual parents and siblings) and then help others learn to govern over their lives (as I serve as a spiritual sibling and, in time, parent)—and then, together, we learn to govern in grace and truth; serving the collective sphere of influence God entrusts to us as a Kingdom community.
(That is another weighty sentence that may require a re-read).
When leadership slips out of the family context it ought to function in, opting instead for an organisational mode of governance, the “laity-clergy” rift surfaces again; on the one hand, “some” take on themselves too much responsibility, while, on the other hand, “most” abdicate the responsibility they ought to bear. George Orwell’s infamous line from Animal Farm comes to mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other animals”.
Against this, Isaiah’s prophecy booms down the timeline of history:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder … of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6, 7)
The government rests on His shoulder; not on the shoulder of any person, team, organisation or network.
The glory of a king is seen in his kingdom; specifically in how he governs and in how those who represent him govern. Thus, the glory of our King will fill the earth as we learn to reveal Him through our godly governance, as we lovingly serve others in grace and truth even as we overcome the principalities and powers that seek to oppress them.
So, what is God doing in the world today through simple church5?
It is not about how many simple churches we can pop out (although I believe it is God’s heart to have millions of authentic Kingdom communities); it’s not about a new paradigm so that we can all finally get our gifts working or our voice heard. Although this will certainly happen—hooray! Nor is it about an alternative way of doing church so that we have less demands and constraints in our lives. Although yes, we certainly need to be delivered from the demands of religious obligation but not just so we can have more “me” time.
What is God doing?
God is disturbing our slumber by dismantling our dependencies on a man-made construct, smashing our false allegiances to anything but Him. He is waking us up to embrace our destiny … to engage with our role as custodians of this earth as the ecclesia, the cabinet of the King6. God is shaking us out of our small-minded living and self-absorbed pursuits so that we submit afresh to His training for reigning.
And a Kingdom community is merely the best mode for training to reign. God designed the nuclear family to grow children into adulthood and He has designed the spiritual family to grow His children into mature sons who are able to reveal His glory through their Christ-centred lives and their Christ-filled communities7.
So, why is this so important?
Good question. Having suggested that unlocking the dormant dominion potential of His people is one reason God is shaking the traditional church and that a spiritual family is the primary means through which God has (in the first century) and will (in the twenty-first century) unlock this dynamic power, let’s amplify on this phrase “training for reigning”.
Paul instructed Timothy:
For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)
While bodily exercise is profitable no doubt, in comparison to our exercise in “godliness”—our practice of, discipline in, work-out, training (the metaphor here is athletic training, a popular Pauline figure of speech8)—it is distinctly secondary.
The word “godliness” is a fascinating word and means far more than merely “being a good Christian”. In fact, I’m convinced it is a synonym for “Kingdom living” and all of the weight that this phrase entails.
You may recall that the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) were written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome; at a time when the Roman Empire was murdering Christians as rebels against Caesar’s kingdom. It is my opinion that Paul used the word “Kingdom” selectively, knowing that excessive usage would aggravate the persecution inflicted against others and himself.
Thus, Paul’s revelation of “in Christ” is a synonym for the Gospel of the Kingdom. And so is this word, “godliness” which is used many times in the pastoral epistles in contrast to the word “kingdom”, which is used only twice (and both times in his closing emotional remarks in 2 Timothy 4:1,18)9.
Paul explains that exercise in godliness—or in the phrase I’m using use here, “training for reigning”—is “profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come”. We are training to reign (or govern) more effectively both in this life now and in the age to come.
Regardless of how people slice their end-times bread, we all agree on two things. First, when Jesus returns10, He will consummate (bring to full completion) the Father’s manifest Kingdom on earth; that is, there is a dimension of the Kingdom of God that can only be fully realised in the King’s literal return.
Second, until He comes again, we have work to do. Two gripping parables—of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and minas (Luke 19:11-27)—urge us to be “about our Father’s Kingdom business” (Luke 19:13); five versions of the Great Commission impress upon us an urgency to get to work (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8); Jesus’ emphatic statement that the gospel of the Kingdom must be preached as a “witness”—that is, a demonstration not just a proclamation—to all the nations before the end comes (Matthew 24:14), makes it clear where our responsibility lies11. And even above and beyond this, the victory of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension means there is much we are to appropriate and accomplish now … even before He returns.
Towards this end, we are training for reigning—learning to govern more effectively both in this life and in the age to come.
What’s involved “in the age to come”?
We’re not too sure. The Bible is brief on this and we must be weary of over-speculation (it usually doesn’t help to speculate too much; for by doing so, we often muddy the waters and tend to find ourselves overshooting the point). So what is the point? Let’s have a look at a case study from the streets of first century Corinth.
Paul writes to a church going rogue and sharply admonishes them for their lack of communal governance. Apparently, two men in their spiritual community were airing their proverbial laundry out in public court. Paul writes:
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1).
Then he makes some unbelievable statements:
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? …
… Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-5)12
Paul does not amplify on his statements regarding judging the world (v. 2) and judging angels (v. 3). However, the point is emphatic: how we judge or govern over “things that pertain to this life” (v. 3) is not only a training ground to reign more effectively now—our spiritual communities and relationships will be better governed in grace and truth—but it is also our training for reigning in the age to come.
This has some (actually, many) sobering repercussions.
Everything we go through—tribulation (John 16:33), trials (James 1:2-4), affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17), suffering (Acts 14:22 c. Hebrews 5:8), and so on—are opportunities in disguise (some come dressed in drag) allowed by God to teach us13 to govern at a new level of His grace and in a new dimension of His Presence. In other words, in His wisdom, God allows us to face certain challenges as part of our “exercise routine” for training to reign.
“Yes, yes … I know that,” most will say.
But add to this list, “interpersonal conflict” … and the “yuck” often experienced in church life (even in, especially in, simple church life where there is no place to hide and no system or program to dull the pain).
The modern believer is conditioned to find a “church” that suits his needs—great worship and teaching, an excellent children’s program, good facilities, blah blah blah are usually among the first points on the check-list as people go “church shopping”. Yet even with these boxes checked, too many usually hit the road at the first whiff of conflict or relational unease in the leadership or congregation.
Yet in true family, relational conflict is not an interruption to life; it is a part of life.
And here is the crux of the issue. God is deconstructing an institutional construct of church so that we return to true spiritual family; for it is in Kingdom family that we engage in training for reigning.
When we become embittered through the offences that arise in church life, despairing through the challenges that are inevitable when imperfect people try to learn to love and serve each other, we lose the opportunity to be transformed into Christ’s image from glory to glory by His Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). We default in our training and gag on the nourishment God has sent our way to harness our potential and capacity for eternity.
Again to the Corinthians, Paul amazingly sees in their awful abuses around the Lord’s Supper God still at work. He writes: “I hear there are divisions among you … For there must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognised among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18, 19). Wow! Paul is saying that God allows the “yuck” to surface so that the treasure is revealed. He allows the mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly so that what is “approved may be recognised”. What a wonderful faith he had! The knowledge that God was the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) was a gripping reality to Paul, not just a head-nodding cliché.
The “fruit of the Spirit”—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23)—is grown in ‘bad’ not ‘good’ soil; meaning, it is easy to be patient with or kind to people who don’t tax your patience and are not unkind to you. That doesn’t require Spirit-filled empowering; just common sense. As Jesus asked, “Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46). But when you’re on the journey with people who do exercise your patience, whose imperfections expose your own, then it is only our commitment to walk in the Spirit that will produce the nature of Christ within us.
What’s more, have you noticed who the beneficiaries of the “fruit of the Spirit” are? Yes, God desires that we bear fruit that brings Him glory (John 15:8), but most of the nine words used in this passage are directed man-ward not God-ward. The immediate beneficiaries of our joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are people, not God (even though this certainly blesses Him no end). Jesus affirmed that God is glorified when others are the beneficiaries of our faith (Matthew 5:16).
People, “especially” those in community with us (Galatians 6:10), ought to feast on the fruit of our lives. (The word “especially” does not mean exclusively; only that if we bless others but short-change our own spiritual community we have no integrity. We’re playing footie without a ball). May anyone and everyone who bites into our life “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)!
When I hear of challenges a church community face, I remind myself of this truth: conflict is not an interruption to life; it is an essential part of it. My heart weeps to think of how many people leave spiritual families because of conflict rather than working through it; finding a new level of community and character in the process. Rather they go from “church” to “church”—they never pass “shallow”; and are weaker and smaller each time, unprepared for their assignment now and in eternity.
Can you imagine if a child changed families every time things didn’t go his way at home? He would be an absolute mess! Any wonder why so many believers in the West are in the state they are? In comparison, our Chinese brothers thrive, despite martyrdom. They approach adversity and conflict very differently. Listen to Brother Yun: “We don’t pray for God to lighten our load; we pray for bigger backs to endure”. They’re training for reigning; we’re often padding up for another whipping.
Forgive me if I have overstated my point or if I sound patronising in any way14. This is certainly not my intention. I clearly do feel this is a vital issue to put on the table and that it is an area God is putting His finger on.
We can rest in the knowledge that in His wisdom and love, Father God is shaking all things in order to establish a “Kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28) and towards this end He will discipline us “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). As we yield to Father’s will, “it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
Take notice of this last statement by the writer to the Hebrews: “to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Our responsibility lies in yielding to His training, responding to His dealings—and this requires facing our challenges (not looking for the eject button) and working through relational conflict (not looking for a back door). Our rest comes in knowing that Father God patiently and graciously uses our imperfections, and the imperfections of others, to perfect that which concerns us (Psalm 138:8).
Here is the issue. In every challenge I face, I am either growing into the likeness of Christ—in my actions, in my attitudes and even deeper still, in the affections (motivations) of my heart—or I’m shrinking back from my prophetic potential and capacity as an eternal son of God. I’ll either greet the dawning of the age to come like a roaring lion, released from the confines of this sin-restricted cage, or stumble into it as a flimsy, whimsical shadow of my true self in God. As Paul said: “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
The hope of His return—and those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)—urge upon me a response: to eat the chicken of life, spitting out the bones. The holy dread of failing to hear those words, in Paul’s words, “suffering loss” instead, rips away from me the temptation towards self-pity and self-preservation.
Right at this moment, you and I are either growing into the likeness of Christ or shrinking back from the prize.
If you’re shrinking instead of shining, grab yourself by the scruff of the neck and shake … and don’t stop shaking … until you shake off every bit of apathy, cowardice and selfishness. Get brutal …. shake the rot!
If you’re growing, ensure that Christ’s glorious nature permeates deep; adjusting your actions to reflect His, altering your attitudes to mirror His and keep going deep, until even the affections of your heart are inflamed by His holy passions.
Then we’ll start looking more and more like Him. Amen or O-me!
1 What are Hebrew values? <My Big Fat Greek Mentality>
2 Yes, I understand that some are given gifts of government such as leadership and administration (Roman 12:8; 1 Corinthians 12:28) but here I’m referring to government in a broader sense; that is, in our individual and collective Kingdom responsibility to represent the King and reveal His nature wherever He has placed us and with whatever gifts He has entrusted to us.
3 I do not mean to be dismissive of preaching or teaching; far from it, this article is a teaching itself and I personally feel that God has given me a gift to teach (even though it is simply a “one talent” gift in comparison to the many great teachers in the Body of Christ). I am poking at our tendency to lay too much emphasis on a sermon or message, which if we’re honest, then too often encourages us to think and act increasingly independently of others (certainly not the intention of most good teachers and preachers); that is, “how do I fulfil my potential, how do I get my gift working, how do I be more successful?” Paul seems to be treading on these same toes when he says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (see 1 Corinthians 8:1).
4 I do not mean to be dismissive of feeling a holy call of the Lord; far from it, I feel this wonderful sense of call to relationship with God and a sense of the role He desires me to play. However, it is not reserved for the spiritual ‘black-belts’. We are all called to ministry regardless of what our vocation may or may not be (Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-23). Of course, out of responding to His call, our contributions are unique to us and differ in scope and grace (Romans 12:3-8)—but there are no second-rate children in the family of God.
5 Or a “Kingdom-shaped church” or an “apostolic wineskin” or a “post-denominational era”. All these phrases communicate something of the full picture we’re pressing out for.
6 What does ecclesia mean? <Lost in Translation>
7 It would be wise for me to point out that while a simple church family, or Kingdom community, is the primary “incubator” for spiritual maturity, being aligned to apostolic, missional vision—among other things—is an important, secondary ingredient to a holistic picture. But to avoid running into content covered in other articles, can I recommend the following to you (as a start):
Can anyone start a simple church?<Field of Dreams>
What is apostolic alignment? <A Few Good Fathers>
8 See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5 for example.
9 Space prevents a fuller look at this here; save to say, Paul speaks of the “mystery of godliness” in 1 Timothy 3:16. Even a casual reader of Paul’s writings will know that his use of the word “mystery” is linked to his understanding of the eternal Kingdom purpose of Father God accomplished in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 1:7-10; 3:8-11 for the most detailed expression of this; c. Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:2-7; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3). In Colossians, Paul uses this term “mystery” directly with his most outstanding teaching of the Supremacy of Christ and uses the phrase “in Christ” as a synonym for the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:9-28). In like manner, in 1 Timothy 3:16, he uses the synonym “godliness”.
10 The New Testament does not use the phrases “the return of Christ” or “second coming of Christ”; rather it refers simply and powerfully to His “coming,” a Greek word (parousia) used to describe the official coming of a king whose arrival would be permanent and whose impact would be lasting. Think about that for a moment. The coming of Christ refers to the arrival of the King whose occupation will be permanent and lasting.
11 Of course, much debate (and too many disputes) arises around how much we can actually accomplish before His return. This, in my opinion, is not as important as some make it out to be (although I value the varied opinions around this issue). When in fact Jesus chooses to interrupt us in His parousia is His prerogative; that He finds us obedient to what He told us to do is ours (Matthew 24:36-51). If we allow arguments to arise over when He is going to come in our scripted time-lines, then we’ve lost the plot and may miss the point badly. In a spirit of faith and the hope His return stirs, let’s throw ourselves into doing all we can with the resources He freely gives, knowing that when He does choose to interrupt us, so to speak, we will together rejoice with wide-eyed wonder and indescribable joy; we won’t stop for even a millisecond to fuss over who was more right than the next. (And while there are many valid theories that one can hold to with integrity, I still think we’re all in for a surprise).
12 There is actually so much to unpack from this passage and verse 5 in particular: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” For the sake of space, I make just two brief comments. Firstly, I see in this statement a rebuke against the parent-elders in their midst. You’ll notice the phrase, “among you”, is used consistently in reference to elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). It is interesting that Paul does not address the leaders directly; rather he pokes at the conscience of the spiritual community—they are all responsible as a Kingdom family. His implied rebuked thus has even greater clout than if he just wrote to the parent-elders.
Secondly, notice again that Paul urges them to govern “between” one another, not “over” one another. We are to govern “with” and when necessary “between” one another, “over” the demonic forces that seek to resist God’s will—but never “over” one another.
13 Of course there are times too when we experience the attack of the enemy; he too may be the cause of tribulations and affliction. However, I think he gets too much credit. It would be wiser to first consider whether Father God is in fact seeking to work something in us (Psalm 139:23, 24; Hebrews 12:5-11) or even whether we may be reaping where we have sown ‘bad’ seed (Galatians 6:7, 8)—rather than assuming it is always the devil. Even in discerning demonic activity, James calls us to first “submit to God” and then to “resist the devil” (James 4:7). And sometimes the best form of resistance is to not acknowledge him (give him place) at all (Ephesians 4:27 c. the entire account of Job). Granted, on other occasions, we are led by the Spirit to confront him firmly and intentionally (Luke 4:1-12 c. Ephesians 6:17).
14 And yes, I fully appreciate that there are many times when we have to agree to disagree, or recognise a season has come to an end—and even times when we have to bless each other as we agree to walk separate paths. I’m very grateful for Luke’s honesty in including Paul and Barnabas’ dispute in Acts. In fact, he holds no punches: “Barnabas was determined” to take Mark; “Paul insisted” that they shouldn’t … and with a lot of ego in the mix … “the contention became so sharp” (Acts 15:39). This passage has brought me great comfort having walked through similar situations with others before. It seems to me that Paul made up with Barnabas and Mark (Colossians 4:10) and, in fact, the result of their dispute was the launch of two fruitful apostolic teams. I have similarly seen God work amazingly through our situations when we amicably agreed to walk different paths with others—in both blessing each other in departing and respecting each other afterwards too (this second commitment is usually the more difficult one).
The point I’m making is that too many don’t even try to work it through and if they do try, it often ends in bitterness and finger-pointing.
“Father God, help us to work through these challenging times seeking first to understand and then to be understood”.