“The kingdom of the heavens is like a mustard grain, which a man took and planted in his field; which is, in fact, the tiniest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the largest of the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and find lodging among its branches.”
– Matthew 13:31-32
In this illustration, Jesus explains the simplicity of the kingdom message. It does not involve a lot of intricate moving parts. It is, in fact, the simplest of all messages – tiny as ‘the tiniest of all seeds.’ Yet when the message is planted in our hearts, the simple kingdom message becomes ‘the largest’ of all truths, providing comfort and lodging for all who seek it.
Simply put, the kingdom of the heavens is built upon the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. In other words, God is the Father of every man, and consequently, every man is your brother. Jesus began his ministry by planting the seed of fatherhood:
“You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth. Give us today our bread for this day; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.’ For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
– Matthew 6:9-15
And if we accept the fact of the fatherhood of God, we must also freely accept the associated truth of the brotherhood of man.
“But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One.”
– Matthew 23:8-9
The apostles and writers of the Christian scriptures understood the kingdom seed. In practically every letter in the Christian scriptures, the followers of Jesus refer to each other as “brother” and to God as “Father.” Practically every admonition was to strengthen the brotherhood, or to seek out more brothers through the ministry and baptize them into the brotherhood, and to ready the brotherhood for our heavenly inheritance. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.
The knowledge that we are all children of God carries with it many beautiful associations – the many branches originating from the tiny mustard seed. For example, since we are God’s children, we know that we are not orphans. We know that we are not the product of a random “big bang.” We were created, designed. We are wanted. We are loved.
“On this account I say to you: Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body than clothing? Observe intently the birds of heaven, because they do not sow seed or reap or gather into storehouses; still your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are? Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span? Also, on the matter of clothing, why are you anxious? Take a lesson from the lilies of the field, how they are growing; they do not toil, nor do they spin; but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. If, now, God thus clothes the vegetation of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much rather clothe you, you with little faith? So never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things.”
– Matthew 6:25-32
Since we are loved by an all powerful Father, we know nothing will happen to us that we cannot handle.
“No temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:13
Since our Father is perfect, we have the potential to be perfect:
“You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48
Since our Father is eternal, we have the potential for eternal life:
“This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”
– John 17:3
And since every man was our brother, out of respect for our Father, we would not seek to harm any of His children. We are told:
“Do you not know that you people are God’s temple, and that the spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] you people are.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
These are some of the benefits of being in the kingdom of the heavens – the spiritual brotherhood. But being in the kingdom of the heavens has responsibilities. It has laws. And, like the kingdom message, the laws of the kingdom are simple, uncomplicated.
The Laws of the Kingdom
The Jews were required to keep numerous commandments, rules of conduct, rituals and regulations. They were burdened down with meticulous requirements that interfered and invaded every phase of their existence. On a daily basis, they had to be keenly aware of every act they performed lest they somehow break one of these rules and find themselves in the disfavor of their religious leaders. They were in need of relief and release. Jesus came to provide that relief – ‘to declare good news to the poor, to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release.’ (Luke 4:18)
The people flocked to Jesus to hear his message of relief. Several of the religious leaders also followed Jesus as he toured the cities preaching his message, but they did not comprehend how truly simple the message was. They knew Jesus did not subject himself to many of their burdensome customs (Mark 7:1-8), so they thought they could trick him into speaking against the Law of Moses which would cause the people would reject him. So on one occasion, after answering one of their trick questions:
“[O]ne of them, versed in the Law, asked, testing him: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He said to him: ‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 22:35-40
By way of this response, Jesus explained that those who accepted his message are only required to keep those two simple commandments, and if we are successful in doing so, we will have fulfilled all other moral and divine laws.
The first commandment – to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind – is the easier of the two. People who seek a relationship with the Father do not have much trouble loving Him. He doesn’t “get under our skin.” He doesn’t slight us. He doesn’t irritate us. He doesn’t nag us. He doesn’t abuse us. To the contrary, He allows us the freedom to live our lives as we choose. And he is always ready with a blessing, even on our worst days. There are only two personalities involved in the first commandment, and one of them is absolute perfection.
But the second is easier said than done. The second commandment involves hundreds of diverse and imperfect personalities and, depending on our lifestyles, maybe even thousands! We are asked to love not only our family and friends, but our neighbors – those we may not know very well, those who we might not even want to know. And there is no requirement that they love us first or love us back. We are asked to keep that commandment in spite of the reality of its difficulty because it is the solution to the world’s problems.
Paul expounded on the far-reaching implications of the second commandment:
“Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another; for he that loves his fellowman has fulfilled [the] law. For the [law code], ‘You must not commit adultery, You must not murder, You must not steal, You must not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.”
– Romans 13:8-10
“For the entire Law stands fulfilled in one saying, namely: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:14
So it is exceedingly important that we find a way to apply both the first and the second commandments. But the truth is that it is really not as difficult as we might think. When we truly understand the interrelation of the two commandments, applying the second one is much easier. Let’s demonstrate:
If you are currently harboring any ill feelings for anyone, call that feeling to mind. If you are not having such feelings, reach back to a past event for the purpose of this demonstration. Remember what was done to you. Remember who did it. Remember how it made you feel. Now, in that mindset, if you were to try to apply the second commandment to ‘love that person as yourself,’ that might be difficult. Maybe you could muster some tolerance to “let it go,” but can you love that person as yourself? Depending on what occurred, it can be hard to forget, to forgive or to let go.
It is exceedingly difficult to love someone against who we hold a grudge. Nevertheless, that is exactly what we are commanded to do. So, how do we do it? This is where the power of the first commandment comes in – to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.
Applying the Law of Love
Take a moment to think of the Father. Contemplate His matchless personality, His divine mercy, the depth of His love. Consider His love for you ... personally ... individually. Call to mind His endless blessings you have been lovingly given. Know that he is an awesome God!
Now ... return that love to Him. Radiate back to the Father with your whole heart, soul, and mind how much you love and appreciate Him. Let that warmth flow out from your core in all directions. Sustain that joy. Hold those feelings. Maintain those thoughts.
Now ... become aware of your feelings. You have filled yourself up with divine love. Your entire being is engulfed in the highest form of human compassion. The power of this state of mind is absolutely exquisite because it crowds out all contrary emotions.
Examine yourself. Is there any place within you for condemnation? As you feel the love for God flowing through you, is there any room for judgment? Can you formulate a negative thought? Applying the first commandment neutralizes all negativity. In that state, it is impossible to harbor ill will toward anyone.
Now you are in a position to apply the second commandment because the love that you are now willing to share is not on your own strength. The love you can now show to your fellow is bolstered by the Father’s love. The second commandment has become much easier, even welcomed.
That is the secret of ‘loving your brother.’ Love the Father first. As Jesus said: “This is the greatest and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:38) It’s first for a reason! We apply it first. When we attempt to apply the second commandment first, we encounter difficulty – the commandment appears to be burdensome.
This process or methodology was expressed by the apostle John:
“By this we gain the knowledge that we are loving the children of God, when we are loving God and doing his commandments. For this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.”
– 1 John 5:2-3
And if this method does not work for us, i.e., if loving the Father first does not create in us the capacity to love our brothers, we need a self-examination. We are misleading ourselves:
“If anyone makes the statement: “I love God,” and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should be loving his brother also.”
– 1 John 4:20-21
Our brotherly love must encompass all of the children of God, including those of other faiths, other races, other nationalities, even those who might be considered unrighteous, even our enemies:
“You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous. For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:43-48
The goal of every child of God is perfection in personality (Hebrew 12:2), as well as perfection in love. Though we may not achieve these goals in this lifetime, that must be the direction we are traveling. In this life, we are not made perfect by what we do, but by what we strive to do.
Now we understand the illustration of the mustard seed. We understand how the truth that God is the Father of every man, can grow into a massive tree that encompasses the entire world and provides comfort and “lodging among its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) For if God is the Father of every man, and we love God with our whole heart, soul and mind, then we are able to love every man, who is our brother, as ourselves.
When we plant this tiny, yet powerful seed in our hearts, we begin to sprout righteous fruit – the fruits of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) Instead of taking laws from outside ourselves and applying them, we learn the law of love from the kingdom seed within ourselves and manifest them. The truth becomes our own and we need no one teaching us what to do or how to act. (1 John 2:27) The spirit is leading us. It is as Jeremiah prophesied:
“For this is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days,” is the utterance of Jehovah. “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.”
– Jeremiah 31:33
All persons thus lead by the spirit are children of God (Romans 8:14) who will eventually grow to the full stature of the Christ. (Ephesians 4:13) Yes, from such small beginnings, the tiny mustard seed has become a mighty tree.