A Work of Love in Progress
“I love you.” We all say it but God means it. Simply put, in one of the greatest acts of love, God made man in His own image, an image meant to reflect God’s glory back to Him. Man walked in harmony with God. But when man chose self-will over divine will, man sinned and fell from grace. Yet, by divine intervention man is given a pathway of faith through grace for restoration to the God of the universe. Jesus, the Son of God, Bright Morning Star, the Christ and Messiah, pierced the darkness by coming to live a sinless life dying on a cross for our sins and rising from the dead on the third day and now sits in heaven at the right hand of God. Now, all men and women who profess Jesus as God’s son (Lord) and ask for forgiveness of sin (Savior) can enjoy the forgiveness of all their sins and are restored into full fellowship and will one day walk with God in a new city. This is true love. Such love radiates and resonates in those who have bent their knee to Jesus. An act that becomes an irresistible force passes His love along to others, extending His Kingdom of true love with true freedom in Christ Jesus.
Kingdom and Flourishing
There are few ideas powerful enough to transcend both time and world views. However, there is an idea or theme that encompasses all human activity and thinking. It stems from the natural or inescapable desire to live in peace, security, love, health, and happiness. This idea can be summed up as flourishing.
The desire for human flourishing motivates everything humans do—both belief in religion and the rejection of it; monogamous marriage and a promiscuous lifestyle; waging war and making peace; studying history and creating art; planting fields and building skyscrapers. The universal desire for human flourishing is the force behind every philosophy and religion known to humanity, the bedrock motivation for all humanity: for a life and a life more abundant.
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” Psalm 92:12-13
Because God is the only source of any good found in the world, man can only flourish and be truly happy when our lives are centered on God. The only way to properly enjoy (and not pervert) good things in the world is to love them “in God”. The ultimate double love of enjoying God and neighbor is the pathway to flourishing. It has been said that “salvation is the healing of love [so] that one may rest in God.”
To properly understand human flourishing, we must reflect on three biblical words that orbit this idea of flourishing and ultimately the advancement of the Kingdom of God: shalom, ashre/makarious, and tamim/teleios.
Jeremiah 29:7 Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Shalom/eirene, wholeness that leads to well-being: 10% of the time it refers to the state of existence. 25% of the time it refers to the absence of war. 65% of its usage refers to completeness, maturity, and especially overall well-being (economical, relational [with God and man], and in regard to health). The central concept centers around wholeness and, at its core, the natural consequence of well-being or flourishing. As Jeremiah 29:7 admonishes, as we pray for our community’s relational well-being with God and neighbor, including their financial and physical well-being, we too will experience these states of shalom.
Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Ashre/makarious, blessedness and happiness: Ashre stresses a state or idea of happiness or blessedness which casts a vision for a way of being in the world that will result in true human flourishing. Ashre texts, like the shalom ones, are statements that inform and reframe our understanding of what it means to truly live the good life, to have genuine well-being individually and collectively in society. Jesus begins his ministry with the nine “Blessed be” (makarious) statements of Matthew 5 by stating what true God-centered human flourishing looks like through God’s Kingdom.
Matthew 5:48 Therefore you are to be holy (whole/complete), as your heavenly Father is Holy (whole/complete).
Tamim/teleios, wholeness, completeness or integrity of heart: Matthew 5:48 says we must be whole, singular in who we are, and not one thing on the outside and one on the inside. It is not moral perfection but a whole-hearted orientation to God. This is what it means to be teleios, that as we pursue a wholeness of heart we experience flourishing and a happy life.
It is not an accident that in God’s Word, people described as ashre and makarious (blessed and happy) and possessing shalom (peace and well-being) are the ones whose lives are marked by teleios (wholeness). This is what it truly means to flourish.
Scripture understands human flourishing to be a function of God’s redemptive work in the world, the very core of His relationship toward His creation, individually and corporately. To be aligned with God’s Kingdom is to be a whole-hearted person, and as we grow in this reality we increasingly experience shalom and ashre. Moreover, the very way that God’s Kingdom and reign are described is with these same concepts. At its core, God’s saving work, His redemptive activity, His goal for humanity and all creation is that we flourish fully even as He Himself flourishes perfectly with overflowing abundance.
The implication is direct and compelling. God is concerned about our well-being and happiness—our peace, blessedness, health, joy, and abundance of life. This concept of flourishing is the consistent message of the Scriptures and the goal of God’s work. So if God’s goal in redemption is the restoration of our full humanity and our God-centered human flourishing, then there is no doubt that the mission of the Church—God’s people on earth—should be to do the same. This theological reflection and its practical outworking must be to bring true human flourishing to individuals and society as a whole and thus advance the Kingdom of God.