What is the right relationship between the kingdom of God and the world?
We don’t often say this, and when we do it is not popular, but there are only two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. If we ask someone which kingdom they belong to, they may try to create a third kingdom. I call it the “kinda sorta” kingdom. People sometimes say they are kind of in the kingdom of God but also still kind of in the kingdom of Satan. Or they may say they are somewhere in between. It is true that one can be “near” the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34), but that still implies that they are not yet in it. It is only when God rescues us from the dominion of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of his Son that we are actually in his kingdom where we enjoy redemption and forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:13-14). Once that takes place, what is our relationship with the rest of the world?
John tells us that the whole world lies under the power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19). Here, as often, John uses the word “world” to describe all that does not belong to God, that is, to Satan’s kingdom. So the question posed above could also be stated, What is our relationship to the kingdom of darkness? The parable of the Leaven gives a significant part of the answer.
Leaven or yeast is a small piece of fermenting, acidic dough that can be kneaded into flour to make it rise. The result is leavened bread, in contrast to unleavened. The word leaven is used figuratively in English to refer to a pervasive influence that permeates and transforms something, usually for the better. In the Bible, too, leaven is used figuratively. There it often has a negative sense (Luke 12:1; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:7-9).
In this parable, however, it is clear that the sense is positive. The meaning is that God wants his kingship to penetrate, permeate, influence, and transform the world. Whereas the parables of the Sower, the Seed Growing Secretly, and the Mustard Seed all have something to say about the growth of the kingdom, the Leaven says even more. Not only does the kingdom grow, it influences and transforms.
Unfortunately, one could also tell the Parable of the Flour or Dough instead of the Parable of the Leaven. In that parable, the Dough would quickly and thoroughly overcome the leaven to the point that it was completely absorbed into the dough, became indistinguishable from it, and so did not have any effect. That is not the true nature of things, however, and it clearly is not the will of God. Instead, God wants his kingdom to transform the world.
How does this take place? The kingdom of God grows by the power of God himself (Mark 4:26-29, see post). We, too, have been given a part, and we need to fill our role faithfully. That role is well summarized as doing what Jesus did, and more specifically as “teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). Or we might say, teaching people about life in the kingdom, telling people the good news of the kingdom, and demonstrating the truth and reality of the kingdom through our life and deeds. As we serve in these ways faithfully and with faith, God may well see fit to work through us so that his reign extends through and transforms the world. And in the end, the whole lump will be leavened.