God’s kingdom works backwards. His reasoning and promises and ambitions for us are often counterintuitive. It’s one of the most difficult truths to explain to people, yet also one of the most important. So I’ve compiled a list, here, of kingdom paradoxes from Scripture—ways that seem backward to us, but normative to God.
The humble are exalted. The exalted are humbled.
“Those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14: 11)
Lose your life to find it. Find your life and lose it.
“Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose themselves for my sake will find it.” (Matthew10:39)
Slavery leads to freedom.
“Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:18; cf. 1 Cor. 7:22)
The foolish are wise.
“If any one among you think that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise.” (1 Corinthians 3:18; cf. 4:10)
The poor are rich.
“Listen, my beloved: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” (James 2:5)
The weak are strong.
“…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Die to live.
“…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:10)
Give to receive.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
The first are last. The last, first.
“The last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16; Mark 9:35)
There are other places in Scripture where this backwards spirituality is neatly summarized, most notably The Sermon on the Mount, which describes:
Wealthy Paupers (Matthew 5:3)
Happy Mourners (Matthew 5:4)
Passive Victors (Matthew 5:5)
Zealous Gluttons (Matthew 5:6)
Self-Enriching Benefactors (Matthew 5:7)
Everyday Visionaries (Matthew 5:8)
Adopted Ambassadors (Matthew 5:9)
Winning Losers (Matthew 5:10-12)
Additionally, there are plenty of koans describing spiritual development that, while not listed specifically in the Bible, are nevertheless agreed upon universally by mature believers.
The paradox of spiritual growth—the more you mature spiritually, the more you realize how much you still need maturing
The paradox of spiritual enlightenment—the more enlightened you become, the more childlike you will seem
The paradox of knowing and mystery—the more you know God, the more comfortable you are with all that you do not know about God
The paradox of love—the more love you require, the more love you give away