First the Kingdom, Part 27, Righteousness, Peace and Joy
In the 14th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he proceeded to deal with the fact that believers were judging one another in areas that were not critical to their relationships with God. And yet, the fact that they were judging one another in this way was affecting their lives in the Lord, Whose primary objective is for believers to love one another. When we do not allow for minor differences in how we worship Him, we are not manifesting His love as we should.
This is the context of a favorite verse of mine in Romans 14:17:
….for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Two thousand years ago Jesus made it known that the time had come for God to establish a realm on this earth where righteousness, peace and joy would be the norm. In several parables He told how this kingdom would not always be easily seen or observed, but it would be real just the same, and it would eventually prevail in the world. It began in a community of people who followed Him to the place where they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live even as Christ Himself lived against all odds.
In the not-too-distant future, God will see to it that this entire planet is filled with “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea!” In this time there will be no more war among nations. There will be no dictatorships, no slavery, no starvation.
While we know that God has always been soverign over His creation, this plan to reconcile us all back to harmony with Him is revealed in the Gospel of the Kingdom. Christ gathered His followers together to bear witness to and manifest what the kingdom will one day be like universally. As a servant who was commissioned by Christ Himself, Paul was passionate to see the plan of God move forward. He took great care to explain this purpose to believers and to help them live together in Kingdom life.
Oh how today we could use the passion of Paul to point us all back to the great and glorious plan of God for His people! Christ is building His church, and He will bring all things into subjection under Him, but right now He wants us to be the proof that He is indeed Lord of all!
In chapter 12, Paul pleaded with Christians to be Christ-like. He called them to offer their bodies as living sacrifices for pure worship, to allow their minds to be renewed so they could be continually transformed. They would be proof of the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.
In modern times people tend to think more in terms of “personal salvation.” It is often about what God can do for me. We know that we can have personal peace with God by knowing that our sins are forgiven. It is normal in the natural stages of childhood that we think of our own personal needs, but with maturity we learn how our needs are intertwined with the needs of others. The kingdom of God is certainly about personal righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
There is a problem, however, when communities of believers forget to move forward in their considerations of others. We might think we are being very unselfish when we devote extra time to our fellow church members, and we should to that. At the same time any fellowship can become too focussed on the good of its members only. The Gospel of the Kingdom presses us to see the bigger picture. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself!
We need to move from what is right for us only, to what is right for those outside of our circle of friends. Before and during the American civil war, there were Christians who desired righteousness, peace and joy for runaway slaves. They participated in the Underground Railroad, and helped them find physical freedom at great personal risk. They were busy proving the good, acceptable and perfect will of God as they followed the Holy Spirit’s lead!
Why is it when we are challenged to give up some of our personal comforts that some of us recoil and cry out “legalism!” Why is it that some assume that the good works of others are always attempts to earn their salvation? Would not a closer look at Jesus and His early disciples help them to see that true freedom in the grace of God motivates and empowers us to liberate others? And expressing this freedom results in the true joy of the Lord?
Citizens and churches are too often divided into camps who oppose one another without even knowing for sure why. They judge each other for their different places in society or different ways in which they worship without even knowing the individuals personally. The Old cricize “milleniums” and the young mock the older values in general. Some criticisms may even be valid, but the generalisations are not.
The word “righteousness” has often become a theological word today, when it simply means fairness and rightness. Jesus put it this way, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Do you want to be judged by the color of your skin or by the job you hold? Do you want others to assume you hate them just because they are different than you?
This is what we call “getting down to the nitty gritty,” and “where the rubber meets the road.” I sometimes wonder if the great resitance I see to the Gospel of the Kingdom is based on fear that God might ask more of us than we am willing to give. If that fear is in you today, I believe God is calling you out of that place of fear and into a place of greater freedom than you have ever known before.
Maybe you cannot correct every injustice in the world, but you belong to a King Who can use you to right many wrongs in your life and the lives of others. This is what it means to have righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!