“For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 14:17 NRSV
Continuing our talk on kingdom thinking with Paul's mandate for the kingdom being routed in the Holy Spirit. We cannot have the kingdom thinking without the Holy Spirit.
In our scripture, Paul here is aiming to bring the Spirit into focus rather than rules on eating and drinking. What matters is righteousness, peace and joy all through and in the Spirit.
Righteousness means conforming one’s nature with God’s holy standard, and peace implies the absence of anxiety. Joy is an overabundant and exuberant pleasure that comes from the knowledge of God’s goodness.
Paul’s statement here to the church in Rome requires an intentional walk towards righteousness. The context of this verse is the debate over what foods they should or shouldn't eat, which was a hot topic within the early church. Additionally, Paul is keen that they do not offend others with their diets, for the sake of Church harmony.
The question is asked how do we maintain peace and joy as well as a righteous lifestyle? If we take a go with the attitude ‘do whatever as long as it makes you happy’, we could find this does not line up with God’s holy standard. When we decide our happiness is more important than the right living we get into a mess. Especially if getting our satisfaction, through greed and selfishness is at the expense of others and causes suffering.
The most important part of this verse might be “in the Holy Spirit.” A walk of faith with the Holy Spirit (or, put another way, trust in the Holy Spirit) is the only way to live out Paul’s mandate. The Holy Spirit that inhabits believers is the key to finding direction towards the kingdom of God.
In our daily lives Paul challenges the church by saying “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.” (Rom 14:19)
We have to have an aim in life, Paul gives them this throughout his letter. Pursuing peace and ultimately the kingdom of God is the highest of goals. Paul attempts to orient the church away from their disputes over food and towards the purpose of unity and the kingdom of God.
Paul directs them to use their sense of deep meaning as a guide to optimal functioning in the world. For example not to live as the world lives but live as the Lord commands.
There is an instinct within us that guides us towards our desire for purpose and truth. Paul says to them to stop squabbling over what they eat or drink similar to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6. But consider the kingdom of God as the highest possible goal.
The higher the goal - the higher the reward. In a time of lack, we need to continue to aim towards the highest possible goal. Looking to Jesus and his kingdom will meet our needs, as opposed to focusing on the immediate need or issue at hand.
The kingdom of God as described here is about right living, joy and peace. As an aim, this may seem too high or too impossible to achieve but we are to have that goal regardless. Consequently when we notice, by watching ourselves we see how we are measuring up and we get encouraged.
Satisfaction comes as we make progress towards the goal It's not always about the finish line but whether are we going in the right direction.
What is robbing us of our holy living?
What habits do we have in our lives that are not conducive to holy living? Righteousness means living a life of divine approval, rather than the approval of human beings. Some have a greater sense of people pleasing rather than Christ pleasing which can at times bring us to compromise. This word in Greek is linked with ‘just living’ or doing justice. To be ‘declared right’ means that justice is done and you have been vindicated in the eyes of the Lord. It also means that we are living with integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, and correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting.
Jesus said in his famous sermon in Matthew 5 while teaching the importance of the law. The law is the highest of standards with which righteousness is measured. He tells his followers.
“For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:20 NRSV
The teachers of the law were called out as hypocrites by Christ on many occasions. Their self-efforts to fulfil the law were failing and they were failing to observe the very teaching they taught. However, Jesus said you will have a helper when it comes to living right. This is the work of the Spirit that Jesus talked about in John 16
“And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
John 16:8-11 NRSV
The Spirit helps us with our weaknesses and He guides us. The way out of sin is belief, and the way into righteousness is Christ's advocacy with the Father. Finally, the judgement because Christ will take the throne and the evil one will be dethroned and condemned.
If we are being robbed of our right standing get into faith in Christ's work on the cross his advocacy with the father and the truth of his kingly rule in submission to his Lordship.
What is robbing us of our peace
The word here means security, safety, and prosperity, this word peace was often used in a saying like ‘go in the peace of the Messiah.’ As such it was a messianic blessing said to friends until you saw them again. In his farewell, Jesus would say to them that they may have peace.
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
John 16:33 NRSV
If our peace is being robbed, we need to take courage and face those things down, knowing Christ has already won the victory. We can feel persecuted today for taking a stand and suffering for the gospel (see 1 Peter 1, and 5) But life in general for a lot of people today is hard. Anxiety is a big problem, another thing the church needs to be at the forefront in reaching out to our society. Psychologists encourage their patients to voluntarily and incrementally face their phobias. Which first gives them the courage to face those things making them anxious in a way which increases their strength.
What is robbing us of our Joy
The word here literally means the joy we have because of the favour (grace) of God.
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
John 15:11 NRSV
Jesus was looking for complete joy not just temporary happiness. Staying connected to the vine is the key to this verse; this is what we do as a group of believers. Those who are feeling disconnected because of their circumstances or tragedy or suffering we reach out to them and reconnect just as a vinedresser would lift the vine and bind it, clean it and restore its health. Joy comes from knowing you have favour with God and that you are part of a family who looks out for each other.
A walk of faith with the Holy Spirit (or, put another way, trust in the Holy Spirit) is the only way to live out Paul’s mandate. The Holy Spirit that inhabits believers is the key to finding direction towards the kingdom of God. We are challenged if we are part of this kingdom, what does walking in justice and righteousness look like, both to us and our communities? Justice is not just unless it is for all. Peace and joy for us personally are not at the expense of others. It's not just that we find peace and joy it's that we as a community find this in common. The early church shared things for the benefit of all. Which challenges our individualist society and how we act for the benefit of all others.
The key to the kingdom of God is found in the Holy Spirit. We have the spirit because Christ sent the spirit into our lives. Whilst we are looking for things from the outside or finding problems with others as the reason we are not walking in righteousness peace and joy we are missing out on the work of the spirit within us. We need the working of the spirit in our lives. In Christ we find Grace to live as he called us to live. In Christ, we find our peace and joy as his spirit fills us fresh and new every day.