For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17
The Easter season was always challenging for the three generations of the Morris family. It seemed as though everybody had their own ideas about how to mark and celebrate this season in which Christians traditionally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The problem was that some were entirely invested in focusing their kids’ attention on the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, and Easter dresses, whereas others rejected all such trappings and insisted on attendance at Lenten services, Good Friday, and the Day of Resurrection itself. Grandma and Grandpa Morris were now attending a church that taught that any celebration around Easter is invalid because the timing of it all was based on ancient pagan religions. And it did not help that one set of in-laws who were Greek followed the Greek Orthodox calendar for Easter, which some years was weeks different than what Protestants and Catholics mark.
The external practices of the spiritual life can easily get us into trouble, especially if we think that “right practice” is what really matters to God: when, where, who, how.
Toward the end of the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul tries to lessen conflict that had arisen over religious practices. Within the Christian community in Rome, there were differing ideas about what “holy days” to observe and how to do it—even regarding what foods were the “right foods” to eat. Paul’s advice? Focus on what matters! “The kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” not getting right the rituals and the rites.
Human nature prompts us to think simplistically about life. Very concrete. Even physical. We think that if we know the rules of what to put in our mouths and whether to raise our hands in worship and what kind of clothing to wear, that we will have certainty in our spiritual lives. We will know we were obedient because we can see it.
But God’s reign is about the attitude of the heart: righteousness (wanting to be right with God), peace (wholeness and order), and joy (the deep knowledge that things in the end will be okay). God wants to rule in the heart, and then the external issues will work out.
PONDER: When have you realized that something you thought was very important ended up not really mattering that much?
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• THE GOSPEL AND THE KINGDOM •
The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for “my life” but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world.
Tim Keller, “The Definitive Gospel”
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Paul gives wise advice throughout the book of Romans. In today’s passage, he reminds believers to focus on what truly matters. At that time believers often argued about what could or could not be eaten. Paul instructs everyone to focus on the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit instead of the do’s and don’ts of something as insignificant as food.
Read Romans 14:13-18. How can the way we act as Christians cause someone else to question Jesus? What is righteousness? How does God bring you peace and joy? What is one way you can try to focus on righteousness, peace, and joy this week?