There was a problem 2,000 years ago in the church at Rome. Somehow some followers of Christ had come to the conclusion that the Kingdom of God was hinged to what food a Christian ate and what substances they drank. Crazy, huh? To reduce the entire plan of God for all the ages, in every place, for every race, that required God the Son to leave Heaven and be born into earth, that necessitated His perfect lifetime obedience to the Law of God and the will of the Father, that demanded His sinless sacrifice on the agonizing cross, that witnessed His unparalleled resurrection and glorious ascension back to Heaven…only to conclude that what really made the difference for eternity is where a person got their steak and sweet tea. Now THAT is ridiculous.
Yet it is no more ridiculous than what Western Christians make so important in our lifetime.
Listen to the words of Paul to those confused people in Rome: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:7, ESV). He first told them what the Kingdom was not made of and then he told them what it was made of. Granted, Paul’s list here is not a comprehensive explanation of the entirety of God’s Kingdom but He certainly sets the table nicely when he highlights the attributes of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Your culture likely doesn’t magnify the “food & beverage” issue today as being all-important. For many in our generation the entirety of the Kingdom has been reduced to what a person should wear to church or what type of music in worship times is the most “godly”. Still others will boil down the whole of God’s determination for the ages to what translation of the bible is the best choice or the selecting of “the better” denominational affiliation. Kingdom minded, are you? Well, among some who name His holy name, you may need to magnify how separated you are from the world by building as many complicated and thick walls as possible to keep the evil ones away. Our absurdity can continue ad nauseum but I would prefer to take a glance at what Paul wrote that the Kingdom is.
- Righteousness – made holy in Christ to live holy in Christ
- Peace – recipients of peace with God through Christ to live in the peace of God through Christ
- Joy – having received forgiveness of sin through Christ, we have ample reason to live in the animated joy of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit
I hone in like a laser this morning on the third characteristic which Paul named. Joy is the experience of those who have been set free in Jesus Christ. Our joy is the overflow of our assurance that all has been made right and that the most essential elements of life and eternity have been fully provided. We are forgiven, we are loved, we are received, we are complete, we are liberated, we are empowered, we are safe, we are delivered because we are HIS. The Roman Christians to whom Paul wrote were bickering with each other over the most trivial of issues while forfeiting some of the most important blessings of the Kingdom of God. Frankly, I could not care less how you style your Sunday-hair, what you wear to church, how committed you are to your King James bible or what style of worship music moves your soul. If you are looking to plant a flag on these issues then have at it; we will all clearly see your affiliation but I doubt we will see your joy. How did we become so adept at drawing lines in the sand when God said that He would draw people to His Son? Friends, our time here is not lingering long. I’m a young man and already statistically past the midway point of my life. How many more days of joy do I have left here on this terrestrial ball? How many more opportunities to serve people in righteousness, peace and joy? How many more years am I afforded to preach my King and invite others to share in His eternal Kingdom? Squabbling is not a spiritual gift but it can certainly become a spiritual bog for the narrow minded and skinny-souled. Drop your flags and pick up your cross, friend. Don’t arrive in Heaven only to feel like a fool when you realize how suffocatingly small you made the Kingdom of God. It is arrogant for us to usurp the liberty granted us in Scripture with the legality that lurks in our hearts. Jesus came to set folks free…let us not seek to bind them up again. Be wise in your steps as we are the only ones on earth who are to represent the eternal Monarch.
As for me and my house – and my church for that matter – we will serve the Lord!
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