So today I came across this gem of a verse in my reading (not that the Bible isn’t full of great verses–I even love the genealogies because they showcase so clearly that God cares about and treats us as individuals). Romans 14:17-18 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval” (NIV).
Quick context: Paul is talking about the importance of unity and not causing a weaker brother to stumble. That’s where the eating and drinking comes in: the kingdom of God isn’t about eating/not eating meat sacrificed to idols or drinking/not drinking wine.
Why do I love this verse? Because this is the opposite of what we often get caught up in. Anyone who serves God in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit is pleasing God and receives human approval. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten focused on crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s, spiritually speaking. In other words, if you focus on the outward expressions, following the rules and such. That’d be my hand you see raised.
I like clear directions. I like to know I’m fulfilling expectations. I like knowing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. So sometimes I get caught up in judging my progress (or lack there of) based on whether things have changed outwardly. Before I became a believer, I read my Bible religiously. It didn’t make a lot of sense and I was afraid I’d go to hell if I missed a day, but I did read it.
But empty actions aren’t the point of Christianity. You can look pristine on the outside but if you don’t have righteousness, peace, and joy, you’re not pleasing God. You’re like the Pharisees in the New Testament who Jesus compared to whitewashed tombs that were beautiful on the outside and unclean on the inside.
It’s easy to judge others based on that “empty actions standard” too.
I also super love that Paul included peace and joy on that list of what the kingdom of God is about. As Christians, I think sometimes we get focused on the righteousness part (which is gifted to us in Jesus anyway) and forget about peace and joy. Especially joy because joy, at least to me, feels pretty optional. Maybe it’s our puritan roots or something, but it definitely feels like a luxury to have joy and maybe just a little bit evil to have zest for life in a broken world. Stop for a minute and imagine what your life would be like if it were characterized by peace and joy.
I don’t know what you thought of but what came to mind for me was less fear, more childlike wonder, more room to just be without having to do, more space for “island time,” less worrying about my issues and other people’s problems…. just lighter.
And that is winsome to people. Peace and joy and righteousness are attractive and win favor. I love that the Bible clearly says “this is how to get men’s approval.” Proverbs 3 has a similar exhortation. We can get caught up in chasing fame and approval. But chasing it by changing ourselves or dressing a certain way or acting a certain way only works for a moment. Peace and joy and righteousness are the long-term solution.
Obviously, that peace and joy part is as impossible for us to muster up on our own as it is for us to muster up some righteousness of our own. It is “in the Holy Spirit.” Getting the peace and joy means surrendering to the Holy Spirit so He can work His fruit in us (Gal. 5:22). I also really like that. When I do remember the importance of peace and joy, I can get caught up in trying to make myself have them. But God says right here that finding my own peace and joy is a dead end. It’s always nice when someone saves you time by telling you when you’re headed the wrong direction 🙂
So! It’s actually a good thing to long for peace and joy. We should have them if we’re believers–it pleases God. We don’t have to plod through life–we’re allowed to want zest, to really be present. We’re allowed to want to stop worrying or being fearful. It’s our job to cultivate them, day by day growing in surrender, growing in our relationship with God.