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What Are You Chasing?

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 14:17-19

Some day I think I’d love to do a series of articles that focus on kingdom parables and other verses that with kingdom focus. This is not the start of that. It’s probably a seed, though. This verse is nestled within a larger thought where Paul admonishes us that we should never put a stumbling block in the way of a brother. Without taking a deep dive into the whole discussion, here are the basics.

  • Don’t let what you consider good become a stumbling block for another. (I feel compelled to say that good means something where there is no clear biblical prohibition)
  • These things could be matters of food and drink (which is what is mentioned directly) or matters of celebrations and observances (Colossians 2:16).
  • Grieving your brother over these matters is not loving.

Then we come to these verses. Let’s break them down.

The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.

When we make our liberty a hill to die upon, we’re no longer being kingdom minded. I know many believers who grew up in repressive churches that forbade even playing Go Fish because it’s a card game. Cards lead to smoking. Smoking leads to drinking. Drinking leads to hell. Or at least that’s the line of logic that I heard from others. Well, as you may imagine, some of those who came out of those teetotaling traditions have landed in much more permissive places. My point here is this. If the pursuit of their liberty landed them where they are, instead of their pursuit of Jesus, then their liberty has eclipsed the Kingdom of God in their lives. But that’s not the end of this matter. The Word of God cuts both ways.

Believers who are offended and judge those who don’t embrace their teetotaling point of view have also lost sight of the Kingdom. If the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, then we must neither be led by our stomachs nor by an overreaching sense of propriety. The one who has liberty is strong. The one who refrains from that same liberty is weak. That’s the Apostle Paul’s assessment, not mine (see Romans 14:1-4). Both risk not walking in love with the other if they lose sight of the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We have to admit that three words cannot sum up everything there is to know about the Kingdom of God. But, we cannot escape that God’s Kingdom is marked by at least these three things: righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? This is my opinion: I think Paul chose these three markers because they each take a stab at the dispositions of the quarreling strong and weak brothers.

Note first that none of these three things have their source in us. There is a kind of righteousness, peace, and joy that we can create for ourselves from our own efforts, but they are poisonous to our spiritual lives.  They don’t count for anything in God’s Kingdom. The weak brother who judges the strong brother over his liberty is building a kind of self-righteousness based purely upon personal morality. Conversely, the strong brother can do the very same thing with his “superior” liberty, where his righteousness is built upon a better understanding of the grace of God than his weaker brother. In both cases, when their sense of righteousness is trespassed, it becomes very personal and leads to quarreling. Why? Because you are the one who built your righteousness, and how dare anyone question or tear down what you have labored to build?

Christ’s righteousness, though, applied by the Holy Spirit, is not ours. When you understand that the only righteousness that matters is what is given freely in Christ, by Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the issues of weak and strong brothers fade. The weak brother is not offended by the strong’s liberty, and the strong are not troubled to lay down their liberty for the sake of the weak. Why? When you understand that you’re only righteous because of Jesus, gratitude and love win the day. It’s no trouble to defer to one another when you know you have a debt of love to Jesus.

As with righteousness, there is also a kind of peace and joy that can come from our efforts. When you strive to build anything, even your own sense of righteousness, there’s a satisfaction to gain from the work. People find peace and joy in what they build all the time. But as we said about righteousness, peace and joy that have their source in us, or rather, in what we do have no value in God’s kingdom. Anything built upon flesh will corrupt and decay with flesh. Anything that sources from the temporary cannot last. Our peace and joy must have their source in the Holy Spirit. The peace of Christ isn’t dependent upon what we do (or don’t do). He gives us His peace by the Spirit in full measure, all we must do is draw from Him. The joy of the LORD has no connection to our circumstances. It is His joy, and the Holy Spirit makes it available to us at all times, in all ways, through all happenings. Earthly peace and joy never last because they are rooted here. Peace and joy in the Holy Spirit are inexhaustible because they are rooted in Christ.

Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

There’s some tension present in this statement. If you’ve grown up evangelical and paid any attention, you’ll know the answer to this question: How are we acceptable to God? Answer: in Christ alone, by faith that His death and resurrection are the only way to salvation. But Paul said there’s a way to serve Christ that makes us acceptable to God. That way is what we’ve been discussing – humble deference to one another out of love for Christ. I don’t know if you realize it or not, but that’s a very specific definition of salvation.

What do you mean?

This means that if your “salvation” did not change your heart into one who submits to one another out of reverence to Christ (Ephesians 5:21) then you remain in your sins and remain unacceptable to God. What? Here’s the key. Saving faith is transforming faith, always. Now, the rest of the story. Saving faith is transforming faith, and your transformation is in process. You and I have not arrived, which is why we still quarrel over these matters at times. But, as a matter of self-examination, you must take a deeper look at your life and determine whether you’ve experienced any transformation since you were “saved.” Your eternity depends upon whether your faith is the genuine article.

But, approved by men? This always has to be held in tension with Christ’s own promise that we will be persecuted and hated by men. At some level, who we are will always create an offense with the world because the world is under the power of Satan (1 John 5:19). But, Paul instructed us in Romans 12:18 that as much as possible, we should live peaceably with everyone. Within those peaceful efforts, we will gain a level of approval with all by our conduct. Our neighbors may not agree with what we believe, but they should never think poorly of us by our actions.

Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

What are you pursuing? Kingdom pursuits will strive for peace and building one another in Christ. This seems fairly simple: don’t fight and be encouraging. Well, it’s not less than that, but there’s more to it. People who are non-confrontational and nice might mistake their natural temperament for doing the Kingdom work of peace and mutual upbuilding. Kingdom work always requires the power of the Spirit. Nice people who lean on their niceness aren’t doing Kingdom work. The Holy Spirit needs to eclipse and overtake the niceness of the nice guy to create real Kingdom peace and encouragement.

Bottom line: pursue Jesus, be filled with the Spirit, then your journey will gradually become one that makes peace and builds others up in their faith. That’s Kingdom pursuit.

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Last modified: January 10, 2023