Living In the Kingdom #4

sf_shalom_02As we think about the kingdom of God and our life in it we must never forget that God has made known to us that kingdom and that he calls us into it for our good. He desires to bless us – to give us himself and his mighty power that he might bring us into the fullness of that kingdom in all its glory. One problem we as human beings have is conceiving of the magnitude and magnificence of the kingdom of God. Perhaps we can gain something of the scope of it from Paul’s words describing the greatness of the king …

Colossians 1;15-20[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

This great kingdom is all-encompassing. God’s purpose in it is to reconcile everything in heaven and on earth unto himself (Eph. 1:10) so bringing peace and with it the flourishing of life. Jesus came that men might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Regrettably there are many who view life in the kingdom of God as restrictive and repressive. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This false view probably comes from the mistaken concepts of men who have turned life in the kingdom into the burdensome religion of man’s churches.

I want us to look at just such a circumstance as Paul describes it in Romans 14. Men today, as they always have, make distinctions, judging people over their convictions on certain things if those convictions differ from their own. This was what was going on among the Roman Christians when Paul wrote this instruction to them. Some believed they could eat any kind of food, others abstained from certain foods. This may have had to do with the fact that Rome was a pagan city and it may have been difficult to find meats that hadn’t been offered to an idol. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with eating this meat since, as Paul had said to the Corinthians, an idol is nothing in the world. Others among these believers were observing certain days to honor the Lord and others were not. Each group was judging and condemning the other. They were embroiled in contention over who was right and who was wrong – who did God accept and who did he not accept.

It is interesting that Paul does not offer any judgment as to the rightness or wrongness of either side. He just urges them to accept each other just as the Lord had accepted them all. But in the course of coming to his conclusion he makes a very significant statement that gives us a better understanding of the nature of the kingdom of God.

Romans 14:17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

If the kingdom were about eating and drinking – or about anything else of such a nature – there would have been rules and regulations governing such. But there are no such rules. The kingdom is not about getting rules and regulations down and slavishly following them. It is about something far more important – something that can’t be legislated – something that can’t be reduced to a list of laws. It is about freedom.

In regard to such matters the Christian is free. Free to choose whatever he wishes without being judged by others. Paul dealt with this in his remarks to the Colossian Christians.

Col. 2:16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”

Since there has been no law from heaven regarding such things as are under discussion, no man has a right to bind any rules or regulations regarding such upon the kingdom citizen. Any such attempt is really a usurpation of the rights of the king. Since the king has left men free to choose any of a variety of things to do in one’s attempts to live out the kingdom life, no man has the right to judge another for his choices even though those choices are different from one’s own. The only thing we can do is to do what the king does – accept others regardless of the fact that their choices may be different from our own (Romans 14:1-4; 15:1,2,7).

Now, look at what the apostle says the kingdom does consist of. It is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Let’s think about these three things one at a time – “unpack” them, as the saying goes. We need to do this because a simple definition doesn’t get to the full extent of meaning.

First, look at righteousness. Righteousness is an inherent part of the kingdom over which Jesus serves as ruler. This was prophesied long ago.

Isaiah 9:7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

If the kingdom’s rule has to do with justice and righteousness then the citizens must be characterized by the same qualities. If the passage in Romans cites this as a distinguishing feature of the kingdom we must learn what it means and how to live it out in our own lives.

This word here means “virtue, integrity,” a faithful discharge of all the duties which we owe to God or to our fellow-men. It means that the Christian must so live as to be appropriately denominated [identified as, mr] a righteous man, and not a man whose whole attention is absorbed by the mere ceremonies and outward forms of religion (Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible via eSword).

This righteousness was to characterize the kingdom. There is, of course, the personal and individual righteousness that comes from the realization of being forgiven and of being blessed in righteousness through the Spirit of God. Beyond the personal righteousness, the entire body of the redeemed is to be a blessing of righteousness to the whole world. Isaiah foretold the day when …

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land
.” (Isaiah 32:1-2).

Later in this same chapter the prophet tells what the result or “fruit” of righteousness will be.

And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places
.” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

This is what the kingdom of God is meant to be. It is tragic beyond words that men have turned life in the kingdom into a devastation of desolation. Instead of righteousness ruling, there has been conflict and warfare – an unrighteous fratricidal holocaust against fellow citizens of what is supposed to be the peaceable kingdom. This horrible human wreckage causes fear and disgust at the idea of God’s rule over creation and over mankind especially. It is not the only cause of unbelief, of course, but the unrighteousness of professed believers must bear a share of blame for it. When, on the other hand, people can expect to find love, forgiveness and acceptance within the righteous kingdom of God – and find it there in abundance – there will be no cause to fear it. People will be drawn to it and in its embrace find peace and joy.

The government of the Prince of Peace is intended to produce peace through righteousness. “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:17). Where there is conflict, there is no peace. But peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is the presence of the positive quality of tranquility or calmness in which human beings can enjoy fellowship with their Creator and with one another in a circumstance of worship and creativity. This in turn leads to joy – a pervasive sense of well being that radiates outwardly and upwardly in quiet, calm assurance instead of clamor and in trust instead of doubt and complaint.

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