Romans 14:16-17 (NASB)
Therefore do not let what is, for you a good thing, be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In the context of this scripture, Paul is instructing believers not to judge one another on the basis of opinion with regard to what we drink, what we eat, and even what days we consider to be holy (vv1-5). Paul instructs us that each person live according to one’s conscience (v5). These are all matters of individual conviction before God (v22-23). What we approve of is either done in doubt bringing condemnation, or faith bringing peace. Paul concludes that whatever is not of faith is sin (v23).
In a nutshell, religious communities and religious people tend to argue and judge one another about things that have very little to do with heaven. For you, it could be whether a Sabbath rest is from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or whether Sunday is “the Lord’s day, or whether Christmas and Easter are “holy” days. It could be whether Mother’s day or Father’s day should to be celebrated or ignored, or whether new moons, or Jewish feasts are observed. It could be whether you eat shellfish, pork, or Kosher food. Maybe you drink Starbucks coffee. For you, a glass of wine or a beer may be acceptable, or gasp, a mixed drink. While not in the text, we could extend this to what you watch on television, movies, or read. It could be how you feel about ballet, dance, the body, sexuality or a host of other issues of conscience where there isn’t a clear violation of scripture.
When we judge one another about these types of things we put ourselves in a place of self-righteousness. We think we are better than someone else, based on what we do or do not do. Paul warns us about the worthlessness of all these judgments in Galatians 4:9:
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
Religion enslaves us to that which has little eternal value.
I was asked many times by my grandmother (whom we called Mimi) whether drinking wine was sinful. I would try to explain to Mimi, why I didn’t think so. I would mention Jesus drinking wine with his disciples, but no explanations that I could come up with could convince her. I wondered why. Was it a religious spirit that she was under? Was it because she saw the abuses of drinking indulgence in her younger days and that formed her belief system?
In the old Mosaic covenant, wine was forbidden in the temple. In fact, you would die from any evidence of intoxication in the temple.
“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean”
Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding celebration. He was accused of drinking and eating with sinners, and yet, He was without sin. I’ve heard it said, that one Jewish perspective is that all sin is idolatry. Jesus went after the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and me. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Jesus in a pub, a brothel, an orphanage, or many other places where the self-righteous would refuse to go.
In the new covenant that Jesus made with us, wine was redefined as being a symbol for communion. Jesus took something that was sketchy and of the world, and somehow made it holy. I think that is a good picture of what He can do with us.
In communion, wine goes from the outside to the inside as a sign of our acceptance and recognition of the blood of Jesus, shed for our mistakes. The blood of Jesus ushered in a new covenant with better promises. Here are some examples of the divine exchange that takes place:
- We give up our efforts to obtain righteousness in exchange for His righteousness (Heb 12,13) – Jesus is our guarantor of the covenant.
- We give up our sins and guilt in exchange for His forgiveness and cleansing (Lev 17, Rom 3, Heb 9, 1 John 1, Rev 1,5) – Jesus is our High Priest.
- We give up being common and of this world in exchange for being made holy by His blood (Ex 4,12,24,Rom 5,Heb 9,10, Acts 20)
- We give up our fear of death in exchange for His everlasting life (Jn 6,Rev 12)
- We give up our blood lines with all their bents and issues in exchange for His pure and spotless blood DNA (Lev 17, Mk 5, Jn 6, Heb 10, 1 Jn 1:7)
- We give up our orphan hearts and alienation in exchange for His love and acceptance (Rom 5,Eph 2,Col 1)
The point of all this is not food or drink, but rather what is offered to us through the kingdom of heaven. The point of communion is not the bread and the wine, but the one who IS the bread and the wine.
One of the things that I find sad is to find so many that don’t know that God’s presence is available. They don’t know that in His presence is fullness of joy. They don’t know that the power of God is available to bring shalom to the storms around them. They don’t know that His righteousness is already purchased and available to them. Instead, they keep seeking their own.
I’m learning that there are so many things that religious communities make important that have nothing to do with expanding the influence of His kingdom. I was taught that when you pray for someone, one of the most common results is that the person experiences peace, sometimes, at a very deep level.
I’m starting to look at these three aspects (righteousness, peace, joy) as evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven at work. Without evidence of these, I’m not sure we’re dealing with much more than elemental things of this world.
His righteousness, peace, and joy are available to us in the Holy Spirit. I heard an interesting teaching from John Paul Jackson recently about shalom being a verb rather than a noun. The Hebrew word shalom is often translated as peace, but means to be made whole, nothing missing, and having nothing lacking. Jesus was the prince of Shalom. He was able to cause storms to be still because of what he carried. He brought peace to chaos for the woman with the issue of blood. We have the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
If so, how can you transform the environment around you by faith? How can you bring peace to areas of anarchy or tumult? How can you bring or impart joy to others? How can you let others know of the good offering of His righteousness?
Perhaps it is through prayer, but it may also be through healthy touch, expressing love, or sharing a word of encouragement.
The kingdom of heaven is righteousness, peace, and joy, freely available for you to partake of and to give away.