Recap from last week.

This passage follows on from last week, so I want to just do a quick recap …
(Start by reading Romans 14:1–2)

That was as far as we got last week, and noted that eating food, and observing particular days were simply the outworking of our faith. Paul took pains to note that the activity itself was not the issue, but how judge one another about such things is. We noted that this judgementalism strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, that of unity, that our motivations should be that Unity reflects the very nature of God, that He is our master and we should all obey Him and not one another, that our obedience to him shows Him the honour He is due, and that we will all answer to Him anyway (last week would have been so much shorter if I’d just said that!)

Today we carry on looking at what Paul says from v13–23 (Read).

I want to pick up on a few things Paul says:

  1. The “let us” statements in this section.
    1. Let us not pass judgement on one another. (V14)
    2. but decide not to put a hindrance in the way of another. (V14)
    3. Let us pursue what makes for peace. (V19)
  2. The kingdom of God is about righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. (V17)
  3. The personal nature of faith. (V22)

Let us:

Not Pass Judgement on one another.

I covered this last week, but I want to add this point, another WHY we should not pass judgement on each other.

If you judge something or someone, you are making a number of claims.

  1. That the thing you are judging is, in some way, falling short of some standard.
  2. That you know what that standard is.
  3. That you have the right and the authority to make a judgement in that regard.

As Christians, what standard do we appeal to? What standard do we fall short of? Not surprisingly, we do not bring our own standards to the table, it is God who gives us our standards not us.

As far as knowing what that standard is, we have the Scripture to give us some indications, and the only authority we have is that which is delegated to us by God himself. Both about WHAT we judge, and also about how we judge it.

My point being, we do not have the right to judge anyone by our standards, the only standard against which any Christian is judged is God himself, and not one of us is God! If take it upon ourselves to judge someone, we are acting ‘ultra vires’ (from the Latin meaning ‘outside of power’), we are claiming for ourselves an authority only God has and we step out of His covering.

So, The only things we can judge are those things which God Himself gives us authority and permission to judge, and the standard against which we make that judgement is His word, not our opinion.

Not hinder one another

Secondly, Paul says let us:
“decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (v13)

Note he uses two expressions, ‘stumbling block’ and ‘hindrance’. Both mean essentially the same thing. The point here is that we need to be aware of the fact that our actions will impact other’s faith.

Here are some suggestions for modern things which Christians argue and divide over …

  1. Worship style and choice of songs.
  2. Pews (in traditional churches) v chairs / decorations in church etc.
  3. Practical things like rotas.

So for example, years ago I was in a church which had significant conflict over the worship. One group was upset because their favoured traditional style of worship was being replaced with a much more contemporary style. The ‘contemporary’ people were judging the older people, saying “I don’t know what the problem is—it’s just music!”. I believe Paul would say to them “if it’s a problem for them but not for you, then why are you doing something which makes them stumble?”. “In any event, why are you introducing a hindrance to their worship?”.

I believe our first thought when we are presented with something which has the potential to create division and judgement between us and someone else is to ask this question of ourselves. “Does it really matter?”; “am I putting a hindrance in the way of this person by my action?”. If possible, we should always try to ensure that we are not unnecessarily contributing to conflict. Remember we have the instruction from Paul in Romans 12 which says “in so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18).

My point is NOT to advocate for deferring to the moaners in churches, it is to say, let’s be sure we’re not unnecessarily introducing stumbling blocks in our fellowships, things which annoy us, perhaps, but which are not in and of themselves sinful or bad witness.

And remember, sometimes stumbling blocks can be used as stepping stones!

Pursue what makes for peace.

Paul says “so then let us pursue what makes for peace” (v19). Peace is important to Paul, as it was for Jesus.

Christmas is just around the corner. Even the world recognises Christmas as a time of peace and goodwill (until you want the same car parking space at the shops!). With all of this kind of heightened activity that we are all forced to deal with on a daily basis, it becomes very easy to lose your sense of peace, especially your peace in the Lord.

We all need peace, especially with all of the uncertainty of this life and never knowing what is going to happen next. Watch the news tonight and you won’t miss uncertainty we are facing — political conflict, ideological conflict, religious conflict, wars and rumours of wars. Cost of living crisis, inflation now into double digits, gas and electric bills (by April our dual fuel bill will have increased 5 fold in a year). Strikes are on the increase, Jobs are not as secure as they used to be. You never know when the company you work for may be bought out and your job will be gone in a flash. You will be bombarded with stories about violence against children, about domestic abuse, a huge proportion of marriages are still ending up in divorce. We are all forced to constantly live under the threat of future terrorist activity, never knowing when or where the next attack will come from — there has never been so much need of peace today!

And when we look at people’s personal lives, the lack of inner peace that abounds, people trying to solve it through all sorts of things, medical procedures, drugs, New Age solutions (Raiki, Acupuncture, Cupping, Crystals etc), we even have help lines (SoS advertising that all you need to do is chat to someone who cares). One way we can really BE different is be people of peace and really show the world the difference the peace of God makes in us even when things go pear-shaped. We need to really understand and realise that the Holy Spirit has His peace to give to you and that He can give it to you in great abundance. I have found that once His peace starts to flow up into your mind, soul, and emotions, it really is as the Bible says – a peace that surpasses all human understanding – especially when that peace comes in right in the middle of a severe storm cloud that you may be going through.

Peace can be seen in all sorts of ways, and we are not just talking about lack of conflict; peace is so much more than a lack of conflict. At it’s root peace includes things like:

  1. The presence and experience of right relationships (i.e. it’s not about not having bad relationships, it includes having good ones!)
  2. The tranquility of soul – inner peace. Jeremiah 6:16 which call us to find the way of God and walk in it, and in Matthew 11:29 where Jesus says “take my yoke..”, both refer to this thing called “rest for your souls”
  3. Then there’s a sense of well-being and fulfilment that comes from God and is dependent on His presence. So many Christians struggle with this, yet we are called to be people of peace in the midst of a conflicted world: “blessed are the peacemakers”.

Without the peace of God operating in your life, you could become very easily rattled, shaken, tormented, and knocked right off your game in the Lord the first time any kind of adversity should ever come your way.

Jesus being the prince of peace. Isaiah 9:6 will probably be read in every church in the country in the next month: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Jesus isn’t just the prince of peace in himself, He can bring US peace as well! “My peace I give you you – not as the world gives” John 14:27.

If we are people of peace, and truly reflect the prince of peace, we should not only find peace in our inner being (in our souls), but we should also be agents of peace to people around us. Supremely we do that by introducing people to Jesus, but we can also be peacemakers by our actions and by our words. When we are people of peace, living in peace and doing (as Paul says) what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding is important.

The Kingdom of God

“the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”

Jesus gives a lot of teaching about the kingdom of God, in the gospels Jesus is recorded as using the term 69 times (ESV). So, if I were to go to the gospels to look at everything He says about it, we’d camp out on this for a significant number of weeks, so all I can hope to do today is do some really broad brushstrokes.

The first thing Paul talks about is what the Kingdom of God is NOT. Paul says: “the kingdom of God is NOT A MATTER of eating and drinking”. So what IS it about?

Next we must note that when Jesus exhorts us to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’, righteousness is put right alongside it as something to seek.

Matthew 6:31–33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”.

Jesus also tells Nicodemus that you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you are born “of the spirit” (John 3:5)

Here Paul connects righteousness and the Spirit with the Kingdom, so we can note that the Spirit and righteousness go hand in hand with the kingdom of God. Righteousness, and in particular OUR righteousness is intimately connected to our relationship with Jesus. Righteousness is not about what we do – it refers to our standing before God. But this gives us a problem, because the Bible is clear that there is no one who is righteous:

Romans 3:10 says “There is no one righteous, not even one” (quoting the OT scriptures of Psalm 14:3 & Ecclesiastes 7:20)

The thing is this, the HOLY SPIRIT will bring to our attention the righteousness of Christ. John 16:8 describes his role: “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”.

So, the Holy Spirit convicts us about our own unrighteousness, and we respond to the Gospel. He leads us to the cross and there we take on board the righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the Kingdom of God comes into our lives.

Romans 1:17 “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith”.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

Then we have these two characteristics of peace and joy. I firstly want to note the similarity/connection echo of Galatians, which talks of the Holy Spirit, peace and joy are included in the list of fruits of the spirit.

Galatians 5:22 says: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control”

I’ve already made some comment about peace, so I’ll concentrate here on Joy.

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

“We write this so that your joy might be complete” (1 John 1:4)

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19,20)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” ( James 1:2)

Very seldom do we see people smiling anymore. Look at people when you walk down the street, and even if they do make eye contact, very rarely do you see anyone smile. No one seems to be happy anymore and everyone seems to be carrying around the weight of the world on their shoulders. Again, with the imperfections of our own fallen nature, and then you combine that with how people react differently to adversity – some Christians have literally had most, if not all of their joy in the Lord, knocked right out of them.

So, joy is much needed in this day and age. No matter how life has treated you, God can still fully heal, deliver, and restore you if you are willing to work with Him in this healing process. One of the most important things that God can fully restore in you is your joy in Him. And not only can the Lord fully restore what joy you used to have in Him, but He can also increase it to a much greater degree and intensity!

Here are some of the different definitions of what real joy is all about:

  1. Great delight; gladness of heart
  2. The happy state that results from knowing and serving God
  3. That deep, abiding, inner rejoicing in the Lord
  4. To rejoice, to be glad
  5. Happy, joyful, cheerful, rejoicing, festive

Realise that God can transmit this divine quality right up into your personality – and this will be His joy, not your joy, once it starts to flow up into you. And once God starts to release His joy into your system, you won’t be able to help but feel it. And once you are able to start feeling it again, it will become much easier for you to learn how to walk back in it in your own daily walk with the Lord.

Without God’s joy operating in your life, things can begin to dry up. Nothing is ever fun anymore. Everything can start to become a chore. Before you know it, you will want to start to withdraw from others and life in general.

The joy of the Lord can really give you an incredible surge of strength in your own daily walk with God – especially when you have to take on some really tough situations.

This is why each Christian should work very closely with the Holy Spirit in not only getting Him to release His joy into their system, but to also keep it running through them on a very regular and consistent basis.

The Holy Spirit will do this for you if you are open to receiving this divine infusion from Him and are willing to work with Him to keep it properly flowing through you on a regular basis.

Personal Faith

Lastly, we want to note that Paul brings faith into the personal sphere. There is a tension between the corporate and individual aspects of faith. For sure, the church, the gathered people of God are crucial to the growth and development of our faith. Not for nothing does the Bible go to great lengths to teach us about our corporate lives together. However, Paul here talks about something more personal. He says this:

“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves”. (Romans 14:22)

I have heard people use this verse as a justification for being quiet about their faith, for not sharing it because, they reason, it is “between me and God”. But we cannot use this to side step some of the commands and exhortations that we read in the Bible:

  1. Was the greatest commandment given to “the church” collectively? Or to us as individuals?
  2. Was the second commandment?
  3. The great commission?
  4. The call to take up your cross?
  5. The call to follow and obey Jesus?

In fact I have struggled to find a command or exhortation given in the Bible to the church as a collective group which wasn’t first given to an individual or isn’t primarily an individual’s responsibility.

I have watched with sadness many memes and posts on social media criticising a particular church, or denomination and pointing out where it somehow falls short of “true” Christianity (and usually what is meant by “true” is “like me”).

Next time we are tempted to blame “the church” for the ills in society, perhaps we should look a little closer to home. And instead of asking people “what kind of church do you go to?”, maybe we should ask “what kind of Christian are YOU?”, “how are YOU laying down YOUR life for the Gospel?”, “how have YOU preferred the needs of another?”, or “have YOU forgiven that person who upset you, like Christ forgave you?”.

Or, better still, maybe we should look in a mirror and ask those questions of ourselves.

The church is not to blame for things going wrong in society. I am, you are.

We also have it in us to right those wrongs, or at least to speak out against them — if we have the courage.