Notes of a Talk on Romans 14:17-18
Two young Christians were overheard saying as they went together into a meeting, “I hope we shall get something practical tonight.” I suppose we all feel like that in connection with such occasions. We need to encourage one another as well as instruct one another. Christianity is nothing if it is not practical. It does not consist simply of sound doctrine and correct phraseology.
The Apostle Paul said to young Timothy, “Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life” (2 Tim. 3:10). He had evidently observed the close connection between these two things. There cannot be correct living with incorrect doctrine, but, on the other hand, our Christianity is to be seen not merely in what we know but by what we show. The doctrine is what we know: the manner of life is what we show. We may all feel greatly humbled when our Christianity is put to that test, still we do not wish the test to be reduced, but rather that we may receive grace to reach its requirements.
The truth of God’s kingdom is peculiarly practical because our responsible life as Christians is in it, and will get its answer and reward presently in the coming kingdom and glory of Christ.
“The kingdom of God” is a term that is often used in relation to “the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is really the rule of heaven but of course heaven’s rule is God’s rule. When we speak of the kingdom of God, we look at heaven’s rule from the side of the moral features which characterize it; just as British rule has certain moral characteristics that distinguish it, such as liberty, even-handed justice, protection of life and property.
These things we may call the moral features of British rule, and in the same way, Romans 14:17 sets before us the moral features of God’s rule—righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. When Christ is on His throne, governing the world for God in universal power, the outstanding features of His rule will be universal righteousness, universal peace, universal joy.
It is our privilege as Christians to enter upon these things in a spiritual yet practical way now, for before these things are in display they are in testimony. We anticipate the public rule of Christ by exhibiting in our lives the features that will characterize His public rule when His day arrives. In that day the reins of all government will be put into the hands of Christ, but we have anticipated it by dropping the reins of the government of our lives into His hands now, and thus are delivered from the authority of darkness and translated into His kingdom now. “Be British!” say some, meaning—practice in your life and ways the moral features of the rule in which you boast. Just so the practical features of God’s rule in Christ should be seen in our lives.
It is true that when we are brought to God as sinners and get right with Him we are justified from all things through the work of Christ for us, and, consequent on that, peace with God follows. Then we receive the Holy Ghost and with Him come both joy and power. That however is not exactly what is referred to in Romans 14:17. It is not so much what we receive as what we exhibit—what characterizes us as being in the good and blessing of God’s rule or kingdom. People often ask as to what may be the good of this or that. “What is the good of being in the kingdom of God?” Well, what will it be when the King comes? We might as well ask, “What will be the good of the Millennium? What will be the good of universal peace and joy, founded upon righteousness?” Is not that what every nation on earth is crying for?
Well, that is the present practical good of being in God’s kingdom now by putting Christ on the throne of our hearts. If we let Him control our lives, we are bound to be right in all our vexatious with others. That is righteousness.
Then there is peace. Not this time peace with God, but more like the peace of God keeping our hearts and minds. Stayed on God, trusting in God, we are kept in perfect peace, and this is the opposite of fretting, worrying and being worn out with over anxiety. In the Psalms we have a fine example of the heart being kept in peace in the midst of turbulent circumstances. Psalm 3 shows what God can be for us, and psalm 4 what God can be to us.
We are ready to say “I cannot expect God to keep me in His peace if I am in these trying circumstances because of my own folly, it is no use praying to Him now because I have grieved Him and He will not hear me and answer me.” Satan will be ready enough to say, “Now He will rap your knuckles; it no use looking to Him!” That is practically what David’s enemies were saying “There is no help for him in God” (Ps. 3:2). But that is the very direction in which I am looking. “Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory and the lifter up of mine head.” I need not hang my head like a bulrush, thoroughly “under the weather,” as it is put. Rather like David we may say, “I laid me down and slept.” What peace! An undisturbed rest, and the source of it was not in David but in David’s God of peace. Then like David we also shall be able to say, “I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.”
There are many crying, “Who will show us any good?” (Ps. 4:6). They see failure within and around. Everything is going to the bad! But in Job we read, “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee.” Leave God out of your circumstances and depression sets in. David cries, “Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.” He felt that everything depended upon the countenance of God, and how it was in relation to him. The countenance is the place where both love and anger are expressed. An uplifted countenance means love. A countenance fallen—like Cain’s—means anger. A countenance averted means sorrow.
Then it was that David could say, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart.” Should not we be like him and therefore be maintained in peace and gladness? What a splendid testimony that is to the practical good of the kingdom of God; and what a failure in testimony there is if we are not exhibiting that feature of the goodness of being under God’s rule!
God is “the God of peace” says Romans 15. In Paganism there is the belief that certain deities preside over their destinies. They have one god of peace, another of war, a god of plenty, and so on. But all these gods are ready to turn against them, and if they are to enjoy peace and plenty and success in war they must propitiate them to avert their anger. God stoops down to us and tells us that He as our God combines in Himself all that we shall ever need. Peace, patience, consolation, hope and all else are to be found in an all-sufficient God. And then, beyond all, He adds what a poor pagan could never hope to find in his false gods, for in 2 Corinthians 13:11 He describes Himself as “a God of love and peace.” There is a peculiar sweetness in that!
So righteousness, peace and joy are the accompaniments of the rule of God. We cannot have peace without righteousness, and it is certain we cannot have joy without peace. Joy is at the top, like cream, but peace is beneath like the milk, and you cannot have cream without milk.
Now notice how it adds, “He that in these things serveth Christ.” You may say, “I thought the service of Christ was doing some sort of Christian work, teaching, preaching or the like.” Not necessarily; you may not be able to do any of these things but you may serve Christ all the same. How? By practising righteousness in all your dealings; by your heart being kept in peace in the midst of the most trying circumstances: by your life overflowing with joy in the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will do it for us if we let Him engage our hearts with Christ. Thus we shall give testimony to those around. What a fine thing it is to be under the rule of Christ in God’s kingdom.
At the outset the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost in spite of being buffeted and persecuted. What moral superiority they manifested in the presence of the howling mobs that roughly handled them, and what a contrast was their calmness and joy to the turbulence and violence that surrounded them!
Well may people say of such “They have got something which I haven’t, I wish I had!” This is the way that Christ is served; by making people wishful and anxious to be in the joy of God’s kingdom.
Then not only is Christ served thereby but it is “acceptable to God and approved of men.” To be acceptable, or well-pleasing to God is proper Christian ambition, as we are told in 2 Corinthians 5:9. Not to make peoples’ ears tingle with wonderful eloquence, nor to astonish them with marvellous exploits in our service, but to be acceptable to God and also approved of men. Yes, men, unconverted men, know how to approve of a person who lives the Christian life and has the courage of his convictions. They may not love him, but they will approve his life. They will show him respect even if they do not show him love.
The supreme thing with the Christian however is to be acceptable to God.