What is the connection between the kingdom of the heavens, peace and joy?
I’m teaching a three-part series on the kingdom for the Thames Valley churches of Christ. There’s no way I will do it justice, but I do hope to make it more relevant to myself and the congregation. One of the kingdom verses which has given me the most pause to think and pray is Romans 14:17-18.
Here is Tom Wright’s translation:
“God’s kingdom, you see, isn’t about food and drink, but about justice, peace, and joy in the holy spirit. Anyone who serves the Messiah like this pleases God and deserves respect from other people.” (Romans 14:17–18)
Compare that translation with the NIV:
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” (Romans 14:17–18 NIV11)
Finally, take a look at this translation by Dallas Willard:
“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking [whether you do it in one way or in another] but is inner rightness and peace and joy sustained by the Holy Spirit. For those serving Christ in this way are well-pleasing to God and approved by men.”
The key phrase here for me, is “inner rightness”. Far be it from me to criticise the NIV or Tom Wright, and I’m sure the translations are correct, but the Willard version emphasises the personal connection with Jesus. It is this personal connection which ensures our ability to experience the peace and joy of the Messiah. It is he who gives us peace (John 14:27) and joy (John 15:11). Why are we confident of this personal connection? Because Jesus promised, “I will be with you” Matthew 28:20. Since we have the spirit of Christ, we can enjoy the fruits of that spirit (Rom 8.9; Gal 5.22).
As Willard says, “..the kingdom of the heavens, from the practical point of view in which we all must live, is simply our experience of Jesus’s continual interaction with us in history and throughout the days, hours, and moments of our earthly existence.” (The Divine Conspiracy)
Would you like more joy and peace? Practice becoming more aware of the presence of Jesus. That is why we pray, and engage with spiritual disciplines. Not to make us “better”, but to make us more aware and thus more connected with the source of peace and joy. And the benefit? Why do we need to question the benefits of more peace and joy! But, we should also be aware that the fuller our experience of the peace and joy of the spirit, the more it will set us apart in this world as people who have something others need. Those with spiritual hunger will sit up and take notice.
The kingdom has many facets. But perhaps, practically, the most fundamental is the opportunity to avail ourselves of a supernatural peace and joy for which we were always designed.
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God bless, Malcolm