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.
Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.
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God bless, Malcolm
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PPS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool“, a devotional look at the Gospel of John
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:1–8 NIV11)
“God places the best things in life on the other side of terror”
Question: What examples of courage do you see in this passage?
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 NIV1)
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:8 NIV11)
God is joyful; Jesus is full of joy; the Holy Spirit provides joy…
“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Luke 10:21 NIV11)
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17 NIV11)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Galatians 5:22 NIV11)
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess 1:6)
3. What does it mean?
Purely personally internal
The hour of a person’s decision
Present with / in Jesus
Kingdom present functioning as precursor to coming perfected kingdom Acts 1:6
“The community or people ruled by God and with whom he dwells, to some extent reality now but to be fully consummated in the future”
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1.15
eg 300w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002-768x576.jpeg 768w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002.jpeg 1024w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Starting-a-Speech.002-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 200px) 100vw, 200px" />Could you help me with something? It’s to do with the Kingdom of God. Later this year (October) I will be teaching a four-week series on this topic for the Thames Valley churches of Christ.
I’ve started researching and preparing – it’s a huge subject! I want to make sure we cover aspects of the Kingdom that are most relevant and significant, since we cannot tackle every aspect, nuance and theory in four weeks.
Hence, I’d be grateful if you could send me your top question about the Kingdom. In other words, if there was one question about the Kingdom that you could have answered, what would that be? Or, if there was one issue about the Kingdom that you would like clarified or explained, what would that be?
You can leave a message here, or email me on email@example.com.
Many thanks, and God bless,
P.S. Please pray for me as I prepare. I am excited, but not a little daunted!
I’m preaching on Luke 19.28-48 tomorrow. What a corker! The verse central to the section is:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41 NIV11)
Jesus weeping. It’s not the first time (John 11.35) and he’s not the only one (Luke 7.13; 8.52; Romans 9.2-3) But why now? Why here? Is he weak? Is he controlled by his emotions? Are the tears motivated by regret, fear or horror? The word translated ‘weep” could equally be ‘wailed’. Jesus burst into sobbing. Something serious and meaningful is happening. But what? Let’s note three things:
Jesus saw things as they really were. The crowd rejoiced (19.37), but Jesus wept. It was not that they should not rejoice, just that they could not see the bigger picture. How we all struggle with this. Are we willing to accept the reality of where we are in our faith, our relationships, our parenting, our marriage? Or are we so blind as to not see and admit where we are in the wrong, where we are weak, and where we need help? Are we also ready to accept the lostness of the world around us? We do not need to despair, but we do well to lament.
Jesus lamented the lost opportunity. He did all he could to speak truth and act in love so as to convince people that the kingdom was coming/had come. Yet, the vast majority of the people who heard him, saw his miracles and felt his love did not respond. Jerusalem (city of peace) was to be a war zone in a few years. It’s ironic, but terribly sad, that the city of peace does not know how to enjoy peace. Has God put an opportunity before you to respond to his love? Take it while you can. You do not know how long you have.
Jesus wept for others, not himself. The self-forgetfulness of Jesus is inspiring and, in fact, divine.¹ He was not weeping because he was to suffer and die in the city spread out before him. That would be reason enough, but his focus was not, and had never been, on himself. He knew God had a plan and, though it would be difficult, it was a good plan – for the the people he could help. How tragic, then, that those he longed to help and could help, are the very people rejecting such help. No wonder he wept!
Why is Jesus weeping? Because he saw things as they really were, because he longed to gather people to a place of peace with God, and because he knew how much he could help.
He did not weep every day, and neither should that be our goal, but a little weeping could go a long way to help us have the heart of Messiah.
¹For more on this see Keller’s excellent short book:
Here’s just one quote, “The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.” Jesus is so different, he feels no need to make comparisons. Instead, his energy is used for compassion.