Peace Changes Everything
To understand how the peace of Jesus changes our lives, and the world around us, we need to return to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. The context for this verse is recognized as one of the New Testament’s key passages on the subject of “Christian Liberty.” Christian Liberty is the freedom to break cultural rules if they are allowable by God. This principle became critical to the church at a time when Gentiles were receiving Christ and seeking fellowship with Jewish members.
Under the system of Old Testament Law, Jews were expected to follow a number of ceremonial regulations to insure their offerings and dietary practices were pleasing to God. God had given His people these regulations to teach them the importance of personal holiness. But things changed when Jesus died on the cross. He became the final sacrifice for sin, rendering the Old Testament sacrificial system unnecessary. And since many of the dietary practices of His people were tied to their preparation for worship under this system, breaking those practices was no longer considered a matter of holiness. This doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with God’s dietary directions, or even that it is wrong for people to practice them today. The problem came when Jews and Gentiles tried to work and worship together in the church and they came into conflict over food and drink.
We can only imagine the tension in a room when a Gentile family showed up with some hamburger meat that had been sacrifices to a pagan god. We can hear a respected leader from the Jewish community as he reads a list of some “concerns” to share with the group about some matters of hygiene. This is why Paul focused on “righteousness, peace and joy” as opposed to “eating and drinking.” What one ate or drank didn’t make him righteous, but rather a clear conscious toward God. And peace and joy were the expected by-products.
Two fundamental expressions of this new dynamic were a part of the teaching of Christian Liberty. On one hand believers were free to disregard Old Testament ceremonial practices as long as it didn’t violate their conscience. On the other hand, they could choose not to use their freedom if they felt it might cause another believer to stumble in his walk. The choice to eat or not eat was situational, which does not endanger the idea of absolute truth since both were permissible. Why should anyone care about these distinctions? It is because they were called to win the peace, and their first reconstruction project happened to be very close to home.