God’s Priorities for His Churches: Peace (1)
Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Romans 14.16-18
He indeed who is become partaker of true righteousness, enjoys a great and an invaluable good, even a calm joy of conscience; and he who has peace with God, what can he desire more?
- John Calvin, Commentary on Romans 14.17
Truth and grace
In this series, we are seeking an alternative to counting noses as a standard for healthy, growing churches. Not all churches can grow numerically, and not all those that dogrow numerically are necessarily healthy. The New Testament does not rely on numbers to determine the state of the church in any locale. Other criteria are more important and reliable, and we are seeking to discover those criteria and to learn how we may employ them in leading our churches to greater health and growth.
We’ve seen that no church can be healthy that is not grounded in, suffused with, and built-up by the Word of truthin Scripture. Whenever we prefer to the truth of Scripture, any content, focus, direction, methods, or means deriving from the influences or resources of the world, we introduce a corrupting virus into the lungs of the local church, so that she will struggle to realize the Breath of God. Gasping for real, spiritual life and breath, we multiply more pragmatic devices – adjusting our worship, adding new programs, building more or better facilities, and so forth – only to leave the Body of Christ breathless with exuberance or activity, but Breathless also to the Spirit of God.
The apostles all insist on the primacy of truthfor defining our lives together as followers of Jesus Christ. As we examine ourselves and our churches, let us resolve that whatever cannot be seen to derive ultimately from the Word of God must go, and in its place let us search the Scriptures to discover God’s truth for this and every other aspect of congregational life.
We have also seen the important place that gracemust have in local churches. We live and grow and bear fruit for the Lord only because of the grace with which He reaches us. But it is not enough that He extend His favor to us; we must recognize and receive that grace, so that it transforms us increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ. As that occurs, rivers of living water – the grace of God – will flow from us to others, as the Kingdom of God advances through us.
Thus we must make sure that all aspects of our church’s life – worship, disciple-making, and mission – seek the grace of God, bask in it richly, and rest in the Lord to make us agents of grace throughout our community.
The apostles desired their churches to be grounded in truth and suffused with grace. These two are the first of God’s priorities for His churches.
The character and consequence of the Kingdom of God
The defining characteristic of those who have made the Kingdom turn into a lifestyle of Kingdom-seeking is that they know joy unquenchable, and they are bringers of joy to the world. As a consequence of their resting in the grace and truth of God, they know joy that can never be taken from them, because their joy is lodged in spiritual, eternal, and unchangeable verities. Their lives have been hidden with Christ in God, and they know it and dwell in that hidden life at all times.
But the Kingdom consequence of joy comes only to those who are increasing in the character of the Kingdom, which is righteousness. Here again, grace and truth combine to form us increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ, so that Hisrighteousness grows and expands within us. We have no righteousness of our own, nor can we cobble together any righteousness that might satisfy in place of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is true for individual believers and for churches as well. The evidence of Christ’s righteousness, present and increasing, provides the validation of our faith, and is a vital indicator of vibrant spiritual health.
Righteousness is the product of truth and grace. Where righteousness abounds, truth and grace are generating vibrant spiritual health, for both our personal and corporate lives.
Righteousness to peace
As we bring God’s grace and truth to bear in the life of the church, we expect to realize greater Kingdom presence – righteousness and joy. But between these – the characterand consequenceof the Kingdom – is the conditionof peace, which issues from righteousness and allows joy to flourish. As Calvin observed, as we grow in righteousness, and as our church becomes more truly the Body of Christ, we will experience the peace of God. And if someone knows that peace, as Calvin asked, “what can he desire more?”
Peace is the soul’s foyer to joy. But the entrance to that foyer is through the door of righteousness, which is in Jesus Christ alone. Safe within His righteousness, mingling with others whose lives are so characterized, we are free from the fear of judgment, free from the yoke of guilt and shame, and safe and welcome within the court of the Lord. Peace is spiritually renewing and socially infectious. As we mingle in the foyer of the Kingdom with others who have come to the Lord’s peace, we feel our own peace reinforced, and we know that we are very near the presence of the Lord and His joy. The peace of Jesus, gained through the gate of His righteousness, leads to that state of joy which God intends for all His people.
Righteousness, peace, and joy: These are the hallmarks of the Spirit’s work in and through His churches as members grow in grace and truth and focus on the joy that is set down before them in the presence of the Lord. If, by truth and grace, we can increase in righteousness; and if we keep our focus on the joy that Jesus knows at the right hand of God (Heb. 12.1, 2), then peace will fill our souls, release our worship, and bind us together in God’s Spirit with astonishing results.
Peace is the third great standard by which we may determine the overall health and wellbeing of our churches.
Are you a joy-bringer? What about your people?
Order copies of our booklet, Joy to Your World! for all your church leaders. Use it to teach them how to begin thinking and living more consistently as agents of grace to their world. Order your copies by clicking here.
Prayer for Revival
“Peace and righteousness and whatever else we acquire from the Holy Spirit will be our food and drink in the kingdom of heaven.”
- Origin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).