Citizens of the kingdom: sharing Jesus' joy and peace
This post from Dr. Charles Fleming, faculty member at Grace Communion Seminary, is adapted from an article published in the October 6, 2021 edition of "GCI Update."
I was reminded recently that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God, enjoying some of the great blessings that await the entire human family when the kingdom is established in all its glory. In our Covid-weary, disaster-riddled world, I needed that. I imagine you do too.
|"Jesus Discourses with His Disciples" by Tissot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Dimensions of the kingdom, now present
In thinking about the kingdom of God, I was reminded of what Paul wrote in Romans chapter 14:
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. (Rom. 14:17-18)
In reading this passage, I was inspired by the fact that the joy and peace Paul mentions here are experienced in two dimensions: related to other humans, and related to God.
As related to other humans, Paul says that when "anyone serves Christ in this way” the result is that he or she “receives human approval.” And what does he mean by “in this way”? In the context Paul is writing in, it is following Christ’s example of accepting and not judging others (Rom. 14:1-4) as well as joining Jesus in giving up personal rights to meet the needs of others (Rom. 14:13-15, 19-23). There is a natural experience of joy and peace when we do the right thing.
As related to God (Father, Son and Spirit), Paul shows that "anyone who serves Christ in this way" is, by the Spirit, sharing in the peace and joy that God (the Father) experiences, and so are, "pleasing to God." The Holy Trinity is filled with joy when the people of God are living true to their calling as citizens of God's kingdom. And that joy is contagious – we get to experience it!
Living lives of inclusive, sacrificial love leads to the fulfillment in this life of promises of joy that Jesus made to his disciples. In one of his parables of the kingdom, Jesus promises the “good and faithful servant” that she or he will enter into or experience the very joy of his or her master (Matt. 25:21). Our ultimate reward is that for all eternity we will participate fully in the joy that Jesus experiences. But we do not have to wait for the resurrection to begin experiencing some of King Jesus’ joy. In John 17, Jesus prayed for us to receive and experience, not just joy at the human level, but his own joy, here and now:
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you…. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves (Jn. 17:11, 13).
The same can be said of peace. Jesus promised us not just peace at the human level, but the experience of his very own peace:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (Jn. 14:27).
Sharing Jesus' joy and peace with others
Our present sharing in the kingdom also includes sharing Jesus' joy and peace with others. We do so by participating with the Spirit in helping others know and accept the loving rule of King Jesus. Dallas Willard has a definition for the kingdom of God that captures what Paul says in Romans 14:
The kingdom of God is God reigning. It is present wherever what God wants done is done.
Why should we actively think and talk about the kingdom of God? In a world that can lead us to despair and high anxiety, we are “hooked up” with a source of joy and peace that not only sustains and emboldens us, but makes us beacons of hope for others. So let us think and talk about the kingdom of God. Having an imagination shaped by Jesus’ kingdom gives us eyes to better understand the new creation life that Paul says is now ours:
From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:16-21)