Romans 14:17-18 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.
Many of us have had the experience of standing in line at an airport, waiting to board a plane. My favorite moment is when the person over the loud speaker says, “We’re now boarding families with children.”
The parents, with relief in their eyes, begin to come forward. Nobody faults anyone else for letting the families go first. I don’t see fellow passengers asking to see the family’s boarding passes. The children are either sweetly smiling, tucked close to a parent’s chest, wandering to the full arms length of a distressed parent, or wailing in practice for the long performance ahead.
Sometimes the things we think are the most important, like us getting a seat in sync with our boarding pass number, can get in the way of a higher priority—making sure the families among us are settled and at peace first. We all benefit in the end, but our sense of propriety, fairness, and even justice may kick in and distort our ability to see the higher value right in front of us.
In Romans 14:17-18 we are being reminded of an important truth—quibbling about important things can get in the way of celebrating—and proliferating—the more important things.
For example, issues of “eating and drinking” were important to the Jews. In Romans 14:1-16, it seems there were many matters that were taking up the community’s time and attention. In a culture where every liturgical action represented a spiritual truth (like eating and drinking the agape feast together), it was easy to prioritize the little details of worship and community practice based on the idea that “God cares about the details.”
I.e. God cares about your boarding pass number. He cares that you booked early so you could get a good place in line. Well done. But sometimes, a more important value, a higher ideal, steps in and assigns other practices a different place in line. Sometimes, the families need to go first. To put it in the context of today’s passage—sometimes the weaker one should be honored.
In fact, could it be that we let the little details get in the way because they are easier to find success in achieving, easier than acts that involve loving others more highly than ourselves, acting self-sacrificially toward someone who has a different take on a spiritual practice than you do, or laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters? Often the harder work we’re avoiding is hidden behind our fixation on extra details and doing things “right.”
The Spirit won’t let us off the hook—the Spirit will keep the main things the main things if we will listen and respond.
The Holy Spirit is at work in the Body in Christ. Our integrity (righteousness), our peace-making (peace), and our steady and delighted rejoicing in the miracle of God’s love being at work in our hearts and in the right-side-upping of the world (joy) are of highest importance.
The Holy Spirit is forming the Church to be Christ-like on the inside, and Christ-like on the outside. The Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate is all about opening the heart to the Father’s love—starting with righteousness, peace, and joy, sparked by the Kingdom actions of walking with one another in integrity, doing the work of peace-making among us, and rejoicing in the Lord always—these are the priorities the Spirit keeps ever before us.
The Spirit of Jesus knows what, and who, should go first in line. Let’s allow the Spirit to shuffle what we think of being our highest values, so the Spirit can show us what the Father values most.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes easier to focus on details that matter, but don’t matter as much as other things, because the other, the more important and lasting things of the heart, are harder to do. Come, Holy Spirit, realign what I prioritize and value so I can live out your dreams in the world you so love. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Are there any “details” about your faith or walk with God that you’ve allowed to displace the harder things into which he’s inviting you? What are they, and how could you realign your values to match the higher values of the heart of which the Spirit is reminding you?
For the awakening,