NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XXI)
German scholar John Bengel wants us to see that the three points Paul makes on living right, living in peace, and living with joy constitute the core message of this entire epistle – in that order. Right living – is a special characteristic of living by faith, independent of the sinner’s justification. Peace – As it relates our fellow believers and neighbors. Joy – With respect to ourselves. Then English theologian Adam Clarke notes these same three characteristics: Right living – because we have been pardoned and now practice holiness in heart and life. Peace – In the soul, from a sense of how God‘s mercy brings peace to regulate, rule, and harmonize the heart. Joy in the Holy Spirit – Solid spiritual sense of excitement which springs from a clear sense of God‘s mercy flooding our heart by the Holy Spirit. In a word, says Clarke, “it is happiness brought into the soul by the Holy Spirit, and maintained there by the same influence.” This is a genuine taste of heaven; Right living without sin; Peace dependent on God’s unfailing love, not the love of others; Joy dependent on God’s promises that help drive away any kind of mental agony or distressing fear.
Robert Haldane also says that rather than concentrating on our liberty in choosing what food and drink we feel comfortable in partaking of, look for those things that involve service to God under the Final Covenant. He then speaks of the characteristics Paul mentions here. When it comes to Right Living [Because of our right standing with God] – This is not the righteousness of God which is imputed to believers, but the righteousness to which they are now subject. Righteousness sometimes refers especially to the duties which we owe to others, but in its most comprehensive sense, it includes our duty to God. Peace [Our peace of mind knowing we have a right standing with God] — This is a standard for all true servants in the kingdom of God. By having peace with God they endeavor to have peace with their fellow believers and neighbors. Nothing is more unlike the spirit of genuine Christian faith than a contentious temperament. Joy in the Holy Spirit [Because we have peace with God due to our right standing with Him] – The joy brought by the indwelling Holy Spirit cannot be obtained from anywhere else, or given by anyone else. The believer rejoices even in the midst of trouble and is often most happy when the world thinks they are the most miserable. Peace and Right Living are what results in having Joy in the Holy Spirit, brought into effect in the believer by His daily presence.
Charles Hodge also comments on these three fruit of the Spirit: Right Living, Peace, and Joy are those of which the Holy Spirit is the author. Right Living is that which enables us to stand justified before God because it satisfies the demands of the Law. Peace is the agreement between God and the soul, between reason and conscience, between our heart and the hearts of others. And Joy is the delight of our salvation; that joy which only those who are in fellowship with the Holy Spirit can experience.
Albert Barnes gives his interpretation. For him, Right Living means the “virtue and integrity,” by which a believer faithfully discharges of all their duties which they owe to God and to their fellowman. It means that the Christian must live as any righteous person is expected to live, not as a person whose whole faith is wrapped up in mere ceremonies and outward forms of religion. Peace referred here is not the internal “peace” and “happiness” which each Christian has in their own mind. Rather, to the “harmony” and “accord” among believers instead of “controversy” and “contention.” The tendency and design of the Kingdom of God is to produce harmony and love and to put an end to alienation and strife. And Joy, which refers to the personal happiness produced in the mind and heart under the influence of the Gospel, that can only be produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit. As we can see, there are many different interpretations of what Paul is saying here. But thankfully, all of them qualify as sound and proven.
Reverend Octavius Winslow gives his view in a sermon on this subject and minces no words. He is impressed by the way the Holy Spirit reveals this to the Apostle Paul. To begin, the Righteousness of Christ forms the foundation on which of the believing sinner’s acceptance with God is based. Then, Peace, the effect of righteousness, followed by Joy which is peace at a higher level. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Should we modify this great spiritual truth without which there is no salvation – no grace down here, and no glory up there. In its place, some have substituted a rite, a ritual, a ceremony, a symbol, and the sign of the cross. Are we to believe that thousands of regenerate, saved, and sanctified believers, who when they die will die standing right with God, are now living a life that is hostile to the Word of God? No! They who do so are captives of Satan and the servants of sin! That’s why we should not hesitate to denounce the dogma of sacramental grace – the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – to be one of Satan’s biggest lies! This constitutes the most subtle and fatal weapon which the number one foe of believers ever forged to bring about the destiny of mankind’s destroyed soul being cast into an everlasting raging inferno.
I love the illustration Winslow uses to introduce his sermon based on the words of the Alpha and Omega in His letter to the church in Sardis: “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.” Winslow asks if anyone who has ever visited an art gallery possessing a taste and an eye for the fine arts, ever stood entranced before a picture of natural still-life in which, with masterly genius of the artist has portrayed the subjects with such vivid effect that all of its charm and power seemed absolutely real? So successful is this artistic illusion, and so intense is the feeling produced by it, that while gazing upon the painting the deer seem to be bounding off the canvas; the grapes seem ready to pick, and the perfume breathe from the rose fills the air. And yet, with all this appearance and glow of illusory animation, it is, nonetheless, just a painting of still-life. What a graphic picture of people who claim to be right with God appearing to be doing right for God but are really do nothing right for God or anyone.
Charles Ellicott finds agreement in what many of the commentators have said about Right Living, Peace, and Joy that are an inherent part of the Kingdom of God. For Ellicott, righteousness and peace do not mean imputed righteousness, or justification, and reconciliation with God. Rather, the moral condition of righteousness in Christians themselves and in harmony with their fellowman. These are crowned in the confirmed Christian by that feeling of joy that is formed in then by the presence and influence in their hearts of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is remarkable how with all differences we see in the terminology found in the writings of St. Paul and the Gospels they all amazingly come around to the make the very same point: This is the “Kingdom of God!”
Ellicott continues by pointing out that it has not been beyond the power of heathen or Christian philosophers, such as Marcus Aurelius, to arrive at the conception that right living and peace are duties to be observed and worked hard for. The peculiarity of Christianity consists in the unity which it gives to these attributes as naturally flowing from a spring of deep religious conviction, and from the finish and perfection which it adds to them by the introduction of that third term, “joy in the Holy Spirit” Many individuals have shown, with greater or less reasoning, what a real Christian should be. But the great and only Perfect Example is Jesus Christ Himself, which finds expression in the Sermon on the Mount. This is meant for all believers to emulate.
Pulpiteer Charles Spurgeon spoke on this subject as he saw it in his day. As he looked around, he spotted some who tried to find out what could be done to enhance their salvation by abstinence from meats and drinks, even advertising their efforts for applause. This is a very proper thing to do in its place and may lead to useful results. But Christ’s teaching is this: “Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man, but that which comes out of the mouth that defiles a man.’ It is the heart which must be affected! And nothing that a person may think of, or that can be manipulated by the human hand, will be able to accomplish that. No doubt that’s why the prophet Joel called out to God’s people, “Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God.” If this is demanded even under the First Covenant, how much more under the Final Covenant of God. That’s where we read that, “God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” No wonder that Paul says here in verse 17, the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. And, therefore, no impression can be of any saving use to a man unless it reaches his heart.
John Stott gives us his exegesis of what Paul says here for us to compare with what others have said. In his thinking, the right living, peace, and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit are sometimes understood as one’s personal conditions of being righteous, peaceful and joyful by their own works. But in the wider context of Romans, it is more natural to take them as something we receive as a gift, namely, by justification through Christ, peace with God and rejoicing in hope of God’s glory, of which the Holy Spirit Himself is the pledge and foretaste. And the reason for the greater significance of the kingdom is that anyone who serves Christ in this way, that is, who show themselves as servants of Christ in this way, who seek first God’s kingdom, and who acknowledges that food and drink are secondary matters, is pleasing to God along with the joy and contentment of their fellowman and fellow believers.