“The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
The context concerns the eating of clean and unclean food (Romans 14:14). The church at Rome was composed of Jews (Romans 16:3 cf. Acts 18:2-3; Romans 16:7; Romans 16:11a cf. Romans 11:1) and Gentiles (Romans 1:13; Romans 11:13). This was a transitional time for the Jews. Many were still struggling with their old Jewish practices. They were not comfortable eating certain things. The Gentiles did not have the same history of dietary practices.
The Old Testament contained certain dietary laws (see Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). When Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome, these dietary laws were no longer in force (Acts 10:9-16; Romans 14:14a; more would be written later – 2 Timothy 4:4-5).
However, not all Jews were convinced. They had not arrived at personal faith (conviction) that it was permissible for them to eat. Moreover, it is a sin to do anything – if one cannot do that thing in faith or a good conscience before God (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:7, 9-13).
How should the Gentiles handle the scruples of these Jews? Should they mock and ridicule them? No. Should they pressure and tempt them to violate their consciences? No. Loving consideration should be given to others (Romans 14:14-15). In optional matters, that is – in things that do not have to be done to be pleasing to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:8), it is wise to ask: (1) Will this edify and help save others? (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24). (2) Will this unnecessarily offend or cause others to stumble? (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:32-33; 1 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 14:21). (3) Will this help maintain peace? (cf. Romans 14:19). (4) Will this help bring glory to God? (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31).
It is important for Christians to remember, and be able to distinguish between what things are important, and what things are not. The Kingdom of God (the church) is not about individuals pursuing their preferences in food and drink. Here are some things which are important: (1) The Kingdom of God is about righteousness. The word is used in different ways in the Bible. It is used of right doing (e.g. Acts 10:34-35), salvation and the plan of salvation (e.g. Galatians 2:21; Romans 4:1-8; Romans 10:1-3), and a right standing before God (e.g. Luke 1:6; Romans 4:3 cf. Genesis 15:6; Philippians 3:8-9). Christians should be focused on doing God’s will, maintaining a right relationship with God, and helping to save others. (2) The Kingdom of God is about peace. Christians should make great efforts to live peaceably with others (cf. Romans 12:18; Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14). (3) The Kingdom of God is about joy. Christians have hope. We can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). We also should want others to have this same joy and hope. Let us remember and distinguish between what things are important, and what things are not. Paul wrote, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, least I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13).
“Therefore, let us pursue the things which makes for peace and things by which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).
The word “pursue” (dioko) means “hasten, run, press on… strive for, seek after, pursue… strive for, seek after, aspire to something” (B-A-G); “to run swiftly in order to catch some person or thing, to run after… to pursue i.e. to seek eagerly, earnestly endeavor”; “literally ‘pursuing’ (as one would a calling)…” (Vine’s).
Christians should, in optional matters, follow the course which makes for peace and leads to edification. Robin Haley remarks, “Here is every member’s duty with the Kingdom of Christ. The Lord’s church does not need ‘freedom fighters’ because our brother’s soul is much more important than my freedoms” (Haley, A Commentary on the Book of Romans, pp. 246-247). Remember that we are speaking of optional matters. This is not speaking of accepting sinful practices or compromising on obligatory matters for the sake of peace.