Richards: What’s Next for New City?

“As we’ve journeyed through the Gospel of John, the importance of unity within the body of Christ has been crystal clear. Its importance is highlighted in the fact that Jesus, in his final recorded prayer, prayed for it. Christian unity is not merely an ideal we must strive for—it is a hallmark of the Christian faith. When we look at the landscape of Christianity today we see myriad expressions of faith and an incredible diversity of views on things such as baptism and end times and officers in the church and the practice of the Lord’s Supper. If unity is what Christ demands of his church, are we failing utterly? As Protestants we must ask if the criticism of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox folk is true when they claim that the sheer number of Protestant denominations and/or schools of Protestant thought makes unity impossible for Protestants. In the year 434, Vincent of Lérins wrote a helpful rule:

‘Moreover, in the catholic church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.’ -Vincent of Lérins, “The Commonitory II.6

Stated another way, we must hold the faith that the catholic, or universal church has always held. We must believe what all Christians in all places at all times have believed. If this is true, then what must we do about the sheer variety of beliefs, especially in Protestantism today? Is the criticism mentioned above a legitimate criticism? It is not. The reality is that while the early church held tightly to what all Christians in all places at all times believed, it is clear there was a variety of belief and practices on secondary matters. There are the core doctrines we must hold to, such as the deity of Christ and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and the Trinitarian nature of God who is—One Being in Three Persons. Then there are secondary issues that not all Christians have believed in all places and at all times.

One example of the room for disagreement on secondary issues is quite early and quite profound. Polycarp was the bishop, or lead elder, of the church in Smyrna. Polycarp was born in the year 69 and was martyred in the year 155. He was a disciple of the apostle John. Think of that! He was a member of the church where John served as lead elder! In the 150s a man named Anicetus was the lead elder of the church in Rome. In the second century the church was still forming its practices and customs, including the annual observance of Easter. There was a variety of practices surrounding this observance, including the timing. The Roman custom was to observe Easter on a specific date, much like we do Christmas, regardless of the day of the week. Polycarp’s custom was to observe Easter in connection with the date of the Jewish Passover. Early church historian Eusebius wrote about this controversy in the Fourth Century:

‘And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.

But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.’

Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Eusebius Pamphilus: Church History, Life of Constantine, & Oration in Praise of Constantine (NPNF-2 I; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.

Think of the outcome of this disagreement. Anicetus declared he would follow the customs of the elders in Rome who came before while acknowledging that Polycarp would follow the customs passed on to him by the apostles themselves! In other words, great freedom of conscience was allowed in the early church. Though the resurrection was believed by all Christians, the date of Easter was not a thing believed by all Christians in all places and at all times.

One more example will make the point. The Didache is a document written in the first century that provides instructions for various Christian practices such as communion, fasting, daily prayer, and baptism. What is striking is that when it comes to baptism, The Didache states that it must be done in the singular Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but offers three modes of baptism: immersion in flowing water (such as a stream or river); immersion into a still body of cold (preferable) or warm (allowable) water; and if sufficient water for immersion is not available, water may be poured on the head (surely those in desert communities were thrilled at this!). The apostle John was likely alive when this was written, yet it is clear that practices of baptism could vary.

What all this means is that there is a core theology that all Christians in all places at all times have believed. These center on the nature of God and of Christ, on the atonement and resurrection of the dead, and the coming of our Savior, and there was a wide latitude allowed in secondary practices. Early in the church a creed, or statement of belief, developed. This creed was confessed by those about to bebaptized into the church. It became known as the “Apostles’ Creed”.

‘I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Amen.’

The catholic or universal church has believed these things—all Christians in all places at all times. These are what define us as the church of Jesus Christ. This is what unites us with our Reformed and Baptist and Pentecostal and Presbyterian and Wesleyan brothers and sisters, not our practice of baptism or of communion, not our church governance structure, not our order of worship in our gathered assemblies. Yes, there are distinctives of New City Church that set us apart, or better, that distinguish us from some of our brothers and sisters, yet the answer to the criticism that Protestantism cannot be united due to various positions held on secondary matters is simple: we are united in the core tenets of the faith once delivered, and, like the early church, we allow great latitude in secondary matters.

The Council of Elders has been praying about where God is leading us after the Gospel of John. It happens that in April New City Church will celebrate its tenth anniversary. We believe this is a great opportunity for us to take a look at who we are as a church. To that end we will have a topical series over the summer using the Apostles’ Creed as our guide, along with a look at some of the things that distinguish us from others whose practices may differ from ours. Why do we only baptize believers who confess publicly that Jesus is Lord? Why do we celebrate communion each week? Rather than doing these things (and others) simply because “we’ve always done it this way”, we’ve been very intentional in our practice of these secondary matters. We are rooted in the ancient church and we are rooted in the twenty-first century, and the decisions we make matter. So to emphasize our unity in Christ and to illustrate some of our distinctives, our next sermon series will focus on the faith once delivered and the practical distinctives the Lord has led us as a church to embrace.

So what’s next for New City? In many ways, the same: we will continue to worship our great God and Savior Jesus Christ as we celebrate all he has done and is doing at New City Church.”

-J-T Richards

Richards: We Should Seek Justice, but not Because It’s the Cool Thing to Do

“Dear friends,

The prophet Amos proclaimed God’s word against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah. When pronouncing judgment against Tyre and Gaza and Damascus and Edom, etc., those hearing him would have cheered. What person wouldn’t want to hear how angry God is with his enemies? If nothing else, hearing of God’s anger and judgment on those enemies affirms the animosity felt toward those enemies. But then Amos turns his focus onto Judah and Israel, and especially Israel.

“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.’” Amos 2:6–8 ESV

Amos uses the Ancient Near Eastern pattern of ‘not only this, but also that’ to highlight Israel’s sins. We know the ‘for three…and for four’ is idiomatic as he lists seven sins. Each of these seven is an oppression of the weak.

The righteous were sold for silver. By referencing those oppressed as ‘righteous’ Amos is indicating that the issue is money lenders were abusing those who had committed no wrong, but were unable to pay for their loans. The law of Moses regulated how Israel was to care for those in need. Instead of caring for them as people, they were being forced into slavery as a result of being unable to pay their debts. Even those with insignificant debts (‘the needy for a pair of sandals’) were being exploited instead of being given time to pay back what was owed—or better, have their insignificant debts forgiven.

The powerless were being abused and ‘trample[d]…into the dust of the earth’. Those with power, whether social or political, were humiliating those without. We don’t know the exact issue but it’s clear that the power imbalance was being used against the weak. The powerless were being ground into dust.

Those with power would ‘turn aside the way of the afflicted’. In 5:12 Amos uses this phrase to refer to court cases. Those with power easily manipulate and push around those without power, and often use the legal system to do so.

Amos mentions a man and his father going ‘in to the same girl’. Sexual abuse has been rampant throughout human history and female employees are especially at risk. Powerful and wealthy men have often used their resources—which they could easily withhold—to exploit those in particular need. In this case father and son are complicit in their evil exploitation of the weak.

Amos identifies two more ways in which the powerless were being exploited. He says they—the powerful—‘lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge’. The law of Moses required that when the destitute gave their clothing as collateral on a loan, that clothing had to be returned by nightfall as it would be the only thing keeping them warm at night (Exodus 22:25-27). Here the rich were sleeping next to altars on those garments, indicating they had not returned them. They took the garments in pledge and then went to a worship celebration of some sort, as if God would be impressed at their ability to exploit others. This mockery of right worship is further demonstrated as they would ‘drink the wine of those who have been fined’ at these worship festivals. If a civil fine were charged the guilty party could pay the fine with wine. Judges were using their civil power for their own gain, and doing so while worshiping God.

God’s response to these seven ways the powerful were exploiting the powerless was to remind them of what he had done for them all those centuries before.

‘Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.’ Amos 2:9–10 ESV

When Israel was powerless, God took down the powerful. He did this when he brought them out of Egypt and he did it again when he conquered the land of Canaan for them. Just as God had brought down the oppressor and fought for the oppressed, so should they. God’s anger was directed at the injustices perpetrated by the powerful. His anger was compounded by the fact that Israel had forgotten what it was to be oppressed and had become the oppressor. Rather than reflect the character of the God who had fought those who had exploited them in Egypt, they had begun reflecting the character of the very people who had exploited them. The oppressed had become the oppressor.

The simple truth is we must treat others as God has treated us. God has shown us mercy and grace and is patient with us. God seeks our good and desires that we begin to look and act like him. Not all of us are rich and powerful, yet each one of us has been given a measure of influence and social capital. We must use whatever resources God has given us to stand up for the weak and the powerless and to fight oppression. We do not stand against social injustices because it is the cool thing or because it is the current spirit of the age, but because God in Christ has rescued us from our oppression and fought for us when we were completely and utterly powerless. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans,

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6 ESV

Let us use our influence to fight against injustice. Let us speak up for those being oppressed and harassed by the powerful. Let us care for the poor and protect the vulnerable among us. Let us show the world who our God is and what he is like. Let us fight for justice, for our God has done so for us.”

-J-T Richards

Richards: Let’s Have One Heart

For several years the people of Judah had been in exile. Though God had sent them many prophets to warn them to repent and to turn away from their idols and keep his covenant, they refused. The truth is they had repeatedly failed to be faithful to the Lord though he had shown them great kindness is making them his people when he rescued them out of Egypt all those centuries before. The problem was their heart. In Ezekiel 20 God recounts the problem going back to the very beginning of Israel (and Judah) as a nation.

“On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.” Ezekiel 20:6–8 ESV

Though God had shown them great kindness and poured out on them his incredible blessings, their hearts longed for their idols. In chapter 14 God said the elders of Israel “have taken their idols into their hearts” (Ezekiel 14:1–2). This was the problem from the beginning: their hearts were corrupt.

The prophet Ezekiel had been taken into exile along with many others from Jerusalem and Judah. From Babylon Ezekiel was transported to Jerusalem by the Spirit and was taken to an entrance of the temple (which had not been destroyed yet). He saw 25 men in Jerusalem who were making false claims about the city—and about God himself. He recognized two of these men: Jaazaniah and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah. God warned them that he would bring further judgment on them. Ezekiel began to prophesy and declare this word from the Lord.

And it came to pass, while I was prophesying, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell down on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” Ezekiel 11:13 ESV

It’s not hard to imagine the shock Ezekiel experienced when, while he was prophesying God’s judgment, God’s judgment fell swiftly and immediately on Pelatiah! He cried out to ask God if this meant the complete and total destruction of the people. God responded by telling Ezekiel that even though many of the people had been exiled to other nations, God was with them where they were. Then he promised a new exodus:

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:17–20 ESV

What will make this new exodus any more successful (in terms of their faithfulness) than the last one? God says he will give the people “one heart”—single-minded devotion to God. Israel’s problem all along had been their dual-mindedness. They longed for the food of Egypt while also half-heartedly worshiping the God of Israel. In this promise of the new covenant God says he will give them a new heart, one that is whole and undivided. This is no mere repair of the heart; he will remove the heart of stone and will give them a heart of flesh.

In the Ancient Near East the Egyptians practiced mummification. Part of this process was the removal of organs, including the heart. They understood the heart to be the organ that controlled the arms and legs—the entire body. Of course we know the heart pumps blood, but God speaks to us in language we understand. We actually use similar language today as we are told to “follow your heart”. Those who say this do not mean the heart controls the arms and legs (the brain does that) yet they also know that the “heart” is the seat of one’s desires. We act according to our strongest desires.

When God promises to give his people “one heart” by removing their “heart of stone” and replacing it with a “heart of flesh” he means that their will and their desires will be completely and utterly transformed. His people will love him and will seek to honor him. No more will they take idols “into their hearts” for their hearts will be filled with love for God.

Let’s live in this new reality. None of us could love God or desire to follow him apart from the miraculous work he promised to do. Our hearts are no longer dead or made of stone but are alive and beating for God. Let’s live as exiles, knowing that God is with us wherever we are. Let’s live as those who have one heart, hearts that are devoted to God.”

-J-T Richards

Richards: He’s the A and the Z—and the B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, and Y, too

“Dear friends,

The apostle John had a series of visions that make up the book of Revelation. These visions revealed the flow of human history from God’s perspective. Over and over again John saw evil on the precipice of victory, only to see a Lamb—that had been slaughtered—standing victorious over it all. No matter how great the disaster and how widespread the suffering, it all ends with the throne of God and none other than the Lord Jesus reigning from it.

In chapter 21 John saw a vision of the culmination of human history as Jesus fulfills God’s plans for the world.

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ Revelation 21:1–4 ESV

God created the world to be the place where he would walk in friendship and in fellowship with his people. We see this in his attempt to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve. This walk was, as you know, interrupted by Adam’s rebellion against God. This led to Adam and Eve and all their children being banished from that garden. It was only the work of God in providing clothing for them that offered them any hope. His promise to them was that one day he would end the suffering and pain and would restore them to the very place they were created to occupy.

John saw a vision of this new world. He describes it as a new city that comes down from heaven and is prepared for God himself. Then we hear the declaration that fulfills all of God’s promises: ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ What was lost due to sin and rebellion has been restored by God. In the next chapter John sees the city has a garden in the middle of it, with the river of the water of life flowing through it. Thus the story of God begins with him walking with his people in a garden and ends with him walking with his people in a garden.

What makes this possible is what happens in between these gardens. Here’s how John sees it.

‘And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”’ Revelation 21:4–7 ESV

He is the Alpha and the Omega—and every letter in between. He is the first and the last. From beginning to end—from garden to garden—salvation is the work of God in Christ through his Spirit. He is the author and finisher of faith.

When John sees the new city coming down from heaven, he’s seeing salvation and the promises of God from God’s perspective. What is that perspective, exactly? Jesus declares to John in the vision, “It is done!”

The word translated “It is done” is one of those do-it-all words. Jesus says, technically, “They are done,” referring to all of his promises, though this is encapsulated in our translation just as nicely. The word can mean to give birth. In Galatians 4:4 Paul says Jesus was born of woman. She produced or brought forth her son. It can mean to manufacture or make. In Acts 19:26 a man named Demetrius complained that Paul was claiming that gods made with hands are not gods. The word can be used of a process or events that come about. In Hebrews 9:15 the author says Jesus’ death has occurred. It happened. It came about. The word was also used of a change in condition. In Mark 1:17 Jesus says he will make his disciples become fishers of men. They will become something they were not.

When Jesus declares to John, “It is done!” he is saying all of these things. It has come about, it has happened, it has taken place. The promises of God have been produced. They have been given birth. Everything has been transformed. “Behold, I am making all things new.”

From God’s perspective it is as if this has already taken place. When God makes a promise, that promise is so sure and so trustworthy it is as if it has already been fulfilled, even when fulfillment remains thousands of years into the future! The promises of God are not given as a carrot-on-a-stick, as if they were always just out of reach though we keep pursuing them. While the fullness of our experience of these promises remains in the future, we experience the reality of these promises in the present. The promise is that the future dwelling place of God is with his people and the present reality is Jesus’ promise, ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ The fullness of his presence is future, yet the reality of his presence is now.

What this means for you is that your circumstances are temporary. They may be full of pain and suffering and sorrow and loss. The promises of God are so sure that God himself can declare, ‘They are done!’ The fullness may be future, but the reality is present. The promises of God are given as a comfort in the present for the surety of the future.

Rest in these promises. Find comfort in them. Cling to them. The Alpha and Omega is also the Beta and the Gamma and the Delta… Though God’s plan in the garden appeared to have been thwarted, we know from John’s vision that we will return to an even greater garden, one that will never be taken from us again.”

-J-T Richards

Richards: Love Those Whom Jesus Loves

“[Your Christian brother or sister] isn’t just some person. This is a person for whom Christ died. God paid a high price for the one you so casually injure. God gave his Son that he might claim that person you so casually disregard…. Though Jesus is God in every way he did not insist on his rights as God for the good of his people. So we must be like him.”

-J-T Richards, https://newcitychurch.org/messages/walking-in-love/

Richards: Highlights from John 15:1-17

“Jesus thrives and produces great fruit and is full of life. In fact, Jesus is the very source of life. He came to be all that Israel was supposed to be, but could never be.”

“Jesus replaces sacred spaces like Mount Zion where the temple was. Those who would worship God have to come to Jesus, not to a holy place.”

“What Jesus means when he says he is the true vine is that he himself supersedes Israel as the source and the center of God’s people. The places and the people of the old covenant have been replaced and fulfilled by a single Person. Jesus is the True Israel.”

“Jesus is the Offspring that God promised to give to Abraham. Jesus is the one to whom and through whom God would fulfill all his promises.”

“Remaining in [Jesus] is the active acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord. It is trusting in him for your life and your salvation. It isn’t trusting in a date you wrote in your Bible when you were at a Christian camp in middle school. It is the deliberate trust in him that if you were to die in this moment God’s acceptance of you would be based solely on who Jesus is and what he has done.”

“If you remain in Christ you are so united to him that you begin to love what he loves and you begin to hate what he hates and you begin to desire what he desires. This is what David means when he wrote Ps 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” If you delight yourself in the Lord, you are so filled with love and desire for him that you would not actually desire something that is outside of his will…. When you delight in the Lord, your desires begin to match his desires.”

“Obedience to [Jesus’] commands is living a life rightly aligned with God. The point of the law was never a list of rules, but a life lived according to God’s character. The law was meant to reveal God’s character. Jesus replaces the law with himself. The point of obedience, then, is to live life according to God’s character as fully revealed in Jesus.”

“The one who is miserable for obeying Jesus is one who is not obeying Jesus out of love. It’s not always easy to follow his commands, but following his commands produces joy in us.”

“The promise of Jesus is that God prunes us—he removes all the stuff that inhibits the growth of our fruit. God desires greater fruit and Jesus is the one who produces the fruit through us. His Spirit is present and active among us to do this very thing, yet it is in his church that this pruning takes place.”

“The branches need each other. God’s Spirit works in us through his word read and studied in community. The Spirit helps us apply his word as we spend time together to challenge and encourage one another. God’s Spirit works in us as we pray together for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Jesus thrives and produces great fruit and is full of life. In fact, Jesus is the very source of life. He came to be all that Israel was supposed to be, but could never be. We’ve seen this throughout John’s Gospel. We saw, for example, that Jesus replaces the old covenant. In chapter 2 he used ritual purification jars to provide beverages for a wedding in Cana. Then he cleansed the temple of those who had profaned it. We saw in chapter 3 that even a good Jew like Nicodemus had to be converted. He had to be born again in order to see God’s kingdom. Being able to trace his lineage to Abraham was insufficient. In chapter 4 Jesus replaces sacred spaces like Mount Zion where the temple was. Those who would worship God have to come to Jesus, not to a holy place. In chapter 5 we see that Jesus is the one Moses was pointing the people to all along and so he comes to replace Moses as the central figure in their lives. What Jesus means when he says he is the true vine is that he himself supersedes Israel as the source and the center of God’s people. The places and the people of the old covenant have been replaced and fulfilled by a single Person. Jesus is the True Israel. As Paul says in Galatians, Jesus is the Offspring that God promised to give to Abraham. Jesus is the one to whom and through whom God would fulfill all his promises. This is why Jesus has been claiming all along that life is found in him. This is why Jesus could claim that he is the bread of life, and that the one who comes to him shall never hunger or thirst again. The disciples recognized this when they declared that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. He is the True Israel, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.”

-J-T Richards, https://youtu.be/Z0wsAFMpgQg

Richards: Walk in Love

“To judge another on [dietary issues] is to usurp God’s role and his authority as judge. We must not take this role upon ourselves. In Romans 14:13 Paul says to not pass judgment on one another any longer. It’s clear, then, that judgment was being passed on one another up to this point. He offers an alternative to judging one another.

[Christians] must decide to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Instead of judging one another for whether or not they eat meat that had been offered to idols, they must decide they will never put a stumbling block or hindrance in each other’s way….

This is why he says that the strong must be careful to never put a stumbling block in the way of a brother. Romans 14:15: if a brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.“

-J-T Richards, https://newcitychurch.org/messages/walking-in-love/

Richards: Idolatry

“None of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself. If we live,we live to the Lord—for his honor. And if we die, we also die to the Lord. This means that whether we live or die we live or die for Jesus. He says Jesus died and rose again that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. In other words, the death and resurrection of Jesus is what saves us, so all of life belongs to him. So we have freedom of conscience because all of life and all of our dietary choices and all of our days belong to him and are for his honor and glory….

[Each] will stand before the judgment seat of God, and the reality of this is expressed in God’s declaration that every knee with bow and every tongue will confess. Therefore, each one of us stand before him as individuals and will give an account of himself [or herself] to God….

There is no greater sin than idolatry. Idolatry says to God that he is unworthy of our worship, unworthy of our greatest affection. Idolatry says that something else is more valuable than God. Idolatry says that something else is more desirable than God. Idolatry says sexual pleasure is greater than God or financial prosperity is greater than God or a certain reputation is greater than God or that possessions are greater than God. Whatever supplants God as the recipient of our greatest joy and affection is an idol and idolatry is a lie about God. There is no greater sin than this.”

-J-T Richards, https://newcitychurch.org/messages/walking-in-love/

Richards: Differences of Opinion

Paul begins [Romans 14] by calling on the Christians in Rome to welcome the one who is weak but to not quarrel with him over opinions. I chuckle whenever I hear a person accused of being opinionated—as if this is somehow unusual. The truth is some are more willing to articulate or argue for their opinions. It isn’t that a person has more opinions, but that he or she will express them.

Opinions carry different weight. In my opinion Nike basketball shoes are very overrated; Reebok makes far better basketball shoes. It is also my opinion that we should live all of life for the glory of God in Christ. These opinions do not carry the same weight. I would die for the latter but if you put a gun to my head I’d sing the praises of Nike.

Paul tells us the substance of the opinion in question in verse 2. One person believes that he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The issue is whether to eat meat or to not eat meat, but why is that controversial? In first-century Rome most meat markets were connected to temples. A bull would be sacrificed to a god and then the animal would be butchered and its meat sold in a meat market. The overwhelming majority of meat sold in the city would have been offered in worship to a false god.

There were those,whether they were Jewish believers in Jesus or were Gentile believers in Jesus, who believed the right way to honor God with one’s life was to avoid eating meat that had been offered in this way. They would eat only vegetables so as to never have to worry about the source of any meat they ate. Just avoid meat altogether and the issue became a non-issue. There were also those who believed they could eat meat regardless of its source, and even if it had been offered to an idol, eating it in faith would honor the Lord. What did it matter what the butcher did before butchering? As long as the meat was fresh and good quality, just eat it!

On the one hand you have traditionalists, those who adhered to a traditional Jewish understanding of food ethics and on the other you have non-traditionalists, those who were more progressive in their understanding of food ethics. Paul refers to this issue as a matter of opinion.

Paul tells those who eat meat to not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains should not judge the one who eats. Why? For God has welcomed him. Which one? Which one has God welcomed? Each one, through faith. Most of you know the book of Romans. Paul has repeatedly emphasized in this letter that salvation is through faith. God has welcomed both the meat-eaters and the vegetarians through faith.

Therefore judgment of the other is unacceptable. Paul says “It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” In other words the guy eating his quinoa burger and the guy enjoying his perfectly cooked ribeye will only answer to God. And notice that Paul says each one will stand—“will be upheld”-because the Lord is able to make him stand. He doesn’t say “because he or she ate the right food.”

-J-T Richards, https://newcitychurch.org/messages/walking-in-love/