But, don’t I have a “right” to…
I got to thinking the other day about this whole idea of personal ‘rights,’ the rights we have as human beings, and the rights we have in Christ as Christians. What are our “rights” for, anyway? And what exactly is the best thing to do with them?
The first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, set out and establish many of them: the rights of borrowers, the rights of the needy, the rights of slaves, of strangers, and man-slayers, of husbands and wives and firstborn sons. But as I read through these records something peculiar stands out about them: virtually every one of them has to do with our obligation to ensure these rights to others.
When I look to the New Testament I find something similar. In the first 14 verses of 1 Corinthians I see Paul setting forth his rights: his right to food, and drink, to a wife and remuneration. But what does he say about his right to these ‘rights?’ He says, “But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me” (v.15). Paul was not writing the Corinthians to assert these rights but to tell them that in surrendering them he found his greatest reward: “What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.” (v.18).
Jesus had rights too! Jesus came as the only begotten Son of God, as a member Himself of the Holy Trinity of God. “very God of very God” as the Nicene Creed (325 AD) puts it. All power and all authority belonged to Him. But what did He do with it? Paul answers this in his advice to the believers in Philippi:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8)
Someone once said to an irate brother, “Your ‘right’ to punch me in the nose ends where my nose begins!” Have we forgotten as brothers and sisters in Christ that we belong to one another, that each of us to one another is as a “little Christ” – a ‘Christ’-one, a Christian, as the early onlookers first called us. Did not Christ Himself say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40)?
Brothers and sister what you decide do with your rights is freely yours to determine. But I urge you first to consider Christ… and I ask: For what are one’s “rights”: asserting, or surrendering? / Which is more noble? Which is more selfish?