The Gospel > Your Rights

I’ve been a political junkie ever since middle school. While most kids were watching Nickelodeon or playing football, I was the oddball reading USA Today, watching cable news, and vehemently arguing politics with friends and family.

As an American, I had every right to assert my political opinions. To take a stand. To make my position known. And though I have mellowed in recent years, that itch never went away. As a result, I still liked posting opinion columns on controversial issues to my Facebook.

Then, last spring, I ran across this line in D.A. Carson’s book The Cross and Christian Ministry:

 “How can Christians stand beside the cross and insist on their rights?”

This quote—and the passage in 1 Corinthians 9 it referred to—floored me. I was immediately convicted about my “right” to assert my political views.

You see, when I ardently posted my political views, I was inevitably driving away the friends who disagreed. And their greatest need is not a change in politics. It’s a change in heart, the kind only the gospel can provide. 

Now I’m not necessarily saying that we shouldn’t talk about politics, or that we should avoid all controversial topics. I just know that for me at this time and place, my greatest need was to share the good news with people — not convert them to my political perspective.

Carson’s quote comes in a discussion of 1 Corinthians 9. Here’s the context: The Corinthian church had a ton of problems, one of them being that some believers were eating food sacrificed to idols. Now, this practice was not wrong, in principal — but it was wrong for weaker Christians. For these young believers who were still tempted to idolatry, eating food sacrificed to idols would go against their conscience. As a result, Paul rebuked the mature Christians who led their weaker brothers and sisters astray .

The Corinthians would probably have been up in arms over Paul’s comments. I mean, do they not have the right to eat meat? Paul seemed to anticipate this objection by pointing to his own life.

You see, Paul had “rights,” too. He had the right to

  • eat and drink.
  • bring a wife with him, if he were married.
  • profit from his work, like soldiers, gardeners, and farmers.
  • share in the harvest, as the Old Testament commanded.
  • To make a living from his spiritual work, since even temple employees share in the offerings (1 Corinthians 9:4-11, 13-14).

So Paul had every logical and biblical right to profit for his work among the Corinthians.

But he refused.

“We did not use this right,” he said in 1 Corinthians 9:12b and again three verses later. Paul wasn’t trying to guilt them into some back-pay. Instead, he wanted them to see that he permitted nothing to get in the way of his gospel message—not even his need to put food on the table. Preaching the good news of Jesus was reward enough (1 Corinthians 9:18).

Ultimately, Paul was following Jesus’ example — who had every right in the world, but humbled himself to take on flesh. To become a servant. To die on the cross — so that you and I could be forgiven.

Paul’s example reveals why the Corinthians’ insistence on their rights was so egregious. Because, unlike him, they were permitting an utterly trivial matter to get in the way of their gospel message. They militantly stood by their rights—even if it meant that a weaker brother or sister would be spiritually wounded.

For Paul, others’ spiritual needs trumped his personal preferences; but for the Corinthians, their own personal preferences trumped others’ spiritual needs. His actions were selfless; theirs were selfish.

The good news for us is that we probably don’t have to worry about whether our decision to eat Perdue chicken or Johnsonville sausage will affect someone’s eternal fate.

But perhaps we do assert a “right” that drags others down. Mine was politics. Maybe yours is something different.

So I ask again,

“How can Christians stand beside the cross and insist on their rights?”
– D.A. Carson

Now, God doesn’t want us to become bland, emotionless robots with no opinions or preferences. But he does want us to be sensitive to others—and to consider them far more important than any of our perceived rights.

Because that’s what Jesus did. That’s what Paul did. And that’s what we can do — so others can come to know Him.

(Editor’s Note:This reflection is the overflow of a lesson I wrote for Treasuring Christ Curriculum. Learn more>>

One thought on “The Gospel > Your Rights

  1. Reblogged this on Nathaniel D. Williams and commented:

    I wrote this blog back in January, but it is more relevant today. The Gospel is greater than your rights — yes, even those rights to fly a Flag that you believe represents your heritage.

    If God is not greater than your Flag, then perhaps you have another god altogether.


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