We live in a world that seems to be obsessed with rights, even to the exclusion of responsibilities. People say the most profane and irresponsible things that wreak havoc on society and then appeal to the first amendment right of freedom of speech. The danger here is that this trend will influence Christians to think that their rights reign supreme.
The danger is not new. Christians at the early Corinthian church insisted on their rights as well. The New Testament consistently condemns the eating of meat that was offered to idols because it was part of an idolatrous ritual (Acts 15:29; I Cor. 10:19-21; Rev. 2:14, 20). But there were some at Corinth who claimed that their knowledge about the non-existence of pagan gods made them free to eat if they wished. If there was no god to receive the worship, they argued, there could be nothing wrong with offering it. They thought that their understanding gave them the freedom to do what scripture forbade.
Now Paul could have appealed to the commands of scripture; but instead he first admonished them to consider their responsibilities to others. He wrote, "Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow becomes a stumbling block to the weak" (I Cor. 8:9). Freedom does not mean that one has a right to hurt others. In the next chapter Paul argues that as an apostle he had a right to receive pay for his work. But for the sake of the gospel, he said, "I have made no use of any of these rights" (I Cor. 9:15). Paul was not concerned with his freedoms and rights, but with spreading the good news about Jesus. He wrote, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (I Cor. 9:22).
Christianity implies life in a community. We must always consider how what we do and say will affect other people. Sometimes we, like the Corinthians, can insist so loudly on our rights, real or imagined, that others can be hurt even though we do not intend such. We must draw our life patterns from scripture and not from how the world reacts around us. Jesus gave up his right to life for our sakes. Can we insist on getting our way at the expense of our brothers and sisters? As Paul wrote, "I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (I Cor. 10:33-11:1).
Copyright © 1993, Bruce Terry. All rights reserved. This article may be freely reprinted in bulletins and newsletters so long as no charge is made to the reader and this copyright notice is included.