“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those unforgettable words formed the basis of our Declaration of Independence. Rights. That’s a word which every American is familiar. The Bill of Rights lists for citizens our entitlements and Miranda Rights protect us when confronted by police. Most of us can’t list them but they’re in effect when we need them.
The Bible also extends rights or privileges. God declared the ‘right of the firstborn’ that included being the principal heir and receiving a double-portion of the family estate. The firstborn was also given a spiritual blessing, a prophetic declaration, by the father. You may remember the story of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:29-34). Esau sold his firstborn rights to his younger brother Jacob because it held no value to him.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian believers as a response that addressed many questions from them. Paul felt the need to address each one and in effect substantiate his God-given authority. Within that letter are some worthy comments on our rights as believers in Jesus Christ. Funny thing though, Paul decided to give up his rights for the benefit of the gospel, or more importantly, for the people in his life. He wrote that our rights should not become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Cor. 8:9); he loved the people God had placed in his life more than his rights. He acknowledged our rights but understood that ‘permissible’ is not always the best choice.
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NLT)
As citizens of the United States we are free. As citizens of the Kingdom of God we are also free. However, our freedom sometimes includes surrendering our rights. We have the right to eat (or overeat) and to drink (or become drunk) anytime we desire. We surrender that right when it becomes detrimental to our bodies or the people in our lives. We have the right to shop, exercise, or have conversations. We surrender those rights when they become excessive, hurting ourselves or others. We think we have the right to be angry or bitter, holding grudges against people. Does that benefit you? We are encouraged by Paul to consider how we live our lives in front of others. Paul gives us the freedom (1 Cor. 9:3, 5, 12, 15, 18) to not always use our rights. Sometimes, he tells us, for the benefit of others… give up your rights.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14 ESV)