The Gospel > Your Rights

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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 passionately 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. Though I have mellowed in recent years, that itch never went away. As a result, I still enjoy posting opinion columns on controversial issues to my Facebook or debating issues with friends and acquaintances. (And this election cycle has given me plenty of controversial issues to debate.)

But, 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 and argued about 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.

People’s greatest need is not a change in politics. It’s a change in heart.

Now I’m not saying that you should avoid talking about politics. As Christians and citizens, we have the responsibility to engage politics and the public square. Nor am I saying that you should avoid all controversial topics. Some controversial topics require us to take a stand.

I simply know that for me at that time and place, my greatest need was to share the good news with people — not merely 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, including the fact 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. Did 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.
  • make a living from his spiritual work, since even temple employees shared in the offerings (1 Corinthians 9:4-11, 13-14).

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 paying him. 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. Paul’s actions were selfless; the Corinthians’ were selfish.

Thankfully, we  don’t have to worry about whether our decision to eat Perdue chicken or Johnsonville sausage will affect someone’s eternal fate.

God wants us to be sensitive to others and to consider them more important than our perceived rights.

But perhaps we do assert a “right” that drags others down. Mine was arguing about 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

To be clear, God doesn’t want us to become bland, emotionless robots with no opinions or preferences. But God 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.

A version of this post was originally published at Nathaniel’s blog.

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Nathaniel D. Williams

Editor and Content Manager

Nathaniel D. Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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