Recently at the entrance to Costco we witnessed a loud argument going on in front of the associate who lets people enter. One masked customer was yelling at another customer who was not wearing a face mask. The altercation grew heated as Mr. Mask insisted on his rights that he should only be surrounded by people wearing face masks and Ms. No-Mask was insisting her rights to be exempted from facemask requirements since she was not a state resident. Each was vehemently demanding their rights.
Currently there are lots of heated discussions going over social media regarding people’s rights. What are “rights” actually? One synonym is “privilege”. In the context of I Corinthians 9 Paul gives examples of his rights. What is counter cultural to us is Paul’s emphasis on how important it is that he has sacrificed his rights, just because of his love for Jesus. Paul mentions a few privileges he had given up for his ministry, rights that other Christian leaders were taking: the right to receive pay as a missionary (vs 4) and the right to take a believing wife along with him on his travels (vs 6). Both would have made his ministry more comfortable and were legitimately his. In our present rights-driven society, Paul’s attitude in verse 12 & 15 may make us scratch our heads in confusion. He writes, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ.” Didn’t Paul have the right to make himself comfortable? To be in his “happy place”? He disagreed on demanding those rights because his resolve was that nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to be allowed to get in the way of Paul bringing people to Jesus.
When Paul ministered to a Jewish audience he didn’t take up his rights as a Jesus follower as he was no longer being beholden to obey the Jewish ceremonial laws because He was under the New Covenant. However, he didn’t want his Jewish audience to become distracted by his behavior and then not listen to the message of the Gospel. On the other hand, when ministering to non-Jews (Gentiles) he culturally lived as a Gentile (as long as his behavior did not violate his allegiance to Jesus Christ). If it would help build an ethnic bridge to his audience to better communicate the Gospel, he would build that cultural bridge. He also did not exercise his Christian freedom in things like eating meat that had come from the pagan temples if it would offend those whose consciences would be young and tender. Paul put the “rights” of others before his own “so that by all possible means I might save some.” (vs 22).
I think that if the Apostle Paul would have been at Costco the other week, he would have been wearing a face mask so that he would not offend or scare off those who were so concerned with wearing masks. Paul would have gently and kindly encouraged the store employee who was at his wits end, caught between the 2 feuding customers. Paul would have seen the opportunity to care for people and to share Christ, not to exercise his personal rights. Furthermore, if Paul had to self-quarantine because of possible exposure to COVID19, he would then resolve to be on the phone, make Zoom calls, write letters, and be as creative as possible to continue spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul would have given up all his rights and privileges if it could bring just one more person closer to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Is God asking you to give up any of your own rights during this time of upheaval in our country so that more people could come to know Jesus? Is He asking you to center your conversations on Christ and not on your problems? Is He asking you to not exercise your freedom of speech and to go off on a political tangent when the real issue with the person you are communicating with is a heart issue? Is He begging you to give up your own rights to comfort in order to reach and help those who are hurting because of the crisis? What is Jesus asking you? What rights can you lay at the cross of Jesus Christ?