Freedom and rights. These are and have been hot topics in America for centuries. In fact, the quest for freedom and expression of rights was the motivation behind America’s war for independence. Since that time, laws and rulings have been made that protect and define personal, professional, civil, and religious rights. While rights and freedoms are not bad and at times are worthy of defending and protecting, what does the Bible say about how we are to use our rights?
Throughout the Bible we see the use and exercising of rights and freedoms typically lead people to anarchy, rebellion, and subsequent bondage. On the other hand, a life surrendered to God and submitted to His lordship brings blessing, fruitfulness, and abiding joy. In Christ, we all have freedom and the ability to use that freedom in a variety of ways. However, in 1 Corinthians, Paul outlines why Christians should not use or abuse their rights but rather should surrender them for the sake of the gospel and out of love.
“If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
~1 Corinthians 9:11-12
“But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”
~1 Corinthians 9:15-18
As a full time apostle, church planter, and missionary, Paul had many rights he could have claimed throughout his ministry but he did not exercise these rights. Rather, he surrendered them so that no one would be put off by his message. One of the big rights Paul was entitled to as a full time teacher, apostle, and missionary was monetary compensation. He should not have needed to work for a living, but should have been supported by the various churches he ministered to. However, Paul did not make use of this right but chose to work at his trade instead.
Why did Paul not want to exercise his rights? He had every reason to and could easily have argued that his ministry would be more fruitful if he didn’t need to devote time to making an income on the side. However, Paul didn’t look at his right to monetary compensation in that way. Instead, he wanted to make his motivation for ministry abundantly clear and that no one would question or take issue with the message of the gospel because of any monetary gain he might have received.
We would do well to learn from Paul. How often are Christians criticized for being dogmatic about rights and freedoms? How many church leaders have abused their position and used the gospel to accumulate wealth? Why do some people take issue with the gospel because of negative association with Christians and how they conduct themselves?
Paul made it very clear in both word and action that while he had various rights as an apostle, he would not make use of them so that the gospel could go forth unhindered and free of charge. Instead of standing on and exercising rights, Paul stated that he endured all things including injustice so that no obstacle would be put in the spread of God’s good news.
Oh, that we would have the same mind as Paul! What rights are we holding onto that would be better to release for the sake of the gospel? Are we willing to surrender our rights and freedoms for the sake of winning the lost? Would we be willing to suffer injustice so that others might be saved?
While we may say yes to these questions on paper, practically living them out is a totally different challenge. As our world gets more anti-Christian, it’s going to become even more crucial that we be willing to surrender our rights for the sake of the gospel. Therefore, let’s learn from the Apostle Paul and be ready and willing to surrender our rights so that the gospel may go forth freely and without hindrance based on our conduct.
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