Many reading these words live under freedom – in Christ, and in the world. But how many of us are giving up our rights for the gospel?
When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9: 22-23)
There is a lot of talk today about personal rights. About their being God-given, being under assault, or the need to defend them.
This may sound like the beginning of a political article. It’s not. Even so, some readers will find this article challenging from a political perspective.
The reality is, Jesus challenges all levels and types of orthodoxy – politics being but one of many areas of intense, personal passion.
As Christians, the tighter we hold to something, the harder the struggle will be to leave it at the foot of the cross.
And that’s just it; anything we claim hold of is on the table to be sacrificed to Christ. This includes any claims to personal rights. Meaning, all rights to ourselves. Jesus explicitly tells His followers they must be willing to give up their own way in order to follow Him.
However, it’s more than just showing a willingness to give things up to Christ. In today’s passage, Paul says he willingly sets aside his freedom in Christ to find common ground with others. Why? So that he can evangelize them. Paul is guiding us into giving up our rights for the gospel.
Common Ground for the Gospel
One reason for giving up our rights for the gospel is to find common ground with those with whom we are sharing the gospel. Our reason is to earn the right from a non-believer to be heard.
One important way we accomplish this is through God’s command to love our neighbor, one of the two greatest commandments.
So how is loving our neighbor giving up our rights for the gospel?
Well, think about it. What does loving our neighbor look like?
To love our neighbor may require us giving up worldly goods, such as money or possessions. We may have to give up our time caring for the elderly, the indigent, or those that society has abandoned. Position or good standing in the world (or even the church!) may have to be allowed to suffer because of who we are willing to show love.
Jesus Christ says that those who do things like this are His true disciples. In truth He says when we do these things for those in need, we do it to Him (Matthew 25:40).
Through this kind of sacrificial love, we take the role of salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). By giving up our rights for the gospel, we open the door for non-believers to wonder why we are acting the way we do. This can lead to opportunities to share the reason for our hope (Titus 2:11-14).
Most of the things I listed off here are just that – things. Giving up our rights can be a little more difficult.
Sharing Weakness for the Gospel
In today’s passage, Paul is considering those who are young and/or weak in the faith when he says we need to be prepared to give up our rights.
These are people who have already learned of and believed in Christ but are still in need of maturation. Such believers are still susceptible to losing the message about the Kingdom, just as Jesus explains in the Parable of the 4 Fields (Matthew 13:1-23).
Therefore, Paul says he sacrifices his personal freedom in Christ in situations where it may cause weaker believers to stumble. He gives a great example of this in the chapter previous to the one in which today’s passage is found.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul deals with a very touchy subject at that time, which is eating meat that had been offered to idols.
Paul roots his freedom to do so in the knowledge that idols are not gods, even if others call them gods or worship them as such (1 Corinthians 8:4-5).
However, if Paul were to lean on such knowledge to openly eat the food offered to idols, he would surely lead weaker believers to sin against their own conscience. To do so would be counted as Paul’s sin against Christ.
So rather than risk this, Paul says he would gladly give up eating meat entirely, giving up his rights out of concern for fellow weaker believers (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). And by acting to preserve immature believers in the faith, Paul is giving up his rights for the gospel.
Sacrificing Our Rights for the Gospel
While not in the same letter, Paul talks both about loving believers and non-believers alike sacrificially elsewhere. Romans 12:9-21 contains very practical instructions in this matter.
This includes loving others “with genuine affection”, always ready to help God’s people when they are in need.
It also says to “bless those who persecute you” and to never “pay back evil with more evil”, but rather to leave revenge to God.
Perhaps the one verse that best summarizes this passage is the one that simply tells us to do everything we can to live in peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
Again, this isn’t a political article. We are not talking about political rights. It’s actually much more difficult than that, because we’re talking about any rights to ourselves. Which is what Jesus calls us to surrender.
When we are faced with sacrificing personal rights, it seems like giving up our rights for the gospel – so that we “can save some” – would be the best reason. Sometimes doing everything we can to live in peace with everyone may look the same as losing rights in another arena.
The world is working overtime to alienate individuals and groups. Christians cannot allow themselves to get sucked into playing by the world’s rules. We must answer such evil tactics with sacrificial love for the sake of the gospel.
What giving up our rights costs us cannot be compared to what it will cost another person if we’re the only gospel they see or hear. Shouldn’t we at least consider if “demanding our rights” will have a negative impact on sharing the gospel with others?
More verses about giving ourselves over to God:
Psalm 40:6-8; Jeremiah 10:23; Mark 8:35; Luke 14:33; John 15:12-14; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 2:14-18