Rights Run Amuck.
2 Samuel 13-14, 1 Corinthians 9
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 9:12 ESV
We put a high priority on our rights. But the problem with rights is that they can become expectations, and those expectations, when unmet, can lead to disappointment which can culminate in sin. So much of what we label as rights have more to do with what John refers to as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). There are things in this world that we believe are “rightfully” ours to have. It could be a new car, a bigger house, nicer clothes, a better paying job, respect, popularity, good health, or more money. And while God has not necessarily promised us these things, if we convince ourselves that we somehow deserve them, we will not be content until we have them. We will see it as our right, and anyone who stands in our way of fulfilling that right will be seen as our enemy. Many of the things we want or believe we deserve are perfectly fine to have, but the issue is less about rights than it is about lust. And when our perceived rights become an obsession for us, the result is an incapacity to love those around us. Our love of our rights takes precedence over our God-given responsibility to love others.
What does this passage reveal about God?
When asked what the two greatest commandments were, Jesus was quite specific. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV). So according to Jesus, we are to love God and love others. Everything else found in the law of Moses and in the writing of the prophets could be summed up in these two commands. But our rights have a way of hindering our ability to faithfully fulfill either command. If I don’t get what I think I deserve or what I believe is rightfully mine to have, I will become frustrated with God. I might even find myself falling out of love with God, because I am disappointed in His failure to give me what I want. But my obligation to love God should take precedence over any obsession I may have regarding “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” I must be willing to die to my rights for the sake of loving God and loving others. Paul knew this well and lived it out in his everyday life.
What does this passage reveal about man?
What an amazing contrast there is between the life of Paul and the life of Amnon. At first glance, you might think there is little to compare between these two men, but at the heart of both passages is the subject of rights. Amnon believed he had a right to satisfy his lust for his half-sister, Tamar. The author makes it quite clear that Amnon desperately wanted Tamar, and while it says that he loved her, his real attraction seems to have been sexual in nature. He was so obsessed with her that he literally made himself sick. “Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar” (2 Samuel 13:2 ESV). And with encouragement from “crafty” friend, Amnon eventually demanded his rights, forcefully raping Tamar against her will. He believed he had a right to what he wanted, and he did whatever he had to do to get it. Interestingly, the passage says that “Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2 Samuel 13:15 ESV). Not only had Amnon failed to love God by violating His commands, he had allowed his rights to get in the way of his love for Tamar. Lust superceded love. Perceived rights got in the way of doing what was right in God’s eyes.
But Paul gives us a model of what it means to hold on to our rights loosely. The entire ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians has to do with the issue of rights. Chapter eight dealt with a problem in the Corinthian church regarding meat offered to idols. There were more mature believers who were demanding their right to eat this meat because they knew that there were no such thing as other gods. They were spiritually mature enough to know that the meat was perfectly fine to eat. But Paul was telling them to give up their rights out of love for their weaker brothers. If someone else, who had just come out of a pagan religion where those false gods were very real, still believed that eating meat sacrificed to those gods was wrong, the last thing you would want to do is to flaunt your rights and cause them to violate their own conscience. Paul refused to make a big deal out of his rights. “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 9:12 ESV). Rather than demand his rights, Paul died to them. He didn’t want anything to stand in the way of the gospel, including his rights.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
It is so easy to let our rights get in the way of our primary objective as followers of Christ. We are to love God and love others. Our focus is to be outward, not inward. But as soon as I start making a big deal out of my rights, I lose focus. It becomes all about me. But Paul would remind us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV). Put others first. Don’t make it all about you. Be willing to die to your rights. And Paul provides Jesus as a perfect example of this very attitude. In fact, Paul tells us to have the same attitude that Christ had: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). Jesus gave up His rights as the Son of God and came to earth. He gave up His divine privileges and position of power and honor next to the Father. He set aside His rights in order to love mankind. Rather than look out for His own personal interests and demand His rights, He placed our well-being ahead of His own. When we allow our rights to rule us, we will end up loving ourselves more than we love God or others. Amnon is a perfect example of this truth. But Paul provides us with a viable alternative. He gave up his rights, so that he might keep his eye on the prize: the faithful presentation of the gospel and the unselfish expression of God’s love for others through his own life and ministry.
Father, forgive me for making far too much out of my rights. Don’t let me be like Amnon, who was driven by his own desires and convinced himself that his rights were worth doing anything for. I want to be like Paul, willingly giving up my rights for the sake of the gospel and out of love for others. May I increasingly have the same attitude that Christ had. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men