Dead To Rights.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:13-23 ESV

Paul bookends this section with virtually the same words. He opens with “let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13 ESV) and ends with “blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself” (Romans 14:22 ESV). The only difference is the one on whom the judgment is assessed. We are not to judge each other and our actions toward one another should give us no cause to judge ourselves. And in both cases, it all seems to revolve around the issue of rights. Paul used himself as an example. He declared that had the right to eat whatever he wanted, because nothing was unclean for him. Paul would have been very familiar with the teaching of Jesus. “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15 NLT). When Jesus had spoken those words, His disciples were confused, so He provided clarification. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes)” (Mark 7:18-19 NLT).

So Paul, even though he was a Jew, lived his life with a new-found freedom when it came to his eating habits. He no longer lived under the dietary restrictions associated with his Jewish heritage. But he was willing to give up his rights for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ. It all goes back to the “weaker” brother narrative in the opening verses of this chapter. There will always be those in the church whose understanding of the life of faith is less developed. They will bring to their faith a certain degree of legalistic expectations, believing that what they do or don’t do is what earns them favor with God. In Paul’s day, both Jewish and Gentile believers brought their own list of restrictions to the table. There were converted Jews who still felt it necessary to maintain the dietary laws of their Jewish faith. There were also Gentile believers who felt convicted about eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. Paul had to deal with this issue in the church in Corinth. He told them, “we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God” (1 Corinthians 8:4 NLT). But he went on to say, “However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). Then Paul dealt with the real issue. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But for Paul, it all boiled down to the spiritual well-being of his brother or sister in Christ.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – Romans 4:9-13 NLT

While a certain food may be perfectly fine for him to eat, Paul was not willing to demand his rights if it was going to cause a brother in Christ to stumble by sinning against his conscience. That is why he wrote, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes a brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21 ESV). It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the freedom that comes with the life of faith. Our right standing with God is not based on adhering to a long list of prohibitions and restrictions. But there will always be those who don’t understand this truth. They will have strong convictions regarding what they eat or don’t eat, what they can wear or not wear, and even what activities they can participate in or abstain from.

For Paul, the final word on all of this had to do with faith. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 ESV). For the immature or weaker believer, conscience ends up playing a far greater role than necessary. Rather than enjoying the freedom that comes with knowing that his standing before God is fully taken care of by the finished work of Christ, he ends up operating off of his own inner sense of right or wrong. So if his conscience tells him not to eat something and he believes it is of God, to violate that belief becomes sin for him. He becomes burdened down with guilt for having done what he believed was against the will of God. Paul says, “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23 ESV). So the stronger believer, rather than wearing his or her rights like a badge of honor, should love their weaker brother or sister in Christ, willingly setting aside their rights so that they might not cause a fellow believer to sin against their conscience. We are always to build up, not tear down. We are to lovingly teach and instruct one another, not boastfully and arrogantly display our rights and flaunt our freedoms in Christ. Peter summed it up well when he wrote, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NLT).

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2 Samuel 13-14, 1 Corinthians 9

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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 9

The Law of Christ.

1 Corinthians 9

When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:21 NLT

Paul continued to address the questions raised in a letter he had previously received from the church in Corinth. In it, they had communicated a number of concerns regarding a variety of topics. In chapter nine, he addressed a question regarding the validity of his apostleship. Evidently, there were those in the Corinthian church who were raising doubts about his apostleship in an attempt to diminish his authority over their lives. Paul didn’t spend a lot of time defending his apostleship, but instead used the whole issue as a chance to talk about rights and their relationship with the context of the Body of Christ. Six different times in this section of his letter he brought up the topic of rights. This was in direct response to the claims of the Corinthian believers that they had every “right” to eat meat sacrificed to idols, because the “gods” behind these idols didn’t really exist in the first place. Paul has been trying to get them to understand that their rights had to take a back seat to their love for others. And he used his own life and ministry as an example. As an apostle, Paul had the right to expect compensation for his work among them. He had the right to expect the same kind of treatment that they had afforded Peter when he had come to minister among them. He had the right to expect the same kind of support the Corinthians had given to other ministers of the gospel.

But rather than demand his rights, Paul said, “We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12 NLT). Paul was not interested in demanding his rights. He was more interested in preaching the Good News. He was compelled to do so. He wasn’t in it for the money or the material benefits. “What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News” (1 Corinthians 9:18 NLT). For Paul, it was not a matter of rights, but responsibilities. He had been given a “sacred trust” by God to preach the gospel and he would not let anything – including his own rights – stand in the way. As a result, Paul took the attitude that he was a slave to all. Yes, he was a free man who had all kinds of rights he could have demanded, but he willingly set aside those rights so that his rights would never stand in the way of leading others to Christ. When he lived among the Jews, he willingly kept their Jewish laws and dietary practices, even though he no longer obligated to do so. When he ministered among Gentiles, like the Corinthians, he set aside those very same Jewish laws because he knew that they would confuse them, causing them to consider the law necessary for salvation. But Paul made it clear that he was not ignoring the law of God. He was simply obeying the law of Christ.

“The Law of Christ is the moral Law as found in the Old Testament, preached by the prophets, and interpreted, lived, and applied by our Lord and His apostles—only now in a new covenant context. The term ‘law’ here refers to the commandments Jesus and His apostles give us and which constitute a holy life, pleasing to God and beneficial to men and women. The Law of Christ is the standard for the Christian and Christian community, not our feelings or uninformed ideas. It calls us to a righteous and holy life. Holiness has particular reference to our relationship with God and righteousness involves the living out of that relationship with those in the world” (Greg Herrick, Beliefs Leading to Christlikeneess – The Spiritual Life, Bible.org).

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul wrote of the same law of Christ. “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important” (Galatians 6:2-3 NLT). In his letter to the Romans, Paul encouraged them with the same idea. “We must not please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself” (Romans 15:1-3 NLT). Later on, in that same letter, Paul would write, “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law” (Romans 13:10 NLT). Jesus Himself had said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT). Love should be our motivation. Love for God and love for others should be what drives our actions and attitudes. Not rights. Paul was willing to set his freedoms and rights aside for the sake of others. For Paul, the Christian life was not about rights and privileges. It was about discipline and required determination. The Christian life was like a race and he ran it to win. He ran it with purpose in every step. He disciplined his body. He set aside his rights. He gave up certain privileges. All so he could see others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Father, I worry way too much about my rights. I spend far too much time worrying about whether my rights have been respected or even violated. But give me the attitude that Paul had. Help me obey the law of Christ. May I learn to make self-sacrifice and selfless service the norm for my life. May I learn to give up my rights for the sake of others. Forgive me for spending so much time trying to please myself instead of serving others. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org