Rights or Self-denial?

Read: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

We live in a society where one’s rights are paramount. Everyday there are accounts in the news of lawsuits or protests in favor of the rights of some oppressed person or group, demanding their rights as human beings, as citizens, as protected minorities. Unfortunately, this kind of this-is-my-right attitude has permeated the church as well. All kinds of people are pressing for changes (some good, many bad) within the various American denominations with the idea of protecting “human rights.” The question is . . . is this the Christian way?

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 RSV

I think that sometimes we are so worried about our own rights, our own feelings, position, ambitions, that we fail to understand that—in the broad scheme of things (that being eternity)—what we gain or lose here in this life is very little compared to what we can gain or lose forever. The Lord Jesus taught this:

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?” Mark 8:34-37 RSV

Look at these words: “deny himself.” To be honest, as American Christians, I don’t think we’re very good at denying ourselves at all. In fact, we want what we want when we want it. Even those things we do “for others” is often actually done for ourselves, to make ourselves feel good, to pat ourselves on the back. We choose to whom we will minister, to whom we will submit. And that isn’t really denying ourselves at all.

I think it goes back to the last verse in chapter 10: “just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” What is our motivation? If we are to, as Paul says in 11:1, imitate him as he imitates Christ, then our sole motivation is so that others will be saved. Pure and simple. Does that sometimes mean backing away from “fights for rights” (or “fights for righteousness”)? Yes. I believe it does. Because our motivation isn’t to make things right in this life, but rather that all people might be saved. Do we have that motivation? Are we concerned about the salvation of that “awful” person or do we simply want to change them so that our life is better? While we may be, as Christians, obligated to try to perpetuate a moral situation in our community, our nation, our world, ultimately the more important question stands: What are we doing that others might be saved? This world and everything in it is going to burn; only what’s done for Christ in reaching out to the unsaved will be what is ultimately important.