We start off with a quiz today. There are four questions.
- Which of the following (and you can check all that apply) were used to manage the Black Death when it was ravaging Europe?
- Passports (individuals were given passports to identify themselves and tell where he/she had been)
- Spy networks (spies were sent out to monitor other cities to see if they had been exposed to the plague and would then warn the people back home)
- Running away
- Which was the response of health officers to people who were not wearing masks during the Spanish Flu in San Francisco?
- Fine them $10
- Throw them in jail
- Shoot them
- Remove them bodily from the city
- Where did the first recorded case of the Spanish Flu occur?
- Which city handled the Spanish Flu epidemic better?
- New York
Here is the question we have been asking for the last 5 blogs: What rights do I have as a Christ-follower? It is not a simple question. Lots of people think we have all the rights given to us by the Constitution (and the Bill of Rights) and that being a Christ-follower only adds to those rights (after all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom). Others believe we have the right to say what we want, do what we want and feel victimized when we want and see others the way we want. Others believe that we have the right (if not a duty) to revolt when any of our freedoms are denied. Others don’t care what anyone thinks, they are just going to do what they want, right or wrong (it’s like beating a lie detector; if you don’t think it is a lie, the machine won’t beep, only here, if you don’t ever think about Christ’s call on your life, the sin-meter won’t ever beep). But I find such answers deeply disturbing and contradictory to the law of Christ. In fact, I think the question is even wrong-headed.
For Paul, the question of rights comes down to another question, a better question: to whom do we belong? In existential thought, existence precedes essence. In Paul’s thought, lordship precedes everything. That’s why he keeps hammering this point home repeatedly throughout our passage (1 Corinthians 6). In fact, he answers this question six different times. He begins in verse 13 (I’ve highlighted the important parts): “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” In verse 14, Paul says that God raised Jesus from the dead and he will also raise us (because we belong to the Lord). Paul says it unequivocally in verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” and again in verse 17: “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” He expands upon this idea in verse 19: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” And if that doesn’t scratch where you itch, look at verses 19-20: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Our question now comes into focus. In Paul’s thinking, we are not our own. We belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to Christ Jesus. Kevin DeYoung, in his book, The Good News We Almost Forgot, says it this way when explaining the significance of the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism. He gives this summary statement:
“We can endure suffering and disappointment in life and face death and the life to come without fear of condemnation not because of what we have done or what we own or who we are, but because of what we do not possess, namely our own selves because we belong to Jesus. Question 1 of the Catechism shapes our whole existence. The first thing we need to know as a Christ follower is this: we belong, body and soul, to Jesus and not to ourselves.”
And if that is so, then we are slaves; and if we are slaves, we have no rights.
So, what does being a slave to Jesus look like? As strange as it may sound, it looks like perfect freedom and life. How can that be? Because Jesus gave us two overarching commands that define the good life, namely, to love God and to love others. Paul describes this life at the end of 1 Timothy (6:17-19):
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
Those are powerful words. If you want to take hold of the life that is truly life, both in this present world and in the age to come, then you must invest yourself in loving God (or putting your hope in God) and in loving others (being rich in good deeds). See, the good life does not come by exerting your rights, getting your way, or in pursuing your own agenda. It comes in submitting to God and in loving others. And that means, in every decision, we must ask ourselves the two twin questions of true discipleship: “What does it mean to honor God in this moment?” and “What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?” And just like in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we don’t get to decide who we want to be our neighbor. If we see someone with a need, we see our neighbor. So it is here. When we want to exert our rights, we must first ask what our neighbor needs from us. Or perhaps better said, will the exercise of my rights be in the best interest of our neighbor (even if our neighbor is confused about what is in his or her best interests as in the case of friends not letting their friends drive drunk even though they want to). All that to say, the exercise of my rights must always be subservient to loving God and loving my neighbor.
We started this post with four questions, and now we end with four concluding questions.
Q1: Based on everything in this post, do Christ followers even have rights?
A1: Yes, but not the right to do whatever we want. Instead, we have been endowed by our creator and redeemer with certain inalienable rights; purchased for us by Christ Jesus so that now we are free to glorify God and to love the people God puts in our path. And the exercise of these rights leads to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the life that is truly life.
Q2: What is the basis of these two incredible rights?
A2: That we have been bought with a price and we are not our own.
Q3: As Christ followers, do we always have to consider the other person and put their interests above our own even at the expense of our American rights?
A3: Absolutely. Our great privilege and calling is always to seek to serve others in love. It is our “everyone, everywhere and all-the-time” mandate.
Q4: But isn’t that a responsibility and not a right?
A4: I guess that all depends on how you look at things. We have been set free from sin and death, from shame and guilt and from ought and obligation. We have been given a new heart and a new will so that we can love and serve and give ourselves away. We have also been invited to partner with the Godhead in the establishment of Jesus’ kingdom on earth. And we have been loved with a never-ending love and been made children of God. How can we ever call our response to all of these gifts, a responsibility or an obligation of obedience? Instead, our response can only be described with words like gratitude, thankfulness, privilege, and freedom. And since we are so grateful and so free, it is our right (our free choice, if you will) to honor God, to love our neighbor and to serve the people God puts in our path. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:13-14: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Four questions. Four right answers. We are not always right on the money when it comes to understanding our rights as Christ followers.
But what about our four pandemic/plague questions at the beginning of this post?
Question 1: If you guessed “all of the above,” you are batting 1000! Good job! Plus, you now know how the idea of a passport originated!
Question 2: A health officer in San Francisco shot three people who were not wearing masks. Arizona fined people $10. If someone asks you the difference between California and Arizona, I’m sure that is all you need to know.
Question 3: For some unknown reason, the Spanish Flu isn’t Spanish at all. Instead, it started in Kansas on a military base. Apparently, the state’s Chamber of Commerce realized starting a world-wide pandemic that would kill 50 to 100 million worldwide would reflect negatively on their state image and decided to blame it on the Spanish. Everything is marketing!
Question 4: New York reacted swiftly and enforced a quarantine and staggered business hours. As a result, it had the lowest death rate of any city on the east coast. Philadelphia, likewise, responded quickly and launched a campaign against coughing, spitting and sneezing in public. But then, ten days later, the city hosted a parade where 200,000 people attended. It had the worst death rate of all the cities studied. What were they thinking?
Here’s the last word: when you want to parade around in your rights, remember it may seem like a fine thing to do, but it only brings death and misery. Instead, it is always right to set aside your rights so that you can love and serve those around you in Jesus’ name. In short, it is more than the right thing to do. It is holy, righteous and good. And if you do all of this, your heart will surely be in the right place.