Author: Geoff Robson

Jesus, human rights, and bacon (Geoff Robson)

Which of your rights will you give up today for someone else’s sake?

Reading through 1 Corinthians 8-9 this morning, I was struck (again) but just how incredibly counter-cultural the Bible is when it comes to thinking about our personal ‘rights’.

The language of ‘rights’ is everywhere in ethics and morality today. In large part, it flows out of the intense individualism that has enveloped our society. If you’re arguing for a particular position on any contentious issue, the quickest route to success is to establish that what you’re arguing for is ‘a basic human right’. Once you’ve established that someone has the right to do something, it’s game over, case closed. Anything that we have the right to do is automatically okay, so it seems.

The Bible takes a completely different perspective. Personal rights do exist, but instead of standing up for our own rights, we should be ready to relinquish those rights for the sake of others. Our lives are not about achieving maximum happiness for ourselves. They are about serving others in love, particularly as it involves the sharing of the gospel – even (or especially) if that means giving up our rights to do it.

In 1 Corinthians 8-9, Paul discusses the whole issue of ‘rights’ at some length. He establishes, for example, that Christians have the right to eat meat that has previously been sacrificed to idols – because, after all, idols are nothing, and there is only one true God (1 Cor 8:4-8). As an apostle, he argues that he has the right to ‘eat and drink’ (9:4), to marry (9:5) and to be paid for proclaiming the gospel (9:6-14). The Christian has many rights.

However, having established these rights, does Paul insist that his rights be fulfilled? Does he tell the Corinthians, “Follow my example, and don’t you dare let anyone deny you your God-given rights”? Is the Christian church meant to be a community driven by people who know their rights and who make sure they get their fair share?

Not at all! In fact, it’s just the opposite. The very reason Paul establishes his rights is to show that they’re not ultimate. “I have made no use of any of these rights,” he says (9:15). In his situation, his rights give way to what he sees as a powerful obligation, a necessity that is laid upon him: the necessity of preaching the gospel of Jesus. The great apostle to the Gentiles, a man endowed with powerful, God-given rights, lays aside those rights and willingly makes himself ‘a servant to all’ (9:19) in proclaiming the gospel. He lays down his life for the salvation of others.

And this way of life isn’t just for Paul. It’s exactly what he tells the Corinthians to do, too.

Many of the Corinthian Christians had thought through the issue of food offered to idols, and had realised they could eat whatever they wanted with a clear conscience. But again, Paul’s conclusion is radically different from the one our society would have reached. Our culture would say, “Take care that you don’t let anyone take away or impinge upon your personal rights!” But Paul says, “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (8:9)

If it’s going to help someone else, give up your rights. Let them go, and do it willingly. Ask not what you can get away with or what you are entitled to; ask how you can serve. Ask how you can care. Ask how you can love. Ask how you can sacrifice for the sake of someone else.

How far is Paul willing to go? “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (8:13) Did you get that? Here’s the mark of true love: for whom would you give up bacon?

More seriously (if there could be anything more serious than giving up bacon), Paul will finish this section of his letter by urging the Corinthians to, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (11:1) Jesus himself set the ultimate standard of what it looks like to forego personal ‘rights’ for the sake of others. The God of the entire universe willingly took on flesh and blood, the nature of a servant. He made himself nothing, and went to a humiliating, painful death on the cross, where he bore the wrath of God that I (not he) deserved, so I could be forgiven by turning to him in trust.

The call for us to give up our rights for the sake of others is a call to reflect what our Saviour did for us in whatever (very) small ways we are able. Forget WWJD. The real question is: WDJD? What did Jesus do? He (literally) gave his life for the salvation of others, laying aside his rights and entitlements in the process. And he calls his people to do the same.

It’s a simple idea, but in a world that is obsessed with personal rights, it will make Christians radically different. And it has the potential to make Jesus look magnificent to the world around us.

So which of your rights can you willingly set aside today, for the sake of someone else? How can you lay down your life so someone else can meet Jesus?

Anxiety and the kingdom

Over the last few weeks, a group of women at my church (including my wife) have been reading a book together: Just Do Something: A LiberatingApproach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin De Young. This is basically a book about knowing and doing God’s will for your life. If you’re not interested in that topic, you should be. I haven’t read it yet, but if the feedback is any indication, add this one to your must-read list.

As she read the book, I could often sense Liz cheering on the inside. She would pause, tell me to stop whatever I was doing, and read aloud something that had struck her. One quote in particular has stayed in my mind:

Worry and anxiety are not merely bad habits or idiosyncrasies. They are sinful fruits that blossom from the root of unbelief. Jesus doesn’t treat our obsession with the future as a personal quirk, but as evidence of little faith (Matt 6:30). Worry and anxiety reflect our hearts’ distrust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. Worry is a spiritual issue that must be fought with faith. (p. 56-57) Continue reading

Why Notices Matter

“And now it’s time for the notices.” *Groan*

Think of your church’s main weekly gathering. You rejoice as you sing God’s praises together, you pour out your hearts to God in prayer, and you hear the word of God read and proclaimed. Maybe you hear a testimony of God’s powerful work in someone’s life, or you have a time for encouraging questions and discussion.

And you have notices.

Which one of these things does not belong?

In this post, I want to offer a few brief reflections on this part of our public gatherings – a part that is always present, but is almost always either overlooked or loathed. Is there a way for us to think about our announcement time without making it seem like a chore to be endured – a necessary evil, the pimple on the backside of church? Continue reading

The gospel, Steve Jobs, and supply and demand

One of the most ‘memorable moments’ of 2011 so far is the death of Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and technology guru. Jobs’s death at just 56 years of age was terribly sad, but he has undoubtedly left an enormous mark on the 21st Century world, and on many of our lives.

I thought of Jobs again this week, when my wife received a very generous gift of a glistening new Apple product. As I thought about our new toy, and about Steve Jobs, it prompted me to think about the nature of the gospel and Christian ministry. Let me explain.

Our new toy (an iPad) is great: it’s sleek, shiny and fun, and it does things I could never have imagined. We love owning it, and I’m sure we’ll find a thousand uses for it. (By the way, you see what I did there? The gift was given to my wife, but I’m already calling it our new toy. Subtle yet ingenious.) But as fun and as useful as an iPad is, here’s the thing: we don’t actually need it. It will certainly come in handy, but there was no actual need for a new electronic device in our household. Continue reading

The limitations of government

This is the fifth and final post in a series onChristians and government. It may be helpful to read the other posts in theseries – part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. [And tomorrow is Election Day! Don’t forget to vote. – Ed] 

In this series of posts, we’ve been trying to get ahandle on what the Bible says about God and government: how to think about our ruling authorities, how to relate to them, and how to vote or not vote (forthose of us who have this privilege).

But if we’re to properly think about God and government, we need to conclude by remembering the limitations of earthly governments.

Continue reading