Have We No Rights?
1 Corinthians 9:1-27
This week’s lessons remind us of the pricelessness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A little over twenty-five years ago, a missionary with the China Inland Mission, now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, published a book that bore the title, Have We No Rights? The author was a missionary named Mabel Williamson, and she was simply saying what the Apostle Paul says so clearly in the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians. She was saying that we do have rights. But if we are to be the servants of Jesus Christ and effective in his ministry, there are situations in which we must be willing to waive those rights for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel.
There is a connection between this subject in 1 Corinthians 9 and what Paul was talking about in chapter 8. In chapter 8 he was talking about this question that the Corinthians had brought to him. He deals with a number of such items in this portion of the book. They had apparently come to him in one form or another and had raised this question about food that had been sacrificed to idols. He answered that very carefully. He analyzed what it really is to know anything spiritually and how that relates to man as well as to God, and to actions. Then he dealt with the subject theoretically in terms of what it means to offer food to an idol. “An idol is nothing,” Paul says. Whether you eat or do not eat any particular kind of food is not intrinsically important to how you get on or fail to get on in the Christian life. And it follows that eating food that has been offered to an idol is simply a matter of indifference. If you’re really thinking about others and if you really want to know the will of God, that is, how your theoretical knowledge relates to what’s happening in the lives of other people, you ought to be willing to forego eating food that has been offered to idols for the sake of your weaker brother.
When Paul comes to chapter 9, he begins to talk about his rights as an apostle. It might sound as if he has changed the subject entirely, but he has not.The reason we know this is that in the next chapter he goes back to the subject of food that was sacrificed to idols. What Paul is telling these Corinthians is that they must be willing to give up their right to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols for the sake of others if necessary. In order to make clear that he is not suggesting to them something that he has failed to do himself, he brings in this matter of the rights of an apostle and says, “In my case, I have laid aside even greater rights in order that the Gospel might come to you. And, if I have done that, why should it be so difficult for you to lay your pride aside and be more concerned about your brothers and sisters in the Lord than you are with this matter of eating such food?” That is the context. If we are going to talk about rights and laying them aside, as Paul does here using himself as an example, you have to recognize first of all that we do have rights.
In what circumstances should we lay our rights aside?
From a Christian perspective, for whose rights should we be more concerned, ours or our brother’s?
We are obsessed in our society with “our rights.” Have you ever insisted on your rights to the detriment of the Gospel? How could you have acted differently?