Have We No Rights?
1 Corinthians 9:1-27
This week’s lessons remind us of the pricelessness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As human beings, we do have rights. Our Declaration of Independence talks about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every human being has a right to life. That is a key term. It is one of the things that is being assaulted in our time. Our founding documents speak of liberty. We believe that liberty is something that is a right given to us by God. Anybody who tries to take away liberty is fighting against God and, furthermore, is fighting against the standards by which we are willing to fight and die. We talk about the pursuit of happiness. However, nobody has the right to happiness. Happiness is not something you can guarantee. But you can guarantee an environment in which people have the right to pursue happiness in whatever way they think they should. We believe in equal opportunities in education because some people believe that the way to find happiness is through education, and they have a right to pursue that, if that’s what they want to do. The same thing is true of religion. Some people, with whom we would agree, believe that happiness is to be found in a relationship to God and that in our society we must have the right to pursue that. We speak of these as “inalienable rights.”
Furthermore, the Bible also speaks of rights. In the thirteenth chapter of Romans Paul writes that God established the rights of the state. It is in this context that he says in verse 7, “Give everyone what you owe him. If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Those are the rights due the state and those who represent it. They deserve honor; it is their right given by God. So, both from the secular standpoint and also from a biblical standpoint, you have to talk about rights.
Now, this does not mean that everybody has equal rights. The student who does well in school, the one who applies himself or herself to the academic load, has the right to a superlative grade, which a student who fails to work does not have. We have an inverted kind of equality in our time that says that the dullard is equal in honor, so far as grades are concerned, to the one who has applied himself and has ability. That is not true. Not everyone has the same rights. There are certain inalienable rights that belong to all and there are other specific rights that are due to certain individuals because of who they are or what they have done.
And yet, the point is, we do have rights. Unless you recognize this fact, the point that Paul is making in I Corinthians 9 just has no weight. What Paul says so clearly is this: “As an apostle, I have certain rights.” He goes on to say, “But just because we have rights doesn’t mean that we have to exercise the rights.” It is a question of laying them aside, waiving our rights for the sake of something that, by the instruction of God, we believe is of far greater importance.
Paul develops this idea in this chapter. He first establishes himself as an apostle since he is going to go on to talk about the rights of an apostle. Next, he uses himself as an illustration of laying aside those rights. In the first two verses he says, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen our Lord?” Here he is addressing the qualifications of an apostle. Not everyone could claim to be an apostle. An apostle was one who fulfilled two qualifications. First, he had to have seen the Lord. In the first chapter of the book of Acts the apostles were seeking someone to fill the place of Judas, who fell by the betrayal of the Lord. Peter said, “Look, let’s choose one from among us, someone who was with the Lord during the days of his ministry from the time of the baptism of John until his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.” So, an apostle was to be a witness of the Lord during those days of his ministry–that was the first qualification. Tomorrow, we will look at the second qualification.
From where do we derive our rights?
“Not everyone has the same rights.” What does this statement mean? Think of specific examples.
What was the first qualification of an apostle?
Paul frequently had to defend his apostleship. Read the account of his conversion in Acts 9:1-31; then read the following passages where he defends his calling: 2 Corinthians 10-11; Galatians 1:11–2:10.