Sermon: Have We No Rights?
Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42
In this week’s lessons, we see that we are not to demand our rights, but instead, like Jesus, we are to pattern his self-sacrifice and service.
Theme: Eating Loss
We live in a day when most people are intensely conscious of their rights. In such a climate it is not unusual for a believer in Jesus Christ to be asking, “What are my rights as a Christian? Do I have a right to success or wealth? To a home or a family? To a good name? To be respected?” Perhaps you have asked these questions also or others like them. Do you have rights? The verses from the Sermon on the Mount to which we come today answer these questions directly, and they say—striking as it may seem—that there are no rights for Christians.
Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt. 5:38-42). These verses teach that a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ has no right to retaliation, no right to things, no right to his own time, and no right to his money. In other words, he holds all of his possessions in trust from the Lord, and he is obliged to use them as Jesus did, to help others.
Several years ago in the course of my reading I came across a little book by Mabel Williamson, a former missionary under the China Inland Mission, that forcibly develops this theme. It is called, “Have We No Right–” It is full of stories that illustrate how difficult the point that we are talking about is for most Christians. One story is the account of an address by another CIM missionary, in which he tells of the difficulties he had in learning this lesson in China.
“‘You know,’ he began, ‘there’s a great deal of difference between eating bitterness (a Chinese idiom for “suffering hardship”), and eating loss (a Chinese idiom for “suffering the infringement of one’s rights”). Eating bitterness is easy enough. To go out with the preaching band, walk twenty or thirty miles to the place where you are to work, help set up the tent, placard the town with posters, and spend several weeks in a strenuous campaign of meetings and visitation—why, that’s a thrill! Your bed may be made of a couple of planks laid on saw-horses, and you may have to eat boiled rice, greens, and bean-curd three times a day. But that’s just the beauty of it! Why, it’s good for anyone to go back to the simple life! A little healthy “bitterness” is good for anybody!
“‘When I came to China,’ he continued, ‘I was all ready to eat bitterness and like it. It takes a little while to get your palate and your digestion used to Chinese food, of course, but that was no harder than I had expected. Another thing, however’—and he paused significantly—‘another thing that I had never thought about came up to make trouble. I had to eat loss! I found that I couldn’t stand up for my rights—that I couldn’t even have any rights. I found that I had to give them up, every one, and that was the hardest thing of all.'”1
That comment by a veteran missionary to China rings true. It is what Christ was teaching. What is more, the lesson involved is a lesson that must be learned by every Christian. The apostle Paul learned it, for he wrote to the Corinthians, “Have we no right to eat and to drink? Have we no right to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only, and Barnabas, have we no right to forbear working?…Nevertheless, we have not used this right, but bear all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ…For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Cor. 9:4-6, 12, 19).
Paul willingly gave up his natural human rights for the sake of the gospel. And, although it is difficult, Jesus Christ teaches that we, His followers, are to do the same.
1Mabel Williamson, “Have We No Right–” (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1957), 8-9.
What are some rights people insist upon today? What do they reveal about people’s priorities?
In what ways might Christians also insist upon rights that could actually go against Jesus’ teaching in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount?
Reflection: Are there any rights you may need to give up in order to follow Jesus’ instruction of self-sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and the good of others?