On Rights for Rights and Lefts

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog post. It’s not for lack of material – indeed, I’ve had plenty of observations over the last several weeks that could manafest an interesting blog post – but due to busyness and the fear of being inaccurately labeled as a ranting liberal (who knew gun control was such a hot issue?), I’ve chosen to dial it back a bit. But here we are, and here is the simple truth: I’ve read something in the Bible and want to share it with you. Whether it is considered to be conservative or liberal in nature, I could not care less. I would hope it is neither.

I serve as youth pastor at a church where the senior pastor is cool enough to call me “Associate Pastor” rather than just the “youth guy.” He even lets me preach from time to time with a “whenever you want, just let me know” sort of attitude, and I really appreciate that kind of ministerial validation. When the opportunity came for me to take on a four-week preaching binge, I gladly accepted and planned a four-week series on the book of Philippians. In reality, one could exegetically take months preaching from this epistle, but I’m happy to at least do a brief survey over it.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is unlike any of his other “pastoral” letters. This one is more friendly, more caring, and it has the strong aroma of fondness for the recipients. The letter drips of joy, which is why my series on the book is called “Rise Above.” The irony is that he’s writing it from a prison cell, where on the surface it appears he would have no reason to rejoice, and every reason to protest. When Paul writes things like “I live for Jesus, and therefore death can be considered gain,” (Phil. 1:21) we see that he has a singular focus: advancing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul is only following the example of Jesus in having this joyful attitude in the midst of suffering. Nowhere in the Bible do we read about Jesus fighting for his rights. He didn’t play the “I’m God’s Son” card to get out of a bind. He didn’t cling to his deity at all. In fact, as Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8:

In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts. Remember:

Though He was in the form of God,
He chose not to cling to equality with God;
But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;
a servant in form
and a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
obedient to death—
a merciless death on the cross!

In America, we are free to have political preferences. We are also free to practice whatever faith we choose. But lately I’ve become more and more aware of the idea that some Christians feel that they have certain entitlements on this front. Even life-long Christians feel it’s okay to say things like “I can’t wait to get those ________ (choose your party) out of office!” This attitude doesn’t reflect the kind of attitude Paul had when he wrote to Timothy and said

2 So, first and foremost, I urge God’s people to pray. They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity. Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter) so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives—reverent, godly, and holy— all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4 – The Voice Translation)

Fighting for your rights certainly doesn’t reflect the attitude of Jesus that Paul was emulating when he wrote his letter to the church in Philippi. Nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus demanding that his rights be recognized. Paul knew this. In fact, Paul had plenty of documentation to prove his Roman citizenship, and this afforded him many rights that weren’t available to others (which he used for the advancement of the gospel). But in his letter to the Philippians, Paul doesn’t bank on that. Instead, he says that Christians are citizens of Heaven, and that our behavior should illustrate this. The concept of individual rights that our slave-owning founders implemented stands at odds with the example of humility and selflessness we get from Paul through Jesus.

Listen. All the talk we see on TV about individual rights – be it about guns or marriage or prayer or whatever – comes down to “left versus right.” It has nothing to do with the Gospel, which should have everything to do with what Christians live by. Red/blue and left/right are just part of a bigger farce to prop up television ratings, put food on radio talk show hosts’ tables, and line the pockets of our politicians – and Christians are being used in the game.

If this is you – if you get fired up by all this talk of “rights” or “right versus left,”  and consider yourself to be a follower of Jesus…think again. The very nature of Christ-following is selflessness. A true Christian worries about his rights never and the Gospel always. One who sincerely cares about the Gospel rises above his own interests to secure those of others (Phil 2:4).

Does that mean we ignore the privileges Christians have as American citizens? Don’t be silly. Use your free speech for the advancement of the gospel. Buy a gun (or don’t). Vote.  Assemble peacefully. Enjoy your privileges, but don’t forget what your “Christian” status requires of you.

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