Rights and Wrongs

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, 2 Kings 18:28-37, 1 Corinthians 9:1-15, Matthew 7:22-29


The Apostle Paul was aware some church members were quick to criticize him. He was careful not to hand those people ammunition to use against him. Many apostles lived off the generosity of the community because they felt the service they provided justified those benefits. Paul compared it to military service, where one was not expected to fund the expenses of serving. Without benefactors many would not have been able to do the work of evangelizing, which is why under the religious Law it was basically a right. Paul and his close associate Barnabas purposely did not avail themselves of those rights so no one could claim they were in it for the benefits rather than the faith.

Do we ever exercise our rights to the point where we are no longer doing what is right? Or do we submit our civil rights to our moral responsibilities and our integrity? For example, we can remain well within our legal rights as employers and still exploit our workers. Even Christians will claim “it’s just business” to excuse shabby and outright unethical treatment of neighbors who also happen to be employees or vendors. In times not-so-long past sixteen hours a day of forced child labor was perfectly legal, but it was never a just way to do business.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentioned more than once how not everything that was permissible was beneficial. He taught we are to serve our neighbor’s good before our own, even if that means abdicating some of our own rights. Is that a thought we’re comfortable with today? We throw around the idea of “rights” without really agreeing on what that means. Constitutional rights? Nations have constitutions which vary widely. Human rights? We can’t agree on them in a single country, let alone universally. And they are often at odds.

Did Jesus spend more time talking about rights or responsibilities? If the gospel we try to live and spread is to look and sound like Jesus,  perhaps the conversation among Christians needs to shift accordingly. When we pray to be forgiven our debts as we forgive our debtors, let’s reflect on what standard we’re setting.

Comfort: God is merciful.

Challenge: Be merciful in gratitude.

Prayer:  If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. (Psalm 130:3-4)

Discussion: If you had to write a Bill of Responsibilities for the constitution, what would be at the top?

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