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When My Rights Aren't Right

Selfless  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  29:25
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This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript.
Up until about 450 years ago, almost everyone believed the earth was the center of the universe. Although a similar model had been proposed by a Greek astronomer named Aristarchus 18 centuries earlier, it was not until Copernicus published his model in 1573 that the concept of heliocentrism - the idea that sun, and not the earth, was the center of the solar system - became well known. Fifty years later, Galileo proposed the idea that the other planets also revolved around the sun. People were so opposed to that idea that they threw him in jail and kicked him out of the church.
In some ways, things haven’t really changed a whole lot. Today there are still a lot of people who get upset at the idea that they aren’t the center of the universe. Unfortunately, that includes a lot of Christians.
Today we are going to be talking about our rights. We certainly live in a world where there is a big emphasis on my rights, especially here in the United States. For those of us who are citizens of the United States and well as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, this can be a difficult area for us to navigate.
On one hand we live in a country that was founded upon the idea that citizens are endowed with certain rights and many of those rights are specifically spelled out in our founding documents. The first ten amendments to our Constitution are known as the “Bill of Rights”. Like all of you, I am grateful that I live in a country where I have those rights and I certainly don’t want to lose any of them.
On the other hand, however, if you are a disciple of Jesus, you are primarily a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
Philippians 3:20 ESV
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
And in that kingdom, one of the foundational principles is the idea of giving up one’s rights for the sake of others, just as Jesus did for us.
I understand just how hard it can be at times to live in both worlds at the same time and to try and reconcile what are often competing principles. I am also thankful for the passage that we’ll look at this morning that I think gives us some really practical instruction on how to do that.
Since we’re wrapping up a sermon series titled “Selfless”, you probably already have an idea where I’m going with this message today, but before you rush to any conclusions, let’s let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1 ESV
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. 1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Here is the main idea we’re going to develop this morning:

Insisting on my rights is not always right

I’m going to begin with verse 1 of chapter 11, because it clearly identifies the mindset that we are to have when it comes to our rights. We need to remember that there were no chapter breaks in Paul’s letter. So I’m really glad that the ESV and many other modern translations choose to include that verse with the end of chapter 10 since it clearly fits in with that section of Paul’s letter.
There is no doubt that Paul’s command in that verse seems a bit arrogant at first glance. But if we consider the entire command, we realize that he is only exhorting his readers to imitate him to the extent that his life lines up with that of Jesus. And once again, we are reminded of Philippians chapter 2, which hopefully at least some of you read this week.
There Paul describes how that Jesus, because of His love for us, willingly gave up His rights in order to come to this earth, take on the body of a man, and die on the cross for our sins. And he urges us to develop that same kind of mindset which puts the interests of others ahead of our own. That is essentially the definition of “agape” love.
Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul approaches that same idea from a different angle. He does that by using an illustration that is not very familiar to us - the idea of eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Today, that’s not really an issue for us. None of us go down to Fry’s and buy a steak or a rack of baby back ribs and thinks, “I wonder if that meat was sacrificed to another god before it got to the market”. I’m pretty sure that the USDA makes sure that doesn’t happen anyway.
But the underlying struggle of how to deal with matters of our conscience is certainly just as real for us today as it was in Paul’s day. It’s just that the issues are different in our culture.
Before we go any further it is critical to point out that Paul is not dealing here with issues that are clearly spelled out in the Bible. He is instead, tackling the “gray areas” where the Bible doesn’t specifically speak and where we are therefore free to develop our own convictions. Although I can’t possibly give you a complete list, here are some things that might fall into that category today:
Should a Christian celebrate Halloween? How about other holiday traditions that might have pagan roots like Christmas trees or Easter eggs or even using the word “Easter”?
Is it OK for a Christian to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes or use marijuana?
Can a Christian wife and mother work outside the home?
Should I get the COVID vaccine? Or any other vaccine for that matter.
I am going to do my best this morning to make this message as practical as possible. So in your sermon outline, I’ve given you the same chart that I’m going to put up on the screen right now. I’m not even going to leave any blanks for you to fill in because I want you to listen carefully and then make whatever notes that will help you understand and apply this. As we go through the chart, I’m going to bring in parts of today’s passage that will help us further understand how we are to make decisions as disciples of Jesus.
This chart is a tool that all of us can use when we are faced with a question about whether or not we out to engage in some behavior.
The first couple of questions aren’t addressed directly in our passage today, but they are certainly key questions to ask before we even get to the point of asking whether I am going to insist on my rights or not.
As I mentioned just a few minutes ago, Paul is not addressing issues that are clearly spelled out in the Bible. So the first question I need to ask is: Does the Bible prohibit it? Hopefully, it should be obvious that if the Bible prohibits a certain behavior, we have our answer. We shouldn’t do it. If you’re thinking about marrying an unbeliever, or engaging in pre-marital sex or any other kind of sexual immorality, or stealing or lying, it’s pretty obvious that you aren’t to do any of those things. And the same is true of sins that we often find more “acceptable” like gossip, or unchecked anger, or lust.
So if the Bible doesn’t address the behavior, then we move onto the second question: Does it violate my conscience? Although he doesn’t spend a lot of time on this question in our passage, Paul does imply here that we should never violate our conscience. He also makes it clear here that there is a danger in unnecessarily subjecting some things to your conscience. He basically says if you go to the house of a pagan to eat dinner, just eat whatever is served and don’t worry about the origin of the meat.
However, if your host were to tell you that this meat came from their sacrifice to a pagan god and made a big deal about that, now it is a matter of conscience and you shouldn’t eat it - not only for your sake, but for the sake of others. I’m going to come back to that idea a little later.
Let me give you a more current day example. Let’s say you put up a Christmas tree every year. And it never occurred to you that at one time decorating a tree like that was part of a pagan ritual. I am pretty sure that there is nothing in the Bible about putting up a Christmas tree, or even celebrating the birth of Jesus, for that matter. And there is no reason that putting up a tree violates your conscience. So you go ahead and put it up.
But what if someone told you that putting up a tree was a pagan practice and you began to research it some more. Perhaps you would conclude that the practice was originally part of a pagan celebration, but that is not what it means to you today, so it still doesn’t violate your conscience. Put up the tree.
But what if you did so much research that now you could no longer disassociate the practice of putting up a tree from its pagan origins? Perhaps in that case, it would violate your conscience so you don’t put up the tree.
But I think now you see why Paul warns against subjecting everything in our lives to such deep investigation that will inevitably cause us to find something that might prick our conscience. If taken far enough, we could probably find a reason that almost everything we do in life could result in violating our conscience in some way. So just don’t go out of your way to find ways to cause that to happen.
So far that’s pretty easy, right? But now we get to the heart of today’s message: Should I exercise my rights?
Remember earlier that I said that what Jesus did for us is a perfect illustration of “agape” love? It’s important to note that in everything we do our primary motive is always to be love - love for God, love for others, and even a healthy kind of love of self. And because love always takes priority over my rights, I must often be willing to lay down my rights. Therefore these next four questions are really just a practical way to determine if the exercise of my rights will hinder my love or will it enhance it?
The first question is: Will it hinder my spiritual growth? Paul addresses that question in verse 23. He claims that while all things are lawful - in other words, they don’t violate Scripture - they aren’t all helpful and they don’t all build up. While we see in the next verse that Paul has in mind how my actions might impact others, I think he also wants me to consider whether my behavior could hinder my own spiritual growth.
Let me give you an example. I think we would all agree that it is permissible to exercise. In fact, it is not only permissible, it is good for us. But there is a guy that goes to the gym where Mary and I go that is there several times a day every day. I don’t know his situation, so maybe for him that is OK, but I know if I did that, it would take away from the time I have to read and study my Bible, pray and do other things that contribute to my spiritual growth. So even though there is nothing in the Bible that would prohibit it and I have a right to do it, spending that much time at the gym is something I would choose not to do.
Here’s the second question: Will it harm a brother? That idea is addressed explicitly in verse 24 where Paul commands us to seek the good of our neighbor, rather than our own good. And it’s also addressed in verses 28 and 29 with the illustration of going to an unbeliever’s house for a meal. It’s really not clear who the “someone” is in verse 28. So it could be referring to the host, it could be another believer whose conscience could be violated because he knows the meat was sacrificed to an idol, or it could be an unbeliever. It seems to me that Paul left it intentionally vague so that the illustration has broad applicability.
But let’s consider for a moment the possibility that this is another believer. And he is troubled by the fact that this meat has been sacrificed to idols. Paul says that for the sake of his conscience - not mine - I should refrain.
We actually had an example of this several years ago right here at TFC. One of our church leaders had a personal conviction that Christmas trees had roots in pagan practices and that therefore their family wasn’t going to put up a Christmas tree. So for the sake of his conscience, our church refrained from putting up a Christmas tree for several years even though there is certainly nothing in the Bible that would prohibit it and we had every right to put one up.
The third question is: Will it rob God of His glory? Paul speaks of this principle in verse 31. Whatever we do is to be done for the purpose of giving God glory. So therefore, I don’t ever want to do something that would rob God of His glory. But what exactly is God’s glory? I really like the way that theologian Charles Ryrie defined it:
God’s glory is His reputation. To live for God’s glory means to live so that God’s reputation is enhanced (heightened in quantity and quality) and not diminished in any way.
Sometimes we tend to think that God’s glory is all about the big things in life. But here, we are instructed to make sure that we give God glory even in the everyday, mundane parts of our life like eating and drinking. So that means that every decision I make has the potential to impact God’s reputation.
But exactly how do I determine whether some action is going to enhance God’s reputation or whether it might diminish it? This is obviously a pretty subjective determination, but I’ve developed a test that works for me and perhaps you’ll find it useful, too. I ask this question when I’m considering some course of action: Is this something I can ask God to bless? I figure that anything God can bless is something that will enhance His reputation. Conversely, if I don’t honestly think that God can bless what I’m considering, it probably isn’t going to add to His glory and I shouldn’t do it.
That brings us to our final question: Will it hinder the gospel? Paul addresses that question throughout this section, but makes it really explicit in verses 32-33. Paul is striving not to intentionally offend anyone in a way that would hinder them from being saved.
In our culture, the idea that we aren’t to offend others has been taken to a whole new level that goes far beyond what Paul is encouraging his readers to do. He is not, as we see in the rest of this letter, “watering down the gospel”. He is not shying away from the truth that Jesus is the only way to God. He is not minimizing the seriousness of sin. In fact, much of his letter is written to call out the sin that was rampant in the church in Corinth.
The gospel, by its nature, is going to be offensive to some. And we shouldn’t try to change or avoid that. But what we must make sure that we don’t do is to needlessly put up barriers that might hinder others from putting their faith in Jesus.
I think one way that we as Christians put up barriers to the gospel is that we are known more for what we are against than what we are for. No doubt there is a lot going on in our culture that we ought to oppose. But what if instead of making that our focus, we spent more time promoting that which we’re for?
Let me give you just one example. The bible is clear that abortion is the taking of a human life and we obviously ought to be against that. But what if instead of protesting in front of abortion clinics or even making social media posts against that horrible practice, we support an organization like Hands of Hope that is showing love and compassion to pregnant women who are considering that option. Which approach do you think puts up a barrier to the gospel and which one is most likely to remove those barriers so that people respond positively to the gospel?
I think the other area where we’ve needlessly offended others is with our politics. I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself. Some Christians have become so tied to a particular political party or candidate that they have become downright hateful and even nasty toward those who hold different views. While in this country, I certainly have the right to express my political opinions, if I choose to do that, at a minimum I need to do it in a respectful manner that doesn’t push people away from Jesus.

Insisting on my rights is not always right

For the last four weeks, we have been talking about how to follow the example of Jesus and to be less selfish and more selfless. We have really only scratched the surface here, but we have identified at least four areas of our lives where we need to strive to be more selfless:
Being bold in our witness
Being faithful in our service
Being extravagant in our generosity
Relinquishing my rights
Over these four weeks, we’ve all been challenged to evaluate our lives in these areas and to make some changes where they are needed. Chances are that for most of us we probably do pretty well in one or more of these areas. But it is also like that there is at least one of these areas where we struggle.
So here is what I am going to challenge all of us to do:
Identify which of these four areas is the biggest struggle for you and write that down.
Review the sermon for that subject. You can use your notes or perhaps you want to go back and watch or listen to the message again. You can find all the messages either on our website or in Faithlife.
Identify one concrete action you can take to become more selfless in that area of your life and write it down.
Take whatever action is necessary to implement that principle.
We began our sermon series four weeks ago with these words of Jesus:
Luke 9:23–24 ESV
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
That is certainly not the way of this world. But it is the way of Jesus. He is not asking us to do anything that He has not already done. Instead of claiming His rights as God, He humbled Himself, became a human being just like us, and then died on the cross, not because He deserved it, but because He loves us so much.
May we imitate Him in all that we do.
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