Summary: We must be willing to give up our rights, and discipline our bodies to see that we are not an obstacle to the gospel.
Rights, Rewards, and Responsibilities
In America we are told that we should value our rights above almost everything else. To be an American is to be free. To be free is to be able to speak freely, write freely, and worship freely. It is a true blessing to be free. We believe in these rights so absolutely that men and women die to protect these rights of ours. So what if I was to tell you that you should be willing to give up your rights?
Since you have your Bibles with you, open them up to 1 Corinthians 9. Paul has already said that if something will cause a weaker brother to stumble, we have the liberty to limit our rights to keep them from stumbling. As we continue in 1 Corinthians we find Paul defending his rights as an apostle. He has all the rights that the rest of the apostles enjoy. He has the right to eat, he has the right to have a family, and have them travel with him, and he has the right to be financially supported in his work so that he does not have to have a separate job, but can focus on his ministry. These are very basic rights that Paul is arguing belong to him.
What could be more basic than the right to food, family, and finances? Can you imagine what you would do if someone came to you and said that you no longer are to receive food or a paycheck for your job? What if they told you that you had to relocate, but your family could not go with you? These are rights that we would fight tooth and nail over keeping.
Is there anything for which you would voluntarily give up your rights? Is there anything? The more important the right, the harder it is to give it up. You have a right to drive any car you want and can afford. Would you give up that right for a candy bar? Probably not, depending on how bad of a chocolate fix you needed. Would you give up that right to have a one thousand dollar discount? Hmmmm. Would you give up that right to be able to help a family member? Would you give up that right for one free hour of free time to yourself?
We have to be willing to give up our rights. We must be willing to give up right to be right. You know what I mean. We sit in a business meeting and we cannot understand why everyone else can’t see something as clearly as you do. So we argue until we are blue in face to help them see why we are right. Would you be willing to give up your right to be right so the world is wrong when they call us hypocrites?
Would you give up the right to your pride so that you can be reconciled with your brother so the world can see what forgiveness and humility look like? Would you give up your right to a higher standard of living so that someone may have the finances to spread the gospel to people who need to hear it? Would you give up the right to sitting in your pew to a visitor who doesn’t know you’ve been sitting there since the resurrection?
I hope you see that you will only be willing to give up your rights, whatever they are, if the reward is worth it. Paul says that he has given up the right of a family, the right of receiving financial support, even rights that would be given an ox. Now we must ask ourselves, what reward would be worth this sacrifice?
Don’t get overly zealous and think that its his salvation. He’s not working to go to heaven, Jesus did that work. His reward is not a brighter crown or a bigger mansion. Look closely at the text to see what Paul believes is so important that he would deny himself his own rights. It is not for the ultimate reward of winning some to Christ, though that is his ultimate desire. But he wants to just be able to preach and present the gospel with no obstacles! Look at verse 12: “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than PUT AN OBSTACLE IN THE WAY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. (ESV)” He continues this thought in verse 18: “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge…”(ESV). Paul wants to get himself out of the way so that the gospel is free to work. Paul has a belief that the gospel has God given power and when we are able to remove ourselves as obstacles, God’s word does amazing things. This is why we read in Isaiah: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11” (ESV).