I read a tweet the other day that is still ping-ponging around my mind as profound and challenging. It said…
You cannot serve both God and your rights. @joshcarlosjosh
Whew. As Americans who are proud of their rights, that kicks us right in the teeth, doesn’t it? Because we like our rights. And it’s not wrong to appreciate those rights or even to work to protect them.
Like anything in life, though, the problem comes when we elevate our rights to an improper level in our values and actions. Christ said you can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24), which is what the tweet above is echoing. Christ didn’t say you can’t have money or that money is bad, but that serving it and giving it improper value and power in life is where the trouble starts.
When considering a gospel approach to how I think about my rights, I’ve been pondering Philippians 2:5–8:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (NIV)
Here is God, making himself nothing… and not for his own sake, but for us and for redemption and the salvation of mankind and to make his Kingdom come.
So my imagination started spinning… what were Christ’s rights?
- He had the right to not be a citizen of a fallible, human country, but rather to remain in a perfect, heavenly kingdom.
- He had the right not to be limited by a body, but to remain outside of that physical confinement (something my imagination cannot process!) Then I remind myself—he didn’t lay down that right temporarily, he laid it down permanently. He is still in his resurrected body, so that was a right he didn’t ever return to.
- He had the right to avoid any kind of physical discomfort or inconvenience.
- He had the right to remain outside of the confines of time.
- He had the right to be divine and divine only and not wrestle with the human experience.
- He had the right to remain equal to God.
- He had the right to not wrestle with temptation.
- He had the right to not enter into human frameworks of relationships that are, let’s face it, at times hard work with great pain.
- He had the right not to have to experience sickness, pain, human loss, and even death.
- He had the right not to experience the trivial things of our every day, like stubbed toes and misunderstandings and mosquitos and spoiled food.
- He had the right not to die a horrible death—one of the worst possible, with intense physical suffering and shaming to which was added the spiritual suffering of being forsaken by his father while he bore our sins.
More important than considering his rights is to consider what he did with them:
He didn’t give up those rights to gain for himself. He gave them up FOR US. For you! He gave them up for neighbors, friends, relatives, the stranger on the street, the whole of humanity.
Thinking this through—the true immensity of his rights and that he gave them up to benefit us, to serve us… it brings tears to my eyes every time. I’m humbled to see the full picture. I become aware of the pettiness of my insistence on certain rights of my own.
I want to ask us this—as we discuss our rights in this country, are we doing so in a way that models Christ? Because that is ultimately what we are called to do—to live every aspect of our lives in a way that models him, to be transformed into his likeness, and to bring his Kingdom to earth. His kingdom—not the kingdom we like the most or know the best; the kingdom that is his plan and his creation.
Look around you—are we not in a time in history where we are in huge danger of serving our rights instead of serving God and following his call? If we are to be Christlike, what does it look like to humbly choose to lay down our rights to serve others and to serve the Kingdom? If Christ went before us and gave up rights so far greater than ours, can we respond with hearts of gratefulness that serve our neighbors by focusing on their needs and what is good for the community at large, and not focusing on (likely valid) rights of our own? The rights Christ gave up were good and valid. They weren’t “bad” rights or “wrong.” But he chose to gave them up for the sake of others.
Are we willing to live by values and fight for Christ’s Kingdom in which our lives look like Christ’s life instead of focusing on rights that we have come to love maybe a bit too much?