Today’s Readings: Numbers 14:13-15:41; Psalm 50:10-23; 1 Corinthians 9
As Americans, we have certain unalienable rights that were written into our nation’s founding documents.
They are rights that others may not infringe upon and may not limit us in exercising.
In the movie The Pursuit of Happiness, featuring Will Smith, Chris Gardner is a dad who is just trying to make ends meet for him and his son. It’s a heart warming and simultaneously heart breaking story of Chris’ struggle to find happiness in the most basic sense: to have the ability to provide for him and his son.
In that movie he says to his son, “You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”
Now, remember, in the context of that movie, Chris is just trying to provide the basic needs for him and his son. He’s not trying to make a few million dollars. He’s not trying to get the next fashion line produced. He’s not trying to become the next social media sensation. He’s not trying to make it onto the Bachelor or be the next big thing in the business world. Chris is just trying to make the basics happen for his family.
That’s what the founding father’s called an unalienable right. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.
In 1 Corinthians 9, we see a different type of ethic. While in America, we say “that’s my right,” the Apostle Paul demonstrates that the call of a Christian is to say, “I give up my rights.”
Now, it might not be obvious, but Paul isn’t talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Paul is talking about the rights he has to make a living as a gospel proclaimer, he’s just talked about also giving up his right to eat whatever food he wants for the sake of someone else’s conscience.
Why does he give up the rights he has?
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
Paul’s chief concern is the proclamation of the gospel, even if it means the best way to do that is to lay down his own rights.
He has the right to make a living as an apostle.
He has the right to take a wife like the other apostles.
He has the right to eat food freely and to partake.
But for Paul, he saw that taking a wage would become an obstacle for the Corinthians. He saw that taking a wife would add an unnecessary obstacle for his own ministry. He saw that partaking of different foods in different contexts would scar people’s conscience and cause them to sin (thus hindering the gospel message).
Paul saw how his rights might actually hinder the gospel’s spreading.
So at the end of the chapter he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Paul is encouraging believers to run after God in such a way that they might run the race of faith well, and in doing so might spread the gospel all the more.
When Paul says, “So run that you may obtain it,” he’s not talking about salvation or anything. He’s talking about leaving it all out there. Sacrifice your rights, leave them behind like a runner leaves the starting line behind. Don’t hold anything back for yourself. Leave your comforts, leave your pleasures, leave your rights behind if it means running harder in sharing the gospel effectively and not leaving any obstacles for people to stumble over as we do so.
But that is hard.
That’s why Paul throws in the reality of him disciplining himself physically. He physically disciplines his body in such a way so as to discipline his whole body, including his mind, his heart, and his will in spiritual matters.
That is one reason why we fast or take up new disciplines in Lent. We physically discipline our bodies (whether depriving ourselves of things or taking up new things) in order that we might be able to control our whole being (body, heart/will, spirit, etc.) when temptations or other spiritual challenges come.
Obviously, none of this is for us to gain salvation or favor with God. Unfortunately the evangelical world has had a revulsion with disciplines or forcing ourselves to do something when we don’t want to do it because it feels unauthentic.
Forcing ourselves to practice bible reading daily, prayer, fasting, etc. are actually the most authentic things you can do.
Because we are honest about the state of our soul and determined to participate with God in our overall Christian transformation process.
You don’t become a Christian and then just become like Jesus.
Taking up the life and heart of Jesus as our own takes a life-time and it takes a lot of effort.
Salvation comes by grace through faith alone. There is NOTHING you can do for Jesus to save you. He already has done the work and now you need to place your faith in him. That takes no work which could be grounds for boasting in yourself. It was all Jesus. He lived the life we were to live. He took the punishment we deserved because of our sin. He rose from the dead, thus demonstrating his victory which we now share in by faith.
Sanctification on the other hand takes a lot of work and effort.
Now that the Spirit resides in you and empowers you, now that you have received the good news of Jesus and his coming kingdom which is now available to you, YOU HAVE TO cooperate with the Spirit to grow in your Christ-likeness. It does not happen by accident or just because. You need to put disciplines in your life to make sure that you are growing.
All that to be said, Paul sees giving up our rights for the sake of the gospel, as a discipline for us to take upon ourselves.
For some of us that is going to look like giving up our rights to a home so that we can live in an apartment and do ministry there.
For some of us that is going to look like refusing the right to a quiet home and taking in foster kids.
For some of us that is going to look like refusing any right to sleep in so that we can wake up and go to the gym so that we can make relationships to evangelize there.
For some of us that is going to look like receiving the call to be missionaries in another country.
I hope all of us would receive the call to be missionaries here in your home and town and work place and be willing to forsake our rights for the purpose of spreading the gospel of Jesus.
Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 16-17; Psalm 51:1-7; 1 Corinthians 10:1-22