Exhibiting Freedom By Laying Down Your Rights

Opening Caveat:

I am going to say up front that laying down one’s rights — particularly in the context of a Christian — is not synonymous with disobeying the commands of Christ. Unfaithfulness in the name of appeasing someone is not the same as faithfully thinking of others as more worthy than yourself to be served in the name of unity and truth.

So if you read this and want to make the argument, “This means Christian bakers should just bake cakes for gay weddings” then I need to up front say that there is a fundamental difference in the Bible when it comes to a person, say, owning guns and what marriage is defined as by God. One is very concretely defined and the other is open to discernment within the context of a society. I could go into more depth on this, but just want to start by saying what my post is not about. It is not advocating that all things are open to interpretation, and something is certainly not open to our own interpretation if there is an explicit command or teaching that Jesus has given us as revealed through Scripture.

Individual Liberty: What’s the Bible Say About It?

I was at lunch today with a friend, Luke Dockery, and this idea came up and I felt it was worth writing what will hopefully be a short(er) post on it. Our world is consumed by individual rights. One of the largest reasons that we have no peaceful discourse is due to the fact that everyone is demanding their individual rights be honored by everyone else.

That is, of course, going to lead to inevitable conflict as converging rights refuse to give way before one another. It is important to say that having converging individual rights is actually normal and not in and of itself a bad thing. There’s room for some diversity in opinion on certain things. The Bible is comfortable with this fact as Romans 14:1 says:

Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters.

The key word there is “disputable,” which indicates some things are not clearly defined in Scripture. The Lord has left some categories of life where different courses of action are faithful (or unfaithful) depending on the context of a situation, and He calls people to respond in whatever way will accomplish the Lord’s will in that moment. That’s not to say God is whimsical, just that some things can go either way depending on a person’s background and the needs of those around us.

For example, someone may really love drinking a beer multiple times per week, and another person may abstain from alcohol completely because of alcoholism in their recent family tree or some other reason.

Both can absolutely be faithful (and also unfaithful) in that moment, and the Lord will not be disappointed with either of them for their decision if it is done to the glory of God the Father. (Romans 14:5-8)

But what happens when these liberties collide? What happens when the person who loves a good beer sits down with someone who abstains? Or, perhaps more culturally relevant, what happens when someone who is a proponent of gun rights sits down with someone who is a proponent of pro-choice/reproductive rights — I don’t want to call these women’s rights as that seems to imply a much broader category than this post really is meant to get into — sit down at a table together.

For this post’s purposes I’m going to ignore the conversation of whether either of these things can be called sin, although that’s an important conversation, but I’d rather focus on how people ought to operate when their conflicting rights collide. To start us off, Galatians 5:13-15 says this:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

To simply sum this up, the point is that people exhibit the most freedom not by indulging their own self-centered desires, but when they lay down their rights in the service of one another. Paul again brings up this idea in 1 Corinthians 9:19:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.

Again, Paul makes it clear that, in Christ, a person is totally free.

To put this in the context of America, let’s just say that while we are not totally free as Americans, we have many, many freedoms. It’s not quite the same, but it will suffice for now.

We actually, as Christians and Americans, exhibit the most freedom when we lay down our rights in the service of others. Again, this doesn’t extend to every category of life.

For example, America is too philosophically inclined towards representative politics for it to become a monarchy. You could not be the same nation fundamentally if you make that shift. That’s what I was getting at with my opening disclaimer. You cannot fundamentally change the format of our government without destroying our government just as you cannot disobey what you know to be true without desecrating the truth. But within the structures of government and truth, there is potential diversity that can be explored and even celebrated.

So one example of this is that states — or colonies may be more accurate — used to manage their own state-specific currency. While there’s nothing specifically against that in the framework of our Constitution, it’s pretty clear that everyone benefitted as states laid down that right for the sake of the nation’s ability to function as a unified whole. Can you imagine the horror of traveling from Fayetteville to Tulsa, having to pay a toll, and realizing your Arkansas currency has depreciated and you don’t have sufficient funds for the toll booth?

This just is an example of my main point; that we actually prove that we are a free people when we lay down our rights freely in the service of others. At first this seems counterintuitive, but as we think on it for a while we quickly realize that the person with no freedom doesn’t have the choice to serve anyone. Such a person is either rendered incapable of serving someone or they’ll be forced to serve someone.

That’s not freedom. Freedom is when a violin, a beautiful instrument in its own right, plays a simple pattern so a cello can play a solo and vice versa. That’s freedom. That violinist cannot be coerced to play in a way that benefits the cellist, but if they didn’t then we’d never experience and enjoy the beauty of a symphony.

To recap this principle, Martin Luther’s quote sums up this principle well:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

What’s This Mean For Americans and Christians?

To apply this principle to a clearly modern context, the recent shooting in Florida has made me realize how both our major political parties have talking points that they handle very similarly. On the political left, you have reproductive rights or pro-choice rights. On the political right, you have gun rights.

If you listen to rhetoric from both sides, they sound eerily similar. If you don’t agree with me, then I daresay you probably have your ears plugged up to one side or the other. They’re scarily similar. They both sound like political parties pandering for votes. Or as Luke said at lunch, they are “peddling fear” in order to obtain votes. I hope all of us agree that this is at least part of what is happening in our political climate today.

So let me just ask the following question of my fellow American, and especially of my fellow Christian regardless of what party affiliation you may have. Why aren’t you willing to lay down your rights and demonstrate how free you truly are?

Republicans, do you really think Democrats will see you as pro-life when you’re not even willing to listen to talk about re-evaluating gun rights? I’m not even asking you to give up all gun rights. But children died. That must break our hearts. Isn’t this tragedy worth at least lending your ear towards and seeing if there’s wisdom to be found in a voice that might come from an opposing party? Is your desire for your own security, or hunting, or whatever else someone might want a gun for worth giving up if it would save the life of one child from gun violence? Wouldn’t you gladly give it up if you could know that one child would reach old age as a result?

Democrats, do you expect Republicans to think you care about children when you passionately support the right to murder countless thousands of babies each and every year? And, yes, at this point I think you’re fairly blind on the issue if you can’t recognize that we’re killing babies. If you want to keep doing it, that’s another discussion. But for a party that raves about being the party of science, you ignore that modern technology keeps confirming earlier and earlier that those “cells” in a woman’s body are acting, unsurprisingly, similar to what we’d expect a baby to do. You conveniently ignore that child’s rights even though we use fetal tissue to test for potential solutions to advance human medicine. The assertion that we’re not taking the life of a human seems immensely illogical. So do you really believe that Republicans actually think you care about the protection of children when your body’s rights are much more important than the unborn cries of a helpless child?

Maybe both sides would give a resounding, “No, I will not give this up!” In fact, I worry that’s exactly what they will say. I’m terrified that nobody is actually listening to anyone else anymore. At least, fewer and fewer people seem to be really listening.

I’ll also ask Christians some questions; will you sacrifice your integrity for political expediency? Are you so unwilling to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others?” (Philippians 2:4) In fact, Paul in a continuation of 1 Corinthians 9:19 says this in 9:20-22:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

So Christians, where was your outcry that our congress has failed to update our immigration policy so that those under DACA would be encouraged and helped to stay in our country? Those are people who, by all accounts, seem like they’d make fine additions as citizens to our country.

Christians, why do you support a government that has restrictive immigration policies that seem to indicate that we’re afraid of Muslims, Hindus, and people of “color” in our country? Are we the very same Christians whom the Bible says “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”? (2 Timothy 1:7)

Yes, I understand that if we believe Christian morality is the truth, then a government that operates largely out of that truth will be most beneficial to human flourishing. But are we so afraid of what others may bring to the table? Are we so afraid of what others claim is truth that we’re uncomfortable with it living next door?

I don’t know how this lines up next to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians. In fact, I actually can imagine Paul salivating at opening up our borders so that those people might come to him! He’d be eager to do evangelism amongst the nations, and he wouldn’t even need to travel!

Is that the spirit most of us Christians have? Why is it not our spirit? Are we not willing to lay down our American comfort and security to practice Christian love and pursue winning as many to the Gospel as possible?

If we are not willing to lay down our rights, then I want to actually draw our attention back to the end of the Galatians passage:

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Doesn’t that sound oddly like the world we’re living in? The world certainly bites at and devours one another. Just go read a Facebook argument sometime. It’s unsettling.

Friends, whether Christian or not — although especially if you’re Christian — let’s practice this easy Christian principle found in James 1:19:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Let’s all start off by making sure we’re actually willing to listen to one another. Some things we will not agree on, and some things there will be a dividing line on.

But in many, many of these things can’t we look to see how we might exhibit our true freedom by laying down our rights in the service of others?

What would the country look like if this was what we all brought to the table? Christians, we of all people need to start becoming the first to lead the way in this. Unfortunately, Christians are not perfect and can go astray and be influenced by culture. I think this has happened as we demand our rights be asserted. Let us be the first to lay down our rights and demonstrate just how strong our freedom is. Perhaps it won’t save the country. Perhaps the United States has gone too far down this rabbit hole of biting and devouring, and perhaps the only outcome is the destruction of one another.

But at least we Christians, if we will lay down our rights where they do not conflict with the law of Christ, might at least win some to the Gospel by the conduct of our lives and the proclaimed power of the Gospel.

To end this, I just want to submit the Biblical standard for wisdom that we all ought to apply to every process of thinking. It is found in James 3:13-18:

Who is wise and understanding amongst you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy or selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Lord, give us wisdom in this country. You know we certainly need it.

5 thoughts on “Exhibiting Freedom By Laying Down Your Rights

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  1. YES!! I was looking for anyone’s insight on the matter of laying down our rights as followers as Jesus as it pertains to both “mask wearing” and the black lives matter movement. I find, though a few years old, this entry to be the exact principles we need to apply in our current state in 2020.
    I’d love to know your present thoughts

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    1. Hey, Alexa! Thanks for reading this old post. I don’t write as much as I used to and this is encouraging.

      To answer your question on those specific matters briefly:

      1.) I would actually go a different route with mask wearing. To be honest, the science of whether or not masks are very effective is still very much uncertain. And even most the studies indicate that it is really only beneficial for those who have contagious particles. The only reason that everyone should likely wear masks at all is simply because of the high rate of asymptomatic cases that we have in America. What is the point of this? I simply say this to highlight that any kind of honesty would say that because of the inconclusive science and the ambiguity of asymptomatic cases, humility dictates that we admit we have no idea how effective this is as a strategy — even if it seems likely it does some good.

      So then, I think we can use a few guiding principles for how to ask. I think we can consider that wearing a mask is probably more loving to those who have great fear about the virus. I think Romans 14 would support this. I wouldn’t want to argue too forcefully that to wear a mask means you have a weaker conscience, but it is a greater principle of fear that makes one concerned about masks usually. So in doing that, you are exhibiting the strength of conscience to condescend. If you have orders regarding masks, 1 Peter 2:13-14 would say that you should merely obey that order. Masks don’t inhibit your life in any meaningful way, unless you have some kind of malady, which exempts you from the mask anyway. 1 Cor. 8-10 could also be read, as some of the texts hit at above, that would drive us to serve one another in love in our modes of acting.

      Hopefully that helps you see how I would approach the mask wearing situation.

      2.) Regarding the “black lives matter” comment, that is so tricky. I can’t break it all down via comment. However, a few things I will say. As a mere sentence, we should probably absolutely say it. However, we must recognize the politicization of terms in America. If you want a really, really long book you can also study Kevin Vanhoozer to see that there is a thing called “speech act theory” that says we are not merely saying things, but doing things by our words. Unfortunately, the term has come to mean a lot of things associated with it, and some of those are definitely the kind of plausible sounding arguments Colossians 2 says can delude us.

      So I would just tell you that I’d probably encourage you to say “black lives matters” as a form of mourning with anyone you know mourning (Rom. 12:15). But you will need to be prepared that some people will think you mean a whole host of things — for example, transgenderism is heavily supported by BLM — and you may need to be ready to explain why you don’t affirm those things. It can be a black hole and we can tread there in love with good and kind speech.

      If you wanted to, when those kind of moments come up, I might just say that you can swap out that speech with more Christian speech that, say, affirms dignity of humans based on the image of God that lies upon all humanity. It may save you some headaches.

      Black lives do absolutely matter, but if you capitalize the words so that Black Lives Matter, you possibly just joined a movement and Christians are to be very thoughtful with our words. 1 Peter 4 says that if anyone speaks, let him speak as with the very words of God. So we are accountable to all that we say (Matt. 12 & Luke 11).

      So feel free to go for it and say that, if you please. I don’t think there’s anything overtly wrong with it. Just know the landmines and navigate cautiously as you proceed in wisdom.

      I hope some of this is helpful! I thought your questions and topics were weighty enough to reply, so I pray you lean on God’s understanding in all your ways so he makes straight your paths.

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  2. Hi! Just wondering what your thoughts are on wearing masks…from what I’ve heard the majority of Christians believe that it’s more loving to wear a mask and if you don’t it tampers you’re witness/testimony. I understand it may be loving to those who are afraid of the virus or high risk, but are we supposed to live based on others fears? We shouldn’t make decisions based on what others may or may not think, but at the same time we should be aware of what our actions may look like to those watching and not be an offense or stumbling block to weaker brothers/sisters. I just wonder if there’s a flip side to that…if we don’t wear a mask, as Christians, could that also be used as a testimony to our faith because we aren’t living in fear and our hope is in Christ and not our health/wellbeing or what others think of us?
    I hope this makes sense, I’m very interested to hear what your thoughts are, thanks in advance!

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    1. That’s a hard question to always answer well without context. Take the command at play, for instance, that most people suggest “love your neighbor.” First of all, we must critique the statement of the command this way. The actual command is “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is similar the injunction that men who get married in the Bible have to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph. 5).

      So, first of all this command demands that we properly understand the first great command of the Bible, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Yet this first command cannot be fulfilled until we admit the truth that we love him because he “first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). Therefore, we are only returning to God the very love already bestowed upon us. That is why we have certain commands, for instance, to pray that we would be strengthened to understand the “heights and depths” of that love (Eph. 3:18).

      We must understand how God has loved us and that is the kind of love we are then to bestow on our neighbor, because it is only proper love properly received that we give to our neighbor. This is why, for instance, we understand evangelism and the conviction of sins to be a good thing to try and preach to our neighbors. We know God works through conviction for the salvation of souls, and that it is the salvation of souls who are condemned that understand God’s mercy most profoundly and can respond to him properly.

      All that to say, when it comes to mask we should consider and leverage our strengths in service of those with weaknesses. Go back to the specific playing out of this command in marriages. 1 Pet. 3 says to live with wives in an understanding way as the weaker vessel. A woman’s biological weakness is not an excuse to take advantage of her, lord over her in domineering ways, but actually a chance to gently help her and care for her, understanding that, because of purely biological reasons, she may not have as much strength, endurance, etc. as many males do. The flip side of this is that God says he will not listen to prayers if we ignore this command as husbands. The idea being that, compared to God, men are also vastly weak. In fact, men and women are far, far closer to each other in terms of capacity than either is to God. But the idea is the same. To God, men are also a much weaker vessel and require his understsanding and help in times of need. But if we ignore these things in those who are downtrodden, limited, or weak, then we should not be expectant to receive such care from God.

      This is, also, in accordance with the idea that “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5). Later in Matthew 18, the unforgiving servant does not show mercy after being shown mercy and the earlier foretaste of mercy is rescinded from him. We can debate many things, but Jesus is showing that those who cannot treat others as they have been mercifully treated in their weaknesses are not actually those who have understood and are worthy of their pardon by King Jesus. The one who would have understood what Christ did would act differently toward those indebted to them.

      Now back to the original command of “love your neighbor as yourself” then we have a few things to concede. I cannot, for one, tell you that it is always black and white that you should wear a mask. The problem is that this is a very wisdom-embedded command. The person who is a neighbor is changing as well as the motivations of how we respond to that individual. Some things we can ask:

      1.) Can I conceive of a world in which I would appreciate it if another was wearing a mask around me right now? You bring up those “at risk” and this is good. Those who are older, or are immuno-compromised may very well deserve virtuous care from us by wearing a mask. Even if we were to debate the science of masks, the injunction to “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all” (Rom. 14) is still in play. Even if you find masks ineffective, you can still say that there is a true reality of peace that can be created and effected by your willingness to put a mask on and be an encouragement to those who are vulnerable and have very viable reasons to be concerned. You also may be able to ask yourself when you are about to step into a store whether or not you like it when others show honor and respect to you. This is why we don’t complain when someone asks us to take off shoes when we enter some houses. Is it necessary for fellowship? No. It may be a trite thing for someone to be particular about. But showing them honor and respect by conducting ourselves within their premises is an easy way to extend ourselves in fellowship. If we can conceive of ways in which we appreciate how others may honor us by abiding by commands and requests, then perhaps we should not be too flippant to darken the doors of establishments without more consderation of following their requests to enter in.

      2.) I think you speak well that there are times where not wearing a mask could be a good testimony of not living in fear. However, when we consider chapters like 1 Cor. 14 we must make sure that the not wearing of a mask will have the intelligibility that we hope it will. Edification of others happens not merely when we make bodily noises or actions, like speaking in tongues. But rather the moment that our speech — and when we talk about wearing or not wearing masks as a matter of witness, we are making it a speech act although one that does not necessarily have words — is coming into play it must be intelligible in order to build up.

      So this means, I think, that if you go into a store and simply choose not to wear a mask you are assuming a lot about people’s understanding of your masks. You may need to consider it a bit like speaking tongues, and that would demand that your “strange speech” as it were would require interpretation. If you do not offer this up, like tongues, outsiders may simply think you are mad and dismiss you.

      So first, we should seek to actually make our speech intelligible if we are trying to witness to others. I do think, though, that there can come moments where, after we have gently and patiently instructed in our thoughts and purposes in matters, taking the mask off may take on its proper interpretation and may bear witness. Those kind of moments may increase the closer we get back to resuming “normal” in this country, Lord willing.

      3.) Finally, if you have a settled, hard and fast rule on masks, you probably have stopped examining the idea of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Again, remember that God is our example of love. With some people and at some times, he considers it loving to be gentle. And at other times, he finds it loving to discipline others. Yet both of these can be acts of love and we should not despise either, but receive them both as from the hand of our God.

      So too then, when the second command that is like the first is coming into play, we should probably be the kind of people who are constantly evaluating the proper response in a situation. The reason I bring this up is that it probably sounds overwhelming. I do this intentionally. Because I think God has given commands of such a nature that they demand constant bringing to him in prayer. As James, says, “you have not, because you ask not” and God gives wisdom to all “generously and ungrudgingly.” God gives wisdom through prayer. If you meet people who have not prayed and sought wisdom, and who do not continue to seek that wisdom that comes through faith exercised in prayer, you likely have not met someone who is taking the command very seriously.

      The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is very, very difficult and cannot be boxed in to absolute, universal responses, except where Scripture lays it out as such. So, for example, we do know evangelism is always loving because Scripture says so. But wearing masks? Scripture has very little, if anything to offer on the matter. Therefore, to fulfill the command requires a heightened awareness of not only God, but ourselves, and who our neighbor at the time is.

      I say this just to highlight that attention to praying Scripture and seeking God’s purposes and pleasing will should get a lot of us closer to fulfilling this command than we currently seem to be.

      I’m sorry I can’t give you hard and fast rules. I’m not sure that Scripture offers them. But I think these are some good things to start considering as we start to consider what the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is.

      If I can clarify anything, please let me know. I know this is very long and it is not infallible. But these are ways I start to approach the kinds of questions you raise. Thanks for the question, Sam!

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