The Right to Lay Down Your Rights
I’ve never been one to put stock in coincidence. Because I have a biblical world view, I tend to see things with the perspective that God is involved in our world and what we often view as being a happy accident or coincidental is actually orchestrated by God. My personal belief is that God is all about timing and the fact that this is Easter week and we are currently in the midst of death and destruction brought on by a global pandemic is not lost on me.
Medical experts are warning that this week we could see the COVID-19 virus peak in our nation. Although I am not tracking the death rate in the United States, predictions are that it could skyrocket this week, which for Christians is Holy Week, the week leading up to the resurrection of Jesus. What an incredible juxtaposition. In the height of a global pandemic bringing so much death, there is life. The ultimate life is through the resurrection of Jesus but we are also experiencing life through the actions of other humans. During this incredibly stressful time, people are sacrificing, sometimes out of their abundance, sometimes out of their lack, to help those they have never met. People are reaching out to help not only their families but their neighbors, communities, and even other states. Companies are making new products to fulfill needs. Individuals and small businesses are helping their communities even though their own futures are uncertain. This is humanity at its finest.
Many churches have stepped up as well to help not only their own congregants but their communities. I love this. While the church buildings may be closed, THE church is doing what she is designed to do. I have to say though that I have been grieved by the response of some Christians to what is happening in our country. I have seen so many posts, news articles, and interviews by Christians who are either defying guidelines and mandates or upset that their “rights” are being taken away.
I understand that our Constitutional Amendments do give us as Americans certain rights. I actually work in Constitutional and Civil Rights law so I have a grasp of what it means when your rights are violated. And there are certainly times when we should fight for our rights. But there are also times when we should lay our rights down for the sake of others. Again, I don’t believe it’s coincidental that it is this very week that we celebrate the resurrection of the One who gave us the ultimate example of laying your own rights down.
I remember a legal case in which a woman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in her own home (there were children present as well). Her argument was that it was her house and she had the right to be drunk, yell, and throw things. Maybe so. But just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should. Having rights isn’t a license to do what you want whenever you want to, regardless of those it may affect. Paul said it this way in 1st Corinthians 10- “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others”.
One chapter prior, Paul gave this advice: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved”.
Do you hear a common thread? The good of others. During this pandemic we are being asked by those who know better than we do to do certain things for the good of others. I’ve read comments from people who think that the Government and/or health officials making the decisions regarding school and business closings are doing so because they have a hidden agenda- taking away our freedoms. I’ve watched interviews on the news of pastors who are ignoring state orders regarding large gatherings and still having services at their churches. I’ve read social media posts from “Christians” declaring their right to live in freedom and do what they want because they answer to Jesus. This simply does not fit with the character and person of Jesus.
Paul gave us this viewpoint- Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 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. 21 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. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
In essence, Paul says that although he is free, he lays his freedom down (becomes a slave) for the benefit of others. This was how he approached life. Jesus gave the same example. Multiple times in John chapter 10, Jesus uses the phrase “lay down my life”. This phrasing indicates that Jesus wasn’t simply killed by his enemies. He let his life be taken. The multiple uses of this phrasing show us what Jesus was thinking in doing so.
He says that he is the good shepherd and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (v. 11)
I lay my life down for the sheep. (v.15).
He also says that the reason the Father loves him is that “I lay my life down”. (v. 17) “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (v.18)
In Chapter 15, Jesus gives us a clue as to why he would lay his life down- “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. (v. 13) It all comes down to love. Yes we should be thankful that we have the freedom to attend the church of our choice for worship. We should be thankful that we have the freedoms that we do in our country, religious or otherwise. But above our freedom is love. The Apostle John tells us as much. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters”. (1 John 3:16)
During this time of crisis, we are being asked, or in some cases, ordered, to hold others above ourselves and limit our freedoms. Not for a political agenda. Not because a doctor wants power. Not because of any financial agendas. It is for the safety and benefit of others. No one is exempt from this, not even those who follow Jesus. The instruction we are given in Romans 13 confirms this concept.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor”.
Wow. This really struck me. Not only does love for our fellow humans compel us to lay down some of our “rights” during this crisis, our failure to do so brings judgment on ourselves. We gain nothing when we stand up in the midst of a crisis and proclaim that we are free in Jesus and will do what we want. In fact, we lose. We lose our credibility in the world. This time in our history is like no other. How can we expect to show the world love if we care more about our rights and freedoms than we do about our fellow humans?
As we celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus this week, let’s also follow his example of laying our lives (rights, freedoms) down for the good of others so that by doing so, we may save some.