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Entries in Rights (1)


Unalienable Rights

Today we are going to continue to look at the part in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America that contains the words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Specifically we will be talking about unalienable rights.  This phrase basically means that the rights cannot be legislated away by governments, or disregarded by individuals without offending God, who is the giver of those rights.  So the rights may be practically severed from a person, but those who do so will give account to God himself.  In that sense, they are unalienable (inseparable) from each person.

Now as our text we are going to look at 1 Corinthians 9.  Here Paul is dealing with their need to drop their rights for the sake of their brothers and sisters.  He does so by giving an example of his own rights and how he had not exercised them when he was with the Corinthians.

Rights And Freedoms Are Very Real

Paul first of all affirms that there are certain rights that God gives to men.  In verses 4 and 14 he establishes that those who preach the gospel have the right to make a living from those to whom they are preaching.  Of course, this right can be abused.  But those who do so will give account to God.  The second right is in verse 5.  Those who make their living by preaching also have the right to marry a believing spouse.

Now the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Are these legitimate rights that have been given by God?  The founding fathers’ belief that these rights were from God was derived by reasoning from the Scriptures.  They used the history of the Bible and the Laws that God gave to Israel to discern what rights God intended men to have.  Let’s look at each of the three briefly.

Life is clearly given by God in Genesis 2:7.  If God gives life then it is wrong for another man to take it away.  Also, in the Law murder is banned: “Thou shalt not kill.”  We see God judging Cain for killing his brother Abel and many other places judgment is shown and described.

Liberty can be found in the Law through the laws limiting slavery and promoting Jubilee.  However, the most powerful expression is found in the purpose of the Law and the giving of Grace.  The gospel was not plan B.  It was the plan all along.  The Law was only given to show mankind their need for freedom from our sin nature.  The Laws are not wrong, but they become chains that keep us in bondage.  The Gospel shows another way; the way of freedom.

The Pursuit of Happiness is another way of saying “enjoying life.”  It doesn’t mean a mere attempt, but rather the journey of experiencing the many joys of life.  Again this is throughout the Scriptures, but a specific verse can be quoted in Ecclesiastes 3:13, “Every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.”

It is important to remember that though something is a right, it can be refused by those in power.  Thus the British empire that refused to recognize the rights of the colonists subsequently lost the revolutionary war and continued into decline and deterioration.  Whether it was a sign of the judgment of God or not, God will hold all nations and individuals accountable for how they treat others.

Choosing The More Excellent Way Of Love

There are times, however, when we need to choose a different path.  Fighting for our rights may help us, but it may harm others.  This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 9.  He is not arguing against rights altogether.  Several times we see Paul insisting on his rights as a Roman citizen.  However, he does so for reasons other than saving his skin.  Thus love needs to be our ultimate motivation.  In 1 Corinthians 12:31 and chapter 13, Paul describes love and how it acts.  You can see from the list of what love is and isn’t that love would not always insist on its rights.  Here is a general rule of thumb: It is best to fight for the rights of others and to trust your own to God. 

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19 that though by right he is free, he “freely” chooses to be a slave to all men so that he might save more.  He could insist on his rights, but that path would lead to less people saved.  So he chose a tougher route that would lead to more people being saved.  His rights weren’t taken from him, rather he sacrificed them for people’s souls.  Thus Love is willing to sacrifice for the sake of a greater good and to save souls.  In verses 20-23 Paul makes this clear.  Though he was no longer obligated to keep the Mosaic Law, he would freely do so around Jews in order to get a platform on which to share the gospel.  When he was among Gentiles, he didn’t continue to do “strange” things from the Law of Moses.  This would just ostracize him and take away any opportunity to talk to them about Jesus.  In both cases love constrains him to exercise or not exercise his rights.

Notice that Paul is not motivated by his own pleasures.  He does not “sin” when he is among the Gentiles.  But neither does he worry about ritual washings, unclean foods, and proper dress.  In verses 24-27, Paul makes it clear that his desire is to please God.  Thus Love chooses wisely when to assert or sacrifice personal rights in order to please God.  Here the image of a runner is used.  The runner who wants to win the race must restrain themselves from drink and food that will be a hindrance.  It is not that it is wrong for them to drink or eat certain foods, but those things will hinder them winning.  So a choice must be made.  Do I want my rights or do I want something better?  Paul said that he “disciplined” his body.  Though Paul had a right to make a living from the ones to whom he preached, he generally didn’t.  Most of the time he worked as a tent-maker to cover his own expenses.  This was a difficulty and required him to burn the candle at both ends.  But he did it so that the gospel would not be hindered. 

Now here are some practical thoughts for us as believers in Jesus.  First, Christians should be a strong voice for the rights of people of this society.  We should be the first to warn our country that if we trample the rights of the citizenry then we will follow the path of all great nations before us.  However, as Christians we need to be identified more by what we sacrifice than by what we demand for ourselves.  Jesus is identified with the cross and laying his life down.  The apostles were identified with difficult lives and ultimately being martyred.  Similarly the founding fathers laid their fortunes and lives on the line for the sake of the colonies.  May God give us wisdom to see what we should sacrifice in order that others might be saved.


Unalienable Rights Audio