Today’s American culture is all about ownership and personal rights. The Bible seems to contradict the media driven message of Me, Me, Me. Stating over and over again a theme of putting God above all else and others before ourselves. So how do we as followers of Christ reconcile these two opposing messages?
Just today I got an email from a friend asking me to pray for them as they are struggling to overcome their selfish nature in various areas of their own life. They explained how they feel trapped in the cycle of doing what will make them happy or
bring them pleasure at the moment instead of relying on God to provide all that they need. As I emailed back and assured them that I would be happy to pray for them I realized that I myself struggle with the exact same thing everyday. I am constantly putting my needs and desires before what God needs and desires for me. And while many of my needs and desires are not sinful on their own, the mere fact that they draw me away from what God wants for me and my attention to God makes them sinful. Sin is anything that gets in the way of your relationship with God and his perfect will for your life.
There is nothing wrong with me wanting to go out and buy a new hot pair of shoes or the latest cell phone but if that purchase is putting me in debt, or keeping me from tithing or causing me to think more highly of myself than I ought to then maybe I need to reconsider my spending habits.
In 1st Corinthians Paul tells us we have a choice to make. While there are many things we may be able to “get away with” in life Paul warns about living life in that way. Legalism had led the Corinthian believers to take an extreme position towards freedom, getting them to abandon all sense of responsibility for their actions. They allowed their new found freedom in Christ to be license to do whatever it was that made them happy. Paul’s strong reminder to them is that freedom in Christ is not freedom to do as we please. It is freedom to do as pleases God.
But Jesus addressed another aspect of this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. In dealing with issue of revenge. Jesus takes this message much further than the constraints of Mosaic Law. Revenge is really an issue of pride. Revenge is all about restoring my sense of worth, dignity, and power by degrading whomever has hurt me. If I do not protect my rights, who will? Revenge says, “It is my right to force you to treat me with dignity and respect.”
I have to tell you there are times in my life where I have felt the need to avenge myself. Even last week after youth group, I felt my pride grabbing hold of me. I found myself frustrated that the lesson had gone so poorly. That I had to spend most of it asking the youth to chill out and listen. I wanted to yell “I have rights! You guys need to respect me” But, Jesus’ words bring that house of cards crashing down. Jesus asserts, rather, that I have no rights to protect. I only have responsibilities to fulfill.
What kind of message is that? He must have been crazy right? Does Jesus really desire for me to get walked over every day or get bullied around? I hate when the message of the week so directly steps on my toes, and forces me to look at my own selfish desires and emotions. As I look at Matthew Chapter 5 and the Sermon on the Mount, I really wish that Jesus could have been a little vaguer for once.
His directions are all too clear, direct and to the point. Maybe that is why we rush by them so quickly, so we may escape their painfully clear message. They definitely are not to be taken at face value, right? I mean that would imply that I am not as all important as I like to believe I am. It would mean that I am to let go of my pride, and I don’t really like the sound of that. That it is not all about me. So what do we do with these words of Jesus?
Paul got it, He says, “We are not our own. We were bought at a price.” I don’t particularly like the image Paul is painting here, as though we were nothing more than slaves up for auction, sold to the highest bidder. What about my “inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” We may hold these ideals but they do not seem to resonate too well with Jesus and Paul. They may stand to protect the rights of others, but not their own. Paul places little emphasis on personal rights. He stresses personal responsibility instead. “You are not your own. You were purchased at a price.” That said, we now are responsible to our Master and Lord. Slavery to Christ was not an “end all, be all” image for Paul, but it set the stage for grasping the import of Christian responsibility and stewardship. Just because God is a God of grace and love does not revoke our responsibility to serve as faithful stewards.
Sorry to burst the bubble of our American sense of personal rights and privilege but Jesus’ words on revenge cancels out any rights we may think we have to self preservation and self service. Jesus calls us not to simply state that our lives and possessions belong to God, but to live as though the needs and desires of others matter more than our own. As though we have no possessions or rights to protect. He pulls no punches when he suggests that we are to model God’s standard of loving and giving. God who gives to good and bad alike, who does not measure a person’s worth based upon what they have or how they act. He simply gives. Jesus raises the bar on what is an acceptable standard of giving. He is the standard.
We are not our own,that must affect our lifestyle. It must affect the way we react to the needs of those around us. Jesus said it must affect even the way we greet people. It must cause us to move towards those we might consider unlovely or unworthy of our time, energy, and resources. It means removing the distance and barriers between ourselves and the people around us who we don’t know.
This is not an easy mission but remember we are slaves, bought at a price. We are to be servants. This past Sunday I was suffering from some nasty food poisoning, so I was not in the service. But apparently there were some visitors. Some of our local homeless people chose to join us. But unfortunately they came pretty intoxicated. And at some point lost control of their bodily functions and ended up not only soiling themselves but leaving quite a mess in our church lobby as well. Not a fun thing for anyone to have to clean up. I have worked in Child Care for a long time and cleaned up many a kid who has had an accident but having to clean up an adults mess is even more degrading and disgusting. But Faith our ever faithful custodian went to work cleaning up, and our new base player Jon jumped in and helped as well, even though it is not his job. And then Dan Lockwood brought over a carpet cleaner that night and was here until 3am cleaning up other peoples crap. And you know what, I can’t help but think what a clear picture of what it means to be a slave to Christ, to serve Him and his people. To live out if only for a moment this picture that both Paul and Jesus were painting.
I am not my own. You are not your own. I am not the center of the universe and nether are you. The world does not revolve around you and it is most certainly not revolving around me. We are servants of Christ Jesus bought at a price. We are recipients of Gods many blessings, but they are not ours to own. They are for His use.
What happened to our inalienable rights? They never existed. What happened to God’s inalienable rights? Those ones we have tried to take over for ourselves?
Our society thinks much more of self than it ought and it thinks too little of God. We must place it all in the proper perspective. Jesus’ words are not those of a ravings of some mad man. They are the words of one who recognizes God’s ownership over all things, including material possessions and life itself. They are the words of one recognizing that love is not about protecting self, but about serving others. If we should become truly serious about serving God as faithful stewards of God’s gifts, we would not need to worry so much about our own petty issues.
Paul’s words were not empty they were words that he actually lived. He did not concern himself with his rights and freedom as with his opportunity to serve the Christ he called Lord. Grace for Paul became freedom to serve God as a thankful servant. Paul was not his own master. Jesus did not live as his own master. They both recognized the all-consuming need to serve God no matter what the cost.
Why is it so hard to give up my sense of rights and ownership over my life, and possessions, and rights? Why is it so difficult to accept the lordship of Christ Jesus? Do I not trust God to care for my needs? Do I not believe that God desires what is best for me? Why do the words “mine” and “ours” take such prominence in life? This life is not my own. Nothing is my own, except my sin.
When shall I learn to be a steward of God’s blessings? Not until I accept God’s complete ownership over my life. I have yet to understand and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do I have the courage to accept God’s inalienable rights over my life?