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A Christian And His Rights

In his article entitled, "Of Burning Qurans and Building Mosques" (found within this paper) Todd Hartman makes the bold statement "There is no talk of rights in the Bible". I believe this is false. It is often better for well meaning Christians, when speaking of the Bible, to refrain from making blanket statements. Better to couch such statements with caveats, like "I personally am unaware of anywhere in the Bible that speaks of Christians having rights."

It is written, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Act 2:42) We are not called upon to be wiser, or more religious, or more spiritual than the Apostles. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master." (Mat 10:24-25a)

Therefore, let's see what the Apostle Paul thought about rights:

Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, "Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?" (10) But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. (11) If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar." (12) Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, "To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go." (Acts 25:9-12)

If Mr. Hartman is correct that we have no rights, then what right did Paul have to argue with Festus? How dare he say he "ought to be tried" before Caesar's tribunal? "Ought" is closely related to the word "owed"; Paul is "owed" a trial before Caesar?

The Apostle Paul rebuked the Governor, boldly telling him what he cannot do and what he must do: Festus must protect Paul's right to a proper trial and, therefore, he cannot hand Paul over to the Jews. Lacking any power to make Festus do these things, Paul must instead be making use of his authority; authority that arises out of his rights as a Roman citizen. Paul had the right to disapprove of Festus' handling of his case, so he exercised his rights and appealed to Caesar.

Nor is this the first passage where Paul appealed to his rights:

But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, "Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?" (26) When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen." (27) So the tribune came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" And he said, "Yes." (28) The tribune answered, "I bought this citizenship for a large sum." Paul said, "But I am a citizen by birth." (Acts 22:25-28)

Mr. Hartman might have submitted quietly to an unjust beating; Paul chose to exercise his rights. Yes, Jesus went silently like a lamb to the shearers. But Paul did not. Jesus did not submit quietly because he had no right to protest. He made the free choice to not defend Himself. We are to emulate our Savior in many ways. "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" is not one of them.

Paul also taught that Christian workers have a right to make a living from the Gospel. Both Jesus (Lk 10:7) and Paul (1Tim 5:18) declared "a worker deserves his wages". It is beyond dispute that if someone "deserves" a thing then he has a right to that thing.

I mentioned the word "ought" earlier – concerning Paul and Caesar's jurisdiction. But Jesus used ‘ought' in an even more edifying way:

"Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Lk 13:16)

She ought to be set free. Not because she was an Apostle or Pastor, but because she was a daughter of Abraham – and therefore in covenant with God.

We have covenantal rights as Christians. Just as my wife has the right to expect me to be faithful to her, so I have the right to expect God to fulfill the great and precious promises He has declared on oath to fulfill.

If a Hindu mother in India cries out in desperation to Jesus for her child, our Lord may choose to answer her because He is merciful. But I am not a stranger to Him. I am not limited to merely appealing to His free mercy. I am in covenant with Him. I can cry out "Lord you promised! You said I should not forget all my benefits. You said you would not only forgive all my sins, but you would also heal all my diseases! (Ps 103:2-3) I would never have dared to write up all these wonderful promises I see in your word. But now that you have written them down and made an oath to keep them, I have confidence to boldly say "I ought to be healed."

Think! The bible states that Hagar, when she and her son were in dire straits in the wilderness, put Ishmael under a bush to die, and then moved away for she couldn't bear to watch. It then says that she wept. Yet the Angel of the Lord called out to her and said, "The Lord has heard the boy weeping." (Gen 21:17)

Why does it say He heard the boy weeping instead of her? Because she was not the bearer of great and precious promises; Ishmael was. God promised Abraham He would prosper the boy (Gen 17:20, 21:13). Therefore, Ishmael had a right to the active help of God – he ought to be saved. And, in fact, he was.

If this was true of Ishmael how much more is it true of us? After all, Paul declares in Galatians (Gal 4:22-31) that we are like the better son Isaac, the son of promise.

© Matthew Schilling September 2010

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