On July 4, 1776 our founding fathers declared, “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.” We have been crying, “I have my rights!” ever since.
Several years ago I needed to purchase a washing machine. I previously bought a few items from a local store that sells reconditioned appliances. It’s owned and operated by a lovely Christian couple. The wife negotiates all the sales. She always gave me a nice discount if I paid for the appliance with cash. For some reason, this time she refused to give me the discount. At first I politely tried to persuade her to give me the discount. She refused. I quickly escalated to demanding my right to a discount. She still refused. Finally I told her I would take my business elsewhere without my discount. She said, “Go ahead.” I couldn’t believe she denied my right to a cash discount! Out of spite, I purchased a washing machine at a retail store and paid more than I would have paid at the other store, even without the discount! After a period of time I realized what a jerk I had been. I called the lady and asked for her forgiveness. She graciously forgave me.
I love espresso! I’m always excited to try a new coffee house’s espresso. One opened up in a shopping plaza and I was delighted with the quality of their espresso. The baristas charged $1.75 for a double. A good price as far as I was concerned. One day I placed my order and the young girl charged $2.35 for my double espresso. I told her that I had only been paying $1.75. She informed me that the correct price for a double is $2.35. I insisted that she was wrong. She rolled her eyes and rang up $1.75. I felt victorious until she handed a single shot of espresso to me. You should know that I take my espresso very seriously. I got down right mean with the girl. I read her the “Riot Act” until she conceded and poured a double shot of espresso for me. I stormed out and gulped down my coffee in a huff. A few days later I returned and seen the same girl working. I felt bad that I had treated her so poorly over 60 cents. I ordered a double and compliantly paid $2.35. As she handed the drink to me I sincerely apologized for being mean. She graciously accepted my apology. My mistake was thinking it was my right to pay the lower price, when it was just a temporary privilege.
Most people think that driving a car is their right. It’s not. It’s a privilege and can be revoked at any time. We feel that most things we desire fall under our right to “pursue happiness.” We may have certain rights as an American citizen, but some of those may not transfer well into the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that he had the same rights as all the other apostles, but for the kingdom’s sake he said “…But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12b NIV). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use our civil rights. Even the Apostle Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to avoid unlawful punishment. “As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”’ (Acts 22:25 NIV). Jesus laid down his rights as the Son of God when he came to earth and became a man. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).
My “Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” do not give me the rights to be selfish, mean, unforgiving, or do or say anything contrary to what the Word of God tells me to do. To paraphrase what the Apostle Paul said, “The Gospel of Christ trumps all my personal rights.”