Surrendering Personal Rights
In an emotionally-charged defense before his ungrateful critics at Corinth who questioned his ministry, the Apostle Paul laid out his personal rights to be appreciated as an apostle of Jesus Christ (v. 1-3), to be financially supported (v. 4), to have a spouse who is also financially supported (v. 5), and to be freed from working for a living so he can devote his time exclusively for the Gospel ministry (v. 6). He then proceeded by giving five compelling reasons in support of those rights from Scripture and common sense that forever silenced his critics who should have known better (v. 7- 14).
Paul in essence exclaimed, “C’mon Corinthians, use your common sense, read your Scripture, be fair, know your religious tradition, and remember Christ’s command. And you will know that I don’t pluck these rights out of thin air!”
But Paul did not stop in verse 14, for the whole point of airing his rights in public was to set an example for others that he did not cling to any of those rights, let alone maximize them (v. 15). Instead he surrendered his rights to Christ and endures anything rather than putting ‘an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (v. 12b).
We tend to think of freedom as the rights to do whatever we like. “As long as I don’t violate other people’s rights, I have the right to use my rights!” As such, when we have the faintest hint that our rights have been unappreciated, disregarded, or violated, we bath in self-pity and sinful anger.
The truth is we are prisoners of our hearts’ inclination to demand things our way. We are oblivious to the fact that the obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today. With this attitude, we will be never be useful for the kingdom of God.
Paul, on the other hand, who was a highly educated, most religious, and free Roman citizen, summarized his life in the following sentences (and I hope that its radical tone never stops to afflict our comfortable our lifestyle): “I have made myself a slave to all...”, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (v. 19, 23).
The most effective strategy in mission and evangelism has nothing do with abundant financial resources or pre-packaged approach like Evangelism Explosion or the Four Spiritual Laws (as useful as they might have been). The most effective strategy in missional living has to do with renouncing our personal rights to Christ.
Paul instinctively knew that he was free to exercise his rights but in order to win as many people to Christ, he accommodated others with sacrificial love in cultural areas without compromising himself in moral and doctrinal areas. His message to Corinthians was loud and clear when it comes to moral precepts (e.g., “Flee from sexual immorality” – 1 Cor 6:18) and doctrinal teaching (e.g., the resurrection of the body – 1 Cor 15). No second guessing with these absolutes. But when it comes to cultural issues, he was very flexible.
When he was with the Jews, he would never order bacon and egg for breakfast. But when he hung out with the Gentiles, he would unashamedly have grilled ribs on the BBQ. And he would refrain from those ribs in the presence of new Christian Gentiles whose faith might be hindered by his preference. At face value he may appear like a chameleon, but a closer examination would reveal that he was very consistent with the principle he holds: To win as many, he will be all things to all people in non-moral areas.
God does not require us to adopt a new culture when we come to know his Son. Neither did Paul, and neither should we.