Friday, September 24, 2010

Rights and Duty

In the United Sates of America, we are blessed to live in a nation built upon the rights of people, the rights of human beings created equal in the image of God. These rights were won for us by the blood of our forefathers who laid down their lives for our freedom. For this, I am profoundly grateful. This is good. This is worth protecting. This is worth fighting for.

Now, in the Kingdom of Heaven, we are blessed to be citizens under a King of perfect justice, perfect righteousness, and perfect love. We are indeed created in His image, AND we are being restored to that image daily, from glory to glory. This Kingdom is also built upon rights--rights won back for us by the blood of the Lamb who laid down His life for our freedom from sin and death. It is our right to be called the children of the Most High God. It is our right to be holy and righteouss, the stains of our past completely washed away. Though the enemy desires to deceive us and make us believe we are still bound by the contracts of this world, it is our right to truly walk in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. This is our right as citizens of Heaven.

Now, when we let our guard down, it is easy to be deceived. It is easy to let these lines of alleigence blurr. We must be grateful, faithful, and responsible citizens of our natural country; yet, we must remember that the Kingdom of God is our own true country. And the Kingdom is not a democracy; the Kingdom is the realm of the King, the place of His rule and reign.

Now, from this point I could go into a thousand directions, but this is what is on my heart now concerning living in this Kingdom: how we handle and understand our rights.

In the U.S., we covet our pursuit of happiness. In the Kingdom, we are instructed to pursue "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, [and] gentleness" (I Timothy 6: 11). Through our terrible history in America of slavery, we fervently uphold our right of personal freedom and determine ourselves to fight against continuing forms of slavery in our day (may the Lord give us grace and boldness to continue to fight and defend the weak). This is also our cause in the Kingdom of God; however, we must remember one vital difference: As we give our lives to defend the helpless, we must lay down our own rights and count ourselves as bondservents for the work of the Lord. We must never relenquish our right to live as children of God, but we must lay down every right afforded to us by the world for we are not of this world. Where our lives are concerned, when the world would cry out "injustice!," we must take up our cross and follow Jesus in every way. Today, I was reading in I Timothy, and this is what really struck me and spoke to me:

"Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things" (I Timothy 6:1-2).

Wow, this is challenging. We know that the Bible commands us to honor those in authority, but here, He is talking about a more painful situation, when one of our own brothers or sisters holds us as slaves or servants. What? I thought the Body of Christ was supposed to forgive each other our debts and serve one-another. This is easy enough to accept as long as it is going both ways, but here Paul is speaking to people who live in real-life servitude. In a day when there were masters and slaves, what happened as not only the slaves became Christians, but also the masters? I think this situation gets at the very heart of the Kingdom. Jesus's disciples were at first looking for Him to come as the triumphal and militant King who would subdue all their enemies and raise their cultural status as rulers in this new Kingdom; however, He surprised them indeed as He went to the cross and gave up His life. He is the King of Kings, but He came to lay down His life, to suffer, and to be the sacrifice for us all, to give us the best rights and freedom--the right to be transformed into His image and the freedom from the slavery of sin. Now, as the Gospel was preached and men and women began to be saved, they had to learn the way of this Kingdom. Though free from the bondages of this world, they must lay down their lives and serve this world. Though called to a higher standard as citizens of Heaven, they must be willing to love and bear long with one-another with patience and holy love.

We MUST love one-another. The Body of Christ is being perfected, but through the process, we must learn to love each other according to the end promise, not according to our present actions. For believing slaves with believing masters, this lesson must have come at great struggle, but imagine the victory won when they could choose to serve their masters, not only through obedience to honor, but through true brotherly love. Though treated as inferior, they must love as dear brothers. I believe that as these men and women began to grasp this commandment and obey, that they must have gained a reward so rich in Heaven and a joy on earth that went beyond human understanding.

For us today, we may not be enslaved by our brothers in Christ, but we may be treated injustly or uncharitably by some. What must our response be? Should we rise up and assert our rights? Should we demand apologies and proper respect? No. We cannot demand and please the Father. In doing so, we are taking a step backwards and, in that moment, actually giving up our greater rights--our rights of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Here is Paul's warning if we do not serve with love and even joy at blessing our brothers and sisters:

"If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords us godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitue of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself." And here is an incredible verse: "Now godliness with contentment is great gain." And it continues, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content." (I Timothy 6: 3-8) Godliness is not to be viewed as our ticket to gain and success; godliness is to be our gain and success.

In the United States, there are citizens and military. It is the job of the military to lay down their lives to protect the rights of the citizens. In the Kingdom of God, every citizen is a part of the army of God. It is not the clergy and ministers alone who must live according to a higher standard and defend the rest of the believers. No, it is the duty of every believer in Jesus to follow His example in battle. It is each of our duty to lay down our life to protect and serve our brothers and sisters. We are truly a class of warrior prince and princesses--the highest identity as co-heirs with Christ, the highest cost of committing to the war, to every battle big and small.