Next week I’ll be privileged to guest post again for Leslie Vernick at www.leslievernick.com, about how you actually do have rights and you shouldn’t surrender or yield them and it’s actually impossible to surrender many of them. That will be a brief outline of the talk about rights that I gave last weekend at the Called to Peace Ministries Conference “Developing a Church-Wide Response to Domestic Abuse.” (That talk, in turn, was based on two chapters in my book Untwisting Scriptures that were used to tie you up, gag you, and tangle your mind.)
But today I want to mention a couple of points, really a couple of Scriptures, that I didn’t have time to fully discuss in my talk. (Both of them are addressed in the book.)
This Scripture was referenced a few months back by someone who gave Untwisting Scriptures a one-star review on Amazon because he or she believed Jesus set an example of surrendering rights for us by surrendering His own rights. It’s this well-known and well-loved Scripture:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
This is such a lofty, beautiful, and precious Scripture that I hope the analogy I’m about to give won’t be considered crude to the point of being offensive.
In Mark Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper, Prince Edward decides to exchange clothes with the pauper Tom Canty so he can experience what it would feel like to be a commoner. The prince is then thrust out among the commoners and lives among them, experiencing their life, for months.
But even though Prince Edward becomes like a commoner, he never surrenders his rightful place as the son of the king—it’s still his, even if the people around him don’t acknowledge it. No matter how much he is humbled and humiliated—and it is extreme—he can still claim his position as the prince, and rightfully so.
Our Lord Jesus became a man and even a servant willingly. But He never did surrender His rightful position as the Son of the Most High God—it was still His, even if the people around Him didn’t acknowledge it. No matter how much He was humbled and humiliated—and it was more extreme than anyone else has ever experienced—He could still claim His position as the Son of God, and rightfully so.
If we remember that the word “rights” comes from the concept of “what is right,” then it’s far easier to see that Jesus never gave up His rights. To secure our salvation He “emptied Himself” for us, He laid down His life for us, He refrained from making use of His right to call twelve legions of angels, and He didn’t retaliate when His human rights were violated.
But all these rights were always still His.
In this Scripture, the author of Hebrews tells the Christians,
[Y]ou joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
I think it was the first time I studied Hebrews (which was a truly life-changing study to me) that this verse hit me square between the eyes. The main point I learned from it was that the Hebrew Christians kept life in perspective, knowing that the eternal was more valuable than the ephemeral.
Lo and behold, come to find out it’s a verse that’s used to tell Christians they should give up their rights (to property, in this case). But that’s not what this Scripture is about at all.
As I’ve lately pondered this particular Scripture, I’ve been thinking about how when the Hebrew Christians suffered the plundering of their rightful property, they suffered together, as a body. All of them had either been plundered or were in danger of being plundered. They rejoiced together in their everlasting treasure, encouraged each other in the Lord, and reminded each other of the heavenly possessions that were so much better than these earthly ones. They were in it together.
But in the church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century in the West, something very different is going on. The property-plundering I’m thinking about right now isn’t being perpetrated by those outside the church against those within the church. Instead, it’s happening at the hands of church-attenders and sometimes even church leaders, cruel spouses who hold secret bank accounts and secret credit cards, secret phones and Facebook accounts and sometimes secret girlfriends. All while the family members they’re oppressing are left with nothing or next to nothing, subsisting on rice, beans and oatmeal; wondering how she’ll get their children the glasses that have been prescribed or the basic hygiene items they need; wondering if she’ll die because she has been refused the “too expensive” medical care for her brown recluse bite.
And the church of Jesus Christ isn’t rallying around these oppressed, standing with them, together with them, “in community” with them against the oppressors. No, instead, they’re telling the oppressed a number of extremely unhelpful things (like, “what did you do to push his buttons,” “you’re just not being sexy enough,” and “keep submitting and let the Lord take care of him”).
Instead of rallying around the oppressed, protecting and encouraging them, they have pushed them further and further into silence and isolation. Isolation that often produces the thought, “I am the only one experiencing this kind of problem. That means it has to be my fault. I will become very quiet and very, very small.”
Even at the hands of vicious and vindictive “good Christians” in the church? Oh yes, apparently.
This is completely antithetical to what was going on with the Hebrew Christians in that Scripture. Because these modern-day oppressors and the ones supporting the oppressors are not on the outside while the Christians band together. These oppressors and the ones supporting the oppressors (which makes them oppressors as well) are right there within the church. They are oppressing their own people. Ezekiel 34, anyone?
And just to be clear, the Hebrew Christians never did give up their rights to their property. Together, as a group, “in community,” they kept the eternal perspective, even when their rights were being violated.
The people who violate the rights of others and those who support the violators, even if they claim to be following Jesus, are doing wrong.
Remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:1.
It is impossible but that offenses [violations of rights] will come: but woe unto him through whom they come!
This Scripture shows that those who violate the rights of others and those who support the violators and condemn the oppressed will be called to account by God Himself.
More coming next week.