When I was four years old and my older brother slammed my head onto the tile of our kitchen floor, I had the right to be angry. Yes, that actually happened. And last weekend, when a stranger at the mall made a rude comment, I had the right to retaliate and talk back. In fact, on most days, according to the standards of our society, there are very few actions that are not considered common rights.
As an American citizen, I am granted certain rights, but my identity as a follower of Christ demands that I lay down my certain rights that challenge God’s glory. So how do we reconcile these two realities? Does our calling to live in community with one another contradict our calling to lay down our rights, as all communities are made functional through a set of established rights or privileges?
The Declaration of Independence provides us “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness [and] to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” By nature of being human, we are endowed with rights in America. Even so, as soon as my rights become a stumbling block to my neighbor, I need to evaluate the situation and carefully consider its gravity and implications.
For example, consider the right to the pursuit happiness. This is one that could easily conflict with the interests of others. It is a rather undefined right and is subject to each person’s personal perception of happiness. One who argues that he is justified in pursuing happiness by harming or killing his neighbor does not understand his pursuit of happiness in the context of godly love and sacrifice. We cannot all mindlessly wander around the country pursuing our concept of happiness because the concepts may conflict and break moral codes. This is why our right to pursue happiness must be sacrificed a times. When we allow our own happiness to be the sole motivator in a decision or action, we forget that we are not our own; we have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In some ways, government requires that we lay down rights in order to protect them. Some would argue that you lose freedom when you do not use it well. There are other laws in place that restrict the right to the pursuit of happiness and that would not allow for the killing of that neighbor. Even setting moral conviction aside, murder is not legal. We possess God given rights and we should claim those rights when they are good and healthy, but when they stand on the way of God the Father being glorified, they must be laid down.
So take a moment today to consider what rights you need to lay down. Whether it’s your right to happiness, your right to rest, or your right to be upset about something, think about how claiming those rights affects your relationship with others and with God.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).