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Jan 22, 2012

When Rights Are Wrong

Passage: 1 Corinthians 8:1-9:27

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Objects for Worship--1 Corinthians 8-14

Category: Life Together

Keywords: rights, freedom, love


As American Christians, we carry a deep sense of having a right to our rights. The Christian life frees us to enjoy more rights than anyone on earth but it also binds us to a higher law of love that puts all those rights aside when necessary in order to draw others to Christ. This message looks at when exercising our rights to spiritual freedom collide with our call to love God and people with the love of Jesus.


When Rights Are Wrong

I Corinthians 8-10

January 22, 2012


As Americans, we have had the issue of personal rights drummed into us since we were children, right?  In fact, as a nation, we’ve adopted the idea that we have a whole host of “rights” that are never listed as such in our constitution.  An article I read last week contained interviews with various people claiming rights like

  • “the right to housing,”
  •  “the right to medical care,”
  • “the right to government funded college education,”
  • “the right to government-funded down payments on houses,”
  • “the rights of animals,”
  • “the rights of illegal immigrants”
  • “the rights of prisoners,” etc. 

We’re a people of rights…and we’re proud of it, right? (There we go again! More “rights.” J)


Get acquainted:  Without using any electronic devices other than your own memory, come up with the rights given in as many of the 10 Amendments of the Bill of Rights as you can (1st 10 Amendments--1789). 

  1. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
  2. Right to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well regulated militia.
  3. No quartering of soldiers.
  4. Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
  5. Right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy.
  6. Rights of accused persons to a speedy and public trial.
  7. Right of trial by jury in civil cases.
  8. Freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments.
  9. Other rights of the people: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

10.  Powers reserved to the states:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”


So when do rights become wrong?  Does the exercise of my rights have any limits…or are those rights absolute

EX:  What are the limits on, say, my right to free speech?  I don’t have a right to yell “fire” in a crowded room or auditorium when there is no fire.

EX:  How about the exercise of religion?  If my religion says that I have a God-given right to impose that religion on others through force, torture, mutilation, theft or murder, then do I?  No, in that case, the right to life and general freedoms trumps the right of a religion to force others to do what is against their will.


Today we’re picking up where Eric so ably and powerfully left off in I Corinthians 8 & 9 last week.  (If you missed it, I highly recommend you listen to the podcast OR read the transcript on our church web site.  He did a masterful job of showing us how when anything but Christ dominates or determined our actions (particularly addictions), it is really a matter of false worship.) 

While I’m mentioning that, let me encourage any of you to consider joining the next session of Monday @ Mosaic classes.  Besides various Alpha courses we’re offering around town on Sunday and Wednesday nights, we’ll be offering 2 courses here at Mosaic on Mondays.  One is about how to minister to others in need entitled Helping Without Hurting.  It’s an excellent course for anyone interested in learning how to help others we perceive living in some form of poverty. 

The other course deals with this issue of addictions we all have and how, as Eric ably pointed out, that is really a reflection of false gods we are worshiping. If you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t have any addictions and I certainly don’t have any false gods in my life,” well, I challenge you to take that class and let God tell you whether you do or don’t.  Yours may not be the more evident ones of drugs or alcohol or sex.  Yours may be control or anger or work or laziness or reading or sports or TV or video games or….you get the point.  J  Get the podcast…and take the course.  This is your pastor speaking! J


So let’s reread I Cor. 8 this morning and then we’ll move into chapter 9.  I’d like us to read it in the New Living Translation (NLT) for a change. 

1 Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.


Stop.  Paul is responding to a question that the Corinthian church had apparently mailed him about.  We don’t know exactly how it was worded, but from this answer, we can pretty well surmise that they were asking something like, “What should we do about buying and/or eating food that has been part of the pagan idol sacrifices here in Corinth?  Is this O.K. to do or not?”

Paul’s answer seems to target people who’s argument probably went something like this:  “The answer to this one is simple.  Christ has freed us from the dietary laws.  Remember Peter and the vision of the sheet full of animals being let down out of heaven and God’s command to “rise…kill and eat”?  (Acts 10)  We can eat everything and anything now so what’s the problem?”

Paul’s first reply to their question goes, not to the logic or theology of the issue itself (food), but to the heart and soul of the people.  He attacks the pride that any of us can have when it comes to those gray areas of the Christian faith and morality.  You see, we can come up with the “right answer” for every tough relational issue in our family or marriage or friendships or church and still get it all wrong because of where our hearts are. 


So here would be God’s 1st answer to “when do my rights become wrong?”

Answer:  When you must appeal to logic rather than love to win your case.  Or put another way, “When winning the argument OR winning my way is more important to me than Christ’s love winning the day.”  Just so there is no confusion, let me clarify what Christ’s love is:  the love of Christ will always do what is in the other person’s best interest at the expense of my personal interest. 

            Logic and what we perceive as superior theology or spiritual understanding “puffs up” our egos and pride (as the NIV says).  BUT the genuine love of Christ “builds up” everybody (and I would add “oneself included”).  Puffs up OR build up;  which kind of person do you prefer to be around? 

            Do you see how Paul points back to the two greatest commandments:  love God and love your neighbor with God’s love?  That standard informs not only the mind but the heart.  And God is always most interested in our heart capacity over our brain power


APP:  Think back to the last (or current) argument of run-in or disappointment you experienced with someone.  The first question God would have us ask is not about whether we’re “right” but whether our heart is “right.” Am I valuing loving this person with the love of Christ above getting to do what I want to do? 

NOTE:  Sometimes that may mean moving on into conflict with them.  The truly loving thing to do may be to risk the relationship further in order to help them and you grow.  But God’s love for them (i.e. what is best for them) must always trump my love of myself and of being proved right or superior in my opinion or position. 



So, rights become wrong when I must appeal to logic over love, when exercising my rights becomes more important than expressing God’s love.

Paul continues in chapter 8:4--

 4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. (Nice little reminder here who we are to be living for—God, not ourselves!)

And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.

(Another little reminder of where true life is found for every human being, especially those who know Jesus Christ personally as Savior and Lord. Paul is reinforcing that if we really want “life” to be all that it can be, it will have to come “through” the one that gives us life, the one who valued love above personal rights and surrendered every “right” he had in order to love us unconditionally.)


 7 However, not all believers know this [that there is only 1 genuine, real God]. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. [In other words, food in and of itself isn’t good or bad. It doesn’t have inherent power to make us more spiritual or less spiritual just by eating it.]


            I don’t know about you but I think if I had been tasked with developing a response to the Corinthians on this question of whether or not we should be eating food that has already been used in pagan rituals, I would have come down on the other side of the question.  Let’s put it in a little different terms to see how comfortable you would feel about it.

ILL:  Imagine that your favorite coffee shop is staffed only by people who were avowed Wiccan—practicing ancient witchcraft, spells, sorcery and the like.  Furthermore, the coffee beans they use are grown entirely on plantations where Satanic worship and witchcraft is practiced.  The farmers speak spells over their crops every day.  They have planting and harvesting incantations they say.  And they dedicate a portion of every crop to the local witch doctors and shamans in their villages as well as to ritualistic burnt offerings to the spirits. 

            Given the choice of buying their coffee or going to the more expensive coffee stand 6 blocks away that’s run by your average Joe down the street, which coffee are you more likely to buy and drink?  Do you have any problems with the Wiccan coffee?    I probably would!  I might want to stay as far away from ingesting something that’s been used in pagan spiritual rituals as possible.  But not Paul.  Just goes to show how much of a “weaker brother” I can be!  J


Paul’s answer here is basically, “Why should I care?  Coffee, even if grown and manufactured by pagans and even involved directly in their pagan rituals, is not a spiritual or moral issue.  It has no inherent power to make me more or less Christ-like (assuming you’re drinking in moderation).  It’s a freedom issue.”


If he said that about something so closely tied to pagan spiritual rituals, what would he say about other areas of life where we Christians tend to get all knotted up about whether a certain practice, thing or experience is “right or wrong”?  How about…

  • Various schooling options for our kids?
  • Different kinds of music?
  • Certain types, styles or makes of clothing?
  • The type of car we drive?
  • The standard of living we adopt?
  • The people we make friends with and hang out with?
  • Whether we drink or smoke or chew…or go with girls who do? J
  • The games we play?
  • The movies we see?
  • The lottery or casino or raffle we play?
  • The political party or candidate we support or dislike?
  • The TV we watch…or if we even have a TV?
  • The way we celebrate communion?
  • The kind of church we prefer?
  • The sports we play or pay to watch or just spend time following?
  • The careers or jobs or occupations we esteem or disdain?

I’ve probably already bothered a few people here just by what I’ve mentioned without even stating what I believe about them!  There is no end to options that can polarize and divide and lead to debates among good people of God. 


Paul had no problem telling a church filled with people who had come out of the idolatry of their city that some of the items used in that idol worship were O.K. to consume and enjoy.  He was speaking first to the “weaker brothers/sisters” whose consciences were still bothered by any association or connection with even the most neutral of things like what had been done with certain foods being sold in the market. 

So Paul doesn’t shy away from challenging those of us with “weaker consciences” about certain things we probably shouldn’t feel so strongly about.  At the least, we should not hold our “convictions” so strongly that we enter into judging others who don’t feel as strongly about issues of freedom in the Christian life. 

Here is the danger for us “weaker brothers”—judmentalism and a critical spirit about others.  And so many “weaker brothers” seem to take pride in their spiritual weakness.  Rather than asking God to help us grow past those limitations to our freedom, we loudly proclaim how “wrong” the stronger brothers among us are to be engaging in that activity or hanging out with those people doing whatever it is that we don’t appreciate.  Since when is immaturity a virtue?  Legalism on freedom issues is simply a sign of needed growth. 


From telling those of us with weaker consciences the truth about the freedom we could be enjoying in Christ, Paul next turns his instruction to those who have no problem exercising their liberties to the full.  And he doesn’t just say, “O.K. Go ahead, you stronger ones.  Enjoy your liberty, Eat up!”  No, this is what he says in 8:9ff.


 9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.


Our actions, even “right” actions, can have a devastating effect upon other people.  Paul clearly stated that there is no inherently moral problem with certain activities.  BUT, when our actions encourage or prompt other believers who do not have that freedom of conscience to engage in what we are doing, our rights have become wrong.

            So here is another answer to our question, “When do rights become wrong?”  Rights become wrong when my actions encourage others to violate or go against their conscience.


ILL:  When Sandy and I were first married, we would go every Thanksgiving with my parents and a couple of the staff and faculty at the college we had attended to Cannon Beach, OR.  We’d stay in a big house on the beach and attend the Thanksgiving conference at Cannon Beach Conference Center.  It was a wonderful tradition, especially if you liked rain!  J

I remember coming back to the beach house one night after the evening meeting.  Being the younger ones in the bunch, the night was yet young and we wanted to play some games.  So we sat down at the dining room table and pulled out the cards.  Of course, we invited everyone to play. 

            One of the women with us that weekend who was a real icon at the college politely declined and proceeded to tell us why she never felt comfortable playing cards. She’d been raised in a very conservative pastor’s home.  She had been taught that playing cards was too closely associated with gambling to be acceptable in their family.  And I think her father might have been saved out of a lifestyle where card-playing was more an addiction than a game.  She had, for better or worse, adopted her father’s view about card games and just couldn’t sit down and enjoy a good game of hearts!  So she politely declined and went to do something else. 

            I was pretty amazed to actually run into someone I truly respected for their spiritual life who actually believed that playing cards would be wrong for her.  If I remember correctly, one of us had the presence of mind to ask if our playing a few hands of cards would bother her, and to her credit, she said, “No, not at all.”   So about 4 or 6 of us went on and enjoyed playing cards together that night.

            But in retrospect, while she assured us that she had absolutely no problem seeing us play cards, I have to wonder if my actions at the time were really displaying the love of Christ.  After all, if putting her best interests before my own personal whims at the moment had been my foremost intent, wouldn’t I have chosen to do something that would have kept her in the conversation and fellowship we enjoyed around the table?  After all, playing cards didn’t bring me closer to God or take me farther from him that night…but it did not allow us to fellowship in ways that could have brought both of us closer to God and together as God’s kids. 

ILL:  I fast-forward to just this last weekend when we were visiting our daughter and son-in-law in L.A.  On Saturday evening, after eating out with them, we all went to a birthday party of one of the actors they know.  Sinunu is a great Christian brother, passionate for Christ and zealous for the testimony of Christ in that very godless environment. 

            We arrived a little early and were the first guests to get there.  So we had a wonderful time of just fellowshipping and hearing how God is moving in Sinunu’s life and in other believer’s lives in the movie industry.  Joanna and her husband had brought a couple of bottles of wine for the party, a very common gift in L.A. and that circle of friends. 

            But when we arrived and they pulled out the wine, Sinunu said, “Ohhhhh, I’m on a Daniel fast (meaning no meat or alcoholic beverages)…and you know how I love wine!”  So we told him, “Well, just put it away and save it for a later date.”  He responded, “No, I don’t want that to stop the rest of you from enjoying it tonight,” and he opened it up for everyone. 

            As the evening unfolded, more people arrived, and about every 4th person brought him a bottle of wine.  (Obviously, they knew what he enjoyed.)  And not to seem rude or disinterested in their gift, he politely explained that he was fasting and would tuck it away in the pantry for later.  He even explained that his fast was not for any set length of time but just as long as the Lord directed him to do so. 

            But I noticed that he didn’t drink the entire evening.  Other Christian friends came and as they brought different food and drink, some of them would explain that they, too, were on a fast, one doing one kind, another doing another.  But all of them were fasting because they wanted to begin this new year cleansing their bodies and their hearts and drawing near to God.  I was truly encouraged to see this particular expression of seeking after God in a place where satisfying material and personal appetites of any and all kinds is pushed and exploited. 

            And I was encouraged to see that none of those for whom eating or drinking would have been that night a violation of their conscience before God, either compromised their consciences and joined in the food and drink they had been abstaining from OR looked down on and demanded that others who were not fasting follow their rules.  Instead, we all enjoyed some really wonderful fellowship together, some eating and drinking to their heart’s delight, some just enjoying their glass of water and the fellowship. 


Paul goes on in chapter 9 to use himself as an example of one who has lots of rights but, for the sake of others and the Gospel, does not exercise those rights.  He points specifically to his right to travel with a wife as did other Apostles…and his right to earn a living as a traveling evangelist and church planter.  Neither of those rights did he seem to take advantage of, not because he believed them to be wrong, but because he believed not earning his living from the Gospel and not bringing a wife along enabled him to share and spread the Gospel more effectively.  Over and over again in that chapter he states how he has “not used this right” or “have used none of these things”. 


WHY?  Look at 9:19--Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.  22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.


Which rights Paul would set aside at any given time or in any given setting was determined by this:  what will bring people to Christ?  I’m not convinced that Paul is just talking about that initial encounter with Christ in saving faith, though that is certainly foremost in his thinking as he names Jews, Gentile converts to Judaism and non-Jews.  I think he asked himself that question whenever he moved from one church to the other, from one ethnic setting to another, from one culture to another:  what will bring these people…this group…this person...closer to Christ? 

            If that becomes the question we all order our lives by, we will avoid being the legalistic and demanding “weaker brother” just as surely as we will avoid using our God-given rights to enjoy this or that right or freedom in ways that damage and do real harm to other believers of more restrictive convictions. 

            That’s why we launched The Seaside bar church just about a year ago:  Charlie and his team don’t have some of the hang-ups others of us might have when it comes to “becoming all things to all people,” that he “might by all means save some.”  He isn’t violating his conscience as some of us may feel we were doing by meeting in a bar, having an alcoholic beverage from time to time or using a certain style of music in their worship. 

            And honestly, I’m proud to be a part of a congregation that helped birth that ministry and continues to assist it with prayer and financial support.  Our opinions about freedom issues must never become more dear to us than God’s love for the souls of all people…no matter what sins people may be trapped in, no matter how far from Christ they may look to us. 


Now Paul is quick to add that reaching people with the Gospel is no excuse for lazy, undisciplined or intemperate behavior.  He closes chapter 9 by reminding us that this business of living the Christian life will require from all of us a laser-focused discipline as we each run our own race of life. 

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.  


Part of that discipline of our lives is to lay down our rights when taking them up will harm someone in the body of Christ.

Part of that discipline is regularly denying ourselves some privilege, some right that in and of itself is not wrong at all, so that we train our minds, our bodies, and our souls to love God more than any of the wonderful things in life God has given us to enjoy.

This is why the Christian church for centuries has practiced various spiritual disciplines especially during the Lent season that is approaching. Wanting to exalt Christ in our lives over any personal drive or passion or desire, Christians have regularly engaged in seasons of saying “no” to the flesh so that we can say “yes” to love of God and love of people. 

  • We have a right to eat virtually any food in the world.  But we should be experiencing and practicing fasting from time to time in order to train our bodies and minds that there are things more important than food and communion with Christ is one of those.
  • We have a right to enjoy many of the entertainments and pleasures of this world.  But we should be regularly abstaining from each of them to be sure that none of them have become gods we are addicted to and which have power over our lives.
  • We have a right to enjoy the blessings of our nation and economy. But God asks us to set those aside at times in order to discipline ourselves so that we can enjoy more the characteristics of generosity and frugality, giving and blessing others. 


APP:  Our freedom in Christ and our love for Him and His Church calls each of us to regularly “discipline” our bodies and bring our desires, our rights, and our will “into subjection” to Christ. 

Lent in 2012 will start on Wednesday, the 22nd of February and will continue for 46 days until Saturday, the 7th of April.  (The 6 Sundays aren’t counted as days of Lent because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter,” a celebration in the midst of sacrifice of the power of the resurrected Lord.) 

            What do you plan to do this Lent to bring some of your freedoms more under Christ’s authority?  What will you disengage from for a period of time so that you can more fully and deeply engage with the life and power of Christ? 

  • Food?
  • Noise?
  • Technology?
  • Spending?
  • Work?
  • Entertainments?
  • Activity

Others may need to learn more about engaging in certain spiritual activities like

  • Service
  • Bible reading
  • Prayer
  • Giving
  • Fellowship
  • Worship


I had a conversation not long ago with another pastor downtown who dropped a simple phrase in my life that has been bothering me every since:  placebo Christianity. 

            What he was speaking about is the tendency we all have to take in a truth or teaching or message or Bible study or Christian book and then think that we have actually been changed by that when, in fact, until we truly put it into practice in our life, it’s been nothing but a placebo—a religious pill that makes us think we’ve been healed of our selfishness or addiction or sin or lack of Christlike character when all that has happened is we’ve just swallowed something that has not actually changed us one bit. 

            Could this be why 46% of Americans who have been to church before say their life has not changed at all as a result of churchgoing? That’s what a recent Barna Research survey found.  The good news is that of people who attend church weekly, 44% said they experience God on a weekly basis (some during church, most at some other time in the week). 

            Let’s not let ourselves think that because we’ve read this text today and engaged our minds in these truths that we’ve really changed. The great Apostle Paul himself said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”  Let’s not let our rights become wrong…for us, for God’s people or for people still needing Christ.