Your Rights Don’t End Where My Fears Begin, Christian Friend
I saw it on a friend’s facebook post before I knew there were t-shirts, before I understood she was just repeating a slogan. I kept reading, looking at it, thinking surely I must be misunderstanding. I wasn’t.
My rights don’t end where your fears begin!
My Facebook friend was asserting that her right to be in public without a face covering was more important to her than the safety or the emotions of those around her.
She doesn’t care if you’re scared, because she’s an American.
But she also calls herself a Christian. What am I supposed to make of this?
Shouting or shining like stars in the universe?
A little history. Way back in the Torah, there was a promise with an implied command. God was going to bless a man named Abraham by growing his family. Through that family, God would bless everyone on earth. The implied command? God expected Abraham’s family to work with him at making it happen.
In the New Testament, that theme picks right back up. Christians become part of the promise: “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise.”
Implied again is the fact that Christ followers will live in such a way that their very existence will make other people’s lives better.
We’re called to be blameless and pure, bright lights and shining reminders of God’s presence in a dark and crooked world.
Why would a Christian be willing to compromise that mission over a 4.5-inch piece of cloth?
We are Americans, and we have rights as citizens. They’re protections, against the overreach of government, designed to ensure our safety. But, Christian author Rob Tims argues (and I would argue along with him), “the fierce defense of human rights … can easily lead to a sense of entitlement…. We may boldly claim the right to free speech, and abuse that right in an act of slander or verbal abuse.”
Isn’t that what my friend was doing? Claiming her right to a free face and neglecting everyone else’s right to pursue healthy living?
Tims says that Matthew 5:38–42 (where Christians are told to give the other side of our face to someone who slaps us, give our coat to someone who asks for our shirt and walk another mile with someone who needs to go further than we want) reveals a shocking truth:
Christians have no rights. We do not have the right to retaliate. We do not have the right to things. We do not have the right to our own time. We do not have the right to money. We have no rights. Rather, all of our relationships and all of our possessions are held in trust for the Lord, which means the obedient thing to do with those relationships and things is to use them as Jesus did … to help others.
But Matthew 5 is only the tip of an iceberg. The Bible says that Jesus “poured himself out,” considering his equality with God not grounds for demanding his own wants, instead humbling himself (Philippians 2). And we’re supposed to “be of the same mind” as Jesus on this. It’s a command!
Can we call ourselves Christ-followers and demand more rights than the Son of God, allowed himself?
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions
Jesus said, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And this: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
His disciples wrote these words:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
I’m only scratching the surface here. These verses are all over the New Testament. If the New Testament were a building, these verses would be a load-bearing wall.
And for the church? They are our operating instructions, the way people will act if the Holy Spirit Jesus promised really does live inside of people. They are the reason the whole world of these peculiar people would lay down their lives for each other, and even for you, too.
These are the kinds of people we’re supposed to be, and you (if you are not Christian) are supposed to be able to recognize us by these putting-others-first behaviors. This is how you know we really mean it! This is how you know God is real!
That’s why this statement on a Facebook page with Bible verses on it upset me so much, why I pray for and weep over these people who have been my friends. (This friend wasn’t the only one to write something like this.)
Thinking back now
But honestly, the past starts to become a little clearer to me. As I consider each one of them — I’m serious here and will come back and delete this if I think there’s any chance it’s not true — some of them are people I’ve gone to church with, walked alongside, known for years — but they aren’t the ones I saw doing the daily, personal, unseen and unceremonial things that Christians are commanded to do.
Let me be clear. They may do good things at their churches. They may put angels on a Christmas tree to show they bought a child a gift or stuff a shoe box to be sent to another country. They may help in a food pantry or even bring lunch to the homeless. But this is their church activity.
These things are easier than putting others first on the daily.
These who demand their rights aren’t the ones I’ve seen care for the sick, stand with the oppressed, or welcome strangers. They’re not known for their patience, their generosity, their willingness to come hang with you when you’re down or their uncanny ability to forgive those who wrong them. They’ve been there … mixed in among them, but they have never been the ones I was drawn to because of their Christ-like love. They just live among them.
There are so many true believers in Christ in the world. My friend in Clarkston, Georgia is putting on a hot and uncomfortable mask every day to make sure the refugee moms in her community have enough to eat and don’t feel isolated. Another group of my friends are cooking dinner every night this week for a woman who just had surgery. Others, wealthier ones (really, this is true) are working at giving away the equivalent of 100 percent of their earnings this year, because the IRS says they can and get the tax break that will allow them to give away even more.
Some people I know are in a violent country, standing with an oppressed people. They haven’t come home to the U.S. to be closer to friends and family, because they are certain God has called them to stay put.
Another group has turned a restaurant into a temporary soup kitchen to make sure out-of-work restaurant workers and their families don’t go without a meal. Yet others have worked hard behind the scenes to organize peaceful protests, stand with beautiful people they love in this country, who have been mistreated for centuries.
And while all this is quietly going on, there is this other group, much louder and much more visible because they won’t get off social media. They keep calling themselves by Jesus’ title and pulling Bible verses out of context to make themselves feel better about arguing for what they want. (At one point, they got so worked up they started saying masks actually make people sicker. They don’t.)
And you know what? I don’t think I’m going to change a single one of their minds. Those who started out yelling about their rights will probably keep on yelling. And those who are doing the work Christians are called to do, daily, by their love and by the power of a real Holy Spirit, will keep doing it (most often so quietly that you don’t even notice they exist).
So why am I writing if I think it’s not going to do any good?
The secret — You judge
I’m not doing it for a group of divided “Christians” who refuse to take care of each other. It’s to tell those who are curious (maybe you?) a secret. Actually it’s not so secret, but everyone is missing it, refusing to see or to admit they see, like the watchers of the emperor’s parade, each refusing to be the first one to say, “The emperor is naked!”
Let me be like the child in that crowd at the emperor’s parade. Let me say the truth that is not being said. Or, here, let me let you put it together for yourself. Here’s a reminder of those Bible words about what Christians look like to help you out:
– “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
– “Bear with the weak…”
– “Bear one another’s burdens.”
– “…and not just please ourselves.”
– “…count others more significant than yourselves.”
– “…that he lay down his [rights] for his friends.”
These are the marks of a Christian, the signs someone spends time with Jesus. These are the signs that the Holy Spirit has a welcome home in someone’s heart. Jesus said we can tell someone’s life by the kind of things their life produces.
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil ….
And if none of these signs are there?
I knew I would reach the end and not be able to say it. I can only lay out the facts. Judge for yourself.
And please keep your eyes open for the real ones.