Rights vs. Responsibilities

This pastoral passage was first written for LRBC on May 1 2016. When I first wrote this and posted it on Facebook it created quite a stir. This illustrated two things: 1. We really do value rights more highly than responsibilities, and 2. a valid point can be destroyed by a poorly chosen illustration!

The other night I watched a new film called Suffragette, set in 1912 and depicting a part of the campaign to allow women to vote in Britain. Something I noticed in the film is that the main character Maud joined the struggle for her right to vote, at the expense of her responsibilities as a wife and a mother. It is a notable feature of our culture that responsibilities regularly take a back seat to fulfilling our aspirations and upholding our real or perceived rights.

Rights are important, but they are not the most important thing in life. Admittedly it is easy to say that in a country like New Zealand. However, all of us should know that doing the right thing can mean forfeiting rights – putting yourself out in small ways or large for the sake of others, whether children, wife, husband, elderly parents, neighbours or friends who are in need. The Christian is also shouldered with further responsibility: in 1Cor. 8, Paul recommended the surrender of certain rights if they would damage another Christian’s faith. In 1Cor. 9 he modelled a similar surrender of rights, in case they became a barrier to reaching others for the faith.

So consider: are you prepared to surrender even those ‘small’ rights we all deserve? Will you do it for those you have a natural responsibility to? For the brothers and sisters in the faith? For the responsibility the Lord has given you? We are followers of the highest model of this: Jesus, who demonstrated the supreme self-denial of his rights for what he in reality had no obligation to do, in his humbling incarnation and his obedience leading to redemptive death (Philippians 2:3-8). If Jesus has done it for you, can you do it for him and those for whom he died?

May the Holy Spirit make us more like him!