Last week's post ("It's My Right, Part 1") discussed the rights that we have as Americans. If you haven't read it yet, you'll probably want to do that before you continue with this week's post.
As Americans, we've begun treating our "rights" as basic essentials of being human, but to millions of people all over the world, these "rights" do not exist. If we take a global perspective, we have to recognize that our American rights are really privileges that we are fortunate to have. These privileges were bought with blood and protected with sweat and tears. We need to better appreciate that fact, and also do what we can to assist those who aren't fortunate enough to have them.
If your personal identity stops at being a member of the global population, then you don't need to read the rest of this week's post.
But if you consider yourself a Christian, you claim an even greater responsibility.
As I write this, I struggle with how to present it. The last thing I want is to sound preachy - these things that I'm writing about are issues that I see in myself every day - but there is a huge problem among American Christians that we must address.
God's Word is very clear about how we Christians should live our lives, but we, as a culture, have become adept at setting these rules aside by either conveniently ignoring them or writing them off as metaphors or altruistic ideals.
Writing to the Christians in the city of Philippi, Paul writes that we "must live as citizens of heaven" (Philippians 1:27, NLT). He continues:
"I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives" (Philippians 3:18-20, NLT).
He is clearly drawing a distinction between those who are Christians-by-name and those who actually live out their Christian faith. He is pleading with them to conduct themselves as "citizens of heaven." So what does it mean to be a citizen of heaven?
We know what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. We are governed by the Constitution and are awarded certain rights, and in exchange, we are expected to pay taxes and live by a certain code of conduct.
As citizens of heaven, though, God calls us to give up all of our rights in this world. Any perceived "rights" that we have as Christians are gifts of God's grace and are neither earned nor deserved.
Those rights that we Americans love are the same rights that God tells us we don't have.
One of our favorites is the freedom of speech. We have the right to say whatever we want to say about anybody. In fact, we can publish it, we can broadcast it, we can put it on our blogs, and we can even put it on Facebook. If someone is offended by it, that's their problem.
But here's what the Bible has to say about our freedom of speech:
"Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.... Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:29-32, NLT).
According to this passage, our speech is explicitly restricted to things that are good and helpful. It doesn't tell us to say whatever we want as long as it's true, or as long as we're not saying it behind someone's back. It doesn't tell us that we can say it as long as we only tell our spouse or our best friend. It says that we should only say what is good and helpful.
Another right that we cherish is the right to spend our money the way we want to spend it. We work hard for it, so as long as we're not using it at strip clubs or casinos, we can do whatever we want with it.
God asks for more from us.
I'm sure you are familiar with the biblical concept of tithing - giving 10% of your income to support the church - but a 2007 study by the Barna Group shows that only 10% of Christians actually do it. (If you want a more recent study, take a look at this State of the Plate report.)
And as if that's not bad enough, he's got more to say about how we spend our money.
"If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion - how can God's love be in that person?" (1 John 3:17, NLT).
So if you are living comfortably, you are obligated as a citizen of heaven to help your fellow Christians who are struggling. Is anyone in your church having financial problems? Then it is your responsibility to help.
And God doesn't stop there. Jesus himself had a lot to say about money.
"Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be" (Luke 12:33-34, NLT).
Not only are we to help those in our own church family who are struggling financially, but we are to assist anyone in need, whether they are a part of the church or not.
This topic is a really tough one for me. My wife and I are far from well-off, but we are blessed to be living in a situation where we have very few expenses, so we get by pretty well. Still, financial stability is one of the worries that she and I struggle with continually, and any time our savings dip below a certain point, we go into panic-mode.
But Jesus clearly said that we should not be safeguarding our money on this planet. Rather than telling us to invest in our long-term stability, in our 401k's, or even in our children's futures, he tells us to invest in the needs of people around us. If our safety net is in our bank account, then our hearts are there as well.
One of the most basic rights that we claim as humans is the right to defend ourselves.
If someone hits us, we have the right to hit them back. If someone robs us, we have the right to prosecute and have them sent to jail. If someone hurts us in any way, we have the right to retaliate to the full extent of the law.
Here is what the Bible says about it.
"Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back.... Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked." (Luke 6:27-30 and 35, NLT)
God tells us not to hit back. He says we should forgive those who rob us and make sure their needs are being met. If we loan someone money, we should not expect them to repay it.
God has a lot to say about the rights that we love, and across the board, he tells us to give them up. Again and again, he says that we are not free - we are slaves to Christ, bought with a price.