Thinking primarily about our “rights” makes us bad Christians.
However, I do think the temptation to do so stems from a noble endeavor.
There is nothing wrong with being concerned about the state of our country. There’s also nothing wrong with being concerned about the perceived lack of religious freedom being granted by our state. Those things are alarming. They do need to be thought about. Nevertheless, they should not be our first thoughts. Nor our second.
Stop thinking about your rights. Start thinking about your neighbor.
But what about the obvious objection?
Isn’t being concerned about our freedom of religion and rights as citizens the neighborly thing to do? Doesn’t this benefit all? It might. But this isn’t necessarily a Christian thing to do. That’s because, no matter how much we might try, we will still end up landing on one end of the political spectrum or the other when we play these types of games. And promoting a Right or a Left flavored agenda only further divides us from our brothers and sisters who might have different thoughts on the matter.
This also confuses those who do not know our Lord into thinking that God Himself aligns with one system of our man-made government over another. In fact, it’s in moments like this that I am reminded of Joshua 5:13-15.
“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipedand said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”
In its context, the next generation of Israel had just crossed over the Jordan river into the land of Canaan. And they were being readied for mission as God’s chosen nation through the sign of circumcision and the practicing of Passover. If they were to retake the Promised Land and become a kingdom of Priests like God wished them to be, they needed to make sure to follow His Torah law in the prescribed ways before they marched on places like Jericho and Ai.
5:13-15 happens right before the all-too-familiar story of the fall of Jericho.
When Joshua and the Israelites were near the city, suddenly a “man” who claimed to be the commander of the army of the Lord, was standing before them. Tradition posits that this man was in fact a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus himself.
But this commander’s answer to Joshua’s question, “are you for us or against us,” is both telling and helpful for our situation now. To this question, the man responded: “No…[but] now I have come.” In other words, this man (Jesus) isn’t for or against Israel or the people of Jericho. He is using the nation of Israel to bring about His current purposes, but asking which side of something that God is on is to ask the wrong question. He is on His own side.
So, are our political causes God’s causes? No nation or political party can assume that.
Again, it isn’t wrong to be concerned about our rights as citizens. Paul invoked his rights as a Roman before the court in Acts 22:22-29. Even he questioned whether or not they might be revoked as a believer. But Paul didn’t primarily think of his rights as a Roman citizen. He used his privilege to witness to a citizenship in God’s greater political structure: the kingdom of Heaven.
In fact, Paul has much more to say about this very subject.
Paul thought that thinking primarily about our “rights” makes us bad Christians too.
That’s because Jesus Himself didn’t think about his rights as God while he was on earth but instead “…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6b-8).”
Think about that for a moment. Jesus is God. He has the ability to be omnipotent and omnipresent. He created all things and all things are sustained through Him. However, Jesus did not exploit his divine status even though He had every right to do so. Instead, he gave up His privilege and freely became servant of all for the sake of all.
Christians are called to be imitators of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are to be those who announce His kingdom come. And, to Paul, we’re to do so by “do[ing] nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [our]selves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped… (Philippians 2:3-6a).”
So, stop primarily thinking about your rights. Instead, think first about your witness to your neighbor.