It seems that every time you turn around today, someone is insisting that his/her rights have been violated. We have people protesting about animal rights, children’s rights, spousal rights, worker rights, free speech rights, and a multitude of other areas where individuals claim their rights have been violated. On the surface this may sound very American. However, when you look under the surface, you will find that obsession over our rights is not always a good thing.
When a society becomes obsessed over the issue of personal rights, it often looses its understanding of personal responsibilities. When our “Founding Fathers” wrote our “Constitution”, they understood that rights without responsibility would eventually lead to anarchy. They realized the necessity of hard-working, reliable, responsible citizens, if the law of the land was going to work.
One of the areas where this emphasis on personal rights shows itself most clearly is in marriage. In all my years, I have never had someone come to me and say, “Pastor, my marriage is not doing well. Could you help me to learn how to do a better job of carrying out my responsibilities as a husband or a wife?” To the contrary, the cries are usually about how the other person is not meeting our needs or respecting our rights. Please understand that I am not calling upon anyone to become a rug for someone else to walk on. I am saying there would be fewer problems in marriage, if each party thought of his/her responsibilities toward the other before dwelling on their personal rights.
Unfortunately, this obsession with rights has crossed over into the church. More and more church members have become fixated on what they think the church should do for them, while giving very little thought of their responsibilities toward the church. Of course, there is no scriptural basis for this way of thinking. In fact, the Scripture says the opposite. It clearly states that we have been given gifts not for our own personal gain but that we might serve others. Jesus wasn’t insistent upon his rights. He demonstrated His servant-leadership on many occasions. One example was when He took it upon Himself to wash the disciples’ feet.
A proper balance between rights and responsibilities can be seen in Paul’s writing. In Philippians 2:3, 4, he wrote: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Here Paul does not tell us to completely forget our own rights but he does make it clear that the first thought from our minds should be about others not ourselves, about our responsibilities not our rights.