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Standards, Rights, and Real Authority (Part 2)

February 08, 2015


By John Partridge

Scripture: Exodus 34:14-16 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Six months ago, we watched the protests and the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. As we watched, we saw a clear
example of the confrontations that can happen between authority and rights. Police have authority. Protesters
have rights. But in places like Ferguson, Missouri, both groups exceeded their limits. Those who had come to
protest had the right to do so, but went beyond the limits of their rights. Those in authority were given the task
of keeping the peace and enforcing the law, but they too went beyond the limits of their authority. In the end,
the causes represented by both sides were harmed more than they were helped. The protesters had the right to
gather and to peacefully protest, but some of them pursued a course of violence and destruction that violated
the rights of others instead. The police and other law enforcement members had the authority to keep the
peace and to uphold the rule of law, but some of them went too far, violated the rights of protesters and
reporters alike, and made it even harder for people to trust them in the future.
One lesson that many of us have learned from these protests and from some of the other recent news stories is
that when the police ask you to do something, even if it is a violation of your rights, it is often in your best
interests to do what you are told and complain later. We may have the right to refuse, but doing so is not
always in our best interests. If a police officer points their gun at you and commands you to stop, it is in your
best interests to do as you are told regardless of your guilt or innocence.
Out on the street, the police have authority, and we do not.
As followers of God, we follow Jesus because he has authority, and we do not.
In many cases, we may have the right to do as we please, but doing so may not be in our best interest.
We have chosen to follow Jesus, but how we follow is still up to us. God has given us the freedom to obey or
to disobey but there are some commands that have been left for us to interpret. We encounter an example of
this in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 where Paul says
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Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that We all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up
while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But
whoever loves God is known by God.
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So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that An idol is nothing at all in the world and that
There is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed
there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things
came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and
through whom we live.
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But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat
sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is
defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
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Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if
someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idols temple, wont that
person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died,
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is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience,
you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat
meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
The people in Pauls church had a disagreement over how to interpret and obey the scriptures. In Exodus
34:14-16 Moses was explaining the Ten Commandments and in doing so said:
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Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

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Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their
gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some
of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead
your sons to do the same.
The command from God is not to worship other gods. One example that is given is, Do not make a treaty
with people who worship other gods, because your contact with those people will eventually cause you to
drift toward the worship of their idols. This passage even provides examples of that drift toward idolatry as a)
being invited into their homes or temples, b) being offered meat that had been sacrificed, and c) allowing your
children to marry into their families.
Some Christians in Pauls church took this to mean that these were signs of drift, and others that these things
were, themselves, examples of sin. In Pauls world, sacrificed meat was common. Some meat that had been
on an altar was shared by the worshippers and other meat was taken and sold in the marketplace. Some
believers felt that eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol was a sin, and others felt that since God was
the only true god, and an idol was only a chunk of stone and had no real power, that eating meat was not an act
of worship and thus, not a sin. Paul said that this knowledge gave the people the right to eat meat that had been
sacrificed to idols.
But how they used that right was important.
Paul agreed that they were correct. He agreed that they had the right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to
idols.
Remember a couple weeks ago we heard that some of the people in Corinth were saying things like, I have
the right to do anything, (1 Corinthians 6:12) but Pauls response was to remind them that although they
might have a right to do something, not everything is beneficial.
Although we may have the right to do a great many things and although we may have the freedom to do
those things, not everything that we do is good.
How we use our rights is important.
If a photographer is in a place like Ferguson, they have the right, as a member of the press, to be in places that
the general public is not allowed. But if they are confronted by the police, it is quite possible that the
photographer may be more familiar with his rights than the police who are confronting him. In that case,
ignoring the police may result in his arrest or worse.
In Pauls case, people may have had the right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but by using that
right carelessly, they caused harm to fellow believers who did not have the same knowledge that they did.
They may have had the right to do it, but not everything that they did was good.
So what is the right course?
What is the right thing to do with our rights?
To help with our thinking, lets take a look at what this meant to Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Paul says:
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For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach
the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust
committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of
charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
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Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law
(though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I
became like one not having the law (though I am not free from Gods law but am under Christs law), so as to
win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all
people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may
share in its blessings.
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Paul begins by saying that he cannot boast about his ministry, essentially saying that he cannot take credit for
his preaching, or for the growth of the church, or anything. He cannot take credit for what he has done,
because he had no other choice. God called him, God commanded him, to preach and so it was impossible for
him to do anything else. On top of that, Paul says that his reward for preaching is that he may not use his full
rights as a preacher of the gospel.
Wait. Did we read that right?
Yes. His reward is that he does not make use of his rights.
Stay with me here.
Paul understood rights. Paul was born outside of Rome, but in Tarsus, a city that had been declared to be a
free city by Emperor Augustus Caesar for their sacrifices and exertion during Romes civil wars. As a free
city, everyone who was born in Tarsus was given Roman citizenship. As a Roman citizen, Paul had rights that
non-citizens could only dream about and on several occasions in scripture, he puts those rights to good use.
But here, Paul says that he has been rewarded by not using his rights and so its natural that we would be a
little puzzled.
Understanding our confusion, Paul gives us an example of what he means. Paul says that he is free, he is not a
slave but is legally a free citizen, he is his own man, and again, knowing that slaves, servants, and foreigners
did not have as many rights, Paul had all the rights of a free man and a Roman citizen. But despite having all
of these rights, Paul gave them all up to become a slave to the gospel message. He did not use his rights but
rather became subservient to everyone so that the gospel message could reach as many people as possible.
Paul says, I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all
this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul voluntarily gives up his rights so that, by all possible means, lives might be saved and so that he might
share in Gods blessings.
And that brings everything back to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to the incidents of excessive force by the
police that we hear about, to our rights as citizens of the United States, and to our rights as the followers of
Jesus Christ. We have a great many rights. We have rights as human beings. We have rights as citizens. We
have rights as free people. We have rights under the Constitution of the United States. We have rights as
followers of Jesus Christ. And we have rights as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
But although we may have the right to do a great many things and although we may have the freedom to do
those things, not everything that we have the right to do is good.
Some of the people in the church in Corinth knew that they had the right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to
idols, but by doing so, in full view of others who did not have that knowledge, they caused harm to other
believers and to the cause of Jesus Christ. And so, Paul asks them to set aside their rights in cases where
exercising those rights would bring harm to others because love is more important than rights. Paul had rights,
but he often chose to set his rights aside so that the gospel message could be heard, and lives could be saved.
Like Paul, we have a great many rights and a great many privileges. But with those rights come even more
responsibilities. We must be careful that our rights do not bring harm to others.
Insisting on our rights is not always the right thing to do.
And we must be prepared to set aside our rights, so that others might hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
We must be prepared to give up our rights so that lives might be saved.

You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first
page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part
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New International Version unless otherwise noted.