Rights and Responsibilities
Rev. Tony Cooke

In biblical times, different rights of individuals were commonly understood and even articulated in Scripture. Rights existed not only for the firstborn and for citizens, but special rights were established for orphans, widows, and even foreigners. The prophets often decried injustice, or the depriving of different rights that resulted in the oppression of certain groups. God’s ideal, though, was that justice reign and for the rights of all people to be respected.

Psalm 87:5 (NLT)
Regarding Jerusalem it will be said, “Everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship there.” And the Most High will personally bless this city.

The story that Jesus told (Luke 18:2-3, Message) regarding the widow woman and the unjust judge involved an understanding of justice and rights. “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people.  A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’”

Something that we hear frequently in sermons today has to do with our rights and privileges in Christ Jesus, and rightly so.

Ephesians 2:19 (Amplified)
Therefore you are no longer outsiders (exiles, migrants, and aliens, excluded from the rights of citizens), but you now share citizenship with the saints (God’s own people, consecrated and set apart for Himself); and you belong to God’s [own] household.

Galatians 4:7
Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

James 2:5 (Message)
He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God.

There is something very powerful that happens in the heart of believer when he begins to understand what it means to be a Kingdom citizen with Kingdom rights, and even more than a mere citizen we are God’s very children His sons and His daughters. The Bible says we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ” (Romans 8:17). When we are confronted by the oppression, the attacks, and the accusations of the enemy, it is important to understand that we have rights, and to know how, through faith, to appropriate our rights and to exercise our authority.


One of the great stories of the Old Testament pertains to Ruth, a heathen woman from Moab, whose husband had died. She came to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and began to work in the fields of Boaz (a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband).

Prophetically, this is a beautiful picture of how the Gentiles were adopted into Christ’s family (Boaz and Ruth, upon marriage became the great grandparents of David, from whose lineage Jesus was born). As their relationship began, Boaz was aware that there was another relative who had a greater legal claim, and he said to Ruth, “…if he wants to exercise his customary rights and responsibilities as the closest covenant redeemer, he’ll have his chance; but if he isn’t interested, as GOD lives, I’ll do it” (Ruth 3:13, The Message).

Did you notice that?  His rights AND responsibilities. Many today are quick to seize upon their rights, but are far less eager to embrace their responsibilities. Certainly, Jesus died to make available certain rights and privileges to us, but what about our Kingdom responsibilities?

Someone once said, “I am tired of hearing about our rights. The time has come to hear about our responsibilities.”  While that statement was probably made as a secular observation of society, there is no doubt a great need for believers to make sure our own focus, attitude, and perspective is healthy.  If we are so preoccupied trying to secure our rights that we are not focusing on serving the needs of others, then we may have some significant adjustments to make.  In the great “Love Chapter,” Paul said the following:

1 Corinthians 13:5 (Amplified)
Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking…

Speaking of marriage, Paul said, “Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights.’  Marriage is a decision to serve the other” (1 Corinthians 7:4, Message).

Romans 15:1-2
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

One of the very clear observations of Paul’s ministry is that when it came to serving others, he did not have a demanding attitude about his own rights. Instead, he frequently forfeited certain rights so he would be in a better position to meet the needs of others.

1 Thessalonians 2:6-8 (NKJV)
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addressed an issue (eating foods sacrificed to idols) which is somewhat historically and culturally distant to us. However, the principle that he communicates is one that transcends that specific issue, and sets the standard for what a godly attitude of serving others is all about. Paul was concerned that the so-called “liberty” of the strong in faith would become a stumbling block to weaker brothers. His conclusion is referenced at the end of 1 Corinthians 8 and is reiterated (in a different context) again in Romans 14.

1 Corinthians 8:13 (NKJV)
Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Romans 14:21 (NKJV)
It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

Paul seems to have been far more interested in his responsibilities (serving the needs of others) than he was in demanding his own rights, and I believe this is the attitude that all true servants will embrace.  Consider his further elaboration of this in 1 Corinthians 9:

1 Corinthians 9:4-7, 12, 19 (NLT)
Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? Don’t we have the right to bring a Christian wife with us as the other disciples and the Lord’s brothers do, and as Peter does? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves? What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.

(What was Paul’s motive and Paul’s purpose behind all of these rights he surrendered?)

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ.

As a child of God, Paul fully enjoyed his spiritual rights (acceptance, forgiveness, son-ship, peace, etc.), but as a servant of God, he gladly forfeited certain natural rights, at least on occasion, for the sake of others and for the sake of the gospel.

In doing this, he was simply modeling his life and ministry after that of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:3-8 (The Message)
Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.

As you go on to read in Philippians 2, we find out that the glorification and exaltation that Jesus received was based on the magnanimous way in which He had given of Himself. Jesus’ life perfectly encapsulated what was spoken by Winston Churchill: “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

I encourage you to learn all that you can about your rights and privileges in Christ Jesus, and enjoy them fully. However, let’s also remember that this whole thing we call Christianity isn’t just about what we can get; it’s about what we can give. It is about rights AND responsibilities. In order to be the most effective, sometimes we have to lay aside our preferences and what’s most convenient for us. Paul did that. Jesus did that. We’re in pretty good company if we do it, too.