By David Faust
Common wisdom says the higher you climb on the organizational ladder, the more rights and privileges you enjoy. But according to Jesus, wise leaders do exactly the opposite. He insisted, “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:26). In Jesus’ leadership model, the boss doesn’t demand his rights; he gives them up for the sake of the cause. True leaders are servants, not prima donnas.
John Maxwell wrote, “Instead of pretending to be in control, leaders must model being under control.”
Permissible but not Beneficial
Self-centeredness bedeviled the Christians in Corinth. Jealousy and quarreling marred their fellowship. Brothers and sisters divided over loyalties to different leaders. Flagrant, unchecked sexual sin brought shame on the church. Believers sued each other over matters that shouldn’t have been decided in a secular court. Sloppy worshippers corrupted the Lord’s Supper and flaunted their spiritual gifts instead of using them humbly to build up the body.
Paul wrote the church a letter to correct these problems. In the heart of the letter he focused on sacrificial devotion to others and reminded his friends that love “is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Frankly, most of us are very self-seeking! We seek recognition. We seek comfort. We prefer to have our own way. We cling to our rights—even demand them. But just because we have the right to do something, that doesn’t mean it’s best to do it. Some things are permissible but not advisable.
Paul quoted what apparently was a statement the Corinthians used to justify their misuse of freedom: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say.” The apostle pointed out, “But not everything is beneficial”
(1 Corinthians 6:12).
The Creator endowed us with the right to life and liberty, but our ultimate purpose isn’t the pursuit of personal happiness; it’s the pursuit of God’s kingdom. In that pursuit Christ comes first, not our own desires. Paul had the right to receive pay for his work as a preacher, but when necessary he didn’t exercise that right (9:1-12). He willingly subjugated his personal and cultural preferences for the sake of the gospel (vv. 19-23) and even gave up the right to eat or drink something he enjoyed if it created a stumbling block to others (10:23-33).
All-Powerful but Sacrificial
God’s divine abilities include the power of self-control. He rightfully could throw every rebel swiftly into Hell, but instead he patiently waits for sinners to repent (2 Peter 3:9). He could answer every prayer immediately, but often he waits a while before answering, allowing us to grow through the process. The same biblical chapter that says prayers are “powerful and effective” exhorts us to “be patient” like a farmer who waits patiently for rain to fall (James 5:7-16).
Jesus showed self-control in the wilderness when he refused to eat for 40 days. He could have called an army of angels to rescue him from the cross, but he chose not to exercise that right. Jesus demonstrated amazing restraint at his trial. Pilate probed, false accusations flew, nails pierced, darkness fell—but Christ stayed strong, surrendering body and soul to a higher purpose. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
The Lamb of God gave up his rights to accomplish something supremely right—to make us right with God.
1. What does Philippians 2:5-11 say about Jesus’ willingness to give up his rights?
2. What rights and privileges have you surrendered lately as an act of love?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for April 13, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 Corinthians 6:1–11
1 Corinthians 6:12–20
Joshua 18, 19
1 Corinthians 7:1–16
Joshua 20, 21
1 Corinthians 7:17–40
Joshua 22, 23
1 Corinthians 8
1 Corinthians 9:1–12