Rights or Privileges?
Rights. Sounds very patriotic doesn't it? Some Americans are very much into defending their rights. Right now there is a raging debate in this country over whether people have a right to own and carry weapons or not. I'm not going to weigh in on that subject, other than to say that I see faulty reasoning on both sides of the arguments.
Yesterday I listened to a group study where the teacher strongly questioned whether there even is such a thing as rights. He contended that he could not see how we had any rights, only privileges. Obviously he has not spent much time in the debate about the difference between rights and privileges. But it did force people to begin thinking about this, myself included. This man felt that possibly all we have are privileges granted to us by authorities, but possibly no rights.
Something about his assertion didn't sit well with me. Not because I am a rabid patriot, though I am quite familiar with that movement and have much sympathy for some of their beliefs. No, I was feeling unsettled because I was pretty certain that the Bible does talk about our rights. Part of my frustration was that I was listening to this discussion without the ability to be involved in it myself or to offer feedback. Doesn't that just aggravate you sometimes? Maybe you feel that way when you read things that people like me write. But you can offer me feedback if you desire.
Anyway, this morning as I began to reflect on this, I decided to investigate for myself and see what the Bible says about our rights or lack of them. I don't suggest that this is an exhaustive study by any means. But I do find that when I go searching for something in the Word, whether it be a word, phrase or concept, when I come with sincerity and an open heart God almost always shows up to meet me there and reveal much more to me than I was looking for originally. That is what I really want anyway, to meet God and have a transformative encounter with Him each day.
As I suspected, the very first verse I came across connected with this word was one I had been thinking of while listening to that discussion.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (John 1:12)
During the discussion, repeated reference was made to the U.S. Constitution where rights are an important centerpiece. After all, the American revolution was fought over this very issue, so any respectable American should be aware of this issue. In that document it refers to rights as coming from God and assumes that there are certain rights that supersede the authority of any earthly government or controlling body. And while most of these rights have long since been ignored, disrespected and forgotten by many both in and out of our government, that does not change the purpose the founders of this country had in mind when setting up our original system. They believed that there were certain rights that must not be violated if people are to be free to live together in mutual respect and peace.
From John's perspective we see that God does grant us at least one right – the right to become His children. Does that mean humanity was not His children to start with? I'm not sure that is what John is implying here, though it does bring up questions about what being a child of God really means. But it is indisputable that since our fall into sin the human race has degenerated into something far below the kind of creatures God had in mind when He created Adam and Eve as perfect reflectors of His own likeness. And I believe the restoration to this is what John had in mind when he spoke of this right.
In 1 Corinthians 9:4-6 Paul discusses worker's rights, specifically his own and that of his companion. Without getting into that too deeply, I would simply note that Paul seemed to believe that he had certain rights that should be acknowledged and respected, even if he chose not to exercise those rights for various reasons. In 2 Thessalonians he likewise touches on this issue in a similar vein. But in this case Paul seems to be saying that some rights need to be earned. That might seem a little confusing, especially in our day when entitlement mentality has taken over so much of our culture.
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10)
In Hebrews we find a different mention of rights.
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Hebrews 13:9-10)
I think this may connect back to the first text where God has given those who embrace the truth as it is in Jesus the right to become children of God. In contrast here, it seems that those who reject the offer of life in Jesus through the plan of salvation worked out for us, preferring instead some other system of being saved, do not have the right to eat (or fellowship closely as is likely implied here) with those who have chosen to participate fully in the vulnerability and joy of living in intimate fellowship with others and who are fully committed to following Jesus.
The last reference that I found was a very exciting one that all who put their complete hope in God should be looking forward to with great eagerness.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)
This one has deeper implications that I would like to explore further and have my heart soak in them. What is meant by entering the city by the gates? Is there any other way to get in? What is the significance of mentioning this detail?
The gates of this city are made out of solid pearls as I recall. That reminds me of what I recently studied regarding the kind of building materials that we need to be using, materials that will all be tested by fire. The New Jerusalem seems to be largely composed of gold and precious stones and maybe silver as well as far as I can gather. These sorts of precious stones are the kinds of stones that can transmit light and power. Since God is in that city and God is the source of all light and power and love, it only makes sense that all the stones and materials in that city can either function as very efficient power conductors or as light-emitting stones, or as I pointed out in a recent article titled LEDs.
Technology today is starting to focus on getting LED lighting to be much more common as well as seeking to make them much brighter. LEDs are a highly efficient way of lighting because they use such low power consumption for the light produced. Knowing that, imagine what it must be like to walk into this amazing city of light under the intense brilliancy of a large gate, itself emitting millions of lumens of light over the way that passes through the opening. And if each gate has a different kind of pearl or stone as described in the Bible, then likely each entrance may have a unique color or personality. There are strong suggestions that there may be twelve different kinds of people or basic personalities as well, represented by the twelve tribes, and that each person may find their own preferred entrance into that city based on which personality they fit into best. Fascinating ideas to ponder.
But this verse is referring to something far more important than just being able to walk into a city that dazzles with splendor and may have spectacular light-shows. The most important part of that city is at the center where can be found the long-lost Tree of Life that we have not had direct access to since our first parents abdicated their right to it in the garden. Because they chose a different option, a different government they submitted to by eating from the other tree, they lost their right to eat from that Tree and also lost the life-giving power represented by that Tree that could have given them eternal life.
There is evidence that this Tree of Life actually represents Jesus Himself. As with many things in the spiritual realm and in heaven's perspective, there are multiple meanings and overlapping concepts that can quickly become confusing in our very limited ability to grasp eternal truths. Yet if we consider carefully the clues it is clear that everything described about the Tree of Life are things that describe what Jesus is to us. He is the Vine, the Root out of the dry ground, the Bread of Life, the Water of Life; His Spirit produces the fruit of life; He is the Life and Light, and to know Him and His Father is defined as Eternal life itself. Jesus said that if we want life we must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. It sometimes can sound like confusing metaphors, but it is clear that God has appointed Jesus as the focal point through which everyone is to receive life as they chose to embrace it.
One last thing, and this raises a lot more questions. What does it mean to wash our robes so that we may enjoy this right to the Tree of Life? That is a question that is maybe too involved to address here. But it is a most vital question to ask and to keep asking over and over. If we want to enter into life it is extremely important that we do not ignore whatever it means to have our robes washed. And although much of what I was taught and assumed about this concept has come under serious scrutiny in my thinking throughout recent years, it is still vitally important that I do not ignore an experiential knowledge of whatever it means to wash my robe so that I can receive the right to feast on that Tree. I think it is also important to remember that not only does that Tree produce fruits of heavenly origin, but it also provides healing leaves that we desperately need for the sickness and wounds and scars that we all have experienced.
Jesus, wash my robe and prepare me so that I can walk through those gates and have You lead me to that Tree that reflects the very essence of who You are to me. Cleanse me of all resistance to Your work in me so that my character may become free of all consumable material so I can be safe and even thrive in the consuming fire of Your presence.