Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fighting for Our Rights and Philippians 2:6-7

In a world that has grown ambivalent about many things, there is one thing we care passionately about – our rights. In Australia, there is a move to introduce a bill of rights. Equal rights has been with us, in many shapes and forms, for some time now. And it still finds its way into conversations, newspaper articles and job descriptions. We believe we have a right to many things – marriage, children, employment, privacy, education, freedom of speech – not to mention the little things like good customer service. We’re very fond of telling people what are rights are and causing a fuss if anyone seems to infringe them.

Now I have nothing against trying to secure equal rights for people. I believe one of the things that God wants us to do is speak out against injustice – and often this will mean standing up for people’s rights.

I do, however, have a problem with rights when they hurt or possibly may hurt other people. I’m sorry, but abortion is not a right. Nor is adoption. I also have a problem with the attitude that says everybody should have a right to everything. Well no, actually I don’t think they should. Not everybody gets want they want. It’s called life.

I also think that maybe we’re holding onto our individual rights a bit too zealously. And maybe, just maybe, there would be nothing wrong with letting some of them go. That view doesn’t tend to go down too well in today’s world. If you have a right to something, you’re meant to make sure that you get it. If somebody decides not to fight for their rights, they’re almost looked down on or seen as weak. ‘Do something, you have rights, you know,’ is a comment they’re more than likely to hear.

It’s funny, because it’s only now, halfway into this article, that I have just remembered what I have on my bin. I have one of those stickers from the 2007 Australian election that says ‘Your Rights at Work’. There’s also a similar sticker on the ceiling of my boys’ bedroom. (Don’t ask me how it got there, because I still haven’t figured it out. I believe they put it there more for the thrill of getting it on the ceiling, rather than any deep desire to promote the message.) And so I’ve been influenced by the whole ‘rights’ thing as well.

The other day I received very poor customer service from a pizza place. I was angry. Not just because of the inconvenience of everything that happened, but because I felt like I had a right to be angry. I deserve good customer service. I shouldn’t be treated like this. When I pay for a pizza, I have a right to expect what I ordered, delivered on time and sincere apologies for any inconvenience. And there was no way that I wasn’t going to have my say about it. I even wrote to Domino’s and complained. Not that I received an answer. And I’m not that happy about that either. Surely I have the right to expect at least some sort of response?

This belief that we have a right to things is very hard to lose. And some people would say why should we? We’re meant to stick up for our rights, aren’t we?

Well, the reason this issue came into my mind is because I have been looking at the Christological hymn in Philippians 2:5-11. I’ll include it here, so you know what I’m talking about.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

There’s a lot of different views about what many of the words used in this hymn mean. One of the words is ‘harpagmon’, found in 2:6. Does it mean he didn’t see equality with God as something to be seized, something to be guarded or something to exploit? Another word is found in 2:7, with the word ‘kenoo’. It means to make empty, but how exactly did Jesus empty himself?

There’s not really the room here to go into a detailed discussion of what they might mean. But I do think this passage makes one thing very clear. Jesus Christ wasn’t too interested in knowing and fighting for his rights.

He was in the form of God. We keep talking about all the rights that individuals have. Well God has even more rights. If Jesus was a person in the 21st century western world, he might have said something like this. ‘Seriously, God, you want me to go down there as a human. I have rights, you know.’ To which God might have replied, ‘I know you do. But I want you to give them up anyway.’

And the great thing is he did. He had rights and privileges as God, but He gave them up when he took on the form of a human (or servant or slave, depending which version of 2:7 you read.) And not only did he give up his rights as God by simply becoming human, but he didn’t push for them when he was human. Jesus could have demanded that people bow down and worship him. He could have insisted that 12 legions of angels come to his rescue when he was being arrested. He didn’t.

Jesus Christ was prepared to give up his rights. Maybe we should be at least a little bit more ready to do the same.

(Image details - Entkleidung Christi by El Greco, 1590-1595. Image is in the public domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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