LOVE OTHERS OR CLAIM RIGHTS? Emerging from Pandemic

Starting points to consider for emergence from the ‘Pandemic’

As our society begins to emerge from Pandemic shutdown, Christians are asking the same question as everyone else: what ‘stance’ will I take moving forward? This covers all of life—‘church’ activities, work, play, shopping, neighborliness, and so on.

This is not the first time in history that a difference of opinion regarding one’s conduct and behavior has the potential to be highly charged. And it will certainly not be the last. Every day we experience or read about conflict between beliefs and behaviors of the cautious on one hand and the “we can do this” on the other.  Just yesterday I read a ‘rant’ on FB by a Christian believer against others who did not ‘respect’ or ‘tolerate’ her choice to enter stores without a mask. 

Parallel to a biblical story?  That situation prompted a memory of a controversy regarding behavior and attitudes that broke out almost 2000 years ago in Greece. We read about it in the Bible in First Corinthians chapter eight.  

Drawing a comparison between how to emerge from a ‘lockdown’ and how to treat food sacrificed to idols seems pretty far-fetched.  However, is there not an almost exact correspondence between differences in peoples’ attitudes towards ‘opening up’ after the pandemic and differences in peoples’ attitudes towards ‘eating food sacrificed to idols’?

Consider this Starting Point for emerging. Where do each of these two response-types start forming its personal approach? It seems that one starts with love /care for others, while the other starts with personal rights. I suggest for our consideration that the Bible encourages us to let love for others override our personal rights. Let’s explore this passage together. 

The biblical situation & ours. In the first century some Christians in the city of Corinth were ‘horrified’ at other Christians for their participation in the Roman habit of treating food and beverages sacrificed to idols as little more than ‘take out’ (Chapter 8, particularly verses 4, 7, 11). In 2020 some Christians are ‘horrified’ at other Christians for flaunting Pandemic guidelines with regard to taking health precautions such as ‘social distancing’, ‘wearing masks’, and no ‘group singing’ (possibly creating aerosolized droplets with virus).

What’s the science?  To those early Christians Paul wrote that idols were not real, so therefore there was no real danger (8:4-6). Is the Covid-virus Pandemic analagous? Is it also ‘not real’ and therefore no real danger? The science is still inconclusive. Until there is certainty, I suggest we need to be asking ourselves: will our personal strategy start with personal rights or with care / love for others?

What’s it worth? Then Paul wrote, “food will not commend us to God.” That is, since there are no ‘rewards’ with God, eating special food or eating and drinking in a special way does not gain us anything before God, nor does not doing it lose us anything (8:7-8). Does congregating without limits, going maskless and singing together gain us anything with God? Does not doing so deprive us of anything with God (others may counter with Hebrews 10:25)?

What’s my right?  Now Paul pivots to rights. “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Did believers in Corinth have the right to treat idol sacrifices as ‘take out’? From Paul’s comments it seems he thought they did (8:9-11).  Do believers today have the right to congregate freely, go maskless and sing together? There are ongoing legal arguments for and against, depending on how strictly governments follow their mandate (such as legally spelled out emergency powers). We are still waiting for a conclusive Supreme Court ruling. In the meantime, is our primary concern ourself and our rights or our love for others?

What’s a loving response?  Paul appears to conclude his advice by differentiating between rights and freedom. This is key. Paul had previously written to the Galatian church that “Christ set us free for freedom” (Galatians 5:1). John recalls Christ telling the Jews that “If you know the truth the truth will set you free . . . and if Christ set us free we are free indeed” (8:36). For people living in slavery to our own desires and sin, much less to an oppressive government, news of freedom is always welcome. We in this country are the envy of the whole world for our liberty and freedom.  And we Christian believers even more so. We will not surrender those easily.

What is the difference between freedom and rights? Love (agape). The main difference in the kind of freedom promised by Jesus is that it includes loving and caring for others. Love is not necessary to individual rights. Rights seem to become more important to us, be brandished, when our freedom is attacked.

So, it all hinges on how our response is viewed by God (8:3). We must recognize that Paul told the Corinthian believers that it was really sin not to love others more than ourself and our ‘rights’ (8:12). Why?

Because, as John spelled out in his first Epistle, God in Christ first loved us, freedom must embrace love for others. In fact, we would not know freedom, we would not be free, if He had not first loved us (1 John 3:7-21).

Think about it. Even our American civil rights as conceived by our Founding Fathers seem to imply care for others as well. Remember being taught in elementary school that our rights, to swing our fists for example, end at the point they might reach another’s nose?

Conclusion.  Love others or claim my rights? I end this consideration as Paul did: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (8:13). And we could add: “therefore, I will only congregate and sing insofar as I am loving my brothers and sisters.”

This is not a command, but we implore you to consider it in light of Scripture.

About dbporter

Dan Porter, living in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Married to Bonnie, an artist. We have three grown sons, all married to wonderful women, and in turn have eight children.
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