We all have certain rights. In the passage we have been studying, Paul has pointed out the specific rights he has as an apostle. And yet note that he does not demand his rights. He says, "Although I have these rights, I - not everybody, but I, in my case - have willingly laid these rights aside in order that I might have the privilege of taking the Gospel to you without cost." In verse 15 and following he says he does not want anybody to misunderstand his motivations. He does not want his readers to think that he is merely complaining: "Look at how I labor, and how difficult my life is. Look at how faithful I've been as an apostle, yet you haven't paid me a single thing." Paul is not saying that at all. In fact, he considered it a great joy to be in a position in which he could labor with his hands, support himself, and have the privilege of preaching the Gospel without cost. Now, you see how this is to be applied.

At the end of yesterday’s lesson, we read that Paul claimed to have a right to the financial support of the Christian community. To support this view he gives a series of arguments. First of all, in verse 7, he deals with what I would call a universal principle. The principle is simply that the laborer is worthy of his reward. He illustrates this in different ways. He talks about a soldier. The soldier does not serve at his own expense; he has a right to be paid. He says a man who keeps a vineyard has the right to eat of its grapes when the harvest comes. He says a shepherd has a right to some of the milk of the flock. Who in the world would ever question that principle?

The first qualification for an apostle was that he be a witness of the Lord’s life and ministry. The second qualification is also defined in the first chapter of Acts. An apostle had to be a person chosen specifically by Christ himself. Now this created a problem for Paul because Paul was converted after Christ’s ascension. Paul had been around at the time of Jesus Christ, but he had not been one of the disciples that had followed him throughout the days of his earthly ministry, and certainly not from the beginning at the time of his baptism by John. There were people who, perhaps rightly on the basis of that understanding of who an apostle should be, said that Paul really was not an apostle, that he was a person who had come along later and who had made claims to some special kind of revelation, that all he was really teaching was the traditions of men and not the Gospel.

As human beings, we do have rights. Our Declaration of Independence talks about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every human being has a right to life. That is a key term. It is one of the things that is being assaulted in our time. Our founding documents speak of liberty. We believe that liberty is something that is a right given to us by God. Anybody who tries to take away liberty is fighting against God and, furthermore, is fighting against the standards by which we are willing to fight and die.

A little over twenty-five years ago, a missionary with the China Inland Mission, now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, published a book that bore the title, Have We No Rights? The author was a missionary named Mabel Williamson, and she was simply saying what the Apostle Paul says so clearly in the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians. She was saying that we do have rights. But if we are to be the servants of Jesus Christ and effective in his ministry, there are situations in which we must be willing to waive those rights for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel.