Asserting Rights

Matt 5:40-41 “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

The tunic was a long, sack-like inner garment. Everyone had one, even the poor had a change of tunics. The cloak was a large, blanket-like outer garment used as a robe by day and a blanket at night. A man usually had only one of these. Jewish law allowed the tunic to be taken as a pledge, but never a cloak. Ex 22:26-27 In an occupied country, a citizen could be compelled to carry the baggage of a Roman soldier for one mile. For many, this served as a bitter reminder of Rome’s authority.

Jesus is teaching that His followers were not to insist on their ‘rights’, or dispute over them. We are not to be thinking of ourselves and what we ‘deserve’, but of the fact that we are called to serve. When an undesirable task is given us, we are to do it as a service rendered to the Lord – not as a duty to be resented. As Christians we need to remember what the Lord gave up for us, and show that attitude of forgiveness and kindness to others.
These are hard lessons. Jesus is not stressing just the outward actions, but also the disposition. A cheek turned, a cloak given, the second mile trudged with hate, resentment, or anger boiling in our hearts yields no benefits to us. 1Cor 13:1 How can we learn to live and love that way? We cannot do it by our own power, but God will allow us to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. Rom 5:5 Jesus described it in John 7:38-39. And note Paul’s statement in Romans 12:16-21

The Christian has an obligation to do what is best for his fellow man out of love and sharing what we have received from God. We are to look out for the ‘rights’ of others, use our privileges in a way to bring honor and glory to the Lord, and cause others to be ashamed of their evil ways by our conduct. Gal 5:13-14
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul describes what the Father requires of Christians: Phil 2:3-5 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus.” Does that describe your attitude? Can you lay aside your ‘rights’ that the gospel may be promoted? Is your life in line with the commands and example of Jesus Christ ?

Lesson contributed by the Church of Christ in Cincinnati,OH.

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