These days, we often hear things like, “I know my rights” or “I don’t have to take that” or “You can’t do that to me”. Many people believe that it is a badge of honor, something to be proud of that they stand up for their rights. Many arguments, even fights, occur because we make sure that no one is taking advantage of us. Jesus, however, set a much different example for us. The Apostle Paul set a pretty good example in that regard as well. I need to point out that both Jesus and Paul took offense at some things. Neither of them was reluctant or afraid to stand up for what is right. Both of them were willing to be assertive if the greater good for all was dependent on their being assertive. It is of great importance to the Christian to know when to be assertive and when to graciously lay down our rights.
Romans 15:1-3 tells us how to be discerning in this area, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself.”
(NASU) Jesus is our best example of laying down personal rights. No one else has done anything that remotely compares to what He did. He gave up a glorious existence in order live a very primitive life with only the basic necessities. That life would end in great humiliation, pain, and suffering. Even if the same exact things happened to us, there would still be no comparison because He was totally innocent. Each of us actually deserves everything that was done to Him. In addition, His perfect fellowship with God the Father was broken because of our wrongdoing. That perfect unbroken fellowship could never be taken away from us because we never had it to begin with. Christ did not live to please Himself and neither should we.
Verse one of Romans 15 may at first glance seem to be telling us that we are to be men pleasers. Verse two and the rest of Scripture tells us that this is not the case. A closer reading of verse one tells us we are not to focus on pleasing ourselves only. Pleasing ourselves is not necessarily bad except when it results in something bad for us or others, which it often does. Verse three tells us that Jesus did not live to please Himself. The balance of Scripture plainly states that everything Jesus did was to please His Father. That seems like a pretty good starting point for us also. Verse two tells us to please others but it also clearly states that this pleasing of others is for a specific purpose. When we lay down our rights by not focusing on pleasing ourselves and rather focus on pleasing others it ought to be for their edification.
A study of the underlying Greek word which we have translated as “edification” reveals that this purpose is for building or constructing. It literally means “to build a home” but it also has a sacred or spiritual connotation. Thus, a reasonable interpretation is that we are to lay down our rights (please others) not so that they get their way but so that a sacred building will be constructed. The rest of Scripture brings two examples to mind: the construction of a suitable dwelling for the Holy Spirit in their person and/or the construction of the church, the body of Christ. It seems to me that Romans 15:1-3 has both in mind. We are called to lay down our rights, but not mindlessly, but rather with divine purposes in mind.