Assertive, Right?

When to Waive, When to Claim 

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 9:12b

Bless this food we’re about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

We opened our eyes to find this food, these four burgers, beside us in the hands of our waitress.

Here you are, folks. Anything else I can get for you?

Don’t think so. It all looks great. 

We dug in. Three of four diners were well- pleased. One was not.

They got it wrong, Hon, I sighed. This is well done, not medium. And I asked them to hold the mayo, but it’s in there. Should I say something?

You could, Jim shrugged. You have a right to get what you ordered. We’re paying for it. 

Why I didn’t say anything. 

We do not find happiness by being assertive…The Scriptures don’t teach us to be assertive. The Scriptures teach us—and this is remarkable—the Scriptures teach us to be submissive. This is not a popular idea. 

That from Rich Mullins; still spot-on, spoken decades ago. Culture says, Stand up for your rights. Assert yourself. Never surrender. 

Submission is a dirty word, I learned looking for online images just now, and yielding-waiving one’s rights- is anathema.

In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul gives-and lives-two principals that are as counter-cultural now as they were then. He upends our upside-down wisdom about when to demand rights and when to surrender them. Paul wrote to a church body loaded with free-loaders. 

So, for the public good and for the sake of the gospel, he commands that they work. He demands the right, not for himself, but for the greater group. Work must precede bread. The workers among the church have a right to demand that the idle among them work not mooch.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness… For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (vv. 6-10). 

Before and after describes waiving his own right, Paul claims the right. He justly demands that each man work for his own bread. Implicit is the right that hard-workers have to say no to feeding free-loaders. Love for the welfare of the idle is explicit: Warn him as a brother. 

Sandwiched between a command to work and naming the right he has to share bread with those he serves, Paul waives that very right. Out of love for his brothers and sisters and for the sake of the gospel, he yielded. He didn’t insist.

It’s as if your pastor or a church missionary came for lunch and insisted on leaving a $20 on the table. They have the right to a free lunch. More than a free lunch. But Paul worked harder than he had to and took less than he had a right to, all for the privilege of sharing the gospel with a spotless witness. To give you, he explained, an example to imitate.

Justice or mercy: Should I claim my rights or let them go?

Sometimes it’s really hard to know. Should you insist your your friend pay you back as she promised at the restaurant? Should you demand the school board enforce its rule, that all students have a right to bully-free school bus ride? Do you force the issue if your child is bullied?

And, do you insist that the bully’s single parent, who’s gone-you happen to know-before the bus comes, change his schedule? Or do you change yours, mercy to a single parent?

So we pray and seek God’s wisdom. There are principles, too. John Piper offers these three guidelines to help us decide when we should claim and when we should wave our rights. 

  1. Know your personality well and be vigilant not to indulge your bent carelessly. If you are naturally merciful, consider justice seriously. If you are naturally judicial, consider mercy seriously. We are very likely to indulge our natural bent at the expense of love.
  2. The more personal and private a matter is, the more likely surrendering rights will be the loving way. But the more communal and public a matter is, the more likely demanding rights will be the loving way. The reason for this is that, in public, demanding rights can be seen as a way of caring for others, not just yourself; but in private a demanded right will almost surely communicate self-aggrandizement, and a failure to treasure Christ above all.
  3. Be sure in either case—loving with mercy, or loving with justice—that your burden is the greatest good for the greatest number. That is, seek to help the greatest number enjoy making much of Christ forever.

I’m glad I didn’t return the burger. 

The waitress had just seen us pray. I waived my right to the burger I ordered so that Christian would not be connected with complainer. For me on that night, a browner burger with mayo was well worth a witness to our waitress. For you, on a different day, it might be right to claim your right.

Culture shouts, Take every cent your owed. Tap the system-you’re entitled. Get all that you’ve got coming to you.

But Christ beckons, Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.