Asserting My Rights vs. Stewarding God’s Gifts


September 11, 2019

Acts 16:35-40 (NIV)

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.


In my humble opinion (IMHO) this is where Paul went wrong. Justifiably angry because of their unjust treatment, he took it a step further. Paul, Citizen of Heaven, asserted his rights as a citizen of Rome. He could have walked away as earlier Apostles did, rejoicing that he had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name. Instead, he exercised a measure of imperial power: his rights as a privileged citizen of Rome.

It is one thing to steward the power of one’s citizenship of a privileged nation on behalf of others treated unjustly. It is quite another thing to assert privilege for one’s own sake. It’s one thing to hold dual citizenship, as all followers of Jesus do. We are citizens of heaven and of the particular nation wherein we were born. It is another thing to live from both bases of power at the same time. The trouble is they are vastly divergent sources of power.

This will happen again when Paul gets to Jerusalem. He will stand on his rights as a Roman citizen in order to get himself  out of another date with death. When Paul asserts his rights as a citizen of Rome is he not entrusting himself to Rome? Regardless, his citizenship card will ultimately become his ticket to Rome where things don’t end up so well. Remember, “God gets us where he wants us, no matter the machinations.”

The whole thing feels like a massive conflict of interest to me. Why does it matter, you ask? It matters because we who are citizens of the United States of America live in the most “rights” oriented nation in the history of the World.

Are rights a bad thing? No. But it’s a short step from asserting one’s rights to claiming their entitlements.

Are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness inalienable rights . . . or are they the undeserved gifts of God?

We desperately want to answer, “Both!” I think that may be the problem. IMHO.




So how about it—are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness inalienable rights . . . or are they the undeserved gifts of God?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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  1. Thank you for giving me something to ponder! I have always questioned “Should America be the conscience of the world?” The stewardship message you linked says yes, but only with the right source of power. It goes back to the dedication of the statue of Francis Asbury in Washington during which Calvin Coolidge stated

    “The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man. Of course we can help to restrain the vicious and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reforms which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity; these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of a Divine Grace.”

  2. I like to think of myself first as a part of the family of God, but I don’t always live that out with the priority it deserves. Too often my American heritage gets in the way of God’s kingdom work through me, one of His humble servants. Maybe the main rule here is “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” There is a difference and that difference can be used for God’s glory.

  3. Regarding your question, I have always looked at life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness as inalienable rights because they are endowed by the Creator. As a Christian, I would consider these gifts of grace from a Creator that loves us because I believe in a graceful God. By calling these gifts of grace, they are by definition underserved, or it wouldn’t be grace, but an earned gift. Therefore, I would answer your question as “Both”.

    The distinction in my answer of “Both” is in the order of primacy in the question. By staying that they are inalienable rights because they are gifts of God, I declare that God came first and that our nation’s ideals of life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness are an acknowledgement of and dedication to the preservation of God’s gifts.

    And it seems to me that by a plain reading of the Declaration of Independence, the authors were thinking along the same path as I have laid here.

    Of course you, JD, are the lawyer and degreed theologian, so feel free to educate me if you see a flaws in my logic.

    In His Love,