“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (NIV)
We live in a time where there is much debate about human rights. We rightly argue that we do have some fundamental rights. The problem is that we live in a society where other human beings similarly have rights. What happens when my rights conflict with others’ rights?
Asserting my basic rights is not the same as asserting my right to do what I like. Doing so might trample on the rights of others. Our civil authorities grapple with this very challenging issue: how can we balance the rights of some against the rights of others?
Paul faced a similar issue in his own times. Certain Christians were flaunting their freedom from the old traditional food laws. Who need them? They don’t matter anymore. Paul might essentially agree with that but what about those who have a different view? So he urges his readers to be sensitive to those who have a different opinion.
My rights do not exist in isolation. They are woven into the rights of others in the wider community. If insisting on my rights harms others, then I ought to question my insistence. If I insist on my right to drink alcohol, I ought to take into account whether it will cause difficulty for someone struggling with alcohol.
No easy answers in all this. But the words of Martin Luther are apt: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none; and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.”