A number of years ago one of the credit card companies had a commercial that portrayed some of the benefits of being a member in their credit card club. The tag line at the end of the commercial was “Membership has its privileges.” We have often confused the ideas of rights and privileges these days. In the larger sense rights are granted by God and should be available to all people. Privileges are granted by governments. Those who would seek to take away rights will eventually answer to God. Those who would take away privileges will deal with the state.
Paul had entered Philippi bringing the gospel to Europe. Philippi was a Roman colony and the people there loved and respected their Roman privileges. When Paul upset the “natural order” by freeing a slave girl from a demon, the privileged class swung into action and got Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into jail for advocating that which was unlawful for Romans to do. The next day, after an amazing night, the magistrates sent a note to the jailer telling him to release them, perhaps believing that they had learned their lesson. “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.’” (Acts 16:37)
Why would Paul demand that their privileges as Romans be respected? It seems to out of character for Paul, who willingly endured beatings and stonings to make a big deal of things in this case. The key to understanding why is that they were put in jail for doing something that Romans couldn’t do. I imagine that Paul and Silas didn’t argue for their privilege at the time because it never would have been accepted in the frenzy of that moment. However, once cooler heads prevailed, Paul’s demand that his privileges as a Roman citizen be recognized told the people of Philippi one very important thing: they had been beaten and jailed contrary to the law. They were not lawbreakers for preaching the gospel, the magistrates were the lawbreakers. It was a strong message to the people of Philippi that believing in Christ was lawful for Romans.
As we go about each day, we will meet people who seek to abuse our rights as human beings and our privileges as citizens of our home countries – for me as an American. Most of the time I will endure that abuse. I will fight back against the abuse for one reason: the gospel. If that abuse would make the gospel seem invalid; if that abuse would belittle the work of Jesus Christ or make such work impossible, I will uphold my rights and my privileges. Otherwise, I would gladly endure any attacks that the name of Jesus Christ would be glorified.
Lord God, thank You for the rights we all have as human beings. In the meantime, we all have certain privileges in the countries where we live. Always keep our hearts burning to exercise our right to share Your love with others and proclaim the gospel in deeds and words.