B2. Equality, Part 2: Equality in the Bible



Biblical equality of all mankind … we all must stand before God’s judgment seat … we all need God’s salvation through Jesus Christ … equality of servanthood … the mystery of Christ … reverence for Christ … the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

Biblical equality of all mankind

Despite everything we’ve said so far in contradiction to the American principle of equality, the Bible says there are certain kinds of equality that apply to all people. Solomon said, “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.” [Proverbs 22:2] We all are made by God; we all stand answerable before God both in this life and the next; and we must all stand before the throne of God at the last judgment. We must all meet our Maker.

Jacob and Esau were not created equal (as documented in Part 1 of this message), but they will be judged according to the same strict standards before the throne of God. Paul tells us “there is no distinction … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Which means we are all equally in need of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. It means we are all equally in need of the grace which God offers us “as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:23, 24]

We are all equally accountable to God, and we all (like it or not, admit it or not) must stand before his seat of judgment to be judged by his impartial and irrevocable standards. Satan does not want us to be ready for the Day of Judgment, and equality teaching is one of Satan’s tools to distract us. Equality teaching would have us comparing ourselves with our neighbor – directing our eyes accusingly at one another, rather than looking to Christ, seeking to be like Christ, and asking for Christ’s salvation. The false teaching of equality says all belief systems are of equal value; therefore if there is such a thing as a just God, he would never favor one group of people on judgment day just because they happen to have a certain set of beliefs. Satan is happy for us not to think about things like sin and judgment, and he uses equality to convince us there is no such thing; but it is to our eternal peril that we allow ourselves to become complacent. Jesus tells us:

“Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” [Luke 12:35-40]

How do we stay prepared? By being filled with the Spirit of Christ.

Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. [Romans 8:9b-11]

All believers are equally in need of that same Spirit to give us life, and to give us assurance to stand before the throne of God Almighty.

Equality among Christians

Just as there is a kind of equality across all mankind because we must all eventually meet our Maker, so there is an equality among all Christians because we find the same new life in Christ Jesus. Jesus prayed to the Father that all believers would be one:

“The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.” [John 17:22-23]

This is not an equality that allows for any pride, but demands humility – the humility of Christ himself, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Paul expresses it this way:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:4-11]

That is the equality we seek as Christians – the equality of servanthood.

Equality, the gospel, and the mystery of Christ and the church

The Bible can be surprising. While looking for more understanding about equality and inequality, we suddenly find we are following Paul’s thinking into the mystery of Christ and the church. Here is how Paul approaches the subject of inequality between husbands and wives:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. [Ephesians 5:21-33]

Many men’s and women’s Bible study groups undoubtedly have grappled with this passage in an attempt to say how the husband being “the head of the wife” is supposed to play out in practical ways: “Who washes the dishes?” “Who takes the kids to soccer practice?” etc.

But there is something of deeper spiritual significance going on here. Paul says of a man and woman being joined together and becoming one flesh: “This mystery is a profound one.” Paul likens the care of a husband for his wife to the care of Christ for the church, “that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” This is a high calling – a sacred calling!

Going back to the book of Genesis, we see that marriage between a man and a woman was given special significance from the beginning. God created Adam first, and then took a rib from Adam and created Eve from Adam’s rib. When Adam saw Eve, he said:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Then the text explains: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” [Genesis 2:23, 24]

To repeat, it says Adam and Eve became “one flesh.” Consider: That is also the relationship Jesus desires his followers to have with him! In John chapter 6, we read what Jesus said to the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” [John 6:53-58]

In other words, Jesus speaks of his believers as becoming one “flesh” with him, and thereby receiving salvation. We know now what he meant: He meant he would sacrifice his flesh (his body) on the cross, thus taking our sins upon himself. By our partaking of his body symbolically (through the sacrament of communion) we would partake of his salvation. Paul said, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” [1 Corinthians 10:16] Paul sees that the marriage of a man and woman reflects the eternal mystery of our becoming one with God’s only Son in order that Christ might present us believers as holy and without blemish before God’s presence. Similarly, a husband is to present his wife to the Lord as holy and without blemish, doing so as a representative of Christ.  And a wife is to understand that by respecting her husband she is showing reverence for Christ; she is not serving man, but God.

To bring all this back to the subject of equality: As Christians, we observe certain inequalities – in this instance the different roles of husband and wife – out of reverence for Christ. And our reverence for Christ stems from knowing that Christ died for us on the cross (he died equally for all of us), and from knowing that by obeying him we thank him for what he did, and we give glory to God the Father Almighty – to the God who has created each of us as not equal to anyone else, in order that we might each fulfill our particular roles within Christ’s church and within this world’s society, and thereby attain the particular place prepared for us in his eternal kingdom.

Lingering questions

Perhaps you are still thinking: “But surely the idea of social equality is important to Christians in America  … for example, we wouldn’t have freedom of religion without social equality, would we?”

Part of the problem here is that equality (the idea that all men are created equal) has become blurred and confused with the idea of equity (just treatment before the law for all), as discussed earlier. The other part of the problem is that the gospel message is not about either equality or equity! Luke records this incident:

One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15]

Jesus was not saying that there shouldn’t be judges and lawyers to resolve civil disputes; he was only saying such decisions were outside his assigned duties – they are not part of the gospel message. In fact, he was saying that such disputes take our eyes off the gospel message. The gospel message wants to replace grumbling with thanksgiving, finger pointing with praise, frustration with hope, nagging with peace – all this by looking to the 100% dependable actions of Jesus our Savior, rather than to the undependable actions of our neighbor or the imperfect protections of a political system.

Jesus Christ came to bring us the gospel. “Gospel” means “good news.” The good news is not that all men are created equal, and the good news is not a means of establishing an equitable society. The good news is that Jesus died to take away our sins, and our salvation is found – not in equality or any other worldly philosophy or social system – but by repentance and living in Christ.

Sometimes the distinction is difficult for American Christians to spot. For example, there exists today a ministry to college campuses called Christian Union, which sponsors campus Bible studies and Christian-related activities. Its motto is: “Developing Christian Leaders to Transform Culture.” [See www.christianunion.org.] Developing Christian leaders can’t be a bad thing, can it? And yet, after a moment’s reflection, one realizes this ministry’s aim is off target. Compare its stated goal of “transforming culture” with the stated goal of the apostle Paul:

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, … that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [Philippians 3:8-11]

Paul’s goal was never to transform Roman culture or any other culture, but to know Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Cultures – including American culture – have been dramatically transformed by the presence of Christians. But anyone who has known the presence of Christ in his or her life would not present that as a primary reason for a person to turn to Christ. It is demeaning to Christ to present him as a means toward some secular goal. To the Christian, Christ himself is the goal – a goal which exceeds all other goals in importance.

The apostle Paul had political status

“Equality” … “rights” … “entitlement” … “empowerment”: These are all words used nowadays by those wishing to stake out a claim for themselves or for their group within the body politic.

The apostle Paul could have staked out large political claims in his time. In the context of Roman society, he was “from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.” [Acts 21:39] Only a small minority of men had the privilege of being Roman citizens. It was Paul’s status as a Roman citizen that gave him the privilege to appeal to Caesar for a trial before Caesar, and so be sent to Rome and bring the gospel to Caesar’s household. It was Paul’s status as a Roman citizen that made the Roman tribune who arrested him treat him with respect. The tribune said to Paul, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” [Acts 22:28]

The apostle Paul had religious status

In the context of Judaism, Paul also had potentially large claims. He was “brought up … at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God.” [Acts 22:3] (Gamaliel was the foremost teacher in the Pharisaic branch of Judaism at the time.) Paul showed his great zeal for the Jewish faith by actively persecuting Christians up until the time of his dramatic conversion.

And in the context of the Christian community, Paul could have made claims for special status because of what he endured for the faith. Five times he received from the Jews the “forty lashes less one.” He was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, often without food and shelter, “in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from [his] own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” – and through it all he continued ministering to the needs of his many congregations. [2 Corinthians 11:26-27]

The apostle Paul counted it all as loss for Christ

But what did Paul say about all of these claims he might have made? He said, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul had found the pearl of great price, and he was sacrificing everything else in order to purchase that pearl. He declared: ”I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ.” [Philippians 3:8]

“Equality” … “rights” … “entitlement” … “empowerment” – they all are swept aside by the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.