“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This is one of the great verses in Galatians, and really in the whole of the Scriptures, establishing the absolute equality of value of all people before God. Before the throne of God everyone is on an equal footing. No one has more of a claim to be there than anyone else. No one has any advantage over anyone else because of who they are or what their particular heritage is. The ground at the foot of the cross is level.
Notice, though, that I didn’t say this verse speaks to merely the equality of all people. I said very intentionally that it speaks to the equality of value of all people. Today our culture likes the word and the idea of equality, but there is a fundamental confusion about what exactly it means, resulting in a number of conflicting trends.
When we talk about equality, what exactly do we mean? This is a bigger, more complicated question that it seems at first glance. There are different kinds of equality, and they are not all equal in scope or impact. There is the equality of value I have already mentioned. By this I mean that all people are possessed of an equal value. No one person is any more valuable than anyone else. There are no factors external or internal that renders someone of less worth than the person next to her. This kind of equality is arguably what the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they wrote that “all men [and by ‘men,’ they meant ‘people’] are created equal.” It is the equality that stands opposed to racism in all of its forms.
There is also an equality of outcome. This is the goal of communism and socialism more generally. Under an equality of outcome, all people are expected to receive the same things in life no matter what their circumstances are. While this idea sounds noble and fair in theory, and has many backers in our own country, in practice it quickly breaks down as it becomes apparent that the only way of achieving such an equality as this is to appeal to whatever is the lowest common denominator among people.
Under a system of equality of outcome, the highest level of achievement possible is going to be on par with whatever the laziest, most incapable member of society is willing to muster. And, when people who are harder working and more capable see that they are receiving the same thing as folks who aren’t working nearly as hard as they are, eventually they stop working so hard because they know their extra effort will not be rewarded or recognized. Pushed out to a societal scale, the consequences of this are devastating.
Ultimately, pursuing this kind of equality on a national level breaks the spirit and character of a people in ways that are very hard to restore later on down the road. It often leads to the fostering of a black market economy and culture that exists illegally alongside the official one, but where hard work and dedication can actually pay off.
A third type of equality is an equality of role. The idea here is that no one person is filling a role in society or a family or an organization that cannot also be filled by someone else. Everyone is replaceable. Everyone is interchangeable. One of the slogans that undergirds this kind of equality is that you can be anything you want to be if you will only work hard and put your mind to it. Under this kind of equality people are often encouraged to follow their heart and be who they really are. Don’t let barriers or stereotypes or anything else get in your way!
Again, this can be made to sound noble and fair and even exciting in theory, but it starts to break down in practice as it begins to run into the walls of reality. The fact is, we weren’t all created equal in this way. Biology alone should be enough to dispel this notion of equality, but some parts of our culture today are so committed to this equality of role that they are elevating it over even the basic facts of biology.
This equality of role, though, runs hard up against the fact that different people have different ability levels and skill sets. Some are natural-born athletes, but some are not. Some are naturally inclined toward science, while others are more naturally inclined toward history, while yet others are more naturally inclined toward something else. Different people have different aptitudes and abilities and we should be okay with this. Often, what underlies a commitment to an equality of role is a spirit of jealousy. We are envious of another person’s gifts and abilities rather than delighting in them, and so we construct this theory that says we should be able to do what they can do. Non-athletes should be able to be athletes. Non-scholars should be able to be scholars. Adults should be able to be children. Men should be able to be women and vice versa. The whole thing is nonsense dressed up to look like sense.
The result of all of this is a fundamental chaos unleashed in society that leads to nothing but trouble. What Paul writes here does not call for an erasing of all distinctions in favor of uniformity from the top of society to the bottom. The kingdom of God is not uniform. God designed a beautiful diversity into His world and wants for that to be not only acknowledge, but embraced. He wants for each person to play the role for which He uniquely designed him or her to His glory and their joy.
A well-functioning, healthy society is composed of lots and lots of moving parts and pieces. Without every piece playing its part, the whole thing does not work like it should. The kind of equality God designed into His world is an equality of value. Every part matters no matter how big or how small, how obviously important or seemingly unimportant. When we can get this truth planted deeply in our hearts and minds, jettisoning the jealousy that undergirds the false notions of equality of outcome and role, the result will be a society that functions like it was designed and where each part is confident in itself and celebrated for the unique contribution it makes. This is what kingdom life is like. It’s how the church should work. And when we can take it more broadly than that, the world will be a better place too.