Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 13:28-37; Galatians 3:15-29; Psalm 114; 2 Samuel 22
One of the main themes in the letter to the Galatians is that to become a Christian one was not required to first become a Jew or adhere to the requirements of Judaism. In Christ and his church, cultural divisions were to have no place. Whether one was a Jew or a Gentile did not matter. This was revolutionary, and unacceptable for some. Paul here makes it clear that equality goes even further. Not only were cultural divisions obliterated in Christ, so too were social and gender-based ones.
Humans were categorised and valued differently then, as they have been throughout human history. A daily Jewish prayer for men went: ‘Blessed be God that he did not make me a Gentile; blessed be God that he did not make me ignorant [or a slave]; blessed be God that he did not make me a woman’ (Tosefta Berakoth 7:18). Ancient Persians and Greeks, including Socrates and Plato, gave thanks that they were born a woman, a barbarian or a beast. Wars have been fought against others who were viewed as inferior to ‘us.’ We continue to make distinctions based on where people are from, their level of education, their physical looks and abilities, their mental capacity, and other arbitrary criteria. All these are rejected by Christianity.
Removing such ingrained perspectives was not easy for the first Christians, and it continues to be a struggle. Such is the power of the desire to categorise and discriminate. Paul repeatedly rejected differences in the status of various groups of people (Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 7:19; 12:13; Ephesians 2:11-13; Colossians 3:11). Gradually, the early church came to see that ‘even’ Gentiles could become Christians (Acts 11:18). Progress on slavery was slower, and with women even slower again. Yet Paul had undermined the basis for all such prejudices. One’s social status is irrelevant in the eyes of God, who views Gentiles, women, slaves, barbarians and anyone else rejected or devalued by society as equal partakers in Christ.
While differences in the roles of women and wives are retained in the New Testament, their status as people is equal to that of men. Genesis 1:27 states that humans are created in the image of God, ‘male and female’; Galatians 3:28 retains ‘and’ in the Greek, not ‘nor.’ Greek, Roman and Jewish societies viewed women as inferior and spoke of them in condescending ways, restricted their education, exploited them sexually and otherwise discriminated against them. Christians were not to act that way.
The challenge for us today is to see where we treat people differently because of arbitrary distinctions. Much remains to be done to view all people as images of God. We are all equal in our need for Christ, and we all come to him on the basis of what Jesus has done, not what we could do. Nothing about us makes us more or less deserving of the grace of God. Once in Christ there are no distinctions and we should treat all as God would. It is a small step further to see that we must do good to all people, not just those who are believers (Galatians 6:10). Christians should not be prejudiced towards others. Being equal means we are equally accountable, not that we cannot criticise one another’s behaviours and attitudes. Paul makes it clear later that those in Christ should live distinctively Christian lives (Galatians 5:19-25). What he rejects is any claim that some humans are more or less important than others in the eyes of God. This makes it wrong to treat people differently because of any arbitrary characteristic we may use to differentiate between the value of different groups of people.