The Problem of Equality
Emblazoned in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence is the phrase “all men are created equal.” It is not just written on this document; it is a part of the psyche of the American people. However, this notion of equality has also been the source of some of our countries greatest strife. Slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, Women’s Rights… all issues that stem from an inherent in-equality.
Of course it is not just a historical problem either. The debate about equality is just as heated now as it has ever been, if not more so. All one has to do is turn on any of the 24 hour news stations to hear someone decrying an apparent lack of equality occurring in our country today. Lawmakers and political pundits alike seek solutions as they discuss policy changes while lobbyists and activists list their demands, none of which will ever bring true equality. In-equality begins in the heart of a man and the only kind of change that will ever really matter is heart change.
The only reality that can change hearts is the Good News of our loving Savior. But does the gospel really have anything to say about equality? As I have thought about these things I have been greatly helped by Colossians 4:1.
You Have a Master in Heaven
Colossians 4:1 is preceded by 4 verses written to slaves, commissioning them to obey their masters in all things and trust that God has placed them where they are. These are powerful verses spurring us on to diligently trust God with the most tumultuous of circumstances. Following Colossians 4:1 is a powerful command toward continual prayerfulness. Sandwiched between these lofty truths is one verse directed toward slave masters, a position in the modern world that no longer exists-at least not openly. As a result, Colossians 4:1 is often referred to in passing with the general application to treat ones employees well.
I believe the relevance of this verse is often overlooked. Colossians 4:1 reads as follows:
Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (NASB)
From a legal, social, financial, and cultural standpoint, a slave master is more valuable than his slave. This fact is intrinsic to the institution of slavery; if one man owns another then it is not possible for the master’s property to be equal to the master. Therefore the commission Paul gives to these masters is radical. He commissions them to do two things: first to grant justice to his slaves. This principle of justice was made plane in the previous verse:
For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. (NASB) Colossians 3:25
The justice of God will be administered in the end with perfect equity and no attention paid to worldly status. This is the type of justice these masters are being called to emulate. Notice Paul does not call masters to administer justice, he calls them to grant or give justice to their slaves. In other words, this is not a command to act as a fair judge over them (which would be administering justice) but because they are equally valuable to God, masters are called to grant them fair standing before God and man.
As well, masters are called to grant equality to their slaves. This does not mean that masters must grant to all slaves an equal standing to other slaves. It means that slaves are to be equal to their masters! You can almost here the gasp in the room as this letter is read out loud at Colossae. Equality to slaves? How could that be? They are owned by their master!
As was his manner, Paul does not just call these masters to grant equality to their slaves, he gives a theological reason for their equality, “Knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” At the very heart of this epistle is the notion that Jesus Christ is the master of all things. Paul lays out the foundation for this argument in Colossians 1:15-20
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. 19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Two basic truths about our Lord are gleaned here: 1. Because Jesus is the divine image barer of God and the creator of all things, He is the supreme head and sustainer of all things. 2. Because all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus He is the preeminent head of the Church.
Throughout the rest of this letter Paul builds his argument on the supremacy of Christ in all things. In Colossians 2:8 Paul instructs the church:
”See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Why should they stay away from these unhealthy thought patterns? Because the one who is supreme over all things has filled them.
“For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”
Later on in chapter 2 Paul encourages the church to resist the legalistic practices of Judaism, asceticism, and the worship of angels because such practices are “not holding fast to the head” Colossians 2:19. In other words when Christ’s Supremacy is not central to the practices of the church, it begins to get lost in prideful legalistic pursuits. In Chapter 3 Paul begins to exhort the church to live out the doctrines of Chapters 1 and 2, presiding over this entire chapter are the first two commands in it,
1…seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
In these verses we are commanded to seek and to set our minds on the things above. Notice though, “above” is not just where heaven is, it is where Jesus is sitting at God’s right hand. If you are seeking the things above you are seeking to be surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
So when Paul reminds these slave masters that they have a Lord that is in heaven, he is calling them to a place of total surrender before Jesus. To put it another way, he is reminding them of their bond-slavery to Christ. So then there is really only one supreme master over all things, the Lord Jesus Christ and He rules all men. So then at the foot of the throne of Jesus Christ all men are equal because He is the only one that is exalted.
Equality through Christ’s Supremacy
One must observe that equality does not come from slaves being elevated to the position of their masters. Equality comes from masters being humbled to the place of slaves. I believe that this is where we loose our way. In America we seem to believe that the road to equality is through the process of exalting the lowly. The problem with this strategy is that when you exalt a man, you elevate his pride and pride will never be satisfied with equality, pride requires superiority. Equality can only come through humbling ones self before the thrown of Christ. When Christ is exalted, pride can be defeated, and men can be equal.
Of course there is no political policy that could ever accomplish this reality. But the Church can greatly impact the state of equality in our land. We must lift up our exalted Lord for the entire world to see. We must live surrendered lives to Christ. And we must walk humbly with our “exalted Head.” As we do, we will be showing the world the path toward true equality. However there is an inevitable consequence to this kind of humility. As the people of the church are humbled we will no longer find our value in our race, socio-economic status, sense of morality, or even national and regional pride. Instead as we lay aside the old self and put on the new self through salvation we will realize that:
“there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
So then we are left with only two types of people: those who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and those who have not. Either way the Master “is all and in all” and everyone is equal before His exalted thrown.