Galatians 3:26 – 28
26 for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. 27 For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
12 For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink. 14 Indeed, the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. 19 And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable. 23 And those parts of the body that we consider less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unrespectable parts are treated with greater respect, 24 which our respectable parts do not need. Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, 25 so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. 26 So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Galatians 3:26-29 is simultaneously a wonderful passage and one which potentially irritates. Paul, the author, says we Christians are all “sons.” Some people react to the passage with joy. Others ask, “Why can’t God use a gender neutral word here?” Recently, one of my pastors preached on Galatians 3:25-4:3. He noted that Paul chose gendered language – “sons” – to make a point here: we are all equal heirs of God. Some might complain that he didn’t say “sons and daughters.” In the 1st century, daughters were not equal, and they were not heirs. If Paul had written that we are all sons and daughters, he would have conveyed that we are all children of God, but not specifically that we are equals and heirs. I believe God is trying to convey strongly through Paul that men and women are equals and heirs. And an added bonus of calling us “sons” is that it assures us that we are in the image of the God who calls Himself “Father.” Being female does not exempt (or exclude) women from inheritance and resemblance or correspondence to God.
But this passage is about more than gender; it also addresses the identity of other people who might doubt their status before God. Paul is saying that ALL Christians (those baptized into Christ Jesus by faith), regardless of race, social standing and gender, are equals and heirs. They all hold the status of being “sons” and “Abraham’s seed.” This might also offend all non-Jews. But again, the point is to equalize and to entitle us all to the same inheritance. And an added bonus of calling us “Abraham’s seed” is that it assures those of us non-Jews that Jesus is our Messiah, too. That is wonderful news!
In his sermon, my pastor pointed out that elsewhere Paul calls the whole Church (all believers) the “bride” of Christ. When men complained to him about the “feminized church,” and not wanting that image applied to themselves, he told them they needed to get over it. Paul was making the point that all believers are recipients of Christ’s covenant love and all believers must submit to Christ. Being male does not exempt men from submission!
But, back to Galatians, it is not simply a declaration of our equality but of our unity. . . a diverse body of new creatures that are not only all “sons” but all “one.” Wow! That’s really a lovely idea. But if I stop and think about earthly reality, or if I read Galatians closely, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, I realize this oneness is very hard to achieve. It is evident within the pages of the New Testament that the early church struggled to BE one and to view one another as equals. This may sound familiar to a lot of us; many of us are familiar with and saddened by the ethnic, class, theological and many other divisions in the Church today.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the image of a body with many parts to expand on this idea of being one. Paul says that just as the many parts of the human body form a unified body, but each part has a different function, so it is in the “body of Christ.” In Galatians 3, Paul said that all Christians have been baptized into Christ. Thus, in the body of Christ, we see Christ as head united with His Church which is comprised of many diverse but equal members.
Unity is hard even in homogeneous groups. Jesus had a band of twelve Jewish male disciples, but even though they were not a diverse group, they struggled with jealous competition with one another. (Mark 3:13-19, 10:35-45) One of the challenges to unity in a diverse body is to see others who are different as equals. But there is hope for the diverse Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is in this Body and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to do all that God commands us to do. (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 which is the passage prior to the one cited above about the Body of Christ.) Paul wrote this passage in 1 Corinthians, moved by the Holy Spirit, to teach us how to live not only as a unified Body of Christ, but as people who see fellow Christians as equals and as indispensable members of the same body. This means that no part sees themselves as superior to another part or as not needing the ministry of that other member. It also means that no part sees themselves as inferior to the others and unnecessary. This passage has implications for the value of each member, their gifts and their ministry. It also has profound implications for how we view men and women in the Church.
Together, these passages say that all the different members of Christ (all Christians) are equal heirs, useful to the whole body and united into one body now and for eternity. Each member is valued, indispensable, and worthy of love, honor, and protection. Whatever men and women (and every other demographic category can be inserted here as well) contribute to the Church, their contribution is valued by God and must be valued by us individually and in our churches. God created this diversity. I wrote over a year ago about how God designed marriage to be a union of equal and corresponding (in His Image), but different parts. Here again in His Church we see that He has designed the Church to be a unified body of equal and corresponding (all in His image), but different parts. And He teaches us through Paul that these differences are vitally important. Without these different parts, “where would the hearing be, or the sense of smell?”
Over the next several posts, I will be looking at the passages which specify roles for men and women in the Church through this lens of diverse gifts and roles and the critical importance of those gifts and roles. Perhaps we will find those passages, too, are saying all the different people are equally sons or that all these equal persons are one. I am convinced that a union of diverse, equal persons is exactly what God wants – a union of members willing to fulfill a diversity of ministries for the building up of the whole body.