Equal Status in Christ

Gordon MackleyPosted on Tuesday, 2nd January, 2018 by Gordon Mackley (based on his talk in church on Sunday morning 24th December).


Galatians 3:23 – 4:7

‘Thank God that I am a Jew and not a Gentile, that I am free and not a slave and that I am a man and not a woman.’

This is from a daily traditional Judaistic blessing said, not surprisingly, by Jewish men. I shall refer to that later.

This passage is part of Paul’s letter to Galatia. This could be a church or many churches in part of a (not precisely agreed) area known as Galatia (in modern day Turkey) or even a certain group of people. All this is subject to disagreement but that is not my interest in this blog entry. The focus here is not in the background but in the message conveyed.

To whomsoever precisely it was written they were clearly a mixed collection of Jews and Gentiles, men and women. As well as free people there would probably have been slaves who may have been both Jewish and Gentile although many of these would have been more like ‘bonded servants’ paying off debts rather than the racial slaves of later (‘Christian’) colonising countries.

Part of Paul’s long standing problem with this particular group was that they had great difficulty with the idea of being saved by grace alone (a problem which has continued with many Christians to this day). Hence the Jewish believers were being persuaded to go back to Torah (Law) keeping with Gentiles going back to previous pagan beliefs.

Paul addresses the Torah (Law) keeping to which some Jews wished to revert, head on using the analogy of children with a guardian;

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Note Paul’s use of ‘justified by faith’ which Christ has brought as opposed to keeping Torah which applied previously but not now. We are no longer ‘under the guardian’ of Torah.

Paul hammers this home with:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

This is one of Paul’s favourite expressions; that Christ is in us, but that we also put on Christ like an outer garment over our previous self.

That we are all ‘children of God’ should really be good news about which we should never cease to shout!

Looking at verse 28, Paul may have been thinking of the prayer with which I started when he wrote this;

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

‘Free and slave’ is self-explanatory. Gentiles and Jews both had slaves although in the latter case as stated especially if fellow Jews, they tended to be those who worked as bond servants to pay off debts.

‘Jew and Gentile’ is Jew and any non-Jew. This may seem very reasonable to us but was anathema to many Jews who regarded themselves as special because they were ‘God’s chosen people”. They failed to realise that God chose them because they were not special.

‘The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you’.
Deuteronomy 7:7

Jews would prefer a scripture such as:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
Hosea 11:1

So Israel was God’s son and by analogy Jews or Israelites were God’s children. By Jewish thought, Gentiles (non-Jews) were not children of God like Jews.

‘Nor is there male and female’. In regard to the Gentile world, in Greek / Roman culture women had a status only slightly higher than slaves; their job was only to bear and look after children.

What about Judaism? Paul is himself (very) Jewish.
Here we should note the different wording. The Greek does not translate as ‘neither … nor’ as in the other two examples (although some versions do inaccurately render it that way) but male and female. Paul is a good Greek writer and we can be certain therefore that the different wording in the Greek is by deliberate choice to emphasise a particular meaning.

To understand this we need to go back to the very beginning of the Bible narrative and consider two scriptures:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

Note the phrase ‘male and female’ included here as a pairing.

In that section we normally refer to as the Fall:

To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Genesis 3: 16

Judaism interpreted part 2 (men ruling over women) as a directing action by God (as many Christians have since) in the same way as part 1 (pain in childbirth) rather than a prophetic statement of what would happen. Putting that together with part 1, women exclusively had to look after children. This meant that they could not recite prayers at all the appointed times which was a requirement in order to practice public religious duties. These duties therefore were restricted to the men. This is not to say that women’s status in Judaism was as poor as in Greek / Roman culture (or indeed in early 19th century UK culture) but their status in formal religion was definitely inferior.

However Paul is saying that in a Christian Community: Gentiles, Jews, slaves, free people, men and women all have equal status in Christ. That did not mean that the Christians then immediately freed slaves or that all Christian men became what we might call ‘new men’ nor, I suspect, did all Jewish Christians become best friends with all Gentile ones; but Paul states here what the standard should be. We should reflect on what equal status in Christ might mean? Can it possibly still involve a different status between men and women in public formal religious worship as in Judaism. If that is a correct interpretation we should also logically accept that there should remain a difference between Gentile men and Jewish men in regard to the same activity.

If we know some of our own history we might reflect on how well the organised church has done in regard to this scripture in the last 2000 years. Sadly it not only discriminated against Jews and other races but actively persecuted them in many places and at many times. Martin Luther actually wrote a book so anti-semitic that it was quoted as moral support by the Nazis. The church has supported organised racial slavery. Many parts of it continue to discriminate against women in regard to public worship to this day.

Hopefully we shall do better corporately but whatever has happened in the organised church over the years, the really good news is spelled out again Chapter 4

3 So also, when we were under age (before we were Christians), we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. (We followed other beliefs – pagan gods of one sort or another or followed ritualistic rules and neither of these ended 2000 years ago!)
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

The Greek here is complex. God sent a Jewish man (‘under the law’) born of a woman (Judaism tended to refer to a man as a “father’s son” so here God’s son is not just a son of a father but ‘born of a woman’ (as we all are, but presumably as God’s son did not have to be) to redeem those under the law i.e. Jews so that through the Jews (or at least one Jew) we (Gentiles) might be taken into spiritual sonship.

The Greek here translated as ‘adoption’ does not in any way infer inferiority to the racial sonship of Jews described in the Old Testament. We are real sons (and daughters) but just in a different way to that relationship of Jews to God in the Old Testament.

Romans 11:17 gives us the analogy of a ‘wild olive’ (Gentiles) grafted on to a ‘cultivated olive’ (Jews). The result is one whole new tree growing and producing olives together.

26 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus”!

Note again the word, ‘all’: men, women, free, slave, Jew, Gentile.

Faith in Christ Jesus, believing that he is the Son of God, the anointed One, the Messiah, makes us children of God; His sons and daughters! The word Gospel literally means good news and this really is Good News!

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”, as Paul and Silas said to the prison-keeper in Philippi (Acts 16:31).

“You are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus”, adds Paul here!

We are true spiritual sons (and daughters) of the God of Universe because He has chosen to make it so. We have the proof of the Holy Spirit by which we have a relationship with God. We can call God ‘abba’ Aramaic for ‘dad’. That we can use such a title for the Creator and sustainer of the universe is awesome and a claim made by no other faith.

The principle of Christianity here sets the religion apart from others and it is unfortunate that it has often not been fully taken on board by the organisations of the world wide churches since, but we really do need to take it on board very seriously as part of the Gospel we need to pass on to those who have not yet heard or understood it.

13…for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’
Romans 10

Let us all have beautiful feet!


Lord, we ask forgiveness for the false limits on You we sometimes try to impose.
Help us to see people’s differences as an opportunity, not as a threat, and that love of neighbour expands our horizons, whereas hatred diminishes them. Help us to want to live together in harmony and not in conflict, and to learn to serve you in the peace and freedom of your kingdom.
Help us to see Christ in every person we meet, and to be aware that when we reject anyone we reject Christ himself.
Help us as your fellowship in this church to be an example of the wideness of your mercy and to see that all are needed if it is to be truly the body of Christ.

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