God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
1 Corinthians 12.24-25
The Great Equalizer
Long before Marx published The Communist Manifesto, Early Christians embraced its principles of equality and personal sacrifice for common good. Acts 2.45 reports, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” The Apostles heartily advocated an equal opportunity policy that entitled anyone to God’s grace without regard to gender, ethnicity, or class. In Acts 10, Peter has an epiphany that removes any doubt “God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (v34-35) Paul writes in Galatians 3.28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In a world run on the machinery of class, gender, and ethnic distinctions, such notions were viewed as a recipe for anarchy. Convincing believers to combine assets and ignore cultural advantages required deftness, because the Church was doing something no one ever attempted: taking care of its own without prejudice. Not until Marx would anyone try to replicate this structure. But Marx goofed by leveling societies to the ground—forcing upper classes join the peasant masses—while the Church flourished by getting it right. Rather than pull people down, Early Christians trusted God’s grace to lift the lowly and humble the proud to stand as equals. James 1.9-10 says, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted; but the rich, in that he is made low.” Paul supports this in 1 Corinthians 12, portraying God as The Great Equalizer. “He gives greater honor to the parts that lack it, so there should be no division in the body.”
The Apostles promulgated believer equality for pragmatic reasons. Promoting philosophical ideals was less urgent than keeping far-flung believers unified in thought and practice. In their minds, equality wasn’t an objective. It was a vital necessity. Paul spells this out when he says God places greater status on lesser members to offset divisions hindering Christians' equal concern for each other. From the beginning, the Church was meant to be a safe, secure place where no one is beneath care or above concern. Its doors swing open to welcome anyone. Yet crossing its portals requires everyone to leave personal status outside. Stripped of social favor or stigmatization, wealth or poverty, education or ignorance, and dozens of other differentiators, believers are free to express and address needs they’d otherwise overlook.
This is what Romans 15.1 means by admonishing us: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” We never hold ourselves in such high regard we won’t help others struggling with issues we overcame long ago. We resist impulses to criticize believers whose behaviors don’t conform to ours, remembering Paul’s words in Romans 8.1: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We heed Jude’s counsel: “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith... Keep yourselves in God’s love…. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (v20-23) Even the most repugnant, corrupt behavior merits mercy. God honors those who lack in our eyes. And He does it so we can care for them as equals, building up one another together. Mutual growth and concern are why God ordains equality.
The Body of Christ doesn’t need us to protect it from harm or defend its integrity. That’s God’s job. The Church doesn’t need us to manage its mission or steer its direction. Its course is set, Christ is its Pilot, and it will sail where He leads, with or without us. Instead of taking care of the Church, we’ve been given the responsibility of taking care of each other. We are the Church. When we focus our concern on one another as equals, the Church’s needs are met.
The newest, most naïve Christian and the most experienced, wisest one are no different. The highest prelate needs as much prayer and support as the lowliest parishioner. You may be far ahead of me in your Christian walk, yet there’s no shame in asking you to pause and help me catch up. You may be rich, famous, and powerful; I may be poor, invisible, and insignificant. But in Christ, we’re equals. When you turn to me, your advantages are inconsequential. I’m concerned for you as my brother or sister. When I turn to you, God’s grace compensates for my shortcomings. I can count on your concern for me. Nothing in the world, the Church, or our hearts should outweigh taking care of one another. It’s our privilege as equals.
Everyone is equal in the Body of Christ; we show equal concern for all.
(Tomorrow: Stay on the Road)