Previously, we have discussed the tension between oneness and equality in history as well as in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. What I would like to do now is to comment on the biblical relationship between authority and equality as it exists on earth. One of the striking aspects of the biblical passages on authority is that the respect for authority is combined with a recognition of the equality between rulers and ruled. The fact that this same tendency is present between God the Father and Jesus Christ is also present in earthly institutions is worth pondering about. I would like to examine, at least briefly, the way that we find oneness and hierarchy present in human institutions that mirrors the combination of those two seemingly contrary tendencies in the relationship between the Father and Jesus Christ.
Let us first ponder the case of Ephesians 4. Ephesians 4:1-6 begins with a moving call for unity and oneness among the brethren: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” And yet immediately after this we find a discussion of offices and their purposes (to build up the church) in Ephesians 4:11-16: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
Just as is the case in church, so too we find the combination between honor and respect for authority as well as equality with regards to civil authorities, something that we find in Deuteronomy 17:14-20: “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may [prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”
It is little surprise that this tension between subordination and equality should be found in other relationships as well, as we see with husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and masters in the household codes of Ephesians 5:22- 6:9: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”
Having seen the combination of mutuality and subordination within the church, within civil government, within marriages and different generations of the same family, and as well within employment relationships, it is little surprise that this same aspect should be present in self-government, where we remind ourselves that others are our equals even as we wage spiritual warfare to bring every thought into captivity to God’s ways, as it is written in 2 Corinthians 10:1-6: “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” So it is that we see equality as well as hierarchy present in all aspects of people, and that things are in earth as they are in heaven, even if human beings naturally tend to focus on either the vertical direction or the horizontal direction rather than recognizing that both are present simultaneously and wrestling with what that means, and it is to that question that we will now turn.