Already, so far in this brief series of posts, we have looked at some of the combination between equality and oneness in history, in the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, and in human institutions. While there is a great deal that can be said about the combination of oneness and hierarchy, and how they appear simultaneously together, let us content ourselves for the moment with discussing some of the reasons why these two qualities belong together and what that means for us. Why is it important that the bible simultaneously calls for oneness and order and respect and honor for authority on the one hand and for equality on the other hand? We do not typically tend to think of order and equality as being a harmonious pair, and in our world and especially in the politics of the Enlightenment period and afterward, such forces have often been pitted against each other to the present-day. And it is no exaggeration to think that a great deal of the problems of our place and time exist because of a failure to harmonize order and equality and instead to pit these two worthy qualities against each other to the harm and misery of all.
We may better understand the worth of the combination of order and equality when we consider the problems of either present without the other. When we have order and authority and hierarchy without a recognition of the equality of ruler and ruled as human beings created in the image of God and subject to His ultimate authority, the problems are obvious and lamentable. Where there is authority unaccompanied by an attitude of service, we find the abuse of authority and the exploitation of others and the tyrannical exercise of that authority contrary to the well-being of others. This is precisely the sort of behavior that provokes others to rebellion. And that rebellion and anarchy is what happens when a desire for equality is unaccompanied by respect for authority and order. In a way, both tyranny and anarchy justify the opposite, in that a large amount of hostility against order provides an obvious justification for harsh actions taken against rebels, and harsh and unloving authority provides the justification for rebellion and anarchy. We may thus figure that both tyranny and anarchy alike are the enemies of a just and orderly society, and that the use of tyranny to preserve order and the use of anarchy to seek justice are alike not only misguided but actively inimical to the proclaimed goals.
How then do we go about seeking the combination of order and equality? Paul, perhaps not surprisingly, gives considerable thought to this issue in Philippians 2:1-11, where again these two qualities are joined together: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The practical political theory of the Bible is modeled quite well by these verses, and it is advice that Paul wished for his audience to take to heart. We would also do well to keep this advice close to heart. How is it that Paul urges us to attain both order as well as equality in our society? We are to cultivate being like-minded and united with those around us. We are to reject selfish ambition or conceit, to demonstrate humility by looking out not only for our own interests but also the interests of others. We are called to follow in the example of Jesus Christ, who was Himself equal to God the Father in being divine but who humbled Himself even to the point of a horrible death, but who is then rewarded by God with glory, and given a name that every knee will, by choice or not, bow before in submission. This is by no means easy to do, or else more people would do it, and it cuts against the spirit of our times, which makes it all the more important that we seek to cultivate this sort of spirit. Ultimately, the reason why we are ourselves to both recognize our equality with other beings under God and to cultivate an attitude of honor and respect and love for others is that by doing so we become more like Jesus Christ. And what could be better than that?
He who is most exalted is the most humble. God only walks with the humble (Micah 6:8) and two cannot walk together except they are in agreement (Amos 3:3); therefore, God reveals Himself as humble. Christ affirmed this by showing that the greatest of all would be servants (Matthew 20:27). The robe that the high priest wore was hemmed at the bottom by bells alternating with pommogranates. The Hebrew meaning for this fruit defines it as “upright and erect.” Their being places at the lowest point of the garment signified the glory and nobility of humility.
God works in ways that are contrary to the corrupt and unredeemed mind, indeed.