When you think about social action, how much does ‘equality’ factor into your thinking? I suspect for many of us, the idea that ‘we have so much and they have so little’ is a strong motivator. We see the discrepancy and work to balance it out. In encouraging the Corinthians to contribute to an offering for poor Christians, Paul talks about equality as the purpose of this social action. So earlier this year, I thought it might be worth exploring his notion of equality. This is the first of three posts on the issue.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
In this post, I’ll consider the meaning of equality. Paul clarifies it in three ways: v13 explains what equality is not; v.14 explains what it is; v.15 refines this further with a quote from Exodus 16.
Firstly then, in v.13 Paul explains that equality is not that some might be relieved while others are hard pressed: it is not the idea of pulling one down in order to prop the other up. Rather, v.14 explains that the goal is that the plenty of some should supply the needs of those who have less. In this scenario, everyone’s needs are met. Note that 8:15 leaves room for difference within this: some have much and some have little. The point is not the difference, however, but that everyone has enough and no one has too much.
The equality on view in 2 Cor 8:13-15 is not about everyone having the same but about everyone’s needs being met. Equality here is not numerical so much as qualitative. The key question is not ‘does person X have more than person Y?’ but rather ‘do person X and Y both have sufficient?’ Here, equality is not about eliminating difference so much as it is about sufficiency, that is, satisfying need.
This is profoundly theocentric. It is God, not humans, who determines a person’s worth. Before him, we are all equal, whether we are rich or poor because God is equally each person’s creator and judge. We treat others with dignity because we recognise that before God, we are the same; the solidarity of the rich with the poor is thus entirely appropriate.
In the next two posts, I’ll consider the implications of this definition of equality, particularly for wealthy Christians who are in the position to satisfy need.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.