II Corinthians 8:13-15, "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."
This morning, many fantastical notions abound about what the Bible says about different things. A simple perusal of contemporary Christian literature shows a litany of fable-like thinking. Christian bookstores carry titles from subjects about how to work your way to heaven to what people think is going to happen between now and the eventual return of our Lord. Perhaps one of the most insidious concepts to creep into Christian circles from a practical point of view is the idea that the Bible teaches a form of socialism as its structure for Godly living and civilization building. While there are different models of government and society that can be implemented to good effect, it should be obvious just from common word usage that the Bible does not support socialism as a mindset for believers to follow in their service as our thinking should be geared into thinking of living in a kingdom serving the King! It is not my intent to go on a political diatribe in this writing, but we do sincerely want to show some of what the Bible says about equality in our lives and how we should approach it and try to accomplish it.
Texts and passages like our study verses above are sometimes employed to bolster a mindset that Christians should be socialistic or "commune" based. The stated goal of a communistic or socialistic society is for everyone to be equal. History has shown repeatedly that these models fail over and over again at the community or civil level. What may look good on paper or sound good to the ear simply does not stand up when people are inserted into the equation with our plentitude of problems stemming from the sinful nature that hampers all of us. Utopia will not be found as long as sin remains, and sin shall remain in the world as long as time stands. But, since these verses talk about our "societal" interactions with other believers and also talk about equality, how should we approach passages like this?
The line of thought that Paul has begun really begins well before this (even chapters before this), but he makes a nice summation point in Verse 9. That verse gives as good an applied definition of "grace" as the Bible has. What is grace? How does it look? Paul says that grace in application is the richest of the rich (Jesus) becoming poor so that the poor would be rich. Surely considering what the Bible says about our King, He owns everything. Glory beyond our imagination is His, yet He laid all that aside to come to this sin cursed earth. While on earth, He still owned the earth and its fullness, but He lived in a way that owned very little. Even as a grown man, He walked with 12 other men, and they shared a common bag for all their needs without even a roof over Him to call "home." (John 13:29, Matthew 8:20) He lived as a poor man, but His real poverty came when He went to Calvary and was rejected by all to the point of forsakenness by His Father. This lonely time brought all our sin-cursed poverty into complete remission. For that, we have been raised to a place of riches that can only be imagined.
This summation point launches Paul into his thinking about equality in our verses, but also tinged upon something else. Using Christ's example, Paul encourages believers to help others in dire need as Christ helped those in dire need. How does that start? In Verse 12, Paul says the first requirement is a willing mind. Perhaps this point is where most models of socialistic society fail and flounder. People coerced into something will not perform as they could, and the bare minimum is all that they will expend. Christ was interested in us. He was not coerced into it, and He willingly went to death for the ransom of His people. Paul says that our service to mark the path that His took requires first a willing mind. We should desire to help others not have our arm twisted into it.
So, with Christ as an example and a willing mind in place, how do we view these verses? Paul says the purpose of equality is not for people to get a "free ride." (Verse 13) The burden of giving should not indulge the lazy. Again, socialistic and communistic models can encourage laziness in those doing nothing to continue doing so. In another place, Paul lays a foundational point that work should be a necessity for eating. (II Thessalonians 3:10) Christ did not redeem us from our sins to indulge laziness. Rather, He commands us to walk worthy of the vocation that He has called us to. Surely, though at rest, we will not "laze about heaven" like a lord on a cloud. Rather, we will be employed in complete, perfect, and total worship of the highest order world without end.
The purpose of giving to equality is really lined out in verse 14. Paul shows that when people help others, those people actually help them too. Read the verse carefully, and both groups end up being "helped" and "helpers." Any minister can attest that in ministering to the poor, infirmed, widows, or deathbeds of saints that we have been "helped" as much - if not more - than we helped with our presence and ministration. We go to these poor and afflicted saints to help them by cheering their way and end up being cheered ourselves at seeing such faith and steadfastness even in the face of life's afflictions. One of the highest joys one can experience is gathered round the bed of a saint soon to pass from this shore to the world above and see the great victory that they feel. You can see the way they feel as it is tattooed all over their person. They know "home" is near, and they desire nothing more.
The equality comes in the sense that we are all in need (just in different ways), and while we help others with their needs, they in turn help us with ours as well. Some people may need help monetarily, while others may need help emotionally. No matter the need, we are equals. As poor and needy creatures, we all stand in need, whether we confess it or not. Paul's point of labour here is not socialistic modality, but rather showing us all in need. He will then further illustrate this point in Verse 15 by pointing them to the children of Israel in the wilderness.
When the Israelites gathered manna in Moses' day, they were equals. No, they did not gather equal amounts. Paul drives that point home. Some gathered much and some gathered little (needs were different), but whatever the need, they were sufficed. So, they were equal in that God gave them their sufficiency to sustain them those 40 years wandering in the wilderness, but consider that even though the little had no lack, the much had nothing over as well. In other words, they were also equals in the sense that every day they both stood in need all over again. Is that not how we are equal today? We stand in need of Him each day. What if we had much yesterday? We freshly need Him again today. What if we had just a little yesterday? We also freshly need Him today too.
So many times we play the "comparison game" (which is never wise - II Corinthians 10:12), but loudly complain that we want "equality." Really, discussions today about equality - whether socially or otherwise - are generally just complaining sessions wherein people covet what someone else has that they do not. Brethren, God hates covetousness as it is equivalent to idolatry (Colossians 3:5) and rather requires us to do what we can. (Mark 14:8) As Paul showed in our study verses, we are not to think about what we can or cannot do based on what we do not have but based on what we do. Is it about the talents that I do not have? No! It is about applying the ones He did give me. If we really added up all the time we compare and complain, how much time would that be that could be employed and implemented in a profitable way? Sobering thought indeed.
Thankfully, though we are equals in the sense of having needs and standing daily in need of Him, I love the thought that we will one day be equals in all things. Circling back to Verse 9, the end result of being made rich is that we are as rich as He is. Though He willingly laid it down for us, as a risen and ruling King, He still owns all things. He is God the Father's only Begotten Son. We are His joint-heirs (Romans 8:17) meaning that each and every member of His family owns the same thing that He does! What a concept! Further, we will all have equal standing in His presence in the heavenly portal with equal perfection offering up the same song of praise and worship throughout eternity. Until that day, may we do what we can, remembering what we are, how much we need Him, and how much He has done for us.