Scholars now believe that 80% of Christians living in Jerusalem in Paul’s day were “poor.” Not poor like I was in college, surviving on Ramen and Kool-Aid. Biblically poor: they didn’t have daily bread.
Paul’s plan to care for them was to ask Corinthian Christians, who had more than their daily bread, to share.
Before Paul arrived in Corinth and started passing he offering plate around, he wrote the church there a letter explaining what the goal of their sharing would be: equality.
(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.”2 Corinthians 8:13-15
Honestly, I associate “equality” with protests, politics, socialism, forced redistribution of wealth. That’s not what Paul has in mind!
Paul gave us two clues to the meaning of “equality” in his letter:
- 1] “Equality” is NOT when some are “relieved” and some are “hard pressed.” To be “relieved” (anesis) is to be set free, delivered, refreshed, provided for. And to be “hard pressed” (thlipsis) is to be deprived, pressed down, in tribulation. Paul’s “equality” is NOT some people being cared for while others are crushed.
- 2] “Equality” is what God gave the Hebrews on their wilderness journey. The Hebrews were instructed to gather food God provided for them daily – about 2 liters – for every person in their family (see Exodus 16). Large families gathered “much.” Small families gathered “little.” in 2 Corinthians 8:15 Paul quoted Exodus 16 saying “equality” God wants is the kind God arranged for in the wilderness when “He who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little did not have too little.” And the next line of Exodus 16 says “Everyone had as much as they needed.” Paul’s “equality” is when all people have what they need.
When God’s people, who have more than they need, share with those who have less than they need, everyone has all they need. Everyone is equally cared for.
We live in different-sized houses. We have different-paying jobs we drive to in differently-priced cars. We don’t have the same amount of stuff, but we have the stuff we need.
If justice is giving everyone what God says they’re due – without discrimination or favoritism – then equality is the result of justice.