28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
This is one of the most wonderful statements in the New Testament about our freedom in Christ—that God loves us all as His children without regard to our race, social standing, gender, or any other of the factors that human societies use to try to separate us from each other—and from Him.
But Paul, in his other letters, says things like this:
As in all the congregations of the saints, 34women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Did Paul go crazy or something? Change his mind? Change his message to suit different audiences? What was Paul thinking? If these differences have no effect on God’s love for us, why did it make a difference to Paul?
No, there is a good reason that the man who considered himself the “chief of sinners” is one of the most respected and loved ministers among the followers of Jesus; he faithfully delivered the message given to him by the Holy Spirit, patiently explaining the details so that even us “ignorant Gentiles” could understand. Nor is this message of submission inconsistent with those of the other apostles. Peter, for example, says:
1 Peter 2:
18Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
What, then? Paul is not referring to the value of a woman or a slave, but to their behavior and its effect on others within and outside the Church. He urges propriety in worship, even at the expense of public submission. Why?
1 Corinthians 9:
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Christianity is not a social or a political revolution. It’s not that these things are necessarily bad; think of how much worse the situation of America (my home country) would have been if we had been dragging the baggage of institutional racial segregation into the late 20th and 21st Century when the current crises befell us. Our nation owes a great deal to the Civil Rights efforts of the 1960’s. Of course, it would have been very difficult for me to write this with death squads in the street outside hunting for social, political, and “religious” nonconformity—we owe a lot to the costly establishment of our republican institutions. Nor can it be to our benefit to reduce half (or more) of the capacity of our marital unions to houseservants.
The limitation on such change is that it changes temporary things. As Paul says, “…this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Christianity is nothing short of a Spiritual Revolution! Jesus didn’t settle for changing our outward forms of discourse or holding us together just until the next human idea for a political system inevitably fails and disintegrates into chaos.
But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
This is an eternal Government (Revelation 5:12), based on the rebirth and renewal of individual men and women by God’s Grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Change is a good thing—we just need to get our priorities straight.