Equality Not to be Grasped

'Equals' photo (c) 2008, Marcin Wichary - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the passage Philippians 2:5-11, most likely thanks to Michael Card’s Carmen Christi. It has always struck me as a beautiful picture of service to one another.

But these verses have also been used regularly to put women in their place. In churches and in homes, I have often seen this passage used to suggest that hierarchy exists within the Trinity and therefore must exist within the home and the Church.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

 My favorite part of this passage is verse six. The NIV says that Jesus did not consider equality with God to be used to his own advantage. This is so beautiful.

They are equal.

What I find missing in many discussions about Christian feminism and egalitarian belief is that most holding those titles will agree that submission is a part of any marital relationship (and I would say any relationship, period). If you spend time with someone you love, you will likely at some point submit to some of their decisions. This does not indicate a hierarchy in that relationship, but simply a way of living peaceably with one another.

We get so busy looking for hierarchy in this passage that we can miss that bit of verse 6. Jesus is already equal with God, but chose to lay that equality down. He chose not to use equality as a way to avoid service.

I have no problem with that being asked of wives.

I have no problem with it being asked of husbands as well.

Equality is not something to be grasped. It’s not a thing to hold onto. And it is most certainly not something that should be asserted for gain.

This passage is to teach us how to act with one another. In small ways and in large ways, we can choose to serve.

We recognize that we are equals. And we choose to lay that equality down for the benefit of those who we love. Husbands and wives. Parents and children. Friends.

We are equal. And that equality is not something to be grasped.


I am excited, because today I get to give away 3 copies of Rachel Held Evans’s excellent book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood! She devoted the month of June to submission and has some great thoughts about it.

The contest will run through midnight EST on Sunday and there are lots of ways to enter. Check it out!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • http://profiles.google.com/andilit Andrea Cumbo

    I’m struck, for some reason today, by the idea of mutual submission in any relationship – perhaps it’s me thinking so much about the division over politics. I wonder how we learn to be better at this. Thanks, Alise, for spurring my thinking in a new way.

  • http://teamaidan.wordpress.com/ Heather Bowie

    I love this explanation. It’s not really submitting if we’re not equal in the first place and choose to put another first. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    This is an interesting question for me. I suppose I will choose to serve the family I work for by looking out for additional ways to love on them.

  • http://thereforeiambic.blogspot.com/ Elena Johnston

    Spot on. And I love, love, love the way that Rachel Held Evans exemplifies this attitude both in her book, and in her response to the controversy.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jackandellasmum karen huber

    I love this image… and I love your take on it… it’s not something to be grasped, or demanded, or laid claim to. I (need to) lay it down every day, and lucky for me, so does he. :)

  • Jenn Short

    Who will I serve? The Sunday School answer is “Jesus” but life doesn’t always live out like it does in theory. I have to work, have money to live on, pay taxes. So does that mean I serve myself? Hmmm, I don’t know.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    Rafflecopter will never let me comment for some reason. They are apparently coding to a specific browser and/or OS subset. 8^/

    Anyway, excellent post. I completely agree. Especially when you combine this passage with Eph 5:21 (submit to one another), I don’t know where else you can land. But modern Christianity sometimes seems to lean toward revising the great commandment[s] to be:
    “Pick and choose the verses that are “the Bible” and get rid of the pseky ones that don’t fit. And the second is like the first; accuse anyone who disagrees with you of doing just that.”

  • http://rawfaithrealworld.wordpress.com/ RawFaith

    Every day I make the choice to get up and work as hard as I do to make sure my husband can get the medical care he needs.

  • Holly

    Love this perspective, Alise. It assumes that I have what it takes to be on equal footing but that my heart should look beyond that. For everything there is a season…

  • http://www.faithpermeatinglife.com Jessica @ FaithPermeatingLife

    My husband and I made service the theme of our wedding. Our readings and music all focused on the need to serve one another in our marriage — gender plays no part in it, as we both strive 100% to be in service to God, each other, and our marriage.

  • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

    Great perspective.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ from two to one

    I choose to serve my husband, who graciously drives me to and from the train to work nearly everyday even though he definitely doesn’t have to!

    • beverlyakabuddy

      It sounds like he also serves you, and I think that is the point!

  • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/ Dani Kelley

    I know I commented on your Facebook, but I just remember something else as well! :)

    We have a good friend who’s still in college – double majoring in something crazy like organic chemistry and computer programming or something. And sometimes he gets super overwhelmed with all sorts of things. So we’re having him over this weekend and cooking a HUGE home-made meal for him – ham and potatoes and vegetables and corn and maybe garlicy things along, and providing alcohol and gaming and movies and just doing whatever we can to help him feel more relaxed and able to finish out the semester strong. I remember how hectic and crazed I felt this close to finals in college, and if I can help him chill for a little bit I’d be honored. Part of me is like, “That’s totally serving someone!” and another part of me is like, “We’re just throwing a party, that’s all.” So take that as you may :)

  • http://twitter.com/EstherEmery Esther Emery

    I serve my three year old, even though she is not particularly equal to me. (By some measures she is much more powerful!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kadee-Wirick-Smedley/732427875 Kadee Wirick Smedley

    I love the explicit connection you’ve made between equality in our relationships and the equality present (though not insisted upon) in the relationship between Christ and the Father. I like to think that Christ is patient in teaching us to imitate Him in this area. Can I confess to having needed assurance of the “equality” piece before I was very good at the mutual submission piece/peace in my own marriage? Growing up in a patriarchal home made me submission-resistant in the first few years of my married life. But eleven years with my egalitarian husband has, by the grace of God, freed me to submit as an equal.

  • Robyn

    I agree.
    I tend to phrase it as a need for all people to submit to God. Which (for me, based on a comprehensive reading of Scripture) moves the discussion away from male/female roles and back to God’s role and call to us.

  • http://www.allthingsbeautifulblog.com/ Alyssa Bacon-Liu

    I’ve been trying to serve the people I work with. It is probably the hardest thing for me to do because we don’t exactly see eye to eye. My instinct is to make things more difficult for them, but I know I should be serving them instead.

  • beverlyakabuddy

    Omigosh, Alise, I am taken back to when I first met you on the AOL Christian Message Boards. I went there seeking some assurance that I was an acceptible Christian woman because I struggled with the “wives submit” parts of scripture, and I was attending a church that said something about that at every service, meeting, or Sunday school class. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a Bill Gothard influenced church. Anyway, when this was being pushed so hard, I’d sneak glances at the women around me and wonder what they were thinking and if any of it bothered it as much as it did me. It was not only the “wives submit” passages, but what they made of it and how they compared men to God and women to men’s place in the hierachy. Women were suppose to be as servants in the background building up their man and they were also supposed to be happy about it. So I looked up everything I could find on line trying to find out if other women shared my feelings and found myself on the message boards where we first met around 15 years ago. You were expecting your first child at the time and still of the opinion that we were actually supposed to be submissive to our husbands, that they were the “heads” and so on, but like many of the kinder souls I met there, you didn’t think it had to be a cruel master/slave type of dictatorship but more of a loving egalitarian thing with the man as the leader.

    Since those days, I’ve finally realized that there are so many scriptures that even Christian scholars are in disagreement over the point and or interpretation intended. So many churches, denominations of Christianity seem to base their church philosophy on select parts fo the Bible. That is why we argue over such things as dress, whether or not there is a such thing as the “elect” or if we ourselves choose Christ according to our own free will, whether we are loud and speak in tongues during prayer, or sit quietly with our heads bowed and so on. So much emphasis on interpretation. I have to wonder how much of this really has much to do with following Christ and the loving example he gave us.

    I have always been a feminist, or at least I have always thought of myself as such, but I am coming to think more in terms of being a humanist. We are all of value to each other and to Christ. No one deserves to be exalted over another for the sex or race they were born. We all have brains and hearts and souls, and are equally valuable and capable of doing good or evil. We do have free will and we do make choices. If we follow Christ’s loving example, truly embrace it, I do not see how we would even want to be the boss of the person we committed to share our life with.

  • http://twitter.com/socyprof Susan Warner

    For most of my life, submission in marriage has been a female attribute. This is not true – we are all called to submit to one another. Why are women the focus of submission?

  • http://www.justinboulmay.wordpress.com/ Justin Boulmay

    It strikes me that Jesus doesn’t think about how much he has to serve before his Father is obligated to start chipping in, too. Service out of love doesn’t try to figure out when it’s allowed to stop serving or keep track of how much the other person does in response.

  • Madison Pierce

    Glad to support biblical equality!

  • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

    I don’t know that I’d ever realized Jesus’ existing equality from this passage before, so thanks for that.

  • rich_chaffins

    Great post, friend. I’m really trying to turn my life around to be intentional about serving: my church, my family and friends. In particular, those I don’t know. Thanks for your servant’s heart. You’re a huge inspiration.

  • http://twitter.com/NormDeplume720 Norm Deplume

    I know that the “correct” answer is God, but that only happens here about 25% of the time. Often it’s my family, my church (the physical stuff isn’t all that Godly in my mind), my job and of course, mammon.

  • http://www.pjstilnoon.com/ jennybek

    I’m so looking forward to reading Rachel’s book. I love discussions like this that turn some traditional outlooks on their ear.

  • Rosanna Mast

    Thank you for this post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MistyDC29 Misty Chaffins

    I am trying to further my idea of serving. I want to intentionally serve my family, but I need to make sure I am not just serving when it’s convenient for me. Thanks for helping me out with that, friend.