Elisabeth Elliot said that our inequalities are essential to the image of God. She described the inequality inherent to being male or female — we are different and given different, but overlapping roles. Equality isn’t the point.
Yet, in our inequalities exists a sort of equality. Both males and females cannot do things the other can. I’ve yet to meet a man who can grow a human in his body and birth it into the world. And I’ve never met a woman who could impregnate another, carrying in herself the very seed of life.
But, as members of Christ’s body, are we equal? Are we owed equal gifts from God, like the child at Christmas counting her sibling’s presents for sameness?
Inequality Among Peers
God does not give gifts equally. And when we’re the weaker one, it’s natural to start envying the stronger. Especially our sisters who are like us, except just a little better at everything, a little stronger, a little more put together. Joe Rigney says that envy tends to breed closest to home. I spend zero time fretting about how I measure against my heroes in the faith, like Corrie ten Boom. But I do take stock of how I compare with my generous friend Christy, or my bighearted sister Jessica.
When we see the strengths and talents of our sisters in Christ and see our own weakness, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of equality in the inequality. And lest we try to force that sort of equality, we should hear from our Lord through Paul.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3–8)
There is no equality in God’s gifts. He is free to give as he chooses — that’s the nature of a gift. We are not owed equality, no matter what lies our American ethic has tried to sew into the fabric of our minds. We must grab our seam rippers and tear those lies out. The simple fact that some have been gifted with more than others doesn’t lessen the value he’s bestowed on each of us.
The other remarkable thing about the passage above is that God expects us to measure our faith in light of others. He expects that we’ll notice discrepancies, and this is supposed to make us sober and humble — not whiny or entitled. Instead of spending time comparing ourselves with others, we ought to get serious about serving the Lord with the portion he’s given us. Whether given two, five, or ten talents, fuel the fire in us to use our gifts for God’s glory.
Weakness to the Glory of God
But what do we do when our weaknesses seem more numerous than our strengths? What happens when the measure of our faith is minuscule and our giftings seem swallowed by our frailty? That’s when we do something very strange: we brag. As we hold tight to Jesus, whom our minuscule faith is wholly set on, we own our weakness and start boasting:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
Sleep deprivation is part of my life as a mom with a special needs son who has neurological sleep problems. Our son is almost four, and he is the youngest of five children. Motherhood has always brought fatigue, but never so much as the last four years. I’ve been living at the end of my rope — the opposite of strength.
If someone would have told me four years ago that I’d be facing years of significant sleep deprivation with no end in sight, I would have said, “I can’t. There’s no way. Wrong person.” So, how is it that I’m sitting here typing away and not lying in a puddle on the floor? How is there laughter in my throat? How can I be seen by others as strong when I know that I am not?
He did it the way he always does: by powerful grace. He has been lifting the head of a lowly mom who gets little sleep while she cares for her special-needs son, and making all grace abound to her through his presence, and providing her with strong sisters and brothers in Christ.
We Need Those Stronger Than Us
When we’re weak, we need the strength of the strong. We need their sacrifice of service when they bring meals and groceries. We need their faith poured out for us in prayer. We need their exhortations and admonishments. We need their generosity, their mercy, their leadership, their gifts. How does God make us strong when we’re weak? He does it through Christ. And he does it through Christ’s body — in all of its glorious inequality.
I don’t know if you feel strong or weak. I don’t know if you feel competent for the life you’ve been given with a clear understanding of your measure of faith, abilities, and gifts, or not. But I know he’s given you something — whether small or large. Don’t scoff at it because its measure is different than the sister or brother next to you.
If you feel you have no strength, nothing to offer, no ability in yourself, you may be in the most powerful position of all: the place where he comes down to be your strength in weakness and frailty. The place where your boast is not in your gifts, but in Christ’s victory through your shortcoming and Christ’s increase in your decrease. Look to him to bless you with his apportioned measure of faith and gifts, and in the times of leanness, look to him to bless you all the more with himself.