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“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Our culture has become obsessed over the past few years with the concept of privilege: white privilege, male privilege, Christian privilege, and so on. The idea makes some sense: in any culture, there are benefits and advantages that come with belonging to a specific (usually the majority) social group. But the concept is also used to argue that those on the other side are the oppressed, and that everyone should work to try to make the system more equitable.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the concept of privilege in light of the Bible, and how Christianity turns the concept of privilege on its head. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by proclaiming that the population that is truly blessed (read: privileged) includes the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). While being born with the majority skin color or into the majority religion or culture may give you certain advantages in your society, according to Jesus these characteristics do not constitute genuine privilege.
Paul also understood this inversion of the world’s idea of privilege. In Philippians 3, he lists all the things that he thought gave him privilege in life and with God: he was born to the right people, in the right tribe, and belonged to a group, the Pharisees, with an elevated social status. But after his conversion, he realized: “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” And in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says that it is his weaknesses and hardships, as well as the times that he is insulted and persecuted (sound an awful lot like oppression), that cause the power of Christ to work through him. And because of this truth, Paul delights in his disadvantages.
My point is that while the world may be obsessed with those characteristics which give an individual access to worldly advantages, Jesus and the Bible proclaim that worldly privilege is not all that it seems to be. On the contrary, God seems most often to be on the side of the oppressed, the overlooked, and the outcast. When Christianity is in a place of cultural or political power, the end result is usually spiritual stagnation and numerical decline. When Christians are the oppressed and persecuted minority, the kingdom of God expands with spiritual fervency. This is why Paul exhorts the Philippians in 2:5-8 to be like Christ in giving up their worldly privileges in order to humble themselves and serve others. Contrary to what the world teaches, true privilege is not found in money, status, or belonging to the in-group. It is found in knowing Christ and living as He lived. As the song puts it: “You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.” That, my friends, is true and eternal privilege.
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