Men and Women in Biblical Perspective
October 18, 1992
I find myself in a peculiar position this morning. No matter what I say, or how carefully I say it, someone is bound to disagree with me. But that doesn’t begin to cover the subject. Not only will some people disagree with me, even the people who agree with me will probably not agree with everything I say. If I can find any comfort in that—and I don’t find very much—it is that at least I can guarantee you an exciting Sunday dinner! You’ll have plenty to talk about when I am finished with my message.
And that leads me to an important point. You aren’t required to agree with the things I say today. Whenever I preach on a controversial topic, I like to tell people right up front that I don’t expect them to take my word for it. You didn’t check your brain at the door when you came in. I am preaching this message fully expecting you to think carefully about the things I am saying.
To be sure, I believe that everything I am going to say this morning is true. I firmly believe that the views I am going to express are in accord both with the Bible and with reality. But you may not think so. That’s okay. You don’t have to take my word for it. What you do have to do is go back to the Bible and compare my words with God’s Word to say how closely the two match up. If at some point, my words deviate from God’s Word, throw my words away. I don’t expect you to believe me just because I am your pastor. But I do expect you to listen carefully and then compare what I say with what the Bible says.
It’s Not God’s Fault
With that behind us, I think we can all agree that the whole subject of male-female relationships is a hot topic. In many ways it has become the “issue of the 90s.” After all, this is the “Year of the Woman.” More women are running for the U.S. Senate than ever before. A special presidential commission is investigating whether women should be allowed in combat situations. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin talks about the “Glass Ceiling” that keeps women from rising to the top levels of American business. In the second presidential debate one of the last questions was—”When will your party nominate and elect a woman as president of the United States?”
But it’s not just a cultural or social or political issue. It’s also a deeply-felt spiritual and theological question. All across America the mainline denominations are electing women to positions formerly held only by men. Women now serve as deacons, elders, pastors and bishops. Such a mighty institution as the Roman Catholic Church has been shaken in recent years by a massive protest against an all-male priesthood. Here in Oak Park several mainline churches have female pastors and one Catholic Church drew nationwide attention when Sister Teresita was removed from giving the homily during Mass.
But the debate comes even closer to home. The feminist movement has at last entered the evangelical move-ment—producing something called “evangelical feminism.” Certain professors and theologians have won notoriety for their books calling for an end to the practice of male-only elders and pastors. What makes their approach unique is that they argue from within the evangelical framework of belief in the inspiration of Scripture and the deity of Jesus Christ. In effect, they are evangelicals arguing against the long-held position of male headship—at least as that position has been traditionally understood.
Finally, the debate has come home to Calvary Memorial Church. For at least ten years (and probably longer) this subject has been discussed and debated—formally and informally, in Sunday School classes and home Bible studies, over lunch, on the telephone, and through the mail. We are discussing the subject this morning because it is directly related to the proposed revision of our church constitution—which returns this congregation to a system of male elders.
More Holes Than Fingers
But the revised church constitution is only the tip of the iceberg. The real debate lies at a deeper level. We live in an age of unprecedented cultural confusion. Families are failing, marriages break up, children are abused, husbands cheat, women are mistreated, couples marry, divorce, remarry—bonding, splitting, remarrying, all the while carrying with them enormous personal baggage. We have split families, blended families and dysfunc-tional families. The traditional nuclear family where Dad works and Mom stays home to take care of two children—that family exploded 30 years ago … and we’re still picking up the pieces.
No wonder we are confused!
Is anyone surprised that the latest “new thing” on the cultural battleground is homosexual marriages? Sure, why not? When heterosexual marriage is failing so badly, why not try an alternative form? Who’s to say one is better than the other? After all, sexual morality is a purely private matter between consenting adults.
Well, no, it’s not right. Sexual morality is not a private matter and it is not determined by what two consenting adults want to do. There are absolute standards of right and wrong—standards established before Donohue and Oprah and Madonna came on the scene.
But to say that is like spitting into the wind. It’s also like sticking your proverbial finger into the leaking dike. There are more holes than fingers and water is rushing in on every side.
The Crucial Questions
That brings me to the bottom line issue. When you examine the whole question of male-female relationships in all its complexity, two questions keep ringing in the mind:
What does it mean to be a man?
What does it mean to be a woman?
Is there such a thing as “maleness” and “femaleness” that is not simply cultural or biological? Is there some-thing innate in being a man that could actually be called masculinity? Is there something innate in being a woman that could actually be called femininity? If the answer is yes, what are the essential qualities of “maleness” and “femaleness?”
To state the question another way, did God intend for men and women to function differently on the basis of their maleness and femaleness? Or should those differences (which are obvious to everyone) be discounted or downplayed or simply ignored as irrelevant?
Is there such a thing as biblical manhood and biblical womanhood? If there is, how should that reality be reflected in the home and in the church?
Obviously those are explosive questions. Scientists answer one way, sociologists another, anthropologists another, and theologians another. The feminist movement as a whole tends to downplay the differences between men and women. In the great “culture war” at the end of the 20th century, that view has slowly gained enormous popularity.
This morning I am going to suggest that the answer lies entirely in the other direction. Specifically, I am going to argue that the Bible stresses the God-created differences between men and women. Within the framework of basic equality, God has ordained that men and women are very different in their basic makeup. Those God-created differences must be recognized, respected and celebrated in the home and in the church.
In order to substantiate that claim, I direct your attention to the first pages of the first book of the Bible. You don’t have to read very far before God begins to deal with the question of male-female relationships. In fact, I think Genesis 1-3 gives us the basic framework for answering our two crucial questions.
I. Observations From Genesis
When we examine the first three chapters of Genesis, we find that they reveal three different facets of the male-female relationship. Genesis 1 speaks of equality; Genesis 2 speaks of differentiation; Genesis 3 speaks of responsibility to God. When these three chapters are taken as a unified whole, we can begin to form a biblical view of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
A. On Equality
Genesis 1:26-27 states the matter plainly: “Then God said, ’Let us make man in our own image … and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the likeness of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Note the following facts:
Man is made in the image of God.
Man is given the authority to “rule” over the rest of creation.
Man is created as male and female.
As the human race comes from the hand of the Creator, it comes divided into male and female. Both are made in the image of God. One is not superior and the other inferior. One is not greater and the other lesser. In terms of bearing God’s image, men and women stand before God …
Equal in value, worth and dignity.
As a sidelight, we should here include Galatians 3:28—which is the New Testament counterpart of Genesis 1:26-27. In that verse Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What is the implication of those words? The meaning is simple: When it comes to salvation, men and women are admitted on an equal basis to the body of Christ. No one has an advantage over anyone else. Everyone is saved the same way—by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can now add two other items to our list: Men and women are equally redeemed and are equally heirs of the grace of God. Putting it all together, we can say that as the human race comes from the hand of the Creator, men and women are
Equal in value
Equal in dignity
Equal in worth
And as men and women are added to the body of Christ, they are:
Equally heirs of the grace of God
Are men and women equal in God’s eyes? Yes! Does God favor men over women? No! By virtue of the image of God, there is a fundamental equality that spans the “gender gap.” By virtue of redemption in Christ, there is a spiritual equality that enables men and women to stand on the same plane in the eyes of God.
That answers a great question. Does the Bible teach equality? Yes it does! But Genesis 1 is not the whole story. What we don’t know is that equality will work out in the interplay between man and woman. In order to discover that, we have to turn to Genesis 2.
B. On Differentiation
What do we discover when we read Genesis 2? If I could answer that question in one word, it would be the word differentiation. Genesis 2 is all about the differentiation of man and woman. Note the following facts:
Adam is created first. 2:7
Adam is given the mandate to care for the garden. 2:15
Adam is given the warning concerning the forbidden tree. 2:16-17
Adam names all the animals. 2:19-20
Eve is taken from Adam’s side. 2:21-22
Adam names her “woman.” 2:23
The man is the one who leaves his father and mother. 2:24
What is the implication of all these facts? Adam is in a leadership role in the garden before the Fall. He is created first because God intends that he will be the leader in the relationship (the exact point Paul makes in I Timothy 2:13-14). He is given the mandate to care for the garden because the primary role of subduing the world is his. He is given the warning because God will hold him personally responsible as the head of the family. He names the animals because he is the “King of Creation.” Eve is taken from his side—not he from her side (the exact point Paul makes in I Corinthians 11:8-9). Adam names her “woman” (and later “Eve”) because he is the leader of the relationship. The man leaves his parents because as the leader of his home the man is to take the initiatory step in the marriage relationship.
To borrow a phrase from Larry Crabb, these are “non-reversible” realities. Genesis 2 clearly shows us the man as the leader of the relationship from the very beginning. And remember this is how man and woman were to relate in paradise—before the Fall!
What does it mean? Does Genesis 1 contradict Genesis 2? No, Genesis 2 explains and clarifies Genesis 1!
Genesis 1 teaches equality.
Genesis 2 teaches differentiation.
Both are true. Both must be held together. Neither one can be jettisoned at the expense of the other. The Bible teaches that men and women share a basic equality before God but within that equality—and growing out of it—is a fundamental and far-reaching differentiation.
C. On Responsibility to God
Genesis 3 shows us how sin entered the world. Note the following points:
The serpent approaches Eve—not Adam (thus reversing God’s order). 3:1
Eve sins first (a point made by Paul in I Timothy 2:13-14). 3:6
Adam sins deliberately (a point made by Paul in I Timothy 2:13-14). 3:6
God speaks first to Adam (as the head of the home). 3:9
God punishes Adam and Eve differently. 3:16-19
What’s going on here? Both Adam and Eve sin—that much is clear. But their sins are not the same. Why did the serpent approach Eve first? Not because he thought she was more gullible, but because he was tempting her to overthrow the created order which made Adam the head of the home.
Whose sin is greater? Adam’s. Why? Because he received the direct command from God concerning the forbidden fruit. He knew what he was doing, he knew it was wrong, and he did it anyway. He wasn’t deceived in any sense of the word.
Who is held responsible? Adam! Why? Because he is the head of his wife, the leader of his home, and the representative head of the entire human race. Nowhere in all the Bible is the entrance of sin laid at Eve’s feet—even though she clearly sinned first. Why? Because as the head of his home Adam is held personally responsible by God for his actions. That’s why Romans 5:12 says “sin entered the world through one man.”
—Not through one couple
> —Not through two people
—Not through one woman
But “through one man.” God holds Adam responsible for what happened in the garden even though Eve sinned first.
(Incidentally, that helps explain what it means to be “head” of your home. To be “head” means that the man bears personal responsibility and accountability for what happens in his family. It is not a statement about “who makes all the decisions” or “who keeps the checkbook” or “who works outside the home and who doesn’t.” Those issues are best settled on the basis of giftedness. Whoever is better with details should keep the checkbook. End of discussion. “Headship” means that God has called the man to lead his home—and will therefore hold him personally responsible for what goes on in his home. The emphasis is on responsibility and accountability, not on authority and power.)
We may find useful an illustration from the military using this principle. When an enlisted man makes a mistake that harms other people, who is held ultimately responsible? Answer: His commanding officer. For instance, if a 3rd mate at the helm runs a ship aground, the captain of the ship will be stripped of his rank and probably retired—even though he was not personally at the helm. It doesn’t matter who was at the helm. The captain is personally accountable for all that happens on his ship regardless of his personal involvement.
The same was true in the garden. Adam was held personally responsible by God for the entrance of sin—even though Eve clearly sinned first.
Vastly Different Punishments
But what are we to make of the fact that God assigns vastly different punishments to Adam and Eve? I suggest that the punishments move along the line of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
Eve is punished (3:16) in the two areas that are closest to her heart:
—Her relationship to Adam
Larry Crabb explains the punishment this way:
God’s judgment on Eve was on both her uniquely feminine capacity to give birth and her relationship with Adam. In other words, her physical attachment to Adam would lead to moments of excruciating pain (in childbirth) and her personal attachment would involve heartache and battle. (Men and Women, p. 142)
But note the difference in Adam’s punishment (3:17-19):
—Thorns and thistles
—Sweat of your brow
The emphasis is entirely different. Eve is punished in the area of her relationships. Adam is punished in the area of his work in the world.
Again, ponder the words of Larry Crabb:
Adam’s judgment was different. God required him to endure previously unknown difficulties as he sought to subdue his world. He would now have to work in a hostile environment where he would often fail and to live with a woman who would be more concerned with her own needs than with his. He lost the sense of completion that comes from powerfully subduing his world and meaningfully touching a woman who would, as a priority, value his work and enjoy his involvement. (Men and Women, p. 143)
Be sure to catch the major point: The judgments are different because Adam and Eve are different. And Adam and Eve are different because men and women are different. The punishments clearly reflect that fact.
Summary: Genesis 1-3 reveals a fundamental equality between men and women. It also reveals a clearly-defined differentiation in purpose and mission growing out of that basic equality. Before the Fall Adam is in a leadership role with Eve as an equal partner helping and supporting him. Although Eve sinned first, God holds Adam (as the head of the home) personally responsible for the entrance of sin into the world. After the Fall Adam and Eve are given punishments that uniquely fit them as man and woman. Finally, the entrance of sin perverts and distorts the relationship between men and women so that cooperation is replaced by competition.
II. Twentieth-Century Reality
Although thousands of years have passed since that fateful moment in Eden, competition is still the name of the game. Women still want to gain ascendancy over men and men still want to dominate women. We see these twin evils at work in two different ways:
A. Male Chauvinism
I define “male chauvinism” as “intentional disrespect for women.” It is any attitude which devalues women or treats them as less than fully human. Let me suggest four ways in which male chauvinism rears its ugly head:
1. Sexual Harassment
No matter what else you may have thought about the Clarence Thomas hearings, his encounter with Anita Hill brought the issue of sexual harassment squarely in front of the American people. Millions of men have discovered that their mothers, wives and sisters have been subjected to the worst kind of humiliation and intimida-tion. Many have been victimized by sexual innuendo, others by inappropriate humor, still others by unwanted touching, and others by derogatory and demeaning comments. To any man who reads this: If you doubt my words, just ask the women in your life if they have been ever been sexually harassed. You’ll be surprised at how many say yes.
2. Demeaning Comments and Jokes
This is really just a sub-category of sexual harassment. I include it here because many men routinely make unkind comments about women. They laugh and joke in a cruel way about what they perceive as female weakness, sometimes even making their wives the butt of their humor. I am sad to say that I have heard this too many times from men inside the church.
3. Physical/Emotional/Sexual Abuse
As a pastor, I have been sensitized on this issue by talking with women who were deeply hurt by a father or a brother or a relative who abused them during their growing-up years. The surveys suggest that perhaps 25% of the women in America have been sexually or physically abused. I can certainly testify that the figure is far higher than anyone can imagine. Our churches are filled with women who struggle with painful, searing memories of the past.
4. Marital Unfaithfulness
At first glance this may seem unconnected with male chauvinism—but in some ways marital unfaithfulness is the ultimate in disrespect for women. By committing adultery a man shows disrespect for his marriage vows and for the wife he married. At the same time he shows disrespect for the “other woman” because all too often she is being treated as a convenient vehicle for his pent-up frustrations and his unresolved problems. She becomes not a person but an object to be used and discarded.
B. Radical Feminism
I define “radical feminism” as “the secular glorification of women.” It is the attitude which says that women are to take control of their own destinies—regardless of what anyone else says or does. Ultimately it is the rejection of God’s authority as the Creator of the universe. We see the evil fruit of radical feminism in at least four areas:
1. Denial of the Differences
This is the oft-heard view that “the only difference is biology.” When the God-created differences are denied or downplayed, the result is not liberation but confusion. We no longer know things older generations took for granted—such as why little boys and little girls are so different. We don’t know how to raise boys to be men and girls to be women because as a culture we’re no longer sure what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
2. Demeaning of Motherhood
In our society today there is a profound ambivalence about motherhood and what we used to call homemaking. Because of birth control, couples can marry and never have children. And women can postpone childbearing in order to fully establish their careers. And women can now abort any “inconvenient” children they happen to conceive. Motherhood is looked on as a “second-class” profession, to be undertaken by those women not fortunate enough to begin climbing the corporate ladder. Once again, the past points the way toward the truth. In other generations women took courses called “Home Economics” because it was understood that women as childbearers would find their greatest fulfillment in raising their families.
Such a view seems laughable today. Unfortunately, we laugh all too often even in the church. We have imbibed the heady wine of the world that says “Fulfillment is found in a career.” Several months ago the wife of one of the presidential candidates came through Chicago. When pressed on why she involved herself in so much political advocacy, she sharply replied, “Well, I could have stayed home and baked cookies.” Such is the view of the world. Either get a career and make a difference or stay home and waste your life baking cookies.
America would be better off if we had a new emphasis on things like:
(Note: This is not an attack on working women. I’m all for women finding personal fulfillment in a professional career if that is the will of God for them … but not at the expense of being a wife, a mother or a homemaker. Those things should come first. If forced to choose, godly women should choose being a wife and mother and homemaker first … and following a career as a secondary path in life. Obviously many women are so gifted that they don’t have to choose but can do all those things well. Such women should be honored as models of truly biblical womanhood.)
It occurs to me that these words may seem radical and even Neanderthal to some people. Is this not a throwback to the old saying—”the woman’s place is in the home?” No, not really—although I believe that old chestnut contains a germ of truth. I do not believe that a woman’s “place” is in the home. Her “place” is in fulfilling God’s will for her life—whatever that might be. But I do believe that part of what it means to be a woman is that her heart is in the home—in a similar way that a man’s heart is in his work. I also believe that this truth is not merely a cultural observation but is in fact a God-created difference that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
The fact that this view seems odd in 1992 is less a reflection on the view than on how far we have slipped from our Judeo-Christian moorings and how much of the world’s thinking has infiltrated the church.
3. Renaming of God
Here I am referring to the tendency of modern liberal theologians to rewrite the Bible in the name of every kind of liberation. As Mary Kassian points out in her excellent book The Feminist Gospel, as modern society has rejected the biblical worldview—and as women have rejected the truth about the God-created differences between men and women—they (the women) have first renamed themselves (Eve’s sin in Genesis 3: “You shall be like God”), then they rename the world around them, and finally they rename God. In the new feminist theology, God is no longer “Father.” He is the “Grandfather, Great Spirit,” “Our Father/Mother,” “The Ground of All Being,” and (I kid you not) “Bakerwoman God.” Some of those titles come from the New Age Movement and others come from Native American religion. None come from the Bible.
God has eternally revealed himself in the masculine mode. He is a “He” not a “She” or an “It” or a “He/She.” To call God “Mother” is idolatry and blasphemy because it perverts the sacred name of God. When you “rename” God you are no longer worshiping the God of the Bible but a pagan god of your own making.
4. Glorification of Immorality in the Name of Liberation
This is the logical end of feminism. (Interesting, isn’t it, that both male chauvinism and feminism lead to immorality—one by devaluing women and the other by glorifying women.) What has the women’s liberation movement brought to America? Let’s start with abortion and homosexuality. In the name of sexual freedom women now sleep where they want, when they want with whomever they choose … and if a pregnancy results, “freedom” means the right to dispose of the unborn baby.
How does homosexuality fit in? First, it’s a sure and certain product of a depraved and “liberated” culture—as Romans 1 clearly shows. Second, when the God-created differences between men and women are downplayed—when maleness and femaleness become blurry and unclear—it is only a short step to the ultimate blurring of sexual distinctions—homosexuality.
In the end feminism (along with the other evil “isms” of hedonism and materialism) has produced a desire for unrestrained sexual freedom. Those who follow the feminists will be sorely disappointed because their “liberation” leads only to bondage.
Some Preliminary Conclusions
Let’s try to draw together these various strands into four preliminary conclusions:
Men and women stand on an equal basis before God—equal in dignity, value and worth.
There are important God-created differences between men and women which go far beyond mere biology. Those differences must be recognized, respected and even celebrated in every area of life—especially in the home and in the church.
There is vast cultural pressure to abandon those God-created differences because of male chauvinism and radical feminism.
Both men and women will find their highest fulfillment in life when those God-created differences are respected and even celebrated.
III. The Heart of the Issue
But what exactly are those God-created differences? I have hinted at the answer in my treatment of Genesis 1-3. I confess to finding it difficult to put the precise difference in words—partly because I fear being misunderstood and partly because I think I understand the male side better than the female side. Before I go any further, let me say that the qualities I am going to describe are not mutually exclusive. These qualities are descriptive, not exclusive and they certainly are not exhaustive.
Having said that, I want to clearly affirm that I do not believe that maleness and femaleness are incidental features—like being left-handed or right-handed or being tall or short or having blue eyes or brown eyes. Likewise, I do not believe that maleness and femaleness are simply two points along a continuum of humanity. That’s an evolutionary view of the human race.
The biblical view is something like this: As God looks down from heaven, he sees the human race as divided into two parts—male and female. Both parts are equally valued and equally loved, but they differ from one another by God’s original design. If you are a man, that is a central and defining issue of your life. If you are a woman, that is a central and defining issue of your life. Becoming a Christian does not diminish that fact. Redemption in Christ does not lessen your maleness or femaleness in any way. It redeems it from the distortions of sin and recreates it after the image of God. You are not a Christian who happens to be a man or a Christian who happens to be a woman. You are a Christian man or a Christian woman. You stand before God not simply as a gender-neutral child of God … but rather as a redeemed man or a redeemed woman. And God relates to you on that basis.
A. To Be a Man Means to Be …
—A Self-Sacrificing leader
B. To Be a Woman Means to Be …
—A Relational Encourager
—An Intuitive Value-Giver
—A Self-Sacrificing Completer
Back to Larry Crabb for a moment. He points out that in the early chapters of Genesis Adam is moving out into the world to subdue it in accordance with God’s command. When we see Eve, she is in relationship to Adam—a full partner with him, alleviating his loneliness, fulfilling the emptiness in his life, supporting him in his cause, standing with him as he moves out into the world.
He also points out that Adam finds his fulfillment in achievement, while Eve finds her fulfillment in attach-ment. Furthermore, Adam is independent while Eve is more interdependent. You will have to judge for yourself whether those observations are correct (I think they are), but if that is an accurate description then I think Genesis is giving us some useful guidance about the basic difference between men and women.
Let’s suppose we took a piece of paper and began to write down the innate differences between men and women. Forget for a moment that there will always be exceptions. Forget that some things are cultural. What words might we use to describe the difference between men and women? Here are some possibilities:
Physically strong Emotionally sensitive
Emotionally distant Bonding with others
Focused on career Focused on home
On and on the list could go. After we make all the exceptions for men who AREN’T that way and women who AREN’T that way, after we admit that no one perfectly fits any such list, after we laugh and say, “Who does he think he is, making a list like that?” I will stand my ground on this one point: There is a difference—a God-created difference—between men and women and that difference goes far beyond biology and touches the way we talk and think and act and how we relate to one another. Maleness and femaleness defines who we are at the very core of our being.
Let me close this section with a lengthy quotation from Larry Crabb (His book Men and Women is the single most helpful treatment I have ever read on this subject):
I conclude that there is an order to male-female relationships that is non-reversible because it reflects the differences God built into us …
Maleness has something to do with the sense of completion that a man gets from strongly moving into his world with the enjoyed commitment (at least in potential) of a female companion. Single men can live with an awareness of their capacity to move toward a woman and a willingness to do so as circumstances permit. They therefore can fully experience themselves as men.
Femaleness may include a capacity for bonding to a man to encourage him with the support of one who values and respects him, who invites him into relationship with her, and who enjoys being enjoyed by him. This capacity may not always have an opportunity for expression but it is always there in a woman’s nature.
The joys of maleness and femaleness are always available to all men and women who are growing in other-centeredness. Marriage, however, grants a unique opportunity for enjoying certain forms of intimacy that singleness does not provide, including sexual relations and a lifelong commitment of companionship.
Are there differences between men and women that are knowable and deep enough to justify a distinct approach to relating in the home and church? I’ve answered yes but many folks answer no. (pp. 143-144)
It’s true that some folks answer no, but I answer yes—which is why I’m preaching this sermon.
A Biblical View
Although it would take a book-length manuscript to answer every question that might be asked, I hasten on to offer an application of the points I have made to the issues under discussion at Calvary Memorial Church. When things are working as they ought, what will “male headship” look like? What sort of leaders will we have? What does “submission” imply in such a context?
Male headship means that a man has a holy obligation before God to lay down his life for his wife, his children, his family, friends, and for the people of his own congregation. For a husband, it means that he has his wife’s best interests at heart, that he sacrifices his own desires for hers, that he puts her first always in his affections. For an elder in the local church, it means that he leads first, last and always by serving others. For a woman, submission in this context means believing that God is able to work through your husband to accomplish his will in your life, to protect your interests, and to meet your deepest needs. It also means believing that God can do the same thing through the leaders of your church.
A friend of mind summed up the whole thing this way: “No one is in control, but someone has to lead.”
IV. Some Implications
A. For Women
As I have talked to the women of our congregation, I have become convinced that the basic problem is not biblical or theological. I also agree that the problem is not women grabbing for power or desiring to be elders and pastors.
The issue seems to be much deeper and very personal. Many of the women in our church have been deeply hurt by men.
—Sometimes by callous, uncaring husbands
—Sometimes by absentee or abusive fathers
—Sometimes by crude co-workers
—Sometimes by outright “old-boy” favoritism
Other women have not been hurt themselves but they have friends who have been hurt by men.
The pain is real. No one can deny it. Your hurt is legitimate. I have heard you loud and clear. Many of you have been deeply hurt by men—sometimes even by men in this church.
The result can be summed up in one word: Fear. When you hear a sermon like this one, all the ghosts from the past come flying through your mind. All those bad memories rise up to color your thinking. You remember the pain you have suffered and you say, “Never again.”
—You fear that male elders will mean authoritarian leadership.
—You fear that terrible abuse will be justified in the name of submission.
—You fear that men in leadership will not listen to your concerns.
The fear is as real as the pain.
Please allow me to make one comment. The things you fear will not be resolved by electing women elders or women pastors. Abuse is not limited to men. And you never solve a problem by moving away from the biblical pattern.
Fear is a Spiritual Issue
Remember, fear is a spiritual issue. Beyond headship and submission, beyond the gender question, your real debate is with God. You must ask yourself this question: “Am I willing to trust God even when I am afraid?” Someone has said that there are 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible—one for every day of the year. If that is true, then perhaps you need to lay hold of one of those “Fear nots” and claim it for your life right now.
Last Tuesday a very godly woman sat in my office and in the presence of several people said, “Pastor Ray, the women of this church are afraid. They aren’t hung up on how some verse is meant to be interpreted. Many of them have been hurt by men and that’s why they are afraid. You’ve got to speak to the fear issue because that’s the heart of the problem.”
My friend then went on to say, “Most of the women agree with what you are saying. After all, what woman wouldn’t want the protection of a godly man, the security of a godly man, and even the spiritual leadership of a godly man? Almost every woman wants that, but fear is holding them back.”
I think that analysis is fundamentally correct. If what I am saying is correct, then what woman wouldn’t want (as a part of what it means to be a woman made in God’s image) the protection, security and leadership of a godly man?
As I write those words, my mind goes quickly to the many single mothers of our congregation. No one who is not in that situation can truly understand what they are up against. I know most of our single mothers very well, and I can say that there is no group in our church I admire more. No one works harder or longer than they do. They bear the burden of being both mother and father—a role usually cast upon them because some man walked out on them.
Just ask them, “Is this how God meant it to be?” No, it’s not. God didn’t invent single motherhood. We humans made that up all by ourselves.
B. For Men
If what I am saying is true, then the major responsibility falls on the men. If the women of this church don’t trust us, whose fault is that? Is it not ours because we have failed to demonstrate Christlike sacrifice for others? If they doubt our intentions, if they fear what we will do, can you blame them?
We can’t blame the women. God has called us to spiritual leadership and therefore the obligation is on us to earn the right to lead others. Any failure on this score is ours alone.
Let me suggest three direct applications:
We must repent of our wrong attitudes.
We must stand against unfair treatment of women.
We must begin to lay down our lives for others.
How else will they believe us if they don’t see it in the way we live? If the women of our church have been repeatedly hurt by men, then the burden of proof rests squarely on us. We have to prove ourselves worthy of being trusted, worthy of their respect, worthy of their support. Until we do, they are entitled to be doubtful of our intentions.
A Sign of the Times
A few weeks ago after one of our constitutional focus groups I spent several hours talking with some dear friends about these issues. It happened that the very next day I went to buy a new suit at my favorite clothing store. While I was there, I happened to see a sign by the upstairs checkout counter that read, “Sexual harassment in this office will not be reported, but it will be graded.” I was shocked when I first read the sign, but as I thought about it further some of the things my friends had said the night before kept coming to my mind.
After several days I decided I would write a letter to the owner of the store and let him know how I felt. Here is a portion of that letter:
Dear Mr. _______________,
In checking my closet I have just discovered that 5 of the 6 suits I own were purchased at your store. Since moving to Chicago several years ago the only place I have ever shopped for new suits is_______________________.
I thought I should tell you about my most recent experience. Last week I spent several hundred dollars on a new suit, three shirts and two ties. I think it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a new suit but the results were outstanding.
I say all of that so you will know that I am perfectly pleased with the things I have purchased at your store. I have no complaints whatsoever about the merchandise, the price or the service.
But I confess I was deeply disturbed by something I saw taped on the wall by the upstairs checkout counter. It was a sign—supposedly meant to be funny—which read, “Sexual harassment in this office will not be reported. But it will be graded.” I was taken aback when I saw it, first by the crudity of the humor and then by the fact that the sign is posted where anyone can see it.
You certainly don’t need me to tell you that sexual harassment is a horrible reality for many women in America. Every day women are verbally and physically assaulted by unthinking men who view women as objects, not as people. They are subjected to crude locker room humor, thinly-veiled sexual innuendos, inappropriate touching, and various other forms of sexual intimidation.
My objection to the sign is this: As long as it is posted by the checkout counter, those who see it are entitled to draw the conclusion that you either think sexual harassment is no big deal or that you think it is a laughing matter.
I doubt that you really believe that. But as long as the sign remains up, you are taking sides with those who believe sexual harassment is legitimate.
So why am I writing you? I am writing so that you will know that I—a loyal customer—saw the sign and found it offensive. But if I saw it, who else has seen it and also formed a negative opinion?
I would not want my wife to see that sign—although many wives no doubt shop for their husbands. And how many daughters shop for their fathers? Or girl friends for their boy friends? The sign is there for everyone to see.
You may think I am making too much of a small thing, but from small things, like a sign on a wall, large conclusions are drawn.
I hope you will take the time to check this matter out for yourself. Please don’t take my word for it. The sign is right there by the upstairs checkout counter. When you find it, I hope you will remove it.
Again, please count me among your loyal customers. Almost every Sunday when I stand before my congregation, I am wearing one of your suits. I hope to remain a customer for many years to come.
You may be sure that if you decide to remove the sign, I will be glad to spread the word concerning your enlightened stand on one of the most troubling problems in American society.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Pastor, Calvary Memorial Church
I wrote the letter and dropped it in the mail, thinking that I would probably not hear from the owner. A week passed, then two weeks, then three weeks, and then last Tuesday I received an answer:
Dear Rev. Pritchard,
Thank you for taking the time to bring to my attention the matter of the sexual harassment sign you discovered in my store. Be assured that the offensive sign has been removed. We do not believe sexual harassment is legitimate, nor do we believe it is a laughing matter. I am sure that whoever put the sign up did not realize how insensitive and offensive it really was. In any event, it is no longer in my store.
Thank you for your loyal patronage. We look forward to continuing to fulfill your clothing needs.
(Signed by the Owner)
It’s just a small step in the right direction—one offensive sign removed. But on the other hand, it didn’t take much—just a letter and a 29-cent stamp. It’s just one battle, but if we don’t fight the small battles, how will we ever win the war?
Men, if we don’t stand up for women, how will they ever take us seriously? If we won’t protect them when they are abused, how will they ever trust us?
For that matter, if we don’t protect our women—the women around us in this church, in our homes and families, the women with whom we work, the women we see every day—if we don’t take steps to protect them from mistreatment, what kind of men are we anyway?
C. For All of Us
The problem of how men and women should relate to each other is not new. It’s as old as the Garden of Eden. The solution is not new either. It goes back to that same garden. It was never God’s will that men and women should
Fight each other
Hate each other
Abuse each other
Fear each other.
We did that to ourselves!
Our basic problem is self-centeredness. We all want to go our own way, to do our own thing and to have the world follow our personal agenda. Because we care more about ourselves than about other people, we are doomed to have a hard time relating to each other.
But self-centeredness is not a gender issue. At its deepest level, it has nothing to do with being a man or being a woman because we are all equally susceptible to living only for ourselves. Our basic problem is sinful pride—a desire to be the center of the universe. That problem will only be solved by returning to the cross of Jesus Christ where our egos can be crucified anew.
As far as the gender issue is concerned, we may simply say that the world is wrong on both extremes. The male chauvinists who abuse women are wrong; so are the radical feminists who blur the God-created distinctives between men and women. We’re foolish if we follow either group.
My final comments are very brief. We will never go wrong by following the Bible. When we read the Bible we find a pattern which affirms both equality and unique differentiation for men and women. Based on those God-created differences, we can confidently say that there is such a thing as biblical manhood and biblical womanhood. We can further say that those differences are not merely cultural or a result of the Fall but they are at the very heart of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
When we return to the biblical pattern of male-female relationships, we discover
and the only basis for contentment and lasting personal fulfillment.