The message at church this morning (11/4/2007) addressed a topic that has featured significantly in my thinking as a Christian woman – God’s design for gender. Gender issues are not the gospel, so I do try not to make them the focus of my Christian life. But what we believe about gender has a lot of practical influence on our daily living, and the Bible has much to say about who we are as men and women. What Scripture teaches about gender generates controversy, and I’ve been on both sides of the debate at various times. I’ll share my notes from today’s sermon, and then I’ll add a bit of my own story and perspective at the end.
According to God’s Word, men and women have equal value and dignity before God. We share the privilege of being God’s image-bearers (Gen. 1:27). Every discussion about gender difference must start with an assertion of our absolute equality. Along with our equality, we also have differences as men and women. Scripture particularly describes the different roles we have in marriage. God established these roles as part of his created order – not as a result of the fall. The Genesis account indicates this in several ways: the order of creation (man first, then woman – re-emphasized in 1 Tim. 2:12-13), the man’s naming of woman (the role of naming carried a degree of authority), the primary accountability of the man (Adam is the first one held responsible for Eve’s sin, although she bears responsibility, too), the purpose of creation (Eve made a helper for Adam, not vice versa), and the distortion and restoration of our differences (compare the curse in Gen. 3:16 to the warning to Cain in Gen. 4:7). The Biblical ideal for the husband is loving, humble leadership; because of sin, men are prone to errors of passivity – being shirkers – or errors of aggression – being tyrants. The Biblical ideal for the wife is joyful, intelligent submission; because of sin women are prone to errors of passivity – being doormats – or errors of aggression – being usurpers. The equality and the difference in gender reflect the equality and the differences of the Trinity (1 Cor. 11:3), where headship and submission have existed for eternity. If we dislike these things, we dislike something about the very nature of God. We can glorify God by gladly embracing the wisdom and beauty of his good design.
This teaching about gender helped me as I continue to clarify my thinking about my role as a woman and as a wife. As a teen, I took the traditional roles for granted but began to question how I fit in as a young lady always being praised for her “leadership” gift. In college, I sought and bought into a lot of teaching about evangelical feminism. But as Aaron and I prepared for marriage, I found myself confronted by a biblical text that I could not explain away as cultural or historical or part of the fall – the teaching in Ephesians 5 about husbands and wives relating to each other as a reflection of Christ and the church. Christ heads the church, and the church submits to Christ. That relationship is eternal, unchanging with culture, never to be inverted so that Christ would sometimes submit to the church. So although I still had a lot of questions about how the roles would work out practically in our marriage, I felt convicted that I needed to embrace my God-given role as a wife who submits to her husband.
Looking back, I can see that most of my reluctance to the biblical teaching about gender stemmed from two fears: one, that as a woman I would be seen as inferior, and two, that my gifts and talents would be squandered or squelched if I took on the “traditional” role. I’ve learned that being my husband’s helper does neither of those things. The fact that Aaron needs my help doesn’t mean I have a lesser part; I get the privilege of using my abilities to their fullest in service to my best friend and love. It doesn’t matter which one of us is naturally better at any one thing; we are each equal before God, and we are each given certain responsibilities by God. We serve each other – him by humbly leading, and me by joyfully helping. We’re both growing in these roles, and we’re reaping the benefits of the Lord’s design for gender equality and difference.
I know there are probably a lot of different perspectives about this issue among you blog readers. Where do you stand? What from the teaching I summarized (in paragraph two) stood out to you?