God's Will for Man and Woman
When we come to the Bible, we find certain truths that challenge popular beliefs and sometimes generate such strong antagonism that the church is tempted to alter or eliminate them altogether. I will focus upon one: the creation order he has established between man and woman. God’s truth is simply this. He made man first, in his image. He then made woman, also in his image, to be man’s helpmeet. This is set forth clearly in the opening chapters of Genesis (1:26-28; 2:7,18,21-25). Domination and inferiority are neither implied nor encouraged. This order is not a question of inherent worth or personal giftedness but of God’s will, his purpose for man and for woman. By implication, obedience to his order is our happiness, for happiness is inseparable from holiness, living as he intended, consecrated to him.
Given these plain declarations and their challenge to our fallen willfulness, Genesis has always been the most attacked book in Holy Scripture. If Genesis can be deconstructed, mythologized, or undermined by making it but one of many early creation stories, then we can safely neglect the creation order set forth therein. If the Genesis account of the creation and purposes of man and woman are taken as inspired truth, as our Savior did (Matt. 19:4; John 8:35), then whatever modern men may say, however much they may scream, reinterpret Genesis, or reject it altogether, our submission to God requires our humble acceptance of our respective roles and purposes.
We are not the first generations to struggle with these truths. Paul had to reassert the creation order in Corinth. Among them, the apostle took Genesis at face value, taught them God’s truth, and applied it. Man is the image and glory of God; woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). Woman derives her existence from man (v. 8) – a reference to woman’s creation from Adam’s rib. Man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man (v. 9). Not to be misunderstood as implying the woman’s inferiority to man as a person, he hastened to add that man does not exist without woman, nor the woman without the man, but both in the Lord are unified and reach their best harmony when they fulfill God’s intended roles (v. 11).
Why did Paul feel it necessary to reassert the creation order? In Corinth, certain hyper-spiritual women interpreted equality in Christ to mean that they did not need men. Whatever normal relations and authority structures may have existed before, being a Christian meant they were liberated. They might divorce their husbands, especially if they were unbelievers. It was best for man and woman not to touch each other, and the wife did not need to fulfill her conjugal responsibilities. Publicly, the woman might preach and pray in the church, for she was man’s equal in Christ. The apostle rejected each of these implications of the equality of man and woman in Christ. Their true equality is found not in throwing off the creation roles but in fulfilling them unto the Lord. His coming did not abolish the creation order God established at the beginning but sanctified it.
Gender egalitarianism is therefore immoral and causes turmoil in society and in the church. It is against God’s order for man and woman. “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isa. 57:21). Admittedly, sin makes it very challenging to fulfill God’s creation purposes and roles. Men are not as tender and cherishing as they should be toward their wives. This is the reason that the husband’s duties are particularly focused upon love, cherishing, and nurturing – as Jesus Christ cherishes, loves, and sacrifices himself for his wife. Sin in the woman makes her submission difficult, as God said at the beginning. She will want to rule over her husband – this is not a “the victim woman” statement that some want to make it. It is part of the original curse. The woman, now fallen, will not like her place of submission, even as the man will abuse his authority, make her submission more difficult, and feel that she is not helping him as he needs. Nevertheless, God’s creation order stands. What has become difficult if not impossible because of sin becomes possible and beautiful through the renewing grace of Jesus Christ.
The apostle did not allow the ignorance of Gentile paganism or the potential antagonism of the Corinthians to keep him from speaking God’s plain truth. He did not try to determine which way the cultural winds were blowing and modify God’s truth accordingly. Bringing ourselves under his authority is our true liberty and personal fulfillment. Beautiful and safe families and nations result when we forsake the ravings of the blind and yield ourselves to be governed by God.
But some in the church have embraced the lies of Corinthian hyper-spiritualism and antinomianism. They say things like, “Genesis need not be so closely followed. Paul was likely anti-women, and his statements are not universally binding. Because Christ has come, there is no longer male and female, and so the old roles in family and church are abolished; perhaps we should even accept transgenderism.” By saying such things, it is as if we have become the Corinthians but rejected Paul’s letter rather than receiving his admonitions and repenting!
No, Apostle of Jesus Christ, Spirit-filled women can preach and pray in church; they need not be silent. No, Paul, the woman was not made for man; this is oppression. This opens the door to abuse and male domination. Better to deny that Genesis is God’s word than to lose my right to live as I please. This is a real test for us, as it was for the Corinthians. Will we come under God’s authority, or return to Eden and fall again. Or if you prefer, will we say with the wicked servants in Jesus’ parable, “We will not have this man to rule over us” (Luke 19:14)
Our Savior quiets these fears by declaring by his Spirit that God’s creation order is not opposed to his saving grace and kingdom. The union of man and woman in Christ is not a denial of their creation differences and purposes but their restoration and elevation. This is the wonder of the apostle’s teaching on marriage. Because man is fallen and cursed, his part of the curse is authority abuse: neglect, cold, harshness, and authoritarianism. He needs the example of Christ to show him wherein true and beautiful authority exists and the way to exercise it – by being a servant, nurturing his wife, and cherishing her, as Christ the church.
The woman’s part of the curse is authority rejection: leaving the place God assigned her, pushing on her husband to get her way, and living as a law to herself – perhaps while talking very spiritually and exposing all the weaknesses of the men around her – like the Corinthian women. I can get along just fine without men – one step away from God giving over and falling into grosser sins, to which the woman opens herself by rejecting the authority under which God created her to thrive (Rom. 1:26). As the man and husband need the example of Christ, so the woman and wife need the model of the church to show her the beauty of submission. Her submission is that of joyful service to the Lord, regardless of her husband’s attendance to his duties. As she submits as unto the Lord, he will protect her.
But it requires faith to believe and live this way, and faith is the challenge. Will we accept and try to apply God’s word, or shall we look for ways to get around what he has told us and what the church has always been led to believe by the witness of the Spirit? Yes, there are inattentive and abusive husbands in the church, as well as hard-hearted and neglectful fathers. Pastors and elders must more vigilantly teach God’s truth, disciple husbands to love their wives and fathers to love their daughters, and in so doing protect Christian women and give them a winsome example of biblical manhood and especially our Savior’s perfect love and tenderness.
It should not surprise us that the world again has gone to war against God’s creation order, for it never accepted it but in common grace laziness that has now worn off. But in the church, which is a humble servant and steward of God’s word and mysteries, are we really going to rebel against our Savior? We have lost our faith in God’s creation wisdom. We have forgotten that God has very different purposes in creating man and woman. They are unified, one whole person, and beautifully reconciled in Christ as his one body. But their creation differences remain. A woman is not a man; a man is not a woman. The ultimate expression of unbelief and rebellion is when we refuse to be what God created us to be. The ultimate expression of faith is when we meekly accept his place for us and joyfully serve him.