We live in a very gender-confused age. Distinctions between man and women, male and female have been decried as archaic, oppressive, arbitrary and harmful. Gender is merely a biological superficiality (we got different sex organs) to be molded by social constructs. This is what is taught in nearly every woman-studies or gender-studies program at university. Societies create gender and societies can deconstruct gender. Gender roles are arbitrary and archaic. Gender is a continuum – there is not male and female, there is a continuum of traits that society has defined as maleness and femaleness and we all are somewhere on that line and can move. Is this really where were at? Bisexualism is in or trendy. Gender ambiguity is in. The moral cause of our day is fighting for the rights of differently engendered peoples. This is the culture that we live in.
In a culture such as ours, a passage like the one we are going to look at over the next two weeks seems like it is from a different planet, another world. It is difficult to preach and often embarrassing to have associated with our holy scripture. Head coverings?
1Cor. 11:2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
The Fundamental Equality of Men and Women 1 Corinthians 11:2-3Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But …
Paul is pleased that the Corinthians were holding onto the traditions he laid down to the church. Given the context of what this passage will go on to teach, it seems that the Corinthians had done well to absorb the Christian teachings regarding the equality of men and women before God, but not so much keeping in tension with that the distinctions. Today we’re going to go through the scripture and focus on the equality, next week the distinctions. There is a fundamental equalizing principle within Christianity that placed on women a greater value than they had previously held in society, other Jewish or Greek. Jesus, after all, enlisted among his most fervent supporters many women. He valued them in a way unheard of for a Jewish rabbi. A woman, Mary Magdalene, was the first witness to his resurrection, even though her testimony would not have even been legal in the courts of the day. Female prophetesses, evangelists and financial backers all played roles in the expansion of the early church. Even in this passage we see that there was a role in the church for women, they could pray or prophecy. The totality of scripture describes the fundamental equality of the sexes in at least 6 ways, perhaps more:
Men and Women both Created in God’s Image: Equal in Dignity (Gen 1:27)
We’ve already been to this passage multiple times, so we’ll just note once again how radical a statement this was in the ancient world regarding the fundamental equality of women and men.
Men and Women both Involved in God’s Mandate: Equal in Necessity (Gen 2)
This was one of our key points last week. Adam can not experience the blessed multiplication for which his race was made by himself. And so God makes a woman from his side, to be a “helper fit for him”. This word “helper” is not one that diminishes the woman, for the word is most often in the New Testament to speak of God as a “helper”. The idea is that the in the woman, man finds a strength corresponding to him, to do that which he cannot do on his own, specifically to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” God’s creation mandate requires that men and women work alongside one another, as co-image bearers.
Man and Woman both sin and its devastations: Equal in Depravity (Gen 3)
A few weeks ago we spoke about the human condition: that we are totally depraved before God (meaning that every aspect of our human experience is touched by and tainted by sin) and because of that we have a total inability to please God. The Bible does not see men as inherently more noble than women or women inherently more virtuous than men. We’ve seen that both man and woman sinned in rebelling against God’s command, taking for themselves moral autonomy and thus suffering the consequences of sin so that now every part of their human experience would be touched by and tainted by sin. We’ve seen in Genesis 3 that this would affect their relationships with one another, their experience of raising children, their experience of labour and the nature of their relationship with the rest of creation.
Man and Woman both part of God’s Redemptive Plan: Equal in Salvation History (Gen 12)
The first promise of the gospel uniquely singles out that the messiah would be the seed of the woman, a child born Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
- this is why Adam turns to Eve after the promise is given and names her “life”.
However, all subsequent expansions of the promise are given to men - yet this doesn’t negate the woman part in God’s redemptive plan. The clearest example of this is in the accounts of Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 12:1-3, God chooses Abraham and promises to make of him a great nation, and that in him “all nations of the earth shall be blessed”
So what’s happens after Abraham does after receiving this expansion on the promise? We’ll they travel to Egypt and Abraham allows his wife to be taken into the house of Pharaoh. But God preserves Sarah. He does this not once, but twice, and then his son to whom the promise is passed down does the same thing with his wife. Every time, the Lord rescues these women, for they are as integral to the redemptive plan as their husbands.
Even the women don’t understand this at first. At one point Sarah, recognizing that she is past childbearing age, brings her maidservant to Abraham and tells him to have children by her. These women considered themselves of secondary importance to the promises, after all, the promises were given to the men. Yet again God steps in and has to say clearly to Abraham:
Gen. 17:15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for your wife, you must no longer call her Sarai; Sarah will be her name. 16 I will bless her and will give you a son through her. I will bless her and she will become a mother of nations. Kings of countries will come from her!”
So yes, while the promises were passed down primarily through the men - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc., the fulfillment of the promise would be through the women, until,
Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Mary is indeed blessed among women, as it was through her, who had not known any man, that the Lord came into this world, just as He had promised to the men of old.
And just as women were the first to know of the incarnation, so women were also the first to know of his resurrection, as the angels appeared to them on that day and sent them to be the first heralds of the gospel.
Men and Women stand together at the foot of the Cross: Equal in Redemption (Gal 3)
Christ is forming a new community made up of men and women upon equal footing. For all of the denominations the form around so many different unique practices and interpretations, for all of the different views of baptism or the Lord’s supper, I have never heard of one Christian denomination that has ever excluded women from either baptism or the Lord supper. This is more significant that you may think, as many denominations draw their teachings regarding those two ordinances from Old Testament practices that were limited solely to men, such as circumcision or priesthood. Yet no church that i am aware of has ever argued that those community defining ordinances should be limited to men. Men and women stand equal together as brothers and sisters before the throne of God and in the church, just as Paul writes in Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Husbands and Wives both belong to one another: Equal in Mutuality
1Cor. 7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Discussion: the Bible says that the wife does not have authority over her body, but her husband does. So I showed her the next verse. There is an equality in mutuality.
That was a very quick overview of the Bible’s treatment of the equality of men and women. Yet, the bible also teaches that there is a proper differentiation between men and women. In nearly ever one of the above points, men and women come together uniquely as men and uniquely as women to complement one another.
Some have asked as to whether it is appropriate for Christians to label themselves as feminists. That depends. What are we talking about? Are we saying that if someone believes in the fundamental equality of the sexes that they are a feminist? I would say I believe in that but not because I’m a feminist, but because I’m a Christian.
Are we talking about an ideological lens that I look through to evaluate truth claims and morality claims? Then no, because my lens has to be the scripture first. And I have to be very careful to let scripture be the lens that inspects me.
So, as an example, I may have said some things today that a someone who calls themselves a feminist would be pleased with. Great! But what happens next week when if we see in scripture differing roles for men and women? Now that person might be displeased. Because they are judging through their lens, ultimately they are the judge.
If the scripture is only authoritative when it says what i agree with, then it is not authoritative at all, for I have made myself the authority. I have to allow scripture to change me, to challenge me, and to rebuke me. If I tickled your ears today because I said some things you agree with, come back next week and see if what i say offends you. And then ask yourself, are you truly ready to wrestle with the authority of God’s word? Are you going to struggle through the hard passages, not to bend them to say what you want them to say, but to bend your heart to the scripture? It’s a good thing to have some of your beliefs change because you’ve been wrestling with the scriptures, I know i’ve had three or four of my own beliefs and worldview change as we went through Hebrews and I had to wrestle through some hard passages. But be alert that you don’t find yourself when your shifting always shifting toward what is culturally acceptable. If God’s Word is actually true, we should find that there should be things in it that inspire us and things in it that offend us.
De-Imaging of the Opposite Gender
- Abuse: 1Pet. 3:7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you* of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
- Rape/Sexual Assault
- Pornography (men and women)
- Coarse language/TV shows/Joking
Re-Imaging the Opposite Gender
- The first step in creating healthy dialogue in a marriage and in relations between genders is a healthy “made-in-the-image of God” equality.
- Beloved by God
- Treat young women as sisters in the Lord.