This is the second part of a message started last week. Last week we explored the equality of men and women in the revelation of Scripture. Today we'll be looking at some more passages that speak to the distinctions of men and women. It seems in Corinth, like Canada, the church had gladly accepted the gospel's teaching regarding the equality of men and women. Yet, for all the excitement about the new-found status of women in the church being equal with men, some in the Corinthian church were sliding toward a more position that eroded the differentiations between male and female.

Thesis: The Word of God calls us to preserve the distinction between man and woman, which honours the particular glory of each, by relating to one another in appropriate ways in the home and in the church. 

Distinction Between Man and Woman

This passage is really hard to understand. People argue about the meaning of words, the cultural situation in Corinth, and you can get hundreds of interpretation of this passage and how to apply it. But I’m going to start with something that every body agrees on: that Paul’s main point is that there remains a distinction between men and women in the church. Throughout this passage he gives a different set of instructions to men in the church and women in the church, and the instructions he gives all have to do with them preserving their masculinity and femininity in the church. Whatever the cultural background was at Corinth, and the reason for wearing the head covering, its clear that the scripture is concerned with preserving a distinction between the two genders. This is probably most clearly expressed in verses 7-14. First Paul appeals to the Bible and then to culture. Biblically, he points out that man and woman were created separately; first the man and then the woman, the woman for the man. Paul’s point here is not to set man over woman, for he just as quickly points out that neither man nor woman is independent of one another, and of one another. The point Paul is making is that there is a distinction.

He also argues from natural reason saying that they can judge for themselves. That’s probably a better understanding of verse 14: use your natural reason and common sense. In nearly every culture of the world, they way we dress, how we adorn ourselves and the way we wear our hair reveals that this distinction between man and woman is insuppressible.

No doubt there are many cultural conventions when it comes to masculine and feminine roles, jobs and rights which need to be revised or rejected. As Creator, however, God intends that men and women should be distinct. This principle will make us wary of going overboard on the modern theme of ‘unisex’.

Honour the Particular Glory of Man and Woman
A second theme the runs through this passage, regardless of how you understand each little part, is a concern to honour and recognize the glory of men and women as men and women. There is the glory that both men and women share in being made in the image of God, yet there is also a glory in men living out their masculinity, and a glory in women embracing their femininity. 

This is seen for example in verse 4-5, 7 for example: “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 … 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. ” The heart here is honouring the particular glory of man and of woman, and how in doing so, we give honour the God who created man and woman in his image.

The glory of man appears to be his pre-eminence in creation. He was created first and out of him, the woman was created. Some see Paul use of the word “head” in verse 3 in this sense as meaning that the man is the “source” of the woman, while others see in the term a “prominence” or even a “first in authority”. Again much ink has been spilt over this, but no one can deny that these middle verses speak of the particular glory of the man being first in creation and the source of the woman. However, the scriptures also speak of the unique glory of the woman, relating, as we’ve repeated over the past couple of weeks, to her unique role in bearing children. - so that now every man is born of woman. So there is not only not an independence of one another that Paul is seeking against here, but an interdependence of man and woman when they honour the glory of who they are as men and women, together working together as men and women in the home, in the church and in the great commission.

What is the distinctive glory of man and of a woman? I want to be careful to not go beyond what the scripture says, so take this as general starts:

  • Masculinity: the central organizing principle of masculinity is associated with the ideas of strength and responsibility, connected historically and biologically to the man’s role as provider and protector.
  • Femininity: the central organizing principle of femininity is associated with the concepts of beauty and nurturing care, connected historically and biologically to the woman’s ability to reproduce and bear children

While we are Christians should be aligned with movements working toward equality of men and women, we must be wary of movements that see equality as sameness or androgyny, stripping men and women of their particular glory of men and women. Let me give you an examples of this:

It used to be recognized that men and women approach sex differently. That men and women differ in their sex drive, and in the emotional connection necessary to have a fulfilling experience, for example. Women, obviously had much more at stake in the sex act, as they were the ones who would be most affected by an unplanned pregnancy for example. Now although these are regarded as basic facts of biology, some of these ideas led to some double standards in our culture. And so, some in our society sought to eliminate the double standard regarding sex. But let me ask you, did that lead to men becoming more careful, more understanding, more responsible in their actions? Or did it lead to women acting as less discerning, less cautious, less committed in their sexual relationships? In our day, women are approaching sex, more and more like men and we celebrate that the double standards are erased, yet that hasn’t changed the biological realities of women’s sex drive, need for emotional connection and reality of pregnancy. Instead of celebrating differences and seeing them as the glory of woman, we've stripped women of their womanhood.

At some point life for women became about proving yourself in a man’s world, rather than exploring and honouring your womanhood. We’re so used to comparing and competing that we are not as focused on celebrating and cooperating. [Jean and I worked together on that.]

Relating to one another in appropriate ways in the Home and in the Church

A third point that i believe is universally recognized about this passage is that the proper application of the distinctive glory of male and female is in the proper relation of one to the other in the home, and by extension, into the church. 

Note that this passage seems to primarily focus on the relationship between a husband and wife. While we don’t know exactly the rules governing the wearing of hair at Corinth, it seems clear that for a wife to let her hair down in public was a show of disrespect towards her husband.  At one point Paul says if you’re going to dishonour your husband in that way, you might as go all the way and dress your hair as a prostitute would. So yes, there is a way in which a husband and wife relate to one another in the family that preserves the honour of both genders, but also note that the instruction given here carries into the church as well. 

So take these three words, “Distinction, Glory and Relate”.  Applying these principles in this passage, I would say the scripture is teaching us that we should be taking care to preserve a distinction between masculinity and femininity in our appearance and dress, that we should be seeking to find the glory in how God created us as male and female, and that how we relate to one another in marriage and in the church should not undermine our uniqueness as male and female, and should be an expression of our interdependence upon now another.

Understanding those principles then gives us something to start with when coming to some of the harder texts of the New Testament. 

Ephesians 5:21-33: there is a distinctiveness: Paul speaks to men as men and women as women in this passage. Glory: the is a unique glory assigned to both - the glory in this passage is that husband and wife get to uniquely picture the gospel. Husbands picture christ in their sacrificial self-giving love and care of their wives, and Wives picture the church in the submissive honour she gives. And the distinctiveness and glory is expressed through how they relate to one another in the home. We see the gospel in how they relate to one another. 

Let’s take another passage. Some ask whether women are able to serve in the church as elders. For nearly all of church history, the churches were universal in understanding the the office of elder was reserved for men, on account of verses such as Titus 1: 

Titus 1:5   This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 

So what does this mean? That no women can use their gifts in the church to teach or lead others? Not at all, look at the next chapter:

2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 

So women are to be discipled, they are to learn, and they are to teach others. A church that does not involve women in the teaching ministry of the church will be a church that is undiscipled. But note again here, there is a distinction in the spheres of service of men and women, there is a glory in both serving the church out of their masculinity and femininity, and there is are roles that they are to uphold and teach others, specifically younger men and women. In summary:

  1. Unmarried women and men: relate to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
  2. Wives and Husbands: Wives showing honour to their husbands as head, and husbands showing honour to their wives as “weaker vessels” - understanding the power differential, always keeping in mind that you are co-heirs in Chirst so that your prayers might not be hindered.
  3. In the church, we take the roles and positions on do not blur the distinctions of man and woman, nor dishonour the glory of man or the glory of woman, nor upset the household order.

What does this mean at OCBC?

  1. Not everything is in a neat little box for everyone. If you are struggling with your understanding of your gender, or your sexuality, you’re not alone and there is a place to work that out here in the church. We have experience in working out these things or we could help you find ways to work them out. Just don’t withdraw or isolate, or act upon things without coming and allowing others to walk beside you. 
  2. Be careful and aware of how much of our culture these days is insisting on a deconstruction of gender and elimination of any distinctiveness. Ultimately, many believe this experiment is doomed to failure, as the distinction is irrepressible. At some point the absurdity shows up. We might claim that there are 52 genders or whatever on Facebook, but when someone has a baby, we still ask, boy or girl? We can’t help ourselves. But know that this is setting us at odds with the spirit of the age, and be prepared to honour manhood and womanhood even in the face of opposition. 
  3. We need older men and older women to show the younger generation how you glory in your masculinity and femininity and relate to the opposite gender in appropriate ways. Next year, I want to be putting together a package for you to help you do this. So if you’re an older man or an older women, I want you to be thinking of a younger man or women in the church, or if you’re a younger man or women think of an older. And you say, will you disciple me?
  4. We are seeking to raise up older men and women as elders and leading women in the congregation who help ensure that this sort of discipleship and care is happening in the congregation.