It has certainly been far too long since I have written about one of the most important topics that I can ever cover on this blog, that of biblical manhood and womanhood. As many know, I began a series on men and women’s biblical roles with John Macarthur’s book Different By Design as a guide. I was recently encouraged to continue the series, and with some recent issues coming up in the news, and through continued study and discussion on the topic, I felt God leading me to press on, and He has provided the time and the resources to do so.
The understanding of proper Biblical manhood and womanhood is essential for each and every believer. Confused Christians across the United States fill our churches, and evangelical leaders are searching for a cure to the issues that they see as a result of ignorance when it comes to the biblical roles of men and women. Sadly, most of these cures for the disease we see — the disengaged father, the feminist mother, the broken families — are unbiblical fixes because our leaders are not looking to the Bible as a guide, but rather to modern day phsychology and philosophies.* As Christians, we need to investigate the failures of the relationship between men and women in our culture and in our churches, and then proceed to properly define biblically what those relationships were to created to be. This can be done by firstly looking at what a wife should be and what a husband should be. When we have this knowledge, it will begin to change not only our knowledge, but also our daily life — and this points to the fact that this knowledge is of the utmost importance.
The Death of Marriage, The Beginning of â€œMe-ageâ€
Marriage isn’t failing, it’s just being avoided. In Different By Design, Dr. John Macarthur notes that over thirty years ago secular thinkers such as Carl Rogers were already observing this trend:
“The institution of marriage,” says Rogers, “is most assuredly in an uncertain state. If 50 to 75 percent of Ford or General Motors cars completely fell apart within the early part of their lifetimes as automobiles, drastic steps would be taken. We have no such well organized way of dealing with our social institutions, so people are groping, more or less blindly, to find alternatives to marriage (which is certainly less than 50 percent successful.) Living together without marriage, living in communes, extensive child care centers, serial monogamy (with one divorce after another), the women’s liberation movement to establish the woman as a person in her own right, new divorce laws which do way with the concept of guilt — these are all gropings toward some new for of man-woman relationship for the future. It could take a bolder man than I to predict what will emerge (Carl Rogers Becoming Partners: Marriage and Its Alternatives [New York: Dell, 1973], 11.)
Not surprisingly, many are pointing to the fact that most get married to benefit themselves personally, when both partners should be giving all of themselves to their partners. Paul points out that in the last days “men will be lovers of self, lovers of money…unloving…lovers of pleasure rather than God…” The marriage becomes a â€œme-ageâ€ not a marriage.
“When two people can’t live up to each other’s expectations,” adds Dr. MacArthur, “they’ll look for their fantasized satisfaction in the next relationship, the next experience, the next excitement. But that path leads only to self-destruction and emptiness.” MacArthur also points out another great problem for marriage as well as for the family is that there are homes without love and full of disobedience. With every sin, the relationships within the family are weakened.
Rescuing The Family
The final outcome is anarchy in this nation, as I have pointed that out many times in past articles. Ultimately, the question to be answered is this: how can the family be rescued from itâ€™s current state?*
Since relationship between the husband and wife is to imitate the relationship the relationship of Christ and the Church, it must be a pure and holy love. As Paul exhorts husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) “For that type of relationship to be a reality,” says Dr. MacArthur, “Christ must be at its center.” Marriage for those who have not been regenerated is of much benefit, but they don’t understand fully nor are they able to “apply the power and potential of those principles.” The regenerated family can be just as God has designed it be to when they are “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29)
Many have asked and wondered what God’s ideal is for wives, and who better to sum it up than Elisabeth Elliot? Writing on “The Essence of Femininity” she tells us:
“Unlike Eve, whose response to God was calculating and self-serving, the virgin Mary’s answer holds no hesitation about risks or losses or the interruption of her own plans. It is an utter and unconditional self-giving: “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). This is what I understand to be the essence of femininity. It means surrender.
Think of a bride. She surrenders her independence, her name, her destiny, her will, herself to the bridegroom in marriage…The gentle and quiet spirit of which Peter speaks, calling it “of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4), is the true femininity, which found its epitome in Maryâ€ (John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991], 398, 532, emphasis added).
That is revolutionary in our society. Surrender is not the norm.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands,” is a well-quoted verse within some homes. Sadly many misunderstand or do not seek to truly understand what submitting means, or what Paul is speaking about in Ephesians 5:22-23.
“Paul is commanding everyone to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ and, as the first example,” says MacArthur, “wives are to be subject to their own husbands…We noted…that â€˜be subjectâ€™ refers to a relinquishing of one’s rights. In no way does it imply a difference in essence or worth; it does refer, however to a willing submission of oneself. Wives, submission is to be your voluntary response to God’s will — a willingness to give up your rights to other believers in general and ordained authority in particular, in this case your own husband.”
Husbands are to be treating their wives as their equals or co-laborers as the they take on the responsibility to care for them, to protect them and to provide for them. Likewise, points out Dr. MacArthur, “wives fulfill their God-given responsibility when they submit willing to their own husbands.” This “reflects not only the depth of intimacy and vitality in their relationship, but also the sense of ownership a wife has for her husband.”
“Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (Ephesians 7:3-4.) It is quite evident that the husband and wife belong to one another.
At this point in discussing wives, I want to quickly shift to what a godly woman looks like, as this is important for all believers to understand, especially those of us who are young single men who will someday marry.
A Godly Appearance
Women must “adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness,” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Now, we are about to tread into controversial soil, so letâ€™s go slowly.
To begin, we need to understand the cultural context of the day in Ephesus. Ancient writer and satirist Juvenal wrote his sixth satire on women and their preoccupation with appearance.
“There is nothing that [such] a woman will not permit herself to do, nothing that she deems shameful, and when she encircles her neck with green emeralds and fastens huge pearls to her elongated ears, so important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and stories piled one another on her head! in the meantime she pays no attention to her husband!”
Dr. Macarthur explains the verse more clearly:
“Rich women also displayed their wealth through elaborate hairdos with expensive jewelry woven into them. That’s what Paul meant by â€˜braided hair and gold or pearls.â€™ The Bible does not forbid women from wearing simple braids or gold, pearls, and high quality clothing. Both the bride of Solomon (Song 1:10) and the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31:22 wore beautiful clothes and jewelry. However the Bible does forbid wearing those things for the wrong motives.”
The question is how does this apply to the modern day church and the modern day woman? Simple. “A Christian woman ought to attract attention by her godly character, not her physical beauty.” Women should not flaunt their beauty to get attention, but must remain humble and godly, gaining attention only through their good works before God.
“This points out a major problem with the contemporary women’s liberation movement in the church,” says MacArthur. “A woman cannot claim to fear God and yet disregard what His Word says about her role.” Many have attempted to do so, and have destroyed Godâ€™s Word by ignoring â€œhardâ€ Scripture. Yet others have gone to the opposite extreme and have enforced legalism. Neither is biblical, and we must find a biblical balance between the two.
This part of the discussion on godly women has proved to me to be almost harder than discussing a godly appearance. Most can accept and understand that women, whether young or old, should be gaining attention through godliness and not through their clothing. Therefore it should be modest, and beauty should not be flaunted to distract from worship. The answer remains to the question of what is modest, and that is hard to define in our society today, but many have been able to find a good balance between staying in style yet remaining modest. To say the least, Iâ€™m not going to get into that deeply at this point.
When it comes to women in church, I and many others get very uncomfortable. We have no problem with saying that a woman should not be a pastor, or elder, but for some reason many of us struggle with Paul’s statement that we are to “let a woman receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
So, women are not be teachers in the context of a worship service. Yet we all understand quite clearly that they are to be discipled and taught just as men.
Dr. MacArthur also points out that women are spiritually equal to men even in the Old Testament in the fact that:
–They had the same responsibilities as men to obey God’s law.
–They had the same protection as men: the penalties for crimes against women are the same as crimes against men
–They took the same vows as men: even women could take the nazarite vow.
–They had the same access to God as men:
–God dealt directly with women in the Bible and not through a man when He wanted to communicate with them.
Yet at the same time:
–They did not serve as leaders: only Deborah was the unique case because of unavailable male leadership
–They had no ongoing prophetic ministry
And it is the same in the New Testament. Women had the same responsibilities as men, and they had the same access to Jesus as men. Yet the clear distinction between men and women continues as we see no woman apostle, pastor, evangelist, or elder.
Now, what about being silent? Should women not be allowed to speak at all? Or can the preach as long as their attitude is right?
The answer is clear. “Women are to keep quiet in the sense of not teaching, and they are to demonstrate subjection by not usurping authority,” says Dr. MacArthur.
“The context [of the verses] implies that the silence Paul commands is not intended to preclude them women from speaking at all but to prevent them from speaking in tongues and preaching in the church…Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the services of the church. That is true not because women are spiritually inferior to men, but because God’s law commands it. he has ordained order in His creation — an order that reflects His own nature and therefore should be reflected in His church.”
Now, we must also understand that women are still permitted to speak His truth in the public arena. They are allowed to proclaim the Word of God except during the time when the church is meeting for corporate worship.
This is just the beginning, and a mere â€œscratching of the surfaceâ€ in our look at Biblical manhood and womanhood. There is still more to come, and I hope that you pray that God will give me the strength to continue this series, and wisdom as I answer the questions, comments, and e-mails you have for me and as I continue to write about what to look for in a wife and then continue on into godly manhood.
* First asterisk: that site is a good site. Visit it.
* Second asterisk: Please note that when I speak of family, at this point I am speaking of the Christian family — the family that seems to be the greatest need of change and renewal.