(This is actually the first in the series, with “Clear Designs” following)
The S-Word: Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood
I remember teaching a ladies’ bible study about 20 years ago on an Air Force base in England. I was doing a study on being a Christian wife, but there was one chapter I was simply dreading—it was the chapter on submission. There were about 30 women in this particular study, which ended up being about 25 more than I expected. I had actually begun the study on the behest of a few of my friends, but word quickly spread around the chapel that we were starting it, and five women grew to thirty by the time we started.
Now, I am not silly enough to think that had anything to do with me. These women showed up because it was on marriage, and marriage is a hard thing, especially in the military. There is a very good reason that the divorce rate in the military is even higher than that in the civilian world of America—it’s hard! What became apparent to me rather quickly was that these women came because the study was on marriage, not because it was on Christian marriage. In addition, most of them were unbelievers, career women who balked at the very notion of submitting to anyone, much less their husbands!
So I began the study and soon there it was, looming on the horizon—the submission chapter—and try as I might, I wasn’t going to be able to avoid it. I thought of skipping it or skewing it a bit so that I really wasn’t addressing male/female roles, but the more I worked around it, the more I knew I had to tackle it head on. The funny thing was that the more I studied and read and prepared for that lesson, the more I realized what the core issue really was, and it wasn’t submitting to another person at all. The core issue with all of us is an inability, in and of ourselves, to submit to God. In order to truly understand and then follow God’s design for men and women, all of us have to submit to God’s Word. We have to give up what we think is best and relinquish ourselves to the fact that it is God who really knows what is best.
This is certainly impossible without Christ, without the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so it is also most certainly impossible unless one has accepted Christ as his/her personal Savior. With all of this in mind, I endeavored on this current study of submission in regards to women, not because it feels good or even seems good, but because it is God’s design and His order. If I can submit to His authority not only in my life but over my life, then fulfilling the role He has intended for me will only be a natural outpouring of that.
Why So Negative?
One of the ladies I was counseling expressed to me that when she thinks of submitting, or even of the word “submission,” she automatically thinks of slavery. She very rightly expressed her disdain for what America did in terms of that institution and how deplorable it was that so many had to endure mistreatment in the name of “submission.” I couldn’t have agreed with her more on her views of this particular institution. However, this conversation made me think more about why so many of us equate “submission” with “slavery.” Why are we often predisposed to an aversion to submitting, and where do we start so that we can correct our misinterpretation?
According to dictionary.com, to be a “slave” is to be one who is “the property of and wholly subject to another.” From the same source, to “submit” means to “give over or entirely yield to the authority of another.” When examined closely, one can see that the definition of word “submission” is contained within the definition of “slavery,” but it doesn’t constitute the entire definition. My point is that one must submit in order to be a slave, but one doesn’t necessarily have to be a slave in order to submit. Let’s start here and then examine the answers to our questions on submission for Christian women, but also for Christians in general.
What is the root cause of our aversions to submitting? First, let’s go back to that definition of “submission”:
“To give over or entirely yield to the authority of another.” (dictionary.com)
If I “give over” or “entirely yield” to what someone else says or requires, the one person I’ve left out of that equation is me. To “entirely yield” is to give up any part of myself to another person. There is absolutely nothing in me that would do that naturally; I am predisposed to an aversion to taking myself out of the equation. This is true of all of humanity. All of us have at our cores a predisposition toward self as center, and this predisposition is the root of our sin. We can see this from the beginning at the fall of Adam and Eve.
Genesis 3:1-5 describes the temptation and subsequent fall of the first humans in the Garden of Eden. When one reads the way Satan tempted them, there is a continual usage of the second person pronoun, “you.” Look closely at Genesis 3:4-5,
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”
The great temptation of Satan was luring both Eve and Adam to put themselves at the center of their existences instead of God. Before this, neither would have questioned God’s ordinances; they existed for and with God. However, Satan tempted them with the notion that they didn’t have to put God first but that they could be first. The moment that Adam and Eve gave in to this temptation, mankind’s sin nature became a reality and at the core of this reality is self. Consequently, man is now more closely defined by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-4,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self,…without self-control,…swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God….
We are by nature at the center of our own existences, giving us no ability within ourselves to submit to anything other than self. Even when we submit outside of God, we are still doing so from a perspective that is self; we can do nothing else. “Submission,” then, becomes contrary to self as ruler, and the notion of submitting to anyone follows disdainfully thereafter. Unfortunately, that began with our relationship with God and has continued in all other relationships, including, but not limited to, the relationship of women to men.
The answer is simply and complicatedly submitting first to God. If I can’t do that, then I can’t submit to anyone, much less my husband or any male leadership because it is God who says that I must. If I’m unwilling to submit to God, then certainly I won’t be willing to do everything He tells me to do. It is a vicious cycle, but there is really only way course that leads to success in our states of existences. Jesus said it very plainly in Luke 9:23,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
It’s fairly plain what Jesus means in this passage with “let him deny himself,” but what does He mean by “take up his cross”?
Misconception about Jesus’ meaning in this phrase has been paramount in the Christian community, often being misconstrued as meaning any trial or difficulty in life. However, that is not what Jesus is referring to here. He is referring to something that everyone has to deal with: self-absorption. The “cross” He is speaking of is the cross of denying self. R.C. Sproul said,
“To take up the cross means to renounce selfish ambition; it is a death to a whole way of life.”
Self-absorption is a “whole way of life.” It defines who we are at our cores, and in order to follow Jesus, we must pick up that cross, not allowing it to hinder our progress in following after Him. And we have to carry those crosses; they are ours, but we have to pick them up so that we can follow Jesus.
This point is made even more clearly when Jesus said we have to pick our crosses up “daily” and follow after Him. We have to do it daily because these crosses define who we are without Him. We have to deny the very foundations of our sin natures in order to pick them up and follow our Savior. Then once we’ve committed to that, we have to be willing to follow Jesus. This requires emulating Him.
The word, “follow,” in Luke 9:23 does not simply mean to walk behind, though it does mean that in a simple sense. The word, “follow,” has other deeper meanings:
1. Following Jesus’ example—Jesus lived a life completely devoid of self. He did everything with His Father’s Kingdom in mind and nothing out of selfish desire. We must deny ourselves and follow His example.
2. Following Jesus’ Lordship—When we follow someone, generally it is because we don’t know the way; it is an act of submission to that person’s guidance, seceding leadership to the one we are following. When we deny ourselves, taking up our crosses daily to follow Jesus, we are doing so with a heart that recognizes we cannot succeed without Him. In other words, in order to follow Jesus, we must submit to Him as Lord and that He is the one in leadership.
The “s-word” doesn’t have to be a bad word. As a matter of fact, it should be at the very foundations of our lives as obedient children of God. If we can first learn to fully submit to His Lordship, then whatever He commands of us in His Word is simply an act of submission to Him. This is the first and primary step for any Christian, and this step has to be met so that we can both be at peace with God and with ourselves. We must heed the psalmist’s words in Psalm 1:1-3,
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he will prosper.
The S-Word: Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood
I wrote a study about a year ago in response to many of the questions women were asking called The S-Word: Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood—the “s-word” being “submission.” As believers, we want to please our Father, so we also want to be clear on what is expected of us. Unfortunately, that is sometimes difficult in today’s society where both men and women receive lots of mixed signals about what that entails. Following is one of the chapters of this study about God’s clear intentions and designs when it comes to the roles both play in the man/woman relationship.
Certainly, the Bible supports and teaches that all people, men and women alike, were created equally in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 states,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The “man” of the first phrase is the same as the Hebrew word meaning “mankind,” so Moses’ reference here is the creation of all men and women, all of whom were created in the image of God. Since God created us in His image as both male and female, there is the implication of equality of personhood, dignity, mutual respect, harmony, complementarity, and a unified destiny.
What we can see from the very beginning is that when God created male and female in His image, He had something wonderful in mind, and He still has something wonderful in mind. In Jesus Christ this plan is redeemed.
In Genesis 1 Moses tells us how God sovereignly created all things out of nothing and put them together in an orderly way so that everything serves man. Then God created “man” as male and female in His own image and declared that everything was very good. But then in Genesis 2 Moses puts the zoom lens on his camera and comes in for a close up on that 6th day of creation, and as we come to the end of Chapter 2 we realize that one of the reasons he does this is to say something very important about the relationship of man and woman.
To summarize, in Genesis 1 Moses has something very important to tell us: both male and female were created in God’s image. In Genesis 2 he says something else very important and even more specific: God had a definite plan for men and women, and this plan was instituted before sin entered the picture. Finally, in Genesis 3 Moses described how man and woman rebelled against God as their center and how He instituted the resulting curse from this rebellion.
The Fall and the Curse, Genesis 3:1-7, 16
In Genesis 3:1-7 we read where Satan enticed man and woman with the notion that they could then be, their own bosses, instead of God, and from this temptation sin entered Creation. They rejected the Word and instead ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then in Genesis 3:16 we read the description of the curse, and it is a curse:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”
This is a description of misery; it is not a model of male-female relationships. This is the way it would be in a world throughout history where sin has the upper hand.
The wording in this curse must be understood in view of the same wording used later in Genesis 4:7 where “desire” constitutes the will to dominate someone or something. God is telling Eve in 3:16 that when sin has the upper hand in woman, she will desire to overpower and subdue or exploit man. When sin has the upper hand in man, he will respond in like manner and with his strength subdue her, or rule over her. What is described in 3:16 is the ugly conflict between men and women that has prevailed throughout history and it is a result of sin.
What we need to understand is that the perfect design for the male-female relationship did not come about after the Fall. As a matter of fact, both Jesus and Paul, when teaching on how men and women should relate to one another, always referred to events before the Fall, not after it.
So, how did God intend this relationship play itself out?
Clear Designs, Genesis 2
We’ve looked at this in part in Genesis 1:26-27. The relationships between men and women would have been perfectly governed by the equality of personhood and inheritance and mutual respect as two beings both created in the image of God.
However, this equality cannot be the only governance of roles in relationship because that would not play itself out perfectly. Let me use an analogy I read once in order to illustrate.
Let’s suppose we tell a male and a female ballet dancer that both of them are equally good and equally are regarded well among their peers. Because of this, we could then tell them that they are to seek to be harmonious in their dances, complementing each other’s moves, and then finally sharing the applause together. That counsel is good and will definitely positively affect the performance.
However, if that’s all we told them, they would to out on stage and not know what to do. No one has told them the movements; no one has told them their individual parts. They need to know who falls and who catches, who spins and who holds. Otherwise, confusion and poor performance will prevail.
God wouldn’t do that to His creation. He told us the moves. He told us who does what, not so that we would think one was better than the other, but because it will work and be perfect if we do. That’s how much God’s Word does and that’s how much it means. He never leaves us hanging, and for that I am grateful. Yes, we share in equality as co-heirs to grace and co-recipients of God’s image, but there is more to God’s plan than that.
How did He do that?
1. Man was created first. The first thing Genesis 2 does is make it clear that man was created first and then after some intervening events woman was created. 2:7 states,
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed life into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
It wasn’t until verses 21 and 22 that we read of God’s creation of woman, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” (1 Timothy 2:13)
Why this order? Why didn’t He create them both simultaneously from the same lump of clay? Wouldn’t that have established their equality of personhood more clearly?
The answer is that God had already established that equality in personhood in Genesis 1:27. Matthew Henry said, “That the woman was made of a rib of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor of his feet to be trampled by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” What we’re reading now in Genesis 2 is what God says further about the relationship between man and woman: when it comes to their differing responsibilities, there is a “firstness” of responsibility that falls to man. This is not an issue of superior value. That issue was settled in 1:27. This is God giving sinless man, in childlike dependence on God, a special role or responsibility.
2. The man was given the moral pattern. The next thing we notice is in verses 16-17,
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Here God is giving Adam the moral laws or rules for living in the Garden of Eden. There is no record of God personally giving these laws directly to Eve, and yet later we can read in Chapter 3 that she did know the law. Furthermore, when we read Eve’s recitation of this law to Satan in the garden in 3:2, we can see a few discrepancies in the wording. This also seems to indicate that she had not heard it firsthand.
I believe that Moses expects us to conclude that Adam had been entrusted with this moral pattern and that he would bear primary responsibility for sharing it with Eve, thereby making him also primarily accountable for it.
3. The man was interrogated by God first. Just in case it appears that we are reading too much into this supposed accountability, we can then read God’s interrogation in Chapter 3. After the moral pattern had been broken by both Adam and Eve, God came to call them to account in Chapter 3, and even though the woman had eaten the forbidden fruit first, God came to Adam first, holding him accountable for the failure to live by the pattern given. Genesis 3:9 and 11 say,
But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, Where are you?…Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Why would God come to the man first and call him to give an account instead of going to the woman first, especially since she ate the fruit first? The most natural answer is that God gave to the man a primary responsibility for the moral life of the garden and therefore man has a primary responsibility for the failure to live by it.
Make no mistake, however; God absolutely holds the woman responsible for her actions. She is a personal, morally accountable being created in the very image of God, and what man does or does not do relieves her of no responsibility to know and obey God. But in their relationship to each other, God looks to the man and asks, “Have you been the moral and spiritual leader you ought to have been?”
In its purest form, this is a beautiful relationship. John Piper beautifully describes God’s original intent for man and woman before sin entered the world:
Sinless man, full of love, in his tender, strong, moral leadership in relation to woman; and sinless woman, full of love, in her joyful, responsive support for man’s leadership. No belittling from the man, no groveling from the woman. Two intelligent, humble, God-entranced beings living out, in beautiful harmony, their unique and different responsibilities.
However, Satan knows it’s beautiful. He knows that God’s pattern of life is designed for man’s good. But Satan hates God and he hates man. He is a liar and a killer from the beginning, and what he does in Chapter 3 is a fourth observation of God’s clear designs for men and women.
4. Satan attacks the woman first. The truth is that if God means for man to bear special responsibility for leadership in the garden, then Satan will do what he can to destroy that. Genesis 3:1 tells us that Satan approaches the woman first. Was it because she is more gullible or weaker? She, like Adam, was created in equality in personhood, which would negate her being easier prey or more gullible.
No, the answer is that Satan drew the woman in first, making her the spokesperson and the moral guardian, because that is exactly what should not have happened.
Satan spurns the order that God has created and simply ignores the man, who according to 3:6 was most likely standing right behind or next the woman during the temptation, and takes up his subtle battle with the woman. In approaching Eve, making her the leader instead of Adam, Satan makes man into exactly what he wants him to be: a silent, withdrawn, weak, fearful, passive wimp. And that passive wimp is a very dangerous person. One moment he’s passive and follows his woman, and the next moment he’s angry and blames her for all his problems (3:12).
One can just imagine Satan laughing to himself at that moment. He probably thought, “Now I’ve created such a confusion of roles that they will never sort this out! People will look at the strong man and tell him to be more passive and they’ll look at the passive woman and tell her to be stronger! They’ll never get to the root of the problem!”
God, however, went straight to the root in 3:17 when He said to Adam,
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you…
God is not in the least confused about what Satan did, and He doesn’t want us to be confused either. God created man first, He gave him the moral pattern of the garden first, He held man accountable for the failure first, and He punished him for falling right in line with Satan’s deception, luring man and woman into the great role reversal of all time.
God’s design for the roles of men and women were clear from the beginning, and it is no coincidence that this is exactly where Satan attacks. The way we relate to one another and our abilities to fulfill our God-ordained roles as men and women are foundational for every other thing we do. If we can get back to truth and clearly identify that these roles are not a result of punishment but of love, then freedom will come.
I’m convinced that the Bible does teach that men have unique God-given responsibilities toward women and women have unique God-given responsibilities toward men, none of which are dependent on their worth or equality. In God’s eyes, we are all His children. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There are, however, roles and responsibilities, and though they are not identical, they are based on our manhood and womanhood as God designed them to be. The order of roles is not synonymous with the importance of roles, and that is precisely the way God intended it.