May 2013

The S-Word:  Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood

Gender Specific

Life revolves around relationships, and by relationships, I don’t mean only those between husbands and wives, or even between just men and women.  We live day to day as we relate to those around us.  God created us that way.  If He hadn’t meant that we live by relationship, then He wouldn’t have created Eve after Adam.  He would have let man live alone.
However, God did not do that.  Instead, He created Eve, alongside of Adam, to be in relationship with him.  And then as they procreated, all of their children would have learned relationship by watching them, either as they related to one another or as they related to God.
God is a God of relationship.  He desires one with us.  Only in relationship with God are we truly content and complete in this lifetime. 
I wanted to start out by making that point so that we could begin with a knowledge of how important the role of women are in terms of God’s creation.  We are relationship-oriented.  That’s another reason why we talk so much more than men.  It’s why my friend, Pat, hangs on her chair when I tell a story and why our husbands get that glazed expression on their faces.
Women are, by nature, creatures of relationship.  We were created that way.  If, then, we were created for relationship and women excel at relationship, doesn’t it follow that our roles in society, in the church, and in the home would be extremely pivotal?
And so they are!  But they are also different than those roles of men, and that is because they are gender specific to us as women. 
However, society does not emphasize relationship, at least not as much as it does individuality.  The result is a race of human beings who are so self-involved and self centered that they have lost sight of the beauty of service to one another.  In terms of this truth and the roles of men and women, John MacArthur, Jr., wrote,
“When men and women refuse to accept their God-ordained roles in the church, family, and community, they undermine the foundational design of God for those institutions and all the relationships involved.  The stability of society is at stake.”
I know this may seem like a bit of a dramatic statement, but I truly believe it is not.  The fabric of society has been tainted by this trend toward individuality, even within the confines of the church.
I’d like to end by looking at how John Piper defines “Mature Femininity” in his book, What’s the Difference?, reiterating how he breaks it apart so that we can see more clearly how are gender specific roles are to play themselves out in this life.
Mature Biblical Femininity
Piper wrote:
“Mature Biblical Femininity:  At the heart of mature biblical femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to woman’s differing relationships.”
“At the heart of…”
This definition is not exhaustive.  There are thousands of nuances to being a woman, and no definition will explain them all.  However, there is a core, a “heart,” if you will, and this gives us an idea of what is at that core.
“…mature biblical femininity…”
What it means to be “feminine” can look different when it is marred by sin.  The same characteristic can be an example of mature biblical femininity or an example of flesh marred by the sin nature.  For example, the fact that we are emotional creatures can produce, in the mature Biblical woman, someone who is responsive, compassionate, empathetic, and tender.  However, when these same emotions become all-encompassing, the woman can be described as weak, passive, weepy, or wishy-washy. 
For this reason, it is plain that when we talk of femininity we must make careful distinctions between distortions and God’s original design.
“…is a freeing disposition…”
Mature Biblical femininity is a disposition rather than a set of actions or behaviors because mature Biblical femininity will express itself in so many different ways depending on the situation.  For example, the Biblical reality of a wife’s submission would take different forms depending on the quality of a husband’s leadership.  This reality is seen best, then, if we define submission not in terms of specific behaviors, but as a dispositionto yield to the husband’s authority and an inclinationto follow his leadership.
This is a very important point because no submission of one human being to another is absolute.  One’s husband does not replace Christ as her supreme authority.  She must never allow her husband to lead her into sin.  However, even when a Christian wife must stand with Christ against the sinful behavior of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission—a disposition to yield.  She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness.
This is a freeing disposition because it is in accord with God’s purpose in Creation.  As Jesus said in John 8:32,
            The truth will set you free.
Society has often defined freedom as being unencumbered by rules or restrictions that impede independence.  However, true freedom takes God’s reality and God’s purpose for creation into account and seeks to fit smoothly into God’s design.
Freedom does not include doing whatever we want to do.  The mature and wise Biblical woman doesn’t seek freedom by bending reality to fit her desires.  Instead, she seeks it by being transformed to fit into God’s perfect will.  Romans 12:2 says,
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
God does not intend for women to be squelched or cramped or frustrated.  But neither does he intend for women to do whatever seems to remove those feelings without regard to the appropriateness of the action.  Sometimes freedom comes from outward changes in circumstances, and sometimes it comes from inward changes of the heart and mind.
True Biblical femininity is the path to freedom for every woman, and it won’t look the same for every woman.  However, we have to remember that God’s plan is only for our good. (Romans 8:28)
“…to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men…”
Notice the use of the phrase, “worthy men.”  The quality of the strength and leadership that the mature Biblical woman will affirm, receive and nurture is captured in this phrase, and I realize there is strength and leadership that is unworthy of a woman’s submission.
We should not define mature Biblical femininity merely as a response to whatever sinful men have to offer up.  Instead, the mature Christian woman is rooted in a commitment to Christ as Lord and is discerning of what it approves.  She will know what God also wants from mature Christian men.
But, even when a man does not possess mature Biblical masculinity, the response of a mature Biblical woman is not to abandon her femininity.  Rather, her femininity remains intact as a desire for things to be as God intended them to be, recognizing also that the natural expression of her Biblical femininity will be hindered by the immaturity of the man in her presence.
“…in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationship.”
Mature Biblical femininity does not express itself the same way with every man.  A mature woman who is married, for example, will not welcome the same kind of strength and leadership from other men that she welcomes from her husband.  However, she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all of her relationships with them.  This is true even if she finds herself in roles that put some men in a subordinate role to her.
Regardless of the relationships in which a woman finds herself, mature Biblical femininity will seek to express itself in appropriate ways.  There are ways for a woman to interact even with a  male subordinate that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a woman.
A perfect example of this would be the way I behave here at church.  I am a minister and I teach classes from time to time that have men in attendance.  Whereas I am the teacher and leader in one sense, I can do so with a demeanor—my tone and style and disposition and speech—that can signal clearly my affirmation of the unique role I know that men should play in relationship to women.
Truth be told, it is virtually impossible that any woman will not in some way be in a position some time in authority over a man.  As simple as the act of asking for directions is an act of submitting in a way to the authority of another.  If you’ve ever explained to a man how to do something or how to get somewhere, you’ve been in a situation of authority over him.
However, the mature Biblical woman will do so with a disposition that affirms, receives and nurtures his God ordained role as leader.
This is also precisely what Peter was talking about in 1 Peter 3 when he speaks to Christian women with unbelieving spouses. Peter clearly teaches that a woman in this situation should guide her unbelieving spouse into a new behavior which signals her support of his leadership.  1 Peter 3:1-2 says,
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
I would venture to say that this premise also extends to a woman in the workplace.  It’s not impossible for a woman to provide a certain kind of direction for a man, but to do it in such a way that she signals her endorsement of his unique duty as a man to feel a responsibility of strength and protection and leadership toward her as a woman and toward women in general.
Conclusion
It’s easy to see how all of this is a disposition toward submission to male headship and leadership.  The specific responses can vary according to the situation, but the heart remains the same.  Consequently, all of life and the roles we fill in it are completely gender specific.
With that in mind, the lyrics to that old Helen Ready song, “I am woman hear me roar,” are true only by virtue of our roaring our own gender specific roles.  These roles are complementary to those of Biblical men and were created precisely that way.  Like any puzzle piece, we’re only going to be content and fit perfectly into life as we fit perfectly into these roles as God designed them.  Otherwise, we’re really trying to fit ourselves into the wrong puzzle altogether!  Let us strive, rather, to become mature Biblical women who express mature Biblical femininity.