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The S-Word:  Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood

Both Valued and Valuable
Part One:  Old Testament Examples

It is unfortunate how women of the Bible are viewed in many contemporary circles as lesser than men or less useful in God’s kingdom than men.  God created both men and women in His image.  Inasmuch as this is true, He has equal missions and equal importance for both.  This is demonstrated throughout both the Old and the New Testaments, and despite the attempts of many who might claim otherwise, the Bible very clearly supports the mighty use of women in God’s work.


There are so many women that could be referenced in regards to God’s usage in the Old Testament.  I think first of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25.  Abigail was not a prophetess or leader of any kind.  However, her humble and gentle advice to David persuaded him not to kill Nabal.  She was instrumental in this one instance of leading the King of Israelby her words and example.
As Thomas Schreiner wrote:
“For women, Abigail is a model of gentle and humble persuasion.  There was no stridency or imperiousness about her manner.  She was winsome, yet bold.”
Whereas Abigail and others like her are great examples, and there are many of them, I want to look primarily at Deborah.  However, please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not looking at her because she was so influential.  I do think she is a wonderful example of how God has, does, and will use women in all ways and of the fact that the Bible is full of these kinds of stories.  However, the principle reason I want to focus on Deborah as an Old Testament example is because she was so influential.  She is the primary example some have used to prove that God does not have specific roles for women, that women can instead function in roles that were otherwise reserved only for men.
In response to that argument I’d like to show that Deborah was not only a messenger of God, but that the evidence from prophecy actually indicates her fulfilling a supportive and complementary role, even as she served as a prophetess and judge of Israel.
Deborah, Judges 4-5
The history of Deborah is contained within Judges 4-5, and we can read what the atmosphere was in Israel by looking at Judges 4:1,
And the people of Israelagain did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died.
During the time of judges, this was a seemingly endless cycle.  The Lord would send an enemy to come in on judgment of His peoples’ evil, they’d cry out to Him, and He would send a deliverer to rescue them, generally in the form of a judge. 
What is unique about this particular account of one of Israel’s judges is the great detail given us as to how God raised Deborah up as judge over Israel as a direct response to the cry of the people. (Judges 4:4-10)  Deborah was a prophetess who was widely known in Israel for her prophetic ability.  Clearly, God raised up Deborah and gave her this prophetic gift because of the failure of the Levitical priests to instruct the people in the ways of the Lord.
At the time Deborah was “judging Israel,” the priesthood (the Levites) had become so corrupt that the people of Israelwere seeking Deborah out because she was known as a prophetess.  Given the unfaithfulness of the Levites, it fell to Deborah to announce God’s plan to deliver His people.  It is clear that God was shaming the unbelieving Levitic priesthood by proclaiming His word of deliverance through someone else.
According to Judges 4, the prophecy was given to Deborah who then summoned Barak to go and lead the Israelites into battle against Sisera.  Barak balks and says he won’t go unless Deborah goes with him.  She says she will but that he must know now that since he has chosen this path of unfaithfulness in God to lead him into victory, Sisera would be delivered to them through a woman instead of through the efforts of Barak and his men.
In the verses that follow, that is exactly what happened.  The Israelites were defeating Sisera and his men in battle, so Sisera got off of his horse and ran away.  He ran to the tent of a woman named Jael, the wife of Heber who was a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law.  Jael tricked him into thinking she’d protect him, then as soon as he lay down to go to sleep, she drove a tent peg through his head.  Jael then ran to Barak to show him his dead enemy.
There are a couple of things we need to point out about Deborah’s role here to show that it was indeed complementary to men, keeping in line with God’s ordained role for women in leading His people.
Deborah, the “wife of Lippidoth”
Unlike any other judge in Israel’s history, when Deborah is introduced in Biblical terms as a judge and prophetess she is identified also as a wife.  We don’t really know anything about her husband, Lippidoth.  It doesn’t follow that the author of Judges was pointing this out because of the importance of her husband’s family.  It seems more likely that he is instead pointing out her identity as a wife as well as a prophetess.  Other prophets are not introduced as “husbands,” so this does seem to be significant.
Deborah as prophetess, not priest
The role of prophet, or prophetess in this case, was different than that of a priest.  A prophet in the Old Testament did not hold the same office as a priest.  A priest was a leader, an authoritative teacher of sorts, whereas the prophet spoke forth God’s revelation to His people.  It is instructive to note that in the Old Testament, some women were prophets but never priests.
Deborah was not assuming this authoritative leadership role.  She was, however, a prophet and inasmuch in an important position to God’s people.  God made no distinction to those who might hear His voice.  Men and women alike were given this role, though it wasn’t a role of leadership, per se.
Deborah, a different kind of judge
Deborah was a special case because she seems to be the only judge in Judges who has no military function.  The other judges also led Israel into victory in battle, but Deborah received a word from the Lord that Barak was to do this.  Judges 4:6 says,
She (Deborah) sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun?’”
Deborah does not assert leadership for herself but gives priority to a man.  Even in the rebuke she gives to Barak in verse 8 she doesn’t try to take the victory from him.  Her demeanor was such that she continued to give the leadership to a man, even when he might not be leading like he should.  She continued to give God’s word, still displaying that disposition to submission referred to in the previous LEM post, “Gender Specific.”
Deborah, a private judge
Deborah exercised her gift of prophecy differently than the men who possessed this same gift.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other male prophets exercised a public ministry where they proclaimed the word of the Lord.  But note that Deborah did not prophesy in public.  Instead, her prophetic role seems to be limited to private and individual instruction.
Judges 4:5 says,
She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.
Note that Deborah did not go out and publicly proclaim the word of the Lord.  Instead, individuals came to her in private for a word from the Lord.  The difference between Deborah’s prophetic ministry and that of male Old Testament prophets is clear:  She did not exercise her ministry in a public forum as they did.  Even when she spoke to Barak she called him and spoke to him in private. (Judges 4:6, 14)
I feel it is extremely important, given all of this, that we draw the following conclusions about the history of Deborah as a judge in Israel in the Old Testament:
  1. God makes no distinctions on who hears him, whether man or woman.
  2. Both men and women are recipients of the spiritual gifts.
  3. Women did and should hold important positions within God’s community.
  4. However, even these are to be held with a complementarian viewpoint, a disposition and practice of male leadership.

Deborah’s function within God’s community, like all women who perform there, is significant and certainly no less significant than her male counterparts.  The only difference is the role she plays, not the significance.  God has jobs for each of us, regardless of our genders, and none of these jobs is better or of more use than another.  This fact transcends any limitation, be they physical, social, or intellectual.  We are His workmanship created in Christ’s image to do good works.

The S-Word:  Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood

Both Valued and Valuable

“Success” is defined in the dictionary as:
“…the attainment of wealth, position, honor or the like.” (dictionary.com)
Unfortunately, much of what the church has come to also define as successful falls within these same parameters.  Very often we see “successful” ministries as those that more people know about, are more in the public eye, have more immediately visible fruit, etc., etc.
When you view this in terms of the male/female relationship and the subsequent roles for each within either the home or the church, you can see where the debate stemmed from.  The successful one must be the leader.   If you’re not leading, you can’t be successful, at least not entirely, and that becomes a problem for some for a number of reasons.
First of all, this qualification assumes that only leaders are truly successful.  That both qualifies and quantifies what is worthwhile to God within the work of His Kingdom.  That assumes that some work is better to God than others, and therefore, the favored work is the one we should strive toward.
However, even more incorrect is the root of this issue, namely that success is defined in terms of us instead of God.  If we are really and truly God-centered in our lives, in all of our endeavors, then it wouldn’t matter whether we’re recognized, nor would it matter that our ministries are “big.”  If God is the center, then the only thing we’re thinking about is advancing His Kingdom and His glory.  If what we are doing is accomplishing those things, then that would be true success.  How we are viewed by anyone other than God and what He deems worthy becomes unnecessary and pointless.  Our only vision is toward God.
Given that, it is my contention that the entire feminist movement, most especially those within the church who have tried to find ways around the Biblical mandates for women, is in reality a seeking of self.  It is centered in recognition for self and success for self.  Otherwise, whether I was “leading” or “following” would be inconsequential.
John Calvin wrote:
“The course which Christian men (and women) must follow is this:  first, they must not long for, or hope for, or think of any kind of prosperity apart from the blessing of God; on it they must cast themselves, and there safely and confidently recline.”
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last articles establishing God’s order in creation and His consequent order for the roles of men and women—within the home, the church, and the community.  What I want to challenge using the next four articles is the assumption that the roles of women, because they are in submission to male headship, are somehow lesser than or not as important or not as successful as those of men.
The Bible, contrary to public opinion, does not place qualitative nor quantitative importance on men’s roles versus women’s roles.  On the contrary, the Bible very clearly teaches the vast importance of women, both in the history of God’s people and in the ministry of God’s people.  It is extremely important that we continue this study on Biblical womanhood with a clearer perspective regarding our roles and what they actually mean in terms of service and ministry.
The valuable ministries of women in the Scriptures is a crucial topic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we should be encouraged by the women in the Scriptures who have contributed to the spread of God’s kingdom message.  God does not use men alone to accomplish His purposes.  Both sexes are created in God’s image, and both men and women have been used mightily by God.
No woman who has a desire to please God should feel that there is no place for her in the ministry of the church.
Unfortunately, many feminist advocates point to God’s Word as proof that Christianity has no place for successful women.  Their view is that the male dominated structure of Biblical history and institutions has squelched the reality that women might have been otherwise successful.  This is not true and only proves really one thing—they haven’t read the same Bible as it is really written!  God has a place and a job and a role of extreme significance for all of His creatures, men and women alike, and there were many, many influential and successful women in the Bible. Yet even in their success, they functioned within the parameters of God’s role for women.
Each of the next three articles will look at three different scriptural proofs of the supreme importance women have played in God’s kingdom work.  I’ll be looking at the works of Deborah in the Old Testament, Phoebe and Priscilla from the New Testament, and the many women involved in the ministry of Jesus.  I pray that each of these subsequent articles strengthen and encourage you.  You are important to God and His work.  Nothing, not even your gender, can infringe upon that importance.

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.
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.

(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.

The Cause

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

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

Clear Designs

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.

Created in God’s Image

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.

  • “Equality of personhood” means that men are not less than women nor are women less than man simply because they were created with differences. Simply put, they are equal in their personhood and their differences don’t change that basic truth.
  • “Equality of dignity” means that they are to be equally honored as human in the image of God. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honor everyone.” There is an honor to be paid to persons simply because they are humans.
  • “Mutual respect” means that men and women should be equally driven to respect and honor each other. Respect should never flow in just one direction. Since both male and female were created in the image of God, male and female should look at each other with a kind of awe that is tempered but not destroyed by sin.
  • “Harmony” means that there should be peaceful cooperation between men and women. We should find ways to develop our relationships so that there is teamwork and a rapport in them.
  • “Unified destiny” means that male and female, when they come to faith in Christ, are fellow heirs in this grace.
  • “Complementarity” means that the music of our relationships should not merely be the sound of singing in unison. It should be integrated with both soprano and bass, also and tenor. It means that men and women will not try to duplicate each other, but will highlight in each other the unique qualities that make for mutual enrichment.

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?

Established Order

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.