Category: The S-Word Series

The S-Word:  Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood

Both Valued and Valuable:  Women in the Ministry of Jesus

Perhaps no greater testimony to the importance of women in the work of God is the place Jesus, Himself, placed on their importance. 

 

James Hurley wrote:

 

“The foundation stone of Jesus’ attitude toward women was His vision of them as persons to whom and for whom He had come.  He did not perceive them primarily in terms of their sex, age or marital status; He seems to have considered them in terms of their relation to God.”

 

Even though many today are quick to point out the supposed “misogynistic” traits of the Bible, even a cursory reading of the Old and New Testaments refutes that idea.  Then when one spends only a small amount of time studying Jesus’ ministry, the role of women and the way He made no distinctions based on gender becomes extremely evident.

 

We must first understand that the place of women in the first century Roman world and in Judaism had been as second-class citizens.  However, Jesus’ regard for women was much different from that of His contemporaries.  Jesus recognized women as fellow human beings.

 

The fact that He personally addressed women, as with the woman with the bleeding disease or the one bent over for 18 years, or the fact that He allowed them to listen to His teachings, as with Mary, set Him aside as a bit of a revolutionary in regards to the way men generally treated and viewed women in His day.  He showed His regard for them as co-heirs of eternity in many ways, one of which was the way He used them in His ministry. 

 

He did so in basically two categories:  1) those who served Him in some way, and 2) those who witnessed His resurrection.

 

The Women Who Served Jesus

 

In this category were two one-time participants as well as a group of women who served more frequently. 

 

The two one-time participants in serving our Lord were the two women who anointed Him with oil.  One was the notoriously sinful woman and the other was Mary.  Both served Jesus in this way out of love and respect, but Mary’s was the more significant in that she anointed Him with a view to His approaching death.  Mary had true spiritual insight, no doubt gained from Jesus’ teaching.  Even the disciples who were there didn’t understand what she understood. (Matthew 26:6-13)  Jesus placed high regard and honor on this woman in the sight and witness even of His own disciples.

 

The women who served Jesus more frequently generally did so financially and traveled with Him and His disciples to care for them while they taught and spread the Gospel.  Luke 8:1-3 reads:

 

Soon afterward he (Jesus) went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.  And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities:  Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

 

Matthew 27:56 speaks of this group of women who traveled with Him all the way to Jerusalem, providing for them along the way.  What is being said in the Word, then, is that the women traveling with Jesus were not only sitting under His teaching, which in and of itself was unheard of in that day, but they were the ones who were financially and in all other ways taking care of Jesus and His disciples.  Obviously, they were instrumental in Jesus’ ministry and He unabashedly included them in it.

 

The Women Who Witnessed Jesus’ Resurrection

 

A final indication of the dignity accorded women in the ministry of Jesus is seen in the importance given women in the resurrection accounts.  In Christ’s day, women were not considered reliable witnesses.  As a matter of fact, historian Josephus warned,


“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”

 

In other words, women can’t be taken seriously.  And yet, God chose women to be His initial witnesses to the disciples on the resurrection of Jesus.  All four Gospel writers bestow a great honor on the women who lovingly and with servants’ hearts came early to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  We read then where they faithfully bore witness of Jesus’ resurrection to His disciples and, no doubt, to countless others in the months and years that followed. (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 23:55-24:10; John 20:1-18)

 

The most important point we can glean from this is that God did use women along with men at this strategic juncture in human history.

 

James Borland wrote:

 

“These women not only were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, but also stand perpetually as examples for all believers.  These women led the way in proclaiming the Gospel—that Christ died for our sins, was buried, but rose again for our justification the third day.  The duty and high privilege of witnessing for Christ is still open to every believer, without distinction as to gender.”

 

Conclusion

 

Even though women were not called nor appointed as apostles, in accordance with God’s created order, that fact in no way diminished their importance or role in Jesus’ ministry, nor in the advancement of the Gospel both before and after His death.  The roles are meant to be different, but it is obvious that God, through His Word, never mandated that one was more important than the other.  Without ever contradicting His own order, God has made it abundantly clear that both men and women are equally important in His Kingdom, both within the roles He has given.

 

John Piper said,

 

“From the very beginning of the Christian church, women have been absolutely crucial partners in ministry with men—partners in marriage and partners as single women….The fact that God calls men to lead the church as the teaching and governing elders is, in the long run, a strengthening, liberating, joyful thing for Christ-exalting women….May the Lord continue to help us swim against the stream of bland and unbiblical egalitarianism as we exult in our equality before God and our complementary differences in calling and roles and the nature of manhood and womanhood.”

The S-Word:  Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood

Both Valued and Valuable:  New Testament Examples

One of the most amazing things I’ve heard in my travels with teaching and writing has been those surrounding the role of women in the church.  So many operate under the misconception that women’s roles are relegated to lesser than their male counterparts.  And even more than that, many hold to the view that the Bible supports such a notion. 
Not true!
Whereas differing roles for men and women is a biblically supported viewpoint, the importance of these roles, as well as the influence these roles have, is clear.  God never delineated importance or influence to gender biases and since He is ever consistent in His character, it’s safe to say that He never will.  His Word supports that both men and women are used by Him in the advancement of His kingdom and to the glory of His name.  In this article I would like to look briefly at some examples from the New Testament.
There are many women mentioned in the New Testament, but like the previous article’s glance at the Old Testament, I’ll limit this article to one passage where 2 specific women demonstrate the important places women held in the New Testament church.  Romans 16:1-4 reads:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 
Paul is giving his closing greetings in this chapter and of the 26 names he mentions, 9 of them are women.  That is astonishing in a male-dominated culture and in the male-dominated background of Jewish Christianity.  This truly shows us the expansive role of women in ministering in early Christianity.
Phoebe, Romans 16:1-2
Phoebe is the one person in these first 16 verses who is not already living there in Rome.  She is coming to Rome and Paul is asking the church to receive her in the way the saints ought to by meeting all her needs.
Why is Paul commending her to the Roman Christians? 
What seems to be implied is that since she must be coming to them in Rome at the same time as the letter Paul is writing, she must be the one carrying the letter. Again, this is somewhat astounding given the male-dominated society in which Paul lives.
Paul describes her in three ways, all of which point to her importance in his ministry and the advancement of the early church.
1.      She’s a “sister.”
First, in verse 1 Paul calls Phoebe “our sister.”  He is telling them that she is part of their family, the family of God.  Theologically, Paul is reminding the recipients of this letter that both she and they share the same Father in heaven and are moving toward the same inheritance of eternal life.  Consequently, he tells them to take care of her.
2.      She’s a “servant.”
Secondly, Paul commends Phoebe as a servant, which is the same Greek word as used for “deacon.”  She may well have been an official deacon in that church.  There is no reason why women cannot be deacons.  The elders are men and are charged with the governance of the church, but deacons do not share that same responsibility.  All deacons are charged with serving the church and its members by feeding the hungry, taking in the refugees, clothing the needy, caring for the sick, or visiting the imprisoned.  This fits with the way Paul describes Phoebe in verse 2.
3.      She’s a “patron.”
That word “patron” means that she cared for others.  Paul says she has cared for many others as well as himself.  In this, she was partnering with him in a complementary fashion and one that he considers extremely important—important enough to mention first and foremost in his closing remarks.
Phoebe was also most likely single, as no husband is mentioned as she travels back.  Having no spouse gave Phoebe enormous freedom to travel back and forth from Cenchreae to Rome.  So my single women friends, take Phoebe as your challenge today!
Priscilla, Romans 16:3-4
Priscilla is mentioned 3 times in 3 different books of the Bible.  In Acts 18:26, Luke writes,
He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple and it seems from Luke’s description that Priscilla taught Apollos the correct Gospel along with her husband.  Then in 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul writes of the church that met in their house,
The churches of Asia send you greetings.  Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.
The fact that Luke mentions Priscilla first in his writings may even indicate that she was the primary teacher in that relationship.  Paul gives both she and her husband special attention in his closing remarks in Romans 16.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, as with the account with Luke, Priscilla’s name is mentioned first.  That normally would not have happened according to the conventions of Greco-Roman writing.  We really don’t know why both Paul and Luke address the couple in this way.  There are loads of speculations.  Some think that Priscilla came from a higher social class than Aquila, but most agree it was probably because Priscilla was the primary teacher in the relationship.
Additionally, we can see the respect with which Paul speaks of her.  He calls her Prisca, not Priscilla, as she is called by Luke and others.  Priscilla was the diminutive of Prisca.  Calling her Priscilla instead of Prisca is like calling me Debbie instead of Deborah, or calling someone Liz instead of Elizabeth.  The formal rendering of her name was Prisca, which is exactly what Paul calls her.  Obviously by calling her this, maybe also as well as placing her name first, Paul is showing his respect and love for Priscilla.  She is important to his work and to the church, and he conveys that in his address. 
But even so, notice that Priscilla is only mentioned in conjunction with her work with her husband.  Though her position may have been more influential, she is certainly doing it in a complementarian fashion.  
Phoebe and Priscilla are only two of the myriad of examples in the New Testament of women who do important and noteworthy work in the Kingdom of God.  Even in regards to the societal parameters that were prevalent in that day, Jesus’ disciples were quick to both use and acknowledge the pivotal role women played in the church.  It’s appropriate to surmise that God’s intention for men and women within His work is equal in importance and need today. 

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.

Abigail

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
Introduction

“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.
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.

(This is actually the first in the series, with “Clear Designs” following)

The S-Word: Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.