Perhaps one of the most countercultural claims of the Christian faith is the goodness of created difference. This doctrine is rooted in our Triune God who holds equality and difference together in perfect harmony.
A Word About Equality
The Bible clearly teaches that the image of God is equally shared by male and female (Gen. 1:27). Furthermore, in Christ, that image is being restored with equal efficacy, such that there is not a difference in grace between male and female in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28, 1 Pet. 3:7). The Bible also teaches that these similarities result in differing glories for man and woman, which is manifested in different roles in different areas of life. An obvious example is that men may not lactate or conceive and birth children. This may seem obvious to most of us in this room, but given the idolatries of modern science and technology, we should not doubt that these will soon be “options” just as there are already men and women currently paying for sex change operations. This is the kind of suicidal confusion and madness that God visits on those who reject Him (Dt. 28:20, 28, Rom. 1:26-29). But frequently the Church has conceded these perversions miles upstream by refusing to stand firm where God has spoken clearly. Examples of this would include the biblical teaching of a woman’s role to submit to her husband in respectful obedience to his loving and sacrificial leadership (Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Pet. 3:1-6), the biblical requirement that men sacrificially lead the Church (1 Tim. 2:8-3:1ff), and the biblical prohibition against cross dressing (Dt. 22:5), which includes protecting women from serving in the military (cf. Dt. 14:21). While the Bible does not prohibit women from serving in positions of leadership in business and politics (e.g. Jdg. 4:4-5, Prov. 31:10ff, Acts 16:14ff), the biblical norms of family and church ought to color how we teach our daughters to think about those areas of life (Tit. 2:3-5).
It is a dishonor to treat men and women as interchangeable parts, and ironically, it is a strike at their fundamental equality as image bearers. Men and women are not equal as interchangeable parts; they are equal as glory bearers. We make these distinctions not because we do not expect our wives and daughters and sisters to accomplish great things, but rather because we understand the powerhouse of glory that a woman has been given. We do not disparage a work of art by refusing to use it for target practice but just the opposite. We do not disparage the beauty of a dinner gown if we decline to have it worn on the construction site, but again, just the opposite. It’s not what it’s for. And the point is not primarily about restrictions: men have no business being insecure about the gifts of women. The point is about glory. What are women for?
A Word about Submission
The Bible does not teach that women generally submit to all men. Rather, the Bible teaches that one woman freely agrees to submit to one man and this relationship is guarded and blessed by a public ceremony called a wedding. In our culture, in the name of freeing women, we insist that a man be free to have as many women as he wants, for as long as he wants, with no strings attached, leaving the women to pick up the pieces. Often in our day, those pieces come in the form of little babies flushed down the toilet and left in trash dumpsters, not to mention all the chemical, physical, and emotional scars. But this is not to say that every man who goes through the motions of a wedding ceremony keeps his vows honorably. This is why the Bible also teaches that a Christian woman must only submit to her husband in the Lord. In other words, the Christian wife is free to obey her husband as he leads her to obey Jesus, and she is free to obey him in so far as he is free before God (e.g. hunting, fishing, computers, books, peanut butter). But should her husband plan to disobey Jesus, she must respectfully seek to thwart him (e.g. 1 Sam. 25). This may include sexual sin, financial folly, theological infidelity, as well as cases of neglect or abuse (Ex. 21:10-11, Eph. 5:29). A husband who tries to lead his wife into Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy should be respectfully refused. A wife is actually being unsubmissive to go along with a husband’s disobedience: she is being unsubmissive to Jesus.
A Sign of Glory
Finally, in what is a fairly challenging text, Paul argues that because of the differing glories of men and women, they are to be adorned differently before God. While good people differ on the exact applications of Paul’s instructions, the principles are clear. First, there is a difference in glory between men and women (1 Cor. 11:7). Second, this glory is to be recognized in the church assembly (1 Cor. 11:4-6). Third, this differing glory is not obliterated by the equality we share in Christ (1 Cor. 11:4-5), but the restoration of natural differences that God created (1 Cor. 11:8-12). Fourth, the length of hair is at least one place where that different glory ought to be honored (1 Cor. 11:13-15). Fifth, the symbol of recognizing the differences between the glory of men and women is a woman’s “covering” (1 Cor. 11:15). Some people believe that Paul is arguing that a woman ought to have a covering on her head in addition to her hair (e.g. scarf, hat). While I am not persuaded of this, people with those convictions are welcome in our church. But what is clear is that women ought to appear before God as women, as the glory of man and therefore “covered.” Paul makes this point even more explicit when he instructs Timothy that women ought to adorn themselves modestly in worship (1 Tim. 2:1-10). However, it is decidedly the opinion of our God-hating culture that the distinctive glories between men and women be erased or ignored, and therefore, our culture encourages women to be as “uncovered” as possible.
With men, women are called to rule creation, to receive the gifts of God, give thanks for them, and transform this world from glory to glory. And it is the glory of God to spread His glory throughout the earth through the differing glories of men and women. A woman is for beauty, inside and out, but this must be defined biblically and not by the magazines in the checkout lane. You are a house artistically designed to give life and wisdom. You were made for fruitfulness. Do not underestimate the power of beauty, the potency of womanhood. Despite what the false prophets of our age say, to be a home guardian is no little thing. You are giving life to a new world. You are messengers of resurrection life (Mt. 28:1-10).
[Note: The audio recording of this sermon is available here.]