Date: February 23, 2014
Study: In His Image: Biblical Manhood, Womanhood, and Relationships
Teacher: Panel Discussion
Building Blocks for Biblical Womanhood:
- Submission and respect (Epehesians 5:22-24, 33; 1 Peter 3:1-7)
- Submitting to the Lord by submitting to male leadership (specifically her husband) as an act of faith in God’s sovereignty
- Following and facilitating the leadership of men (specifically husbands)
- Serving as a helper who complements, strengthens, and encourages men as you carry out the commands and commission of Christ side by side
- Biblical submission: the posture of a woman’s heart that affirms, nurtures, and facilitates a man’s leadership by refusing to rebel against it. It’s an attitude that doesn’t just allow a man to lead, but it’s acting in such a way that subtly calls him to lead.
- A godly character (Titus 2:3-5; 1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:1-5)
- Self-controlled (especially in speech..ie slander, gossip, nagging)
- Focused on developing inner beauty in self and other women
- Motivation for biblical womanhood: “so that no one will malign the word of God”
Today we’ll briefly touch on the third building block of biblical womanhood and then discuss the different parts of our definition of biblical femininity. Before we get started, I just wanted to remind you again that though womanhood in the Bible is often spoken of in the context of marriage, that doesn’t meant that a woman has to be married to be fully female. Last week, we talked about some ways that single ladies can have an attitude of submission and respect towards men while developing a godly character in themselves and others. We’ll continue that theme today.
QUESTION #1: HOW DOES THE WOMAN IN THIS PASSAGE PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE OF FEMININE STEWARDSHIP? (PROVERBS 31:10-31)
She is a good steward. She:
- Uses talents and abilities wisely
- In these verses we see that this woman is very competent and has been gifted with skills and intelligence. In verse 16, she makes some money and gets into some real estate. She’s able to provide for those who depend on her. Really, when you look at her resume, she’s kinda like Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart, and Mother Teresa all in one. She seems to be aware of her stewardship and she puts it good use.
- Blesses her family and those in need
- This woman is compassionate to those in need, she’s uses her words wisely, she seemingly gives life to everyone around her…but in particular, to her family. Notice that even though she can do many things, her primary orientation is centered on being a helper to her husband and her children. In v11-12 we see that her husband lacks nothing because of her. She has served him and cared for him and in some sense made him a greatly respected man. Same story in v23, 27-29. Her whole family has been cared for by this woman. She has been a true helper.
- Fears the Lord above all else
- In a day where external beauty is often noticed first and the flashy appear to win the headline, the Holy Spirit wants to remind us that true beauty is found in a heart that has God at center. This woman knows that God is her judge and that God is the one whom she must love and serve above all else. That reality guides her and it frees her to just obey God and leave the results up to Him.
So with these building blocks in place, here is the definition of biblical femininity from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Piper and Grudem, ch. 1, pg. 46) we’ll discuss this morning:
The essence of biblical femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.
QUESTION #2: WHAT IS A FEMININE DISPOSITION AND HOW DOES IT PLAY OUT FOR MARRIED WOMEN, SINGLE WOMEN, AND SINGLE MOMS?
First, it’s important to recognize that we live in a fallen world in which sin distorts God’s original and “very good” design. As women, we are constantly receiving countless mixed messages about what it means to be a woman. When we think about what it means to be a woman, we must humbly come before the One who made us and ask Him. “Biblical femininity” refers not to what man and woman’s sin has made of womanhood or what Hollywood or culture says, but what God intended a woman to be.
That being said, a disposition is a person’s tendency to respond toward someone or something in a certain way. When we think about how the Bible describes a woman’s disposition, in particular toward men, we see that it is the posture of a woman’s heart that’s inclined toward respecting and honoring men and toward cultivating an inner beauty rather than a seductive, flashy, power-grabbing beauty that the world exalts. Women were created to look to men for leadership, protection and provision and because of this, their disposition should be one that expects the men to lead and do the things God has called them to do, not one that seeks to usurp their authority or manipulate them in order to gain control. So in general, women should have a disposition towards submission and respect towards men, encouraging and assisting where she is able and praying for and urging forward where a man may be struggling.
- Married woman towards her husband
In general, a wife’s disposition toward her husband should be one of submission and respect (Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Pt. 3:1-6). Now, the way that a wife shows her respect and submission will take different forms depending on how her husband is leading.
- In the best of scenarios, a husband will be leading and loving her as Christ led and loved the church. If he’s sacrificially serving her, tenderly speaking to her and graciously providing for her, she will more easily operate out of a disposition of trust and submission. She will find it easier to not rebel and not seek to control him.
- On the other end of the spectrum, a woman might be married to a criminal. Though she’d still have a disposition of respect and submission because of the position God has given him as her husband, there will be some very difficult situations where she’ll have to stand with Christ against the sinful will and actions of her husband. She may even have to look outside of her marriage to her father and the elders of her church to give her the wisdom and guidance her husband was supposed to. Husbands…don’t put your wives in that position.
- More commonly, most wives are married to men who have both good, godly aspects of their leadership while at the same time may have deficiencies like mishandling money, not leading the family in discipleship, spending too much time at work or showing inconsistency in their own personal devotions.
- In all these examples, a wife will want to encourage and assist where she is able and then pray for and urge her husband forward in areas he’s struggling. There will be times that she’ll need to do things her husband should be doing. In all of this, she can still have a spirit of submission and a disposition to yield. A godly wife can show by her attitude & behavior that she neither likes resisting her husband nor looks for opportunities to rebel against him. She can make it clear that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as the head whom God has placed over her.
- Single woman
A single woman will spend her time much differently than a married woman or a mother does but, at the same time, she should still believe the same things about what a godly disposition is. The single woman may have more opportunities to serve “outside the home” and have more time for socializing and more responsibilities for full-time work but all the while, she should be realizing that she is different than men and that it is a wonderful thing.
- Single mom
A single mom will necessarily have to provide financially and engage in other normally “masculine” activities, but if her disposition is set toward developing a gentle, quiet spirit like 1 Peter speaks of, then her femininity, from a biblical perspective, is honoring to God.
QUESTION #3: OFTEN OUR CULTURE VIEWS BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD, SPECIFICALLY SUBMISSION, AS “OLD-FASHIONED”, “REPRESSIVE”, OR “AGAINST FEMALE EMPOWERMENT”, SO HOW IS THIS TYPE OF DISPOSITION FREEING FOR WOMEN?
This disposition of biblical femininity to which women are called, as hard as it may be at times, is created by God to be experienced as freeing. What that means is that in God’s design, women find freedom and joy and security in their relating to and relying upon a man. When we think about the relationship between God and His people, we think about God as our rock and refuge and our strength and security. We think about casting our cares and anxieties upon Him. That type of relationship with God is freeing. In a similar way, women are created to know freedom because of the loving and courageous leadership of men.
Now, I think all of us know that the world we live in does not see a woman’s submission and respect of men as a freeing thing. In fact, if you watch TV for one evening, you’ll see that freedom for women is portrayed as a being economically self-sufficient, educationally superior, physically strong, sexually aggressive and independently successful. The chant “My mind. My body. My choice.” proclaims a freedom that sounds good, but in reality is a bondage to slavery. Our culture sees freedom as no authority and no restraint. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
True freedom comes from operating in God’s design, not operating outside of it. This is why we say that submitting to God’s design is freeing. God’s design of men and women and the church and the family does not call for women to be abused or patronized or disregarded. Just the opposite.
God’s design is good and wise. Just like all people need to know and obey the restraints of God’s commands, we each need to know and obey the design God has given to both men and women because it is there that we experience what God created us to experience.
Women should experience the care of a loving father. Christian women should experience intentional and courageous care from church elders. Wives should know the tender sacrificial love of a servant-minded husband. That is God’s design. God has commanded husbands to love their brides as Christ loved the church, giving themselves up for their wives while being considerate of them and treating them with respect. (Eph. 5; 1 Pt. 3:7). Elders are to lead as men who will give an account to God for the way they love and care for you (Heb. 13:17). Men in the church are called to treat women in the congregation as sisters in Christ’s family (1 Tim. 5). These passages both define biblical masculinity, and command and commend submission. Under God’s plan, submission is designed to be a joyful act of co-labor with men who selflessly use their authority for the good of women and glory of God.
This is a good place to point out what we are all very aware of: the joy God designed us to know isn’t always experienced because of sin. There are two kinds of sin that diminish the joy found in God’s design:
- The sinful tendencies of men
There are many fathers who hurt their daughters. There are church leaders who abuse those under their care. There are husbands who fail to follow Christ’s example. Men sin and this can steal the joy God intended women to know.
- The sinful tendencies of women
Most women battle the act of faith that it takes to look through the fog of a man’s sometimes sinful and incompetent use of authority to see Christ, and ultimately submit to him. Women can be prone to undermining men’s leadership and seeking to claim authority on their own. This, ironically, also steals the joy from women that God intends them to know.
This is why it’s good for both men and women to realize that our foundational posture before God must be one of humility where we constantly draw upon the grace He has shown us in the Gospel of Christ. Jesus died for all our sinful actions, whether men or women. We must come to Christ and plead with Him to help us trust His design. I think of Jesus’ words in John 15:11, concerning God’s commands: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” God gives joy to those who trust in Him and His word.
QUESTION #4: WHO ARE “WORTHY MEN” AND HOW CAN WOMEN CALL THEM TO EXERCISE THEIR STRENGTH AND LEADERSHIP IN A BIBLICAL MANNER?
We see here that a woman’s energies and efforts center around responding to the “strength and leadership” of men. This strength and leadership are the qualities that we’ve said a biblical man should possess. Men are to be aware of their responsibility to lead, provide, and protect. A woman then, should have a disposition to help men have and do those things while also expecting that she’ll receive benefit from those things, because God designed it that way.
Before we talk about affirming, receiving and nurturing, let’s think about the part that qualifies the definition “worthy men.” This is simply pointing out that there are some kinds of strength and leadership that a woman should never help to affirm or facilitate. Being a biblical woman is not merely a passive response to whatever sinful men may happen to offer up. Biblical femininity is rooted in a commitment to Christ as Lord and is discerning in what it approves and discerning in what it is willing to help. So, when a man isn’t leading as he should and isn’t seemingly worthy of her respect, the woman’s response is not to abandon her femininity. Rather, as we’ve said, her femininity remains intact as a desire for things to be as God intended them to be. This does mean however that it will be more difficult for a woman to help a man or group of men who aren’t leading as they should and her ability to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership will vary based on circumstances.
There are three ways women can call men to exercise their strength and leadership biblically:
This simply means that she is an advocate for the kind of masculine-feminine relationships we’ve been talking about in this class. A woman should affirm, should help, should seek to aid the leadership of worthy men. It goes far beyond just allowing male leadership to occur, rather it finds ways to point it out and use their own unique feminine strengths and insights to highlight the role of a man.
This means that a woman should seek to gladly accept and experience the leadership of worthy men. A godly woman is glad when a respectful, caring, gracious man offers leadership and provides efforts of initiative. She doesn’t want to steal those roles away…she’s glad when men are leading and not just being passive. So she allows, when appropriate, a man to open the door for her or to walk her to the safety of her car or home. She should allow herself to feel enhanced and honored and freed when a man shows caring strength and servant-leadership.
Now, to be perfectly clear, this doesn’t mean that women are called generally to submit to all men. It is that there is a fundamental disposition that prepares a woman to respond well to initiative and leadership by men that’s appropriate to whatever the context is.
This the aspect of the definition that most expresses the idea of being a helper. In Genesis 2, we saw the man charged with being the primary caretaker of the garden and the steward of God’s commands. The woman was created to help the man with the work and with obedience to God. With that in mind, a woman should see this idea of nurturing as not merely to receiving the resources of masculinity, but to facilitate the work God has called the man to by helping the man. In the context of marriage, a wife is to be her husband’s partner and assistant. She joins in appropriate acts of leadership and shares in the process of leadership.
It would be wrong to imply in any biblical definition of femininity that women are merely passive receivers in relation to men. The noun helper implies action and “to help” is an active verb. The godly woman brings her strengths and insights and her intuitions into situations and helps to make men stronger and wiser and make the relationships between men and women better.
This is the way God created men and women to work together. Men and women have differing strengths and weaknesses. God has made them to complement each other. Men can’t do everything apart from women and women can’t do everything apart from men. We need each other in the family, in the church, in our culture, in our communities. God has designed us to complement each other.
In general, guys tend to need women to help them know how to be sensitive and communicate our feelings. Women tend to need men to know how to be tough and to get to the point. There are ways that women are weaker than men and there are ways men are weaker than women. There are ways women are smarter than men and other ways men are smarter than women. Women get frightened easily in some ways while men get frightened easily in others.
God intends for all the “weaknesses” that men tend to have to call forth and highlight woman’s strengths. God intends for all the “weaknesses” that women tend to have to call forth and highlight man’s strengths. Neither sex can say they are superior to the other. Men need to lead with sacrificial strength and women need to help with gracious love.
QUESTION #5: WE’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS A LITTLE BIT ALREADY, BUT HOW DOES A WOMAN LIVE THIS OUT IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO HER DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS?
The main idea of this final part is pretty simple: biblical femininity doesn’t express itself in the same way toward every man or every relationship. A woman who is married, for example, will quite properly not welcome the same kind of strength and leadership from any other man that she welcomes from her husband. Women in the church properly acknowledge a type of authority in the elders that does not apply to other male members of the church.
This is true even though she may find herself in a secular or ministry role that puts some men in a subordinate role to her. So, there are Christian women who are political leaders and have staff made up of men. There are female principals who have male teachers in her school. There are female partners in law firms who have male associates or support staff. I’ve been pulled over by a female police officer before. There are female ministry coordinators who oversee a church event with male volunteers. None of those examples are definitely sin or definitely inappropriate. The key is fulfill the role in a way that applies her calling as a helper who signals to men her endorsement of their sense of responsibility to lead.
So, regardless of the relationships in which a woman finds herself, a biblical, God-honoring femininity will seek to express itself as a helper / helpmate in appropriate ways. There are ways a woman can interact with a male subordinate that signal to him and others the fact that she respects and honors his manhood. The woman’s demeanor, tone, and style can all expresses her affirmation of the role that men should play in relationship to women. She can acknowledge and empower the man’s responsibility to protect and lead, all the while still having authority in her role. That being said, the Bible is clear that there are distinct roles in both marriage and church.
Before we conclude, for those of you who have been hurt, at whatever level, by distorted, unbiblical masculine authority, please realize that God was not pleased by that abuse of authority. God did not delight in you being hurt. God himself is still good. He still loves you and He desires you to know that whatever abuse of power you experienced is not the only kind of authority there is. There are godly men who love the Lord who delight in serving and sacrificially caring for women. Also, know that that abuse of authority in no way rightly portrays God. God is perfect and He never abuses His authority. In fact, His Son willingly laid down His life on the cross to take all the shame, guilt, and pain that sin brought upon you and even your own sin. And through faith in His Son, God can heal your deepest wounds and put you on a new path of freedom, and security, and fulfillment in Him.
So, now we have a definition of biblical manhood (the essence of Biblical masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships) and a definition of biblical womanhood (The essence of biblical femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships).
For the rest of the semester, we’ll look at how these unique roles of men and women play out in different life stages and relationships as well as in the Body of Christ.
RESOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood. Edited by Wayne Grudem.
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: Lesson 6. Capital Hill Core Seminars.