What is a woman?
Before we jump into what we’re going to cover today, I really want to take some time to review in this “Clearing Up the Gender Confusion” series.
Week 1, we talked about confusion, what is happening today regarding gender. We looked at Psalm 12. Psalm 12 talks about how manipulative, coercive words are used to deconstruct social norms. Today our culture is liquefying gender and has nothing substantial to put in its place. We ended with an example from the New York Times. A man who has transitioned into a woman named Andrea described what it was like to be about to go through surgery and a whole bunch of other treatments, and just the hopelessness that she described really put things into perspective, like what we’re seeing today is a deconstruction without any reconstruction. And we’re wondering why people who were made as embodied souls now defining their body as meaningless and their soul is rudderless and wondering why we’re hopeless. And it is tragic. It’s the kind of thing that Psalm 12 warns about.
I want to be clear, though. We’re not at all questioning the fact that many, many people are going to experience things like gender dysphoria. Do we understand that? In a fallen world, we should not be surprised that a number of things occur. One is developmental struggles like the disconnect between our psychology and our biology. We would expect that in a fallen world. Gender dysphoria (dysphoria simply means distress) that we would experience distress as to what it really means to be a man or a woman and especially during developmental years. It can continue beyond that. We would expect certain genetic aberrations, like intersex, which is a rare but real biological inconsistency in genes or genitalia. I have a brother, for example, who was born with extra fingers, toes, and numbers of other issues.
So, when that occurs, do we redefine humans based on the aberration? That’s what we’re seeing happening in our culture, which leaves us in utter chaos as to what it really means to be human. And this is why Psalm 12:5 says, “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” God is saying in Psalm 12, “Come to me. I will tell you where the safe place is because the places for safety you’re running to are actually leading you toward more insecurity.” And Psalm 12:6 defines that safe place as “the pure word of God.” The words that God speaks not only created the world but they give life and meaning and security. So that’s why we began our series, just reminding ourselves as to where we go for definition, as to who we are and how we should think about ourselves.
Week 2, we talked about beauty. What does God say about gender? We looked at the creation of man and woman to get a glimpse at the stunning artistry of God. His original design. And we used illustrations like the beach at sunrise, where you see the convergence of diverse elements. Historically, masculinity has been pictured by earth and rock. Femininity has been pictured by sea and water, and where those two merge and mingle there is stunning artistry and beauty. And that is, when we get a glimpse of that, we get a glimpse of a micro-version of the design of God that sin twists and contaminates. But if we’re ever going to understand what it means to be a man or a woman, we have to go back to “Okay, God, what did you really intend?”
Week 3, man. What does it mean to be a man? We defined it very succinctly as a grown-up male, but what does it mean to be grown-up? Does that merely mean grown-up biologically? No, it means much more than that. It means assuming responsibility in a sense of parenting yourself and then turning and fathering others. Assuming appropriate responsibility. We talked near the end of the message last week about distinguishing between cultural stereotypes and biblical calling and how important that is.
What do I mean by cultural stereotypes? I want to give you an example of that from the movie Groundhog Day. I’m not recommending the movie, but there’s a clip in it where they’re talking about “the perfect guy.” And if some of you are confused, what do you mean cultural stereotypes? This gives us a glimpse.
“So, what do you want out of life anyway?”
“I guess I want what everybody wants. You know, career, love, marriage, children.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“I think this is getting too personal. I don’t think I’m ready to share this with you. How about you? What do you want?”
“What I really want is someone like you.”
“Well, why not? What are you looking for? Who is your perfect guy?”
“First of all, he’s too humble to know he’s perfect.”
“He’s intelligent, supportive, funny.”
“Intelligent, supportive, funny? Me. Me. Me.”
“He’s romantic and courageous.”
“He’s got a good body, but he doesn’t have to look in the mirror every two minutes.”
“I have a great body and sometimes I go months without looking.”
“He’s kind, sensitive, gentle. He’s not afraid to cry in front of me.”
“This is a man we’re talking about, right?”
“He likes animals, children, and he’ll change poopy diapers.”
“Does he have to use the word ‘poopy’?”
“Oh, and he plays an instrument and he loves his mother.”|
“I am really close on this one. Really, really close.”
A great theologian discussing manhood there. So, you can see stereotypes can be really good or bad, but for a Christian, we have to be able to distinguish what is the mold that our culture is trying to pour me into and what is the calling of God? How do we distinguish those? So, we talked about that last week in “What is a Man?”
Today we get to talk about womanhood. What does it mean to be a woman? I asked my wife this morning before the first service, “Are you excited to go to church to learn what a woman is?” She seemed genuinely excited. A man telling us all what a woman is. That can’t go wrong at all. I don’t see any problem there.
So, we could just answer the question. What is a woman? She is one who assumes appropriate responsibility just like with men. You say, “Well, then what’s the difference?” Well, she’s going to do that very differently because she’s different as a woman than a man. But let’s get a little more specific. So, Genesis 1:27, if you’ll look at that, we’ll go back to that.
“So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
Notice, first of all, women are created in the image of God like men, and women also have been blessed and empowered to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue, and have dominion. Let’s summarize that this way.
Number one, whatever it means to be a woman, she is an image-bearer created by God to fill and rule creation. Now God made her to image him as a woman. Now, this is a staggeringly high calling! Let’s talk for a bit about what does it mean to be an image-bearer. N.T. Wright uses an illustration from his childhood that I think can be helpful. When he was a little kid, he was afraid to go to bed at night. So, his mom would set up a mirror at an angle so that when he was in bed, he could look through the mirror, out into the room where she was and the other family members to bring him a degree of comfort. And then they could look back through the mirror and see him in bed. Kind of an ancient baby monitor.
But this two-directional, angled mirror – not a perfect illustration because, obviously, a mirror is impersonal. And whatever it means to image, we’re doing it in a personal way. But think of that God communicating, reflecting through his image-bearers his love and truth and power to creation and then through creation is reflected back as we worship, like we were doing, singing to his glory, as we cultivate creation, as we exercise dominion, we are reflecting glory back to its rightful owner in God.
Does that make sense? So, that’s a glimpse of what it means to be an image-bearer. Now, unlike a mirror, we’re doing it in a personal way, men different from women but, likewise, the same high calling. Now, before sin, this was intuitive. Eve delighted in and exercised dominion for God.
Now in a fallen world, it’s like our mirrors turn in on us, and they become reflections of our own selves, our own brokenness. And we tend to fabricate functional identities to try to make life livable. If I can keep my body attractive enough, I will be significant. If I can be as strong as a man, or if I can advance my career far enough, or if I can parent my kids perfectly, if I can make something of myself, somehow I will achieve a status of womanhood. Jesus calls us to repent of these functional, fabricated identities. In a very real way, he breaks the glass ceiling. He dismantles the escalator of fabricated identities. Let me give you an example of this. Galatians 3:26,
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
So, in Christ, you are being swept into the dignifying, unifying promises of Abraham culminating in Christ. Your life, your identity is hidden in Christ. Colossians 3. No longer is your identity exposed to the social meritocracy of fabricated identities. I’ll put up on screen. Look at Colossians 3:9.
“Do not lie to one another.”
And when you hear that, think the Psalm 12 flattering, manipulating, redefining.
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
So, he’s renewing us to this place of being angled mirrors rather than turning in on ourselves.
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
So, do you see the similar language as Galatians 3:28? And in both cases, he is not denying national, ethnic, economic, gender differences. This isn’t the Flat Earth Society. Of course, there are distinctions. God actually delights for people from every tribe and tongue and nation, both males and females to worship him with harmony of many diverse expressions. But here is the point of Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3. In Jesus, none of these differences determine our status before God. Jesus wipes out the “genderocracy.” It’s our made-up word for the day. There is no genderocracy. Galatians 3:28 wipes that out.
So, therefore, as an image-bearer, you are valuable. As a believer in Jesus Christ, you are being renewed in the knowledge of that image-bearing status. And this message was scandalous in New Testament times and today. Jesus transformed the way women were treated and perceived. Throughout church history, we have struggled to live this out. And next week, we’re going to talk specifically about what the New Testament says about men and women in the church. And the following week, in the home.
But for today, let’s just take a quick look at church history, not so much the apostolic, (the times of the apostles) but right after that in the late 1st – 2nd second century. Historian Rodney Stark has demonstrated that the early church was lopsidedly female, probably 60/40. And this is especially shocking since the gender composition of the Greco-Roman world leaned more male. Here are a couple of reasons for that:
- One was female infanticide. There have been horrific archaeological discoveries where the drains of public Roman baths have been jammed with the bones of baby girls being cast aside. I mean when babies were born, the Greco-Roman family could decide if they wanted to keep that gender or not. And females were more often, like in China, cast aside. And therefore, you had a tendency to have more males.
- The second reason would be childbirth mortality. Many women died giving birth.
- The third reason may be the Pax Romana. I haven’t totally substantiated this, but because of the Roman peace, there were fewer wars; therefore, men were killed at a slower rate because typically, what kept the balance is women died giving birth to children, men died in war. It kind of kept things even. But if you have a time of an unusual peace, the male population actually rises.
So, in light of that, you have a disproportionate amount of men in the Greco-Roman world to women. Yet the early church had a disproportionate number of women than men. Why? Why was the early church so attractive to women? And theologically, we could answer that question because the Spirit of God drew them. But I want us to look at some sociological reasons.
Number one, dignity. Human dignity. Passages like Galatians 3:28 rocked the Roman world. In a society where women, children, and slaves were viewed as mere property to be used and discarded, Jesus taught his followers that every person was valuable. Christianity’s opponents even attacked them on this.
Let me give you one example. Celsus, who is a philosopher, polytheist, vehement critic of Christianity wrote this,
“[Christians] show that they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, only slaves, women, and little children.”
Christians also condemned abortion and infanticide because they viewed all of life as sacred. Human dignity.
Second reason women were attracted to Christianity was participation in a world where women were marginalized, Christianity modeled and taught their vital role. As Jesus and Paul built missionary teams composed of so many strong, gifted women, the early church, likewise, was composed of prophetesses and deaconesses, gifted teachers, patronesses. Even many of the early church martyrs were women. Why? Because the Roman officials viewed them as serious players in the early church, and they gave their lives for Christ.
Number three, women were drawn to Christianity because of marriage, a healthy view of marriage. In the Greco-Roman world, marital faithfulness was generally one-sided. Wives were expected to be faithful. Husbands were expected to be unfaithful. Let me give you one example from Demosthenes. Demosthenes wrote this prior to New Testament times, but his views were quite common.
“We keep mistresses for our enjoyment, concubines to serve our person each day, but we have wives for the bearing of legitimate offspring and to be faithful guardians of the household.”
A horrific view of marriage. Christianity democracized marriage, condemned marital unfaithfulness for both men and women, opposed prostitution, prohibited having concubines, opposed child matrimony, which was super common in the Greco-Roman world. Christianity dignified marriage. And again, Christians were attacked for this.
Brothers and sisters, if you think you can follow Jesus and have cultural views of sex and marriage, you’re delusional. The early church paid a serious price. I wish I had time to give you many examples, some even giving their lives for simply their view of marriage. So, if in our culture, we think we can somehow just blend in with the culture so that we’re not on the wrong side of history, we don’t understand what it really means to follow Jesus. Following Jesus affects the way we think about things as sacred as human dignity and marriage.
And then fourthly, singleness. Women were attracted to Christianity because early Christians understood that there was a calling to remain single and serve Jesus in singleness. You were not less of a woman. You did not become a real woman when you got a man. As women embraced the gospel of Jesus, they were experiencing an image-bearing renewal and seeing their part in this massive, cultural and gospel commission from God. That is a high and holy calling.
So, number one, what does it mean to be a woman? She is an image-bearer, created by God, recreated in Christ (we’re talking here about a Christian woman) to fill and rule creation. Number two, she is a helper who works in partnership with man. Oh, no! He did not say “helper.” The third rail of every sermon on womanhood. Genesis 2:18,
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”
Helper – implies for many inferiority. “Are you going to be Daddy’s little helper?” It implies for many others a kind of a mindlessness. Your job isn’t to figure out what to do, but just do what you’re told. And I want us to understand that none of that reflects the meaning of that word, helper. And this struck me in a new way.
Over the past few months, many months, the elders have been wrestling with these things biblically, and we’ve had some great focus groups and brainstorming times with women in our church. And this past week I was going over notes from some of those meetings, which were so enlightening, and one word that kept jumping out, which just broke my heart that we even have to mention this is the word “doormat.” How many women and how many elders said, “Women are not doormats.”
Isn’t it tragic that we even have to say that? Why do we have to say that? But somehow, passages like this with the word helper get translated in some minds as, “You’re my doormat.” So, let’s talk about this word.
In English, we say “ezer.” It’s the Hebrew word for helper. There is a “mmm” there in the Hebrew, ‘ezer. It doesn’t communicate inferiority in any way. Let me give you some examples. Moses named his son Eliezer. El is a name for God; ezer, helper. God is my helper. And he goes on to say in that passage Exodus 18:4, “He has delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present ‘ezer’ in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” Psalm 54:4, “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Isaiah 41 is loaded with “Fear not, I’ve got you.” God is saying, “I am your ezer.”
Listen to this. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, (there it is) I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. Fear not, I am the one who helps you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
It is impossible to read these verses and think, “Dude, I don’t want to be a helper. That’s demeaning.” No. There is no inferiority here. There is humility. God does stoop to us to help us and rescue us. Jesus did humble himself to come and rescue us because we needed big-time help. So why do we often think helper is demeaning? A couple of reasons.
Number one, weak men have tried to use verses like this and others to keep women in their place. I hope you can see that is entirely a misuse of the point of these verses. Number two, our culture is radically self-absorbed and individualistic. So, we’re often like a bunch of 3-year-olds. “I do this myself.” I don’t need a helper, and I don’t want to be a helper. And sure, if your goal in life is to live in a nice subdivision, drive a nice car, have a toned body, and a puppy, then you can go do that.
But what if God is calling you to something much bigger than that? That’s what’s going on in Genesis 2. It’s almost like God says to Adam, “Go for it! Do what I’ve called you to do.” And he begins naming animals and cultivating creation, and he quickly realizes “Ah, we need some help down here. We need some help. We can’t do this.” And God creates woman as his ezer, his help. So, in a very real way, the creation of woman says more about the man’s incompetence than it does about the woman’s inferiority. Do we understand that?
Adam, “Hey? We need some help.” And God, who is the ultimate Helper, says, “Let me create some help for you.” In verse 20, “a helper fit.” That is a rich word that means comparable. Literally, it means opposite yet corresponding, a counterpart. Not exactly like you Adam. You don’t need more of yourself. You need someone who is different, complementary, equal in being, yet different in doing. Creation of woman is the answer to that.
Number two, she is a helper who works in partnership with man. So, let’s see if we can bring all these ideas together into a few clear statements that we can pray through. So, number one, she finds her identity, her significance in God as an image-bearer. She is a competent cultivator of creation. What does it mean to be a Christian woman? She finds her significance in God as an image-bearer. She is a competent cultivator of creation. So, do you feel the firm footing of that? She is equal yet different from a man. She is aware of the tremendous forces in a fallen world that will be in her and on her, pulling her toward academic excellence, career achievement, all this good stuff of marriage, family, children, grandchildren.
All these pulls that some like Elizabeth Corrie has brilliantly written about, where she talks about no matter which way you go, you’re going to feel deep inside you missed something if that’s where you begin. If you begin, “I’m going to find out what it means to be a woman by simply doing this or this, proving that I’m smart enough, strong enough, or proving that I’ve got a big enough family or whatever,” that in itself can’t be the foundation. The calling flows from the fact that we are image-bearers, cultivators of creation. Number two, she is continually being renewed through faith in Jesus Christ. What do we mean “renewed”? Well, what we saw in Colossians 3. This new self, this hidden-with-Christ-in- God self, which is free from genderocracy.
Number three, she is empowered by the Holy Spirit to use her gifts for the benefit of her family and the community. Next week we’re going to talk about what that looks like in the church and the following week, in the home. But here we need to be clear. All women have vital roles.
Number four, she in singleness sees herself complete in Christ, united with his family. She refuses to see herself as deficient without a husband. Single women, you are not on standby. You’re not flying standby. You’re not on deck, waiting one day to hopefully get up to the plate and get in the game. You’re in the game, right where you are.
I Corinthians 7 talks a lot about that contentment. Because those of you who are married know if your contentment isn’t found through the Spirit as a single, you’re not going to find it through your marriage, because human beings can’t give that to you. And I have a huge burden regarding this for teen girls now who are being flooded in our culture with all sorts of gender chaos and these lies that somehow you have to do certain things to prove yourself as someone or change who you are rather than embracing who you are as an image-bearer in Christ with all the security. And yes, we’re always growing and learning, and that’s kind of what we mean by that continually being renewed. Our minds are being transformed into the image of Christ, and it is progressive until we are made into his image when we see him face to face. But we are not deficient without the other as an individual.
Number five, she as equal in being brings distinctive perspectives and vital abilities to marriage. This comes in a variety of ways. Her mind generates valuable insights. As Proverbs 31 says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom,” and she is not afraid to acknowledge the fact that God has designed her body as a miraculous incubator of life and as a nurturer. That is not something, even though in some segments of our society it’s almost like women are ashamed to be who God beautifully made them to be.
Number six, she is not intimidated by men, ashamed to be a woman, or too proud to be a helper. Do you feel the pressure going both ways there? Not intimidated by men, not ashamed to be a woman, but not too proud to be a helper. We could summarize, just to say it again in case you didn’t miss it, she’s not a doormat. So, you can tell we’re pushing against two groups of lies – the doormat lie, but then also the warrior women lie. This idea that if you don’t have a black belt, you’re not a real woman. And there’s nothing wrong with women getting a black belt. Please, don’t hurt me afterward. I think that’s great, but it’s not like you need that.
So, before you pack everything up, I want us just to look over this and pray over this, some of these statements. Many of these, many of you will say, “Yeah.” But there may be one of those, where the Spirit puts his finger on and says, “You need to explore this. What does this really mean? You need to pray into this. Are there lies you’re believing regarding this? Are there questions that you have?” Some of those, we’ll wrestle with in the coming weeks. Some of those, you may explore on your own. So, I want us to take just a minute and pray over this and say,
“Lord, is there’s something here I’m not embracing because of pain in the past or abuses of others or just delusions I have or voices I hear? Whatever it is, Lord, I want your Word to tell me who I am. I want to rest and rejoice in who you’ve made me to be and to go as far and high as you’ve called me.”