Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-nuteral Society - How Should These Biblical Principles Apply in Church and Home?

Series: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 27, 2003

Ephesians 5:22

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Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-neutral Society
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood series
First Presbyterian Church
Jackson, MS
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan

Ephesians 5:22

How These Biblical Definitions of Manhood and Womanhood
Apply in the Home and the Church

If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Ephesians chapter 5. All summer long the view that we have been proponing in our study of biblical manhood and womanhood, we have called complimentarianism. And we have defined that in a brief sentence or two this way: God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood but different and complimentary in function, with male headship in the home and believing community, that is the church, being understood as part of God's created design. And we have attempted to argue for this position, in the home and in the church, through a fairly comprehensive survey, especially of the New Testament teaching and the original creational teaching from Genesis 1 and 2 and 3 with regard to male/female role relationships.

Now, we want to look a little bit at how this works out in the home and the church. Our goal here is really to sketch out a vision for Christian manhood and womanhood. Now this is hard to do because we are all individuals and each of our marriages have distinctive aspects about them. Many various factors impact those distinctive things: the vocations that we may be in, the life situation that we may be in, the numbers of children that we have, where we live, the culture that we're in. There are hundreds of variables that impact the way that Christian marriages are worked out at the micro level in terms of manhood and womanhood. But it seems to me that there are principles and attitudes which are helped by looking at these fundamental Bible teachings and which set the parameters for the way that manhood and womanhood ought to work out in practice in the home and in the church. So I want to look at Ephesians 5 with you and then at one verse in 1 Corinthians 11. And I want to sketch out a few larger points from those passages, and then I want to look at a vision for biblical manhood and womanhood according to the Bible. Let's hear God's word in Ephesians 5 beginning in verse twenty-two.

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church and all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought to also love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it the she respect her husband.”

Amen, thus far the reading of God's holy word. Turn back to 1 Corinthians chapter 11 and just the third verse, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”

Amen, this is God's word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.

Lord, as we consider these passages and the principles that we have learned over the course of our summer studies, we pray that You would open our eyes to understand Your word, to embrace Your truth with our hearts and minds, but to most of all live Your truth out in our own personal relationships in the home and in the church. We know we need Your grace in order to do this, and so we ask for it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you look at Ephesians five verses 22-33, what you find out there is Paul spelling out the roles and rules and responsibilities of the husband and the wife in marital relationship. And in that passage Paul makes this grand point: that the husband-wife relationship is to be a mirror or a picture or an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His people. So we have this burden in our marriages: if our marriages do not reflect the norms of biblical manhood and womanhood in the way that husbands relate to wives and wives to husbands, then this illustration, this picture, this mirror image of the relationship between Christ and His people is not reflected to the church around us or to the world.

And so there is a tremendous significance beyond the impact that it has on our own personal interactions: it's an impact on the witness of God. We are made in the image of God. And one of the ways we are to image God is in the imaging of this relationship between Christ and His church. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, if you can imagine this, Paul gets even deeper than that. Not only are you a picture of this mysterious union between Christ and His bride, the church, you are in your male-female role relationships in 1 Corinthians 11—by the way, especially male-female role relationships in the church—you are in your male-female role relationships even a picture of the intra-Trinitarian relations of God. Is that phenomenal? You thought God was understating or overstating when He said that you were made in His image. And yet, Paul is saying here in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that in your male-female role relationships in the church, you become a picture of how Christ relates to the Father and how the Father relates to Christ. That's a stunning thing that the apostle Paul says. So our vision for manhood and womanhood in the home and in the church not only has at stake the obedience to biblical norms which are clearly spelled out in the word, but also has at stake our imaging Christ's relationship to the church and the relationship within the blessed trinity—Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

R.C. Sproul likes to say this: “All theology is derived from theology proper.” Now theology proper is the study of God Himself. And what Dr. Sproul is saying when he says that, is if you really work out the rest of theology, all it is is the application of what God reveals about Himself in the Bible. And that proves true when you look at Ephesians 5 and at 1 Corinthians 11: our male-female role relationships are simply the outworking of the way God is Himself. And we cannot fully image God unless we follow His commands with regard to male-female role relationships. Those are the first big points that I want to make from our reading of Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11.

I. God's role for women.

Let's look closely now for a few moments at Ephesians 5, and then I want to make a few global comments as we wrap our study up. First of all, if you look at verses 22-24 of Ephesians 5, we see here God calling Christian wives to a glad and willing submission to their husbands. So as we think about how Christian manhood and womanhood works out in the home and in the church, this is a wonderful passage to turn to; it's a command here in Ephesians 5:22-24 for wives to respect their husbands, to acknowledge their spiritual leadership in the home, to recognize the divinely given order of the household—that God has given the husband certain spiritual responsibilities and has given the husband certain spiritual authority under God. Therefore, the woman is called to a voluntary, sacrificial, self-giving, longsuffering, loyalty to her husband because even though he's been given this authority by God and the ideal role relationship is reflected in Christ and His relationship to the church, she's called upon to live with a sinner. And so her submission and her respect have to be given in the context of sacrifice and patience to a person who is far from perfect. Here's how Piper and Grudem describe this relationship of the Christian woman to her husband in the home:

“Submission refers to a wife's divine calling to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and to help carry it through according to her gifts. It's not an absolute surrender of her will, rather we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband's guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits out of reverence for Christ. The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin. Nevertheless even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, where she does not yield to her husband's unbelief she can still have a spirit of submission, a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and her behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.”

And so there we see the Christian wife in her role relationship in the home.

II. God's role for men.

Then in verses 25-30 God calls Christian husbands to a radical, self-denying, spiritual leadership for the good of their wives. Here Paul calls upon men to exercise their responsibilities and authorities with the purpose of the best interest of their wives. If you look at verses 26 and 27, Paul makes it clear that the husband's exercise of spiritual authority has a very practical purpose of benefit to their wives. Listen to the language. “That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies.” The point is: Christ loves the church in such a way as to perfect her, to sanctify her. He treats her as His own body and deals with her in such a way to build her up, and this is the way that the husband's spiritual leadership is to be exercised in the home—loving your wife for her best interest.

And of course the Apostle Paul turns around and says in verse 28: that turns out to be in your best interest. When Christian husbands love their wives for her best interest, it turns out to be in the Christian husband's own best interest because in caring for her you are caring, Paul says, for your own body. That's who she is. She is you; she's your own body. And then, of course, he goes into that glorious description of the mystery of the relationship between the husband and wife as a picture of the mysterious relationship between Christ and His people. And that's where he points out what is at stake in our following these male/female role relationships. That is the picturing of the union of Christ and His people.

III. Applications for the home

So what are the main principles for the way this vision works out, in particular, in the home? As I've said before, you can't sketch out one picture that can simply be photocopied and reduplicated in every relationship. And let me give you a good example of why. I'm going to read a testimony from John Piper—John Piper, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. What's interesting about this testimony is that it's a beautiful testimony to the way that he learned appropriate biblical manhood and womanhood from his parents, but in many ways their home was not an ideal situation. And you’ll understand why I am saying that when you hear me read this testimony. And that's a reminder to us that even in non-ideal circumstances these principles can be conveyed; and it's also a reminder to us that every single one of our marriages and families are going to be just a little bit different, and so we have to use sanctified common sense and apply the principles of the word as we work these things out in practice.

Here's what John Piper says, “When I was a boy growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, my father was away from home about two-thirds of every year.” You've already heard in the first sentence what I was referring to in terms of a less than ideal situation.

“My father was away from home about two-thirds of every year, and while he preached across the country, we prayed—my mother and my older sister and I. What I learned in those days was that my mother was omni-competent. She handled the finances; she paid all the bills; she dealt with the bank and the creditors; she once ran a little laundry business on the side; she was active on the park board; she served as the superintendent of the intermediate department of our southern Baptist church; and managed some real estate holdings. She taught me how to cut the grass, splice electric cord, pull Bermuda grass by the roots, paint the eves, and shine the dining room table with a shammy, and drive a car, and keep French fries from getting soggy in the cooking oil. She helped me with the maps in Geography and showed me how to do a bibliography and work up a science project on static electricity and believe that Algebra 2 was possible. She dealt with the contractors when we added a basement and, more than once, put her hand to the shovel. It never occurred to me that there was anything that she couldn't do. I heard one time that women don't sweat; they glow. Not true. My mother sweated: it would drip off the end of her long, sharp nose. Sometimes she would blow it off when her hands were pushing the wheelbarrow full of peat moss, or she would wipe it with her sleeve between the strokes of a swing-blade. Mother was strong. I can remember her arms even today, 30 years later: they were big, and in the summer time, they were bronze. But it never occurred to me to think of my mother and my father in the same category. Both were strong, both were bright, both were kind, both would kiss me, and both would spank me, both were good with words, both prayed with fervor and loved the Bible, but unmistakably my father was a man and my mother was a woman. They knew it, and I knew it. And it was not merely a biological fact, it was mainly a matter of personhood and relational dynamics. When my father came home, he was clearly the head of the house. He led in prayer at the table, he called the family together for devotions, he got us to Sunday school and worship, he drove the car, he guided the family to where we would sit, he made the decision to go to Howard Johnson's for lunch, he led us to the table, he called for the waitress, he paid the check, and he was the one who we knew we would reckon with if we broke a family rule or were disrespectful to mother. These were the happiest times for mother. Oh, how she rejoiced to have Daddy home. She loved his leadership. Later, I learned that the Bible calls this submission. But since my father was gone most of the time, Mother used to do most of those leadership things too. So it never occurred to me that leadership and submission had anything to do with superiority or inferiority, and it didn't have to do with muscles and skills either. It was not a matter of capabilities or competencies. It had to do with something I could have never explained as a child. And I have been a long time in coming to understand it as part of God's great goodness in creating us male and female. It had to do with something very deep. I know that the specific rhythm of life that was in our home was not the only good one, but there were dimensions of reality and goodness in it that ought to be there in every home—indeed, they ought to be there in varying ways in all mature relationships between men and women. I say “ought to be there” because now I see that they were rooted in God. Over the years I have come to see from the Scripture and from life, that manhood and womanhood are the beautiful handiwork of a good and loving God. He designed our differences, and they are profound. They are not mere physiological pre-requisites for sexual union. They go into the very root of our personhood.”

Mature masculinity

And so he goes on to define what mature masculinity is and what mature femininity is, and I just want to share these brief definitions. Here's what he says masculinity is, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships.” And here's what he says about mature femininity, “At the heart of mature 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.” By the way, I'd encourage you if you want to read further about this to pick up a copy of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and look at the very first chapter of where Piper explores these truths.

But I want to pick on the men for a moment and expand on some observations about mature masculinity; because in a sense, as we said before, much of this is in the term of attitude and the application of principle, and for the woman it's often in response to the leadership that is being given by the husband. You know the old joke about Ginger Rogers—that she could do everything that Fred Astair could, except she did it backwards and on heels? Well that's kind of like it is in the home. Much of biblical womanhood is responding to the biblical manhood of a husband. And so I want to pick on the men as we specify this picture of mature masculinity.

First of all, mature masculinity expresses itself not in the demand to be served but in the strength to serve and sacrifice for a woman. That's how that responsibility and authority is displayed—in serving and sacrificing for a woman.

Secondly, mature masculinity does not assume the authority of Christ over a woman but advocates for the authority of Christ. Isn't it interesting that Paul says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and that wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord? He doesn't say that the wife's submission to the husband is the same as submission to the Lord; but that the submission of the wife to the husband is illustrated by her submission to the Lord. And so masculine authority doesn't assume Christ's authority but is, in fact, itself an illustration of Christ's authority. Masculinity does not presume superiority over a woman but mobilizes the strengths of that woman in service. Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative. Mature masculinity accepts the burdens of the final say in disagreements between a husband and a wife but does not presume to use that authority in every instance. Mature masculinity expresses itself in a family by taking initiative in the discipline of the children. Mature masculinity recognizes the call to leadership is a call to repentance. At the end of that chapter that Piper writes, he sketches out fifteen exhortations to men and to woman. And I simply want to close tonight sharing with you these exhortations. Several of these exhortations are the same for men and woman; some are different. Listen, and I trust that these will be a challenge for you. To men and woman both—each of these first eight exhortations are for men and woman both.

IV. Exhortations to men and women

First, that in all of your life, in whatever your calling, that you would be devoted to the glory of God. Second, men and woman, that the promises of Christ would be so trusted so fully that peace and joy and strength would fill your soul to overflowing. Thirdly, men and woman, that this fullness of God would overflow in daily acts of love so that people might see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven. Fourth, that you would be men and woman of the Book. That you would love and study and obey the Bible in every area of its teaching, that meditation on biblical truth would be the source of your hope and faith, that you would continue to grow in understanding through all the chapters of your life, never thinking that study and growth are only for others. Fifth, that you would be men and woman of prayer so that the word of God will be opened to you, and so that the power of faith and holiness will descend up you, and your spiritual influence would increase at home, in church, in the world. Sixth, that you would be men and woman who have a deep grasp of God's sovereign grace which under girds all these spiritual processes, and that you would be deep thinkers about the doctrines of grace and even deeper lovers of the doctrines of grace. Seventh, men and women, that you would be totally committed to ministry—whatever your specific callings—and that you would not fritter away your time on unimportant hobbies or sports or other things of this nature, but that you would redeem the time for Christ and Kingdom. Eighth, that if you are single, and by the way, I love the fact that he gets to eight, and now, only now, he has to specify something that's distinct for those who are single; because singles are called upon to do all the other things that he's just listed and this is, by the way, everything else that he goes on to list. If you are single, that you would exploit your singleness to the full devotion of God, the way Jesus and Paul and Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael did and not be paralyzed by the desire to be married.

Now he has some different applications for men and for woman. First of all for women, if you are married, that you would creatively and intelligently and sincerely support the leadership of your husband as deeply as obedience to Christ will allow, and that you would encourage him in his God-appointed role as head, and you would influence him spiritually, primarily, through your fearless tranquility and holiness and prayer.

And then to men he says, that if you are married that you would love your wife the way Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her; and that you would be a humble, self-denying, up-building, happy, spiritual leader. That you would consistently grow in grace and knowledge so as never to quench the aspirations of your wife for spiritual advancement. That you cultivate tenderness and strength, a pattern of initiative and a listening ear; and that you accept the responsibility of provision and protection in the family, however you and your wife share that labor.

Tenth, again to women now specifically: that if you have children you accept the responsibility with your husband to raise up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—children who hope in the triumph of God—sharing with your husband the teaching and discipline they need, and giving them the special attention that they crave from you as well as that special nurturing touch and care that you alone are fitted to give. And to men, that if you have children you accept the primary responsibility in partnership with your wife to raise up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—children who hope in the triumph of God. That you would establish a pattern of teaching and discipline that is not solely dependent on the church or school to impart Bible knowledge and spiritual values to the children, and that you give your children the time and attention and affection that communicates the true nature of our Father in heaven.

Eleventh, again to the women, that you not assume that secular employment is a great challenge or a better use of your life than the countless opportunities of service and witness in the home, the neighborhood, the community, the church, and the world.

That you not only pose the question, career or full-time homemaker? But that you ask just as seriously, full-time career or freedom for ministry?

That you ask which would be greater for the kingdom: that you work for someone who tells you what to do to make his or her business prosper or to be God's free agent, dreaming your own dream about how your time and your home and your creativity could make God's business prosper?

And that in all this, you make your choices, not on the basis of secular trends or upward lifestyle expectations, but on the basis of what will strengthen the faith of the family and advance the cause of Christ.

And to men, eleventh, that you not assume advancement and pure approval in your gainful employment are the highest values in life, but that you ponder the eternal significance of faithful fatherhood and time spent with your wife.

That you repeatedly consider the new possibilities at each stage of your life for maximizing your energies for the glory of God in ministry, and that you pose this question often: Is our family molded by the culture, or do we embody the values of the kingdom of God?

That you lead the family in making choices not on the basis of secular trends or upward lifestyle expectations but on the basis of what will strengthen the faith of the family and advance the cause of Christ.

To both men and women, that you develop a wartime mentality and life-style; that you never forget that life is short—billions of people hang in the balance of heaven and hell everyday—and that the love of money is spiritual suicide; that the goals of upward mobility, nicer clothes, cars, houses, vacations, food, and hobbies are a poor and dangerous substitute for the goals of living for Christ with all your might and maximizing your joy in ministry to people's needs.

Next, now to women, that in all your relationships you seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in wisdom in applying biblical manhood and womanhood. To men especially, that you develop a style, a demeanor that expresses your God-given responsibility for humble strength and leadership and for self-sacrificing provision and protection, and that you think creatively and with cultural sensitivity in shaping the style and setting the tone of your interaction with women.

To women, finally, that you see the biblical guidelines for what is appropriate and inappropriate for men and woman, not as arbitrary constraints on freedom, but as wise and gracious prescriptions for how to discover the true freedom of God's ideal of complimentarity. And that you not measure your potential by the few roles withheld but by the countless roles offered, and that you look to the loving God of Scripture and dream about the possibilities of your service to him. And then to men, that you see the biblical guidelines for what is appropriate and inappropriate for men and woman, not as license for domination or bossy passivity, but as a call to servant leadership that thinks in terms of responsibilities not rights; that you see these principles as wise and gracious prescriptions for how to discover the true freedom of God's ideal complimentarity, and that you encourage the fruitful engagement of woman in the countless ministry roles that are biblically appropriate to them and deeply needed. May God help us as we do these things. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank you for this brief time that we have had together this summer to meditate on what our proper roles are as men and woman in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and in homes and families. Grant us the grace to live in accordance with Your word and, frankly Lord, to love living in accordance with Your word. And in so doing, not only become a blessing to one another and to this whole body, but to the world for the sake of Christ. This we ask in His name. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.