If you’ve been with us for the past 2 weeks hopefully you’ll remember how we’ve been building the foundation of understanding here. I’ve taken this one slowly because if we don’t build study this passage from the bottom up, it could be easily misinterpreted and therefore potentially damaging.
It’s easy to dismiss something if you think that it’s just cultural or from the “olden days”, right? Certainly, we’re all biased by preferring newer methods and means, but more-so when it comes to ancient cultures and practices. We eat modern diets, read modern books, use modern technology, and believe modern concepts – and the idea of importing and applying millennia old ideas doesn’t come naturally, so we require some pretty good reasons as to why it’s better or more authoritative.
So we started with the authority behind the passage. If this is cultural, then it’s changeable, but if it’s established in something that transcends culture, then we’d better pay attention. And if you recall, there were 5 of them. Whatever this passage is teaching is, as we see in verse 2, built on Apostolic Authority, which is to say, the same authority as Jesus. The second foundation, as we saw in verse 3, was the Trinity, or God’s established hierarchy. The third, as we saw in verse 8, was the foundation of Creation or God as Creator, going all the way back to before the fall of man in Genesis 3. The fourth foundation, as we saw in verse 12, was biology. The teaching here is rooted in God’s choice to make humans as male and female. And fifth, as we saw in verse 16, was common church practice – that this wasn’t a special teaching for the Corinthians, but a universal teaching for all churches everywhere.
So that was the first week. Last week we moved onto the cultural considerations or historical context for whatever is being said here. Even though the foundation of this passages teaching is beyond culture, we still have to understand the context of the writing, and so last week we studied head coverings and fashion in ancient Greek and Roman culture. This led us to understand the issue being addressed in this passage, that being the freedom that women were finding with their new relationship with Christ, the unique nature of the church being a place that considered men and women to be equal in dignity, worth, and access to God, had gotten out of control and the women were breaking with societal norms and doing away with the head coverings that their culture wore.
This helped us to understand that what Jesus is telling us, through Paul. The foundation of the passage was universal, but the issue was contemporary to the Corinthian church. So, their cultural issue, that of doing away with head coverings, was showing a something deeper – a problem of the heart. I said last week that the women in the church were experiencing an “intoxicating level of freedom in Christ” and that because they were human they had taken it too far. They had used their freedom to sin (Gal 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16) by disrespecting their husbands, disobeying Jesus, confusing new believers, and offending anyone who saw them.
Male Headship Controversy
But we’re not done with this passage yet. Foundationally, this was about breaking God’s divine standards. This showed up in a cultural way in the head coverings issue, but our interpretation of the passage is still missing a crucial part, and it’s something that I’ve been hinting at, but skipping past: and that is the issue of Male Headship.
How do you feel when I say that term? It likely depends on your age, your environment, your history, your education, and your knowledge of the Bible. We live in the modern and liberal nation of Canada, outside the very modern and very liberal city of Ottawa, and these two words are incredibly divisive right now. In fact, in a lot of places, with the rise of things like transgenderism and radical feminism, just using the term “Male Headship” would be considered hate speech.
That sounds radical doesn’t it? Like fear mongering. Well, here’s an example of what I mean: This is Kevin Arriola, a student at Ryerson University in Toronto. He’s seen some difficult things in his life and wanted to start the Men’s Issues Awareness Society. The invitation was to get some of the men and women at the school together to talk about some of the issues they’ve seen. Things like: male homelessness, the higher rate of suicide and incarceration, the declining performance of boys in academic settings, etc. Immediately, the feminist groups at the university flipped out, calling the group misogynist, anti-feminist, and ideologically dangerous. Within days, the student union shut them down. Ironically, half of the members of Kevin’s little group are women! In fact, the main team consists of Kevin and his social media director Alexandra! They’re fighting it right now, but it doesn’t look good.
My point behind sharing this story is to say that if a young man can’t start a discussion group un a university campus – the supposed bastion of learning and debate – about serious issues facing men today – then how do you think society is going to react to the words: “Male Headship”? Not well, right? It stirs up a lot of preconceptions and emotions, doesn’t it?
Therefore, we must be very careful when talking about this subject. We need to make sure that when we talk about it that we speak biblically, not passing along our own ideas, our history, our family upbringing, our culture, or assumptions about what we think the Bible says.
For Christians, we believe that God’s way is the best way, and therefore we pray and search the scriptures to see what He has to say and then submit ourselves to that – knowing that even if it goes against our feelings, history, preconceptions, culture, or desires, that it will be the best for human flourishing and bring God the most glory.
This is a gospel issue. The story of Jesus Christ, the good news (the gospel), is that Jesus Christ is using His power to restore everything to the way it should be. As Jesus says in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new!” This is why we talk about being born again, washed clean, or regenerated. God the Father made everything perfect, but then humans sinned and messed it up. But through Jesus death on the cross, He has broken the power of sin and is not only saving individuals, but redeeming them, delivering them from sin and darkness, and sanctifying them, taking out their sinful heart of stone and replacing it with a holy heart of flesh. And the story of the gospel is that He’s doing the same thing to the whole world.
That’s why Romans 8:20-23 says,
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (ESV)
Sin messed up all of creation, and just as Christians have an inward groan and longing to be “set free from our bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of… glory…” waiting eagerly for our final redemption, so does everything else. We hate how messed up the relationships between men and women are, and we want it to be better. And it isn’t merely education that is going to fix it. It can only come from God through the work of Jesus Christ.
The Battle in Our Current Context
We’ve seen a lot of problems and confusion with male female relations over the past little while haven’t we. On one hand we have Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of entrapping, raping, molesting, and all kinds of other horrible behaviour to women in Hollywood. And then on the other hand we have the death of Hugh Hefner, the creator of a publishing empire built on the sexual objectification of women. Both of these men are predators, using their money and influence to take something very precious. But for some reason, though Hefner was an abusive rapist predator just like Weinstein, he was heralded by the media. It shows just how confused the culture is about male female relations.
But it’s not just non-believers and ultra-left Hollywood that is confused, is it? The Christian church doesn’t get off scott free. Recently a #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear hashtag went around social media, and while some of it was ridiculous, some of it was really sad to read. The history of Christianity is full of all kinds of rebellion, oppression and domination. I still remember 2008 when I preaching a series based off some curriculum called “They Like Jesus, but Not the Church”. Dan Kimball had interviewed a whole bunch of twenty and thirty year olds and asked them what they had against Christianity. And one of those common objections was that the Christian church has a reputation for restricting and oppressing women.
And sadly, that’s been true in some cases as men take biblical passages like this one today, and others, misinterpret them, misapply them, and use them to harm women. Sure, as we’ve seen in our Corinthian context, this can happen in reverse as women use scripture to wrongly too, but a lot of the guilt falls on the shoulders of men.
This is likely why the term “Male Headship” creates such a visceral, instinctive, gut fear reaction. It’s because the church has often done a very poor job in seeking to understand and apply these passages properly. Men take it as permission to oppress women, and some women see it as a command from God to allow themselves to be disrespected and subjugated. This is where we get ideas like women are supposed to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, where men can demand sex whenever they want and the women aren’t supposed to enjoy it, where men are better managers and women better parents – all of which is unbiblical garbage. It’s a mess of wrong interpretations, which is why we need to be so very careful.
The Original Plan
This frustration between men and women, husbands and wives, is sometimes called “the battle of the sexes”. Where does that come from? Unsurprisingly, it comes from sin. This isn’t God’s doing, it’s ours. Let’s look at how God created it in the beginning. Open with me to Genesis 1:26-31 because I want to show you something very special and very important.
In Genesis 1, when God was creating everything, He did it in a very purposeful, very meaningful, way. First He did big things, like separate light and darkness, divide the earth and sky and space, and then He filled those big things with stars and planets, plants, birds, and land and water creatures. And then, pausing there, God began a special creation unlike any other.
Take a look at this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” It’s no accident here that God presents himself as a plurality. “Let us… after our…” God is speaking to Himself, to the Trinity. God the Father, addressing Jesus Christ the Son, through whom John 1:1-3 says all creation was made, and by whom Colossians 1:17 says all things are held together. They are a plurality of oneship; all equally worthy of glory, power, dominion, and honour – and yet distinct in their roles.
And so it should surprise us that when the creation that reflects His image would also be a plurality – male and female, both equal in glory, power, dominion and honour – and yet distinct in their roles.
Now look at verse 26 again,
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”
Who gets dominion over the earth? The word “man” as in “make man in our image” is the inclusive term for mankind – both men and women. And then it says, “let them have dominion…” Who gets dominion? “Them”.
There’s a great scene in the original, and better, Jurassic Park where three of the main are sitting in the jeep staring out at some of the dinosaurs and one of the men says quietly, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs.” The woman continues the thought and says, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”
And while this is a great quote in in the movie it also betrays a common misunderstanding of what we’re seeing here in Genesis. A lot of people think it says that God gave the whole world to Adam and everything else, including women, are subject to Him, but that’s not what it says. God gave dominion of the world to both.
Let’s keep reading in verse 27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
God, in His second commandment, says that there shall be no idols made of Him. Why? Because Genesis 1 is clear that both men and women are created in the image of God, and like a two piece jigsaw puzzle, it is only when they come together that they complete image. We don’t need a gold or stone image of God because humanity is God’s image!
Genesis 1 is almost all plural! Both men and women, all mankind are given equal dominion, equal rights, equal blessings, and given the same commandments. Look at verse 28:
“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.” And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.’” (ESV)
“It was very good.” Men and women, equal in dignity, worth, glory, power, honour and dominion. Both given the charge to enjoy the world God had created, to work it together, to be together in love and harmony, cultivating the earth, spreading God’s Garden Temple across the entire planet, and populating it with the fruit of their love, generations and generations of children who would all worship and enjoy the perfect presence of God. All the “you’s” in that passage are plural, God’s blessings and commandments are given to both Adam and Eve, man and woman, together. Not just Adam.
To Be Continued
But then, if you’ve read your Bibles at all, you’ll realize that you get this story again in Genesis 2. Why is that? Why do we read about Adam and Eve being created in Genesis 1 and then again in Genesis 2? Is it just a repeated story for effect? No, it’s because we are learning through those stories, in their similarities and differences, about God’s design for men and women, especially husbands and wives. Genesis 1 emphasizes our similarities, Genesis 2, our differences.
I wish I had time to complete this study, but we’re going to have to continue it next week. I’m told that my sermons are getting too long and the pews are too uncomfortable, so I need to cut things short, but let me end with this: We lose a lot of blessings when we engage in the battle of the sexes and refuse to submit to God’s teaching about male and female relations. Everyone loses out when humanity disrespects, subjugates, denies, or ignores each other – men or women.
I just sat in a two day Leadership conference and was surrounded and taught by some amazing women. There were some seniors, but I was amazed by how many younger women there were. Some were in business suits, others in fashionable dresses, others in jeans, and a few even had nuns habits, but all were there to learn how to be a better leader in their job and community.
One woman speaker, Sheryl Sandberg, is the COO of Facebook and spoke not only on leadership and hiring issues, but also on how to move forward after we face difficult challenges in life. Another very successful woman, Juliet Funt, spoke in the importance of not only being focused and doing hard work, but also balancing work with meditation and family life. Angela Duckworth has an incredible amount of education and spoke about passion and perseverance. Immaculee Ilibagiza shared an amazing testimony about her experience during the Rwandan genocide and the power of forgiveness.
It would be sheer insanity for anyone to deny that these were all very gifted, strong, intelligent, creative women that everyone – both men and women – ought to listen to. And yet, in the church today there are people who will simply refuse to listen to women, in so many areas, even silencing them, believing them to be somehow inferior to men. Men and husbands, mocking their wives and daughters, dismissing their opinions, gifts, talents, and desires, simply because they are female. That’s not how we God intended us to be together, and it is sin.
My encouragement to you today, whether you are male or female, is to look inward and ask yourself if you are engaged in the battle of the sexes. Are you biased against women? Have you been taught, or somehow come to the conclusion, that women are somehow lesser than men, or that men are somehow lesser than women?
Do you, deep down think men are stupid and women smart (or vice versa) That a woman is less trustworthy than a man (or vice versa)? Do you think women are more loving and better parents then men, men are better at leadership and management? Women are too emotional, men too angry, women too talkative, men too stubborn, women too anxious, men too childish, men too worried about sex, women too worried about looks?
I challenge you to submit these assumptions to God, to pray about them, and to ask if they are biblical – or if you’ve simply allowed sin to dictate your beliefs about others and are actually biased and engaged in battle with the other gender. Then we’ll talk more next week.