Series: Parenthood Category: Core Seminars, Children, Manhood & Womanhood, Parenting
If you saw the commercial, I’ll bet you can sing along: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never, never, never let you forget your a man….cause I'm a woman…” The product being sold was something called “Enjoli” perfume. The commercial celebrated the woman who could have it all—work, run the home and be attractive (albeit an attraction helped by Enjoli perfume). As it turns out, the lyrics are from a song that added a further wrinkle. Listen to this stanza, especially the last line:
I can rub and scrub till this old house
Is shinin’ like a dime Feed the baby, grease the car and Powder my face at the same time Get all dressed up, go out and swing Till four a.m. and then Lay down at five, jump up at six And start all over again 'Cause I'm a woman Double you, O man
Well, the commercial may have been from the 1970s, but this message of indignance, sexuality, competitiveness, and even superiority are very 2013. Today, the optimal woman seems to be a hybrid of masculinity and femininity. Whether it’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to hot books like the current Hunger Games series for teens, we’re taught to admire the warrior woman.
Of course, life is not a song or a movie. Turn to the Washington Post or Slate magazine and you can hear women wrestling with the sacrifices and doubts bound up in trying to “have it all.” Maybe you’ve wrestled with whether being a woman is any different than being a man; or whether raising a daughter is different than raising a son. Maybe as a husband you’ve wondered how to encourage your wife and daughters to invest their lives. Perhaps you’re a single man wondering what to look for in a wife. We can’t answer all of these questions this morning, but we can begin by considering God’s plan for women in their roles as mothers and daughters.
Before we jump in, I want to acknowledge my limits. You may have noticed that I am male. My experiences (and to some extent, my chromosomes) have not equipped me to educate you, as C.J. Mahaney has put it, on the “finer points of biblical womanhood.” This, Scripture teaches, is the task of older women; and next week we hope to have a panel where you can pose some of those more practical questions. But the major points of biblical womanhood are right here in Scripture. God Himself casts a vision for women. Today we’ll be focusing on this broad vision—these major points—inspired by the Holy Spirit for women and men.
I. Biblical Footing
A. Big Picture on Gender
We start by quickly reminding ourselves of God’s big picture on gender. We say that God intends to project his image differently through men and women, who are created equally in His image. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Gen. 1:27. Therefore we should treat men and women with equal dignity, knowing that men and women have equal value” to God. BSF, p. 29. At the same time, men and women are not interchangeable. Instead, the biblical idea is that men and women complement one another—as in completing one another, or serving as another’s counterpart. God gave us these complementary roles so that we would represent Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church—who are not interchangeable. This is one way our lives display the Gospel.
Often this complementary design is discussed in terms of headship and submission; but in the Bible, it is also fleshed out in their activities or roles. And as we have seen, these roles are part of God’s original design. Differentiated roles for men and women are not the result of the fall. The abuse of those roles certainly is. But our unique roles – and our design to fit those roles – is God’s perfect plan in creation.
But this idea is despised in our culture. Even hint at it and you’re likely to be branded a hater—or worse. This is nothing new. Almost 50 years ago now, Betty Friedan helped launch a movement to liberate women from what she viewed as an enslaving stereotype. This “feminine mystique,” as she called it, trapped women in their homes, which she called “comfortable concentration camps.” [The Feminine Mystique (1983), p. 307.] As we have said, the feminist movement was in many respects a reaction to male abdication. And there is no excuse for that.
But as Christians we know that only the truth can set us free—can liberate us. As we are convinced that God’s Word is truth, we are convinced that it alone will liberate us. Elizabeth Elliot puts the point beautifully:
We must and do deplore the stereotypes that caricature the divine distinctions [between men and women]. We deplore the abuses perpetrated by men against women . . . but have we forgotten the archetypes? Stereotype is a word generally used disparagingly to denote a fixed or conventional notion or pattern. An archetype is the original pattern or model . . . . I am not here to defend stereotypes of femininity, but to try to focus on the Original Pattern.
The first woman was made specifically for the first man, a helper, to meet, respond to, surrender to, and complement him. . . . But Eve, in her refusal to accept the will of God, refused her femininity. Adam, in his capitulation to her suggestion, abdicated his masculine responsibility for her. It was the first instance of what we would recognize now as “role reversal.” This definite disobedience ruined the original pattern and things have been in an awful mess ever since. BMW, p. 397.
And then, as if in direct response to Friedan, Elliot closes with this:
The world looks for happiness through self-assertion. The Christian knows that joy is found in self-abandonment. [and of course, Jesus said: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” ~ Mt 10:39]
Brothers and sisters, this battle between the Friedans and Elliots of the world—call it the “battle of the Bettys”—may well be the defining issue for us in raising our daughters. Take your own look at the culture. It’s intensely interested in answering the cry of your daughters’ hearts, “Who am I?” And it offers the same answer that tripped up Eve. But God offers a “largeness of life undreamed of by the liberators of the world” found in celebrating the differences between the sexes. In Scripture, we see that for women freedom is being what they were made to be—female.
B. Sufficiency of Scripture.
If we are going to speak faithfully about womanhood, we need to rely on the Bible. Yet as Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters have put it in their excellent book, Girl Talk, the biblical language is dying. Helper? Self-controlled? Gentle and quiet? Submissive? Mother? Are you for real?
First – It’s what the bible says. And as we begin to look at God’s design, what is striking is how much He has to say. Whether it is Genesis 2, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5, Titus 2, I Timothy 2 and 5, or I Peter 3, we are told the purpose for which woman was created, the context in which she normally will fulfill that purpose, and traits that should mark her. … (We are not left without an answer to the world’s mocking. If the world’s frothing opposition to biblical woman hood is the raging ocean, the bible is not a ship fighting its way through the storm – it’s a massive rock with the lighthouse!)
Second - God is like this. I’m always surprised that many Christians are ready to argue that, for men and women to be equal, they must be interchangeable. But think about the Trinity. Are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit equal? In every way! That’s at the heart of the doctrine. Are they interchangeable? No! Each fulfills His particular role. Point out to your daughters that, for Christ – our Lord and Savior – that meant humiliation and death. He constantly said “I do the will of My Father.” And yet He receives all glory with the Father and Sprit. Gender itself is a beautiful reflection of the nature of God and the Gospel.
Third – This isn’t new. I’m not saying that, in our lifetime, the attacks on biblical femininity have not become extremely virulent. The recent war against it is fierce, and we need to take it seriously. But remember that this is nothing new in history – not something that has taken God and the Bible by surprise. The Bible has all we need to know how to live and how to answer the world.
II. What is biblical womanhood, and how do we teach it?
So, what does this female reflection of the image of God and the Gospel look like? While any definition inevitably will be incomplete, John Piper usefully puts it this way:
“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 women’s differing relationships.” BMW, 46.
Like the definition of masculinity, it starts with the word “mature.” I would add “biblical.” We don’t want just any femininity for our girls. The world offers many versions. A version popular right now looks much like masculinity—it is independent, assertive, and vocal. Another version looks like the harlot from Proverbs. (Just ask any mother of a girl in her teens (or even “tweens”) how easy it is to find, not just modest clothes, but clothes that are not out-and-out racy.) Other versions are a hybrid of these. They ALL encourage women to be self-oriented: to promote themselves in their professions and pleasures, and to worship themselves as they use their bodies to exercise power over men.
But Titus 2 pictures a mature Christian woman. “Older women,” Paul writes Timothy, “are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:3-5. This is a woman who is others-centered and seeks to bring glory to God, not herself. She does this by living a life in service to others that is marked by modesty, purity and discretion. She loves her husband and children—and is not focused primarily on self-fulfillment. She is self-controlled—in charge of her emotions and her mouth; not the other way around. She is pure—not consumed by romance novels and dressing to allure. She is busy at home, capitalizing on her home as her primary place of fruitful ministry to her husband, children, church, and world. She is kind, caring for others. And she submits to her husband, portraying the church’s loving submission to Christ.
Please note that, while we’ve mentioned a husband and children, biblical womanhood is for all women at all times. Biblical femininity begins when a baby is born female. And a woman does not have to be married to live a biblically faithful life—any more than Jesus did. Whether God has ordained our daughters to be married or unmarried, we want to help train their ambitions with Scripture and provide them with the skills to live out those biblical ambitions. And moms, remember that your daughters are the “young women” who should receive your primary attention and training—there are specific things He wants you to teach them.
B. Modeling… PLUS
To begin, mothers: devote yourselves to understanding these things. Recognize that the battle here is for your mind—will it be conformed to the pattern of this world? These matters require thought and study. Read books like Feminine Appeal and Radical Womanhood. Firmly grasp that equality does not require interchangeability, how that’s true in the Trinity itself. Get a composite picture of a mature, godly woman for yourself
Then, as you understand and embrace these traits, model them. Let her see you serving your home and others. Let her see you trust your husband’s leadership (doesn’t mean mindlessly agree – you’re a helper, after all. But model respect and trust during and after the decision).
If you’re single, and don’t think you have the gift of singleness, do you aspire to a marriage where you and your husband play complementary biblical roles? Are you using your single life to serve others? Do you submit to appropriate male leadership in your life now (e.g. from elders)?
Fathers, you, too, must understand the cultural onslaught your wives and daughters are facing. Study this issue, read these books, and determine to adopt these biblical priorities for the women in your family – and to provide the kind of strong leadership under which they can thrive.
But modeling is insufficient. The cultural opposition is too strong. Our daughters also need: instruction, prayers, practical training, and love.
1. Instruction. And let’s start by making clear that we do not consider our girls interchangeable with boys, and our goals for them are different. Encourage your daughters that God made them wonderfully female. Help them understand that there is more to being female than having long hair and wearing dresses; they are female on the inside.
Teach them that being female and living out God’s design for women is a high calling—every bit as lofty as his design for boys. Teach what we talked about earlier – how they show the character of Christ; that you’re not a slave to tradition, but to living freely in God’s image under the authority of His Word. Consider especially how you’re training their hearts’ loves, longings, and ambitions. What goals and hopes do you hold out before them? Are they found anywhere in God’s word?
Fathers, to reinforce this, I suggest we take a page from the book of one of our former members, and constantly remind our children that our wives are amazing. His wife said that her boys thought she was superwoman, because her husband spoke about her like this. Build her up in front of them. This is a wonderful, Proverbs 31-type way for children to view their mothers, and to cast a vision for our daughters.
2. Prayers. In our very prayers for them, we want to make clear that we don’t just want a child that loves Christ, but we want a woman who loves Christ. And then we pray using these biblical terms: “Father, make [Susie] into a godly young woman. Help her to grow up to be self-controlled. Make her pure – make her gentle just like Jesus our Good Shepherd is gentle… Prepare her to be a strong and beautiful helper. Give her the beauty of a quiet & gentle spirit…” And so forth. Pray the Bible – and ask God to make these things the longing of her heart.
3. Training. Remember, too, that your daughters need practical training. Show and teach them how to keep a home. Point out specific things you do to show love to their father. Don’t overlook the practical! Many women arrive at marriage only to realize they received training for many things, but not to be a wife and mother – to be biblically feminine. [Single women, you can continue to prepare by hanging out w/ married women and asking them to show you their pointers…]
Practical training also extends to spiritual things. For instance:
• Purity. You can teach modest from a very young age. Explain that our bodies are not for attracting attention and are not an object to perfect. American Idol, High School Musical — girls will learn quickly to dress and move their bodies to exert power over men. Teach them what modest dress looks like, and that modesty is actually more beautiful.
• Kindness. Cultivate kindness by encouraging her to use her speech to edify, not to gossip or be bossy. Talk with your daughters about the beauty of the heart, the beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Even at young ages (5, 6, 7), you can see the spirit of a girl who, if not lovingly and firmly corrected, will grow up to be a bossy, critical, spiteful wife who will attempt to usurp her husband’s authority and lord it over him.
4. Love. Finally, they need love. Titus 2 says to “love” your children. How? Very quickly, here are six recommendations from Carolyn Mahaney: Pray, take an interest, listen closely, encourage encourage encourage, express affection, make memories (from Girl Talk).
Let’s look now at a few aspects of the definition of femininity we gave earlier:
C. Biblical femininity is a “freeing disposition.”
Remember what Elizabeth Elliott said:
The world looks for happiness through self-assertion. The Christian knows that joy is found in self-abandonment. A Christian woman’s true freedom lies on the other side of a very small gate—humble obedience—but that gate leads out into a largeness of life undreamed of by the liberators of the world….”
Our Father knows this is a challenge! Consider I Peter 3:5,6, where He exhorts women to “put their hope in God” and “not give way to fear.” Take courage, sisters. The culture will despise you. But in Christ, women are freed from fear. Teach your daughters that they can trust God’s design, because they can trust God. He will bless them in this role He has given them.
Mothers / ladies: Are you convinced that this is liberation for you? Be convinced, and take delight in your role. You are at the center of God’s will! Single women, explore what it means that God has made you female. Consider ways you may have adopted worldly thinking and might balk at God’s design. Are you taking your cues from the world or Scripture?
For your Daughters: Teach them that they will be happiest doing what God has made them to do. (…and show them!) Talk about biblical womanhood as a place of blessing and safety. It is not a life of wasted gifts and missed opportunities, but a life well-used for the glory of God. Show them how they are like Christ when they take this role; God takes this role. Encourage them to trust God with their lives and not give way to fear, and to cultivate inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, not primarily outward adornment.
D. Biblical Femininity affirms and receives… …strength and leadership from worthy men.
Women actively affirm the leadership of men when they live cheerfully under the authority of their husbands, fathers, or elders in their church. This follower-ship applies in every season of life. Whether young or old, married or single, women can express their femininity by affirming the godly leadership of worthy brothers in Christ. In fact, John Piper writes, “a mature woman is glad when a respectful, caring, upright man offers sensitive strength and provides a pattern of appropriate initiatives in their relationship. She does not want to reverse these roles. She is glad when he is not passive. She feels herself enhanced and honored and freed by his caring strength and servant-leadership.” BMW, 48.
The mature Christian woman receives her husband’s provision and authority as a rich blessing, not a provocation. If she is single, she does not compete with men to prove that she is as good as they are, but is happy in their differences and is happy to rely on their strength.
Mothers: Aspire to be the opposite of the quarrelsome wife! Do you undercut his leadership by complaining about him with others? Or to his face, about being late from work or a decision he made for the family? (This of course does not mean you don’t talk through such things; it’s a question of when and how.) Or are you teaching about the goodness of your husband’s leadership? We want to say things like: “It’s good that your daddy leads our home. God gave him that responsibility, and we’ll follow his leadership.” Single women, do you work, in appropriate ways, to affirm the leadership of the worthy or God-appointed men in your life?
For your Daughters: Encourage them to affirm, not buck, their fathers’ leadership. Though it’s not an exact parallel, this will be good practice for life in the church and, if the Lord wills, for marriage. Help her understand that this is how she lives under God’s authority.
Teach your daughter to relish going to her father for counsel and help. For example, consider having her show her dad her new clothing purchases for a modesty and appropriateness check. We’re not saying (in answer to the world’s objections) that our daughters shouldn’t be wise, capable and competent…to the contrary! But their hearts’ desire should be to thrive under the leadership, protection, and provision of worthy men who call out their wisdom, capabilities and competence.
Fathers, are you cultivating your relationship with your daughters so that your daughter feels the blessing of living under the leadership of a benevolent, Godly man? Be a haven for your daughters. [And brothers for sisters!] This will teach them something of their loving heavenly Father and will prepare them to seek out a nurturing, Christ-like husband. And cultivate your relationship with your wife, so she feels that and can gladly affirm it to your daughters.
E. Biblical Femininity Nurtures.
It is a freeing disposition to nurture strength and leadership from worthy men. Here we’re drawing on the woman’s core calling described in Genesis: she was to be “a helper suitable” for the man. Gen. 2:18. God said it was “not good” for man to be alone; so he provided him a helper. As a former CHBC pastor put it, Adam’s problem was not loneliness—he had perfect fellowship with God—the problem was incompetence. He needed help! Here we come to a key part of God’s vision for woman: to be a suitable helper for man.
What does “helper” mean? In Hebrew, it means “helper.” Our reaction to this word, especially for women, may be to cringe. We have the image of “mommy’s little helper” – an unnecessary person, maybe even a hindrance, someone you let “help” you for their benefit, but not for yours! But “helper” in Scripture is a strong word. The vast majority of times it’s used of God Himself: God is the “helper” of Israel. In the NT, Christ calls the Holy Spirit “the Helper.” Women do not help from a point of weakness; the help because they have tremendous God-ordained strength to do so!
Proverbs 31 is a wonderful picture of this industrious, skilled, savvy woman using her abilities and intelligence to serve her family, household, and community. She embodies the traits in Titus 2. Taking these passages together, we get a composite picture of biblical womanhood from three angles. Women are helpers to their husbands, their churches, and the world.
1. Women are helpers to their husbands. This starts with women’s very orientation: they help their husbands by being oriented to them, and not primarily to themselves. (As we saw earlier, is not to say that a husband is to be oriented to himself!—He is to be oriented to God and leading His family to serve God.)
One basic way women help their husbands is by having and raising children. As we saw in the early lectures, we see right from Genesis 1 that God wanted to spread his image throughout the world in part by procreation. Psalm 127 teaches us that children are a blessing and like “arrows in the hands of a warrior.”
Women, God has given you a special gift and calling to bear children. God has made you nurturers of life. We want to cultivate a love for life and love for children in our daughters when they are young and as they grow older. Many in our culture disdain children as obstacles to fulfillment. We want to train our daughters that children are a blessing and help them learn to care for children. Single sisters, consider your disposition towards children and how you might, if you haven’t, cultivate a concern for and ability to care for children. Perhaps you have nieces or nephews. Certainly you have many spiritual nieces and nephews here at CHBC. Consider adopting a family and getting to know the children. [Jen Lam took the Nichols’ son Curtis, then 2, to Starbucks for “dates.”]
Women also fulfill their childrearing job and help their husbands by being, as Paul puts it, “busy at home” (Titus 2:5; see also I Tim. 5:14). Interpreting the New Testament texts on this point, Andreas Kostenberger, author of God, Marriage, & the Family, writes that “women are to be devoted first and foremost to the home, supervising their households with discretion and industry.” First and foremost. This is not how the culture tells women to think of homemaking. But it’s how Scripture says to think of it. This is what Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 are talking about. You are the household manager and supervisor; you are the COO of an enterprise with a specific place of business – the home.
In his excellent book on parenting, John McArthur wisely points out that none of this means a woman cannot work outside the home. But if she is not devoted first and foremost to the home, John says, he cannot give her parenting techniques to make up for that structural oversight! John Piper puts it this way; he says he prays for women:
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? Which would be greater for the Kingdom—to 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? BMW 56.
Brothers and sisters, do you want to set high goals for your daughters? Teach them the joy of using their time and home and creativity to “make God’s business prosper.” Teach them not to follow secular trends or lifestyle expectations, but what will strengthen their families and advance the cause of Christ. Single women, catch this vision for your home. Of course, you have your job. Serve there with all your heart, as if you were serving Christ! But how can you also use your home to build God’s kingdom? To take a couple examples, ask Jessica Sandal, or Margaret Bradley, or Sabrina Smith.
2. Women are helpers to their churches. Mothers, prepare your daughters for a life of service not just in their own household, but in “God’s household,” the church. Let them see the importance of the church in your family’s life, and help them see that biblical femininity adorns not just her, not just her family, but the body of Christ. Have them serve along with you where they can (bringing meals to new mothers, or helping an elderly member, for example). And even while women are unmarried, they can employ their talents in the church. Our church is full of such women If you are unmarried, consider how you can be more “devot[ed] . . . to doing what is good” (Titus 3:14), and pour yourself out to help God’s people.
3. Women are helpers to the world. The godly family builds up the church. The Church visibly represents Christ to a watching world (as does the family, too…). Ladies, your diligent service in your homes, raising up a godly generation and building up the body, is a powerful means of advancing the Kindgom of God! Proverbs 31 speaks of this wise woman as opening her hands to the poor. We see her using her home to serve those outside her home. Biblically feminine women are not insular. No, their homes are Gospel outposts! Their love is always reaching out to do good to others in the church and the world.
Mothers: Consider the weight, the magnitude, the impact, of what God is calling you to do. Your helping may often feel mundane. Strive to remember Who it is you’re really serving – and the mighty hands in which your work is an instrument!
For your Daughters: As you think about her education and goals, what are you encouraging her to do? Are you encouraging her to be a career woman for her own self-fulfillment, or to use her helper design – in whatever season or situation she finds herself in? Teach her Who it is she’s really serving – and the mighty hands in which her work is an instrument!
IF TIME: [We also want to encourage our daughters not to veer into an overly romanticized vision of marriage. Yes, it is about the man. By itself, that is a self-centered vision of romance, not a biblical vision of femininity. By all means, affirm your daughters’ desire for romance. Song of Solomon is in the Bible. The princess movement may not be all bad. (You heard it here first.) But biblical daughters of the King normally don’t just go to balls; they are industrious workers! Teach them that marriage is, in part, a vocation that comes with a place of work and duties there.]
In closing, do you spell woman “double you, O man”? Or do you spell it “complement you, brother in Christ?” As we train up our daughters, let’s cultivate them to be women who are others-centered and seek to bring glory to God, not to themselves, and who aspire to the traits and the life that God lays out for them in Scripture. Sisters, thank you for how well so many of you do at this in a culture that often scorns what you do. Be encouraged that as you live biblically feminine lives, you’re in the center of God’s will for you, your place of maximum ministry; and, if you have daughters, you have a opportunity to shape the next generation of daughters that the image of God may be more fully and beautifully shown to the world.