Who Are Men and Women?
And now, Father, in this moment, we ask that you consecrate our hearts to receive your truth. Help us, please. By your grace, teach us your will, for you are our God, in Jesus’s name, amen.
So today we’re doing a different type of sermon than what we normally do at Cities Church. Most of the time when we’re preaching through a book of the Bible (like we are with 1 Timothy) we usually just walk through each verse and passage, but today we’re going to hit pause for a minute, and I want to take a step back and talk more broadly about God’s design for men and women.
And the reason I want to do that today is because the next set of verses in 1 Timothy is Chapter 2, verses 8–15, which is about men and women, and especially men and women in corporate worship, and the passage assumes that we already have a grasp on God’s purpose for men and women. We know this because Paul refers back to Genesis 1, 2, and 3 — there is something that we need to know from Genesis before we can make sense of 1 Timothy. And so the plan for this sermon is talk about that.
For the next 30 minutes or so I’m going to try to give a concise theology of the sexes. And I’m using the word “sexes” because I’m trying to get at the natural, biological reality of men and women.
And before we really get into it, I want to set it up with some foundational points, first on the meaning of theology, and then second, on our historical moment.
First, What Is Theology?
And we’ve all heard the word theology before. It simply means the “study of God.” But what do we mean when we say something like “a theology of [blank]”? — a theology of the body, or a theology of marriage, or a theology of the sexes. What do we mean by saying the study of God on a particular topic?
Well, it means we want to know what God thinks about that topic, and we want to know what God thinks about particular topics because we want to live in congruence to his will. I think Psalm 143:, verse 10 is a helpful prayer when it comes to theology. David says there: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!” Because God is God, because he is our God, we want to know his ways. We want him to teach us his will.
And that means, of course, that we go to the Bible, because the Bible is where we get to think God’s thoughts after him. God has revealed himself to us in the Bible. We know God through his word.
But that, of course, doesn’t mean that the Bible answers every question we have. The Bible shows us God and gives us a vision for life, but the Bible is not a manual on life.
Beware Biblical Minimalism
Now the Bible is relevant for every part of who we are, but that doesn’t mean it always gives us a how-to. And we all know this. We all know that we have questions that the Bible doesn’t speak to directly — like, for example, whether or not we should date a certain person. Or, what kind of government we should have? Now again the Bible is relevant for these, and we learn from the Bible concerning these things, but we don’t get exact answers to this stuff. And this is really important when it comes to how we understand theology.
Because when we try to use the Bible like a manual it leads us to what is called “biblical minimalism.” That’s when we only do the bare minimum of what the Bible says.
So, that means if we have a question that the Bible doesn’t answer directly, we assume that the question is free game for us to figure out on our own. And typically, if we’re going to learn from history, when we begin to figure things out “on our own,” we tend to accommodate whatever is most popular in the cultural mindset; the Bible will become supplemental; and then eventually the Bible will be disregarded altogether. This is how today there are whole groups of Christians and churches who ignore the Bible. It comes from a weak, frail, pathetic theology, and we don’t want to do that.
We want a robust theology. We want to take everything the Bible says about a topic and we want to build an understanding of that topic that fits in with the whole testimony of Scripture. We want a vision for reality that is ordered by God’s design and restoration through Jesus Christ. That’s what we want to know when it comes to men and women. We want a theology of the sexes.
That’s the first foundational point.
Second, What Is Our Historical Moment?
When it comes to the question of who are men and women, we are in a very unique time historically. In fact, because of our technological advancements, the world has never had to face the kind of issues that we’re facing today. And the best explanation I’ve heard is that we now live in a technological society, not a traditional society. Another way to say it is that we live in a post-industrial world, which is very different from the pre-industrial world.
The main difference that technology has made on modern life is what is called de-condensation — or you could call it the unbundled effect. Basically, every technology abstracts, breaks down, de-condenses, or unbundles nature for a desired goal. Rather than keeping things together — rather than keeping things condensed and bundled together as they are in nature — technology takes them apart to produce things better, faster, or cheaper. Two examples would be transportation and communication.
The Unbundled Effect
For transportation, in traditional societies, there were only a few ways you get could get anywhere, mostly by your feet, or a beast of burden, or maybe a boat. Each of these were closely tied to nature, and required some kind of physical exertion. Today, though, transportation has been so de-condensed, so unbundled from nature that you can get pretty much anywhere in the entire world without actually having to take an active part in getting there. In fact, you could almost only use your phone: you buy the plane ticket; Uber to the airport; bring up your boarding pass; go sit on the plane — and then you have 12 hours to look at Instagram until you land in Tokyo. It’s insane.
Now think about communication. In traditional societies, communication was very condensed and bundled together. It involved face-to-face conversation or a hand-written letter, and both were very personal. And the whole method of communication, the bundled togetherness of it all, helped the communication. Today, though, communication has been so de-condensed, so unbundled, that the methods are almost endless, and we know something is lacking for it. For example, a short sentence in sans serif font lacks something, which is why we have invented things like GIFs and emojis.
Technology has changed things, and the examples keep going. Technology has impacted everything we do, and it’s not always bad, but it has changed the way we think about things. Today, because of technology, because things have been de-condensed, because of this unbundling effect, we tend to think about things in separate pieces, rather than things in nature. Rather than see reality in networks of differences that are interconnected (which is what nature is), we tend to isolate and reduce things down to function.
A good example would be how we think about men and women. So for example: When I say, “Hey, we’re going to talk about manhood and womanhood” — we instantly think about roles. Right away we think about what men and women get to do and how we function. We think about pieces and production, not about nature.
And it just needs to be said: that way of thinking is a historical phenomenon. We think that way because we are seeing reality through a technological, post-industrial lens. We have been conditioned by our world to think this way, which doesn’t mean it’s always bad, but we just need to know what’s going on. (For more resources here, see Alastair Roberts, Theology of the Sexes)
Now I know that what we really want to talk about are questions like whether or not a woman should be an MMA fighter — and we can talk about that — but first, I wanted to mention these foundational points because they’re important when it comes to having a theology of the sexes. That’s the plan for this sermon.
And since we’re working toward this theology, I’m going to try to describe it in a theological summary summary. This is one sentence that we’re going to look closer at it.
In summary, as a theology of the sexes, we believe:
that men and women are created in the image of God, and
called to the single mission of extending the knowledge of God’s glory on the earth
and the fulfillment of that mission is one to which men and women contribute in distinctive ways.
Here are the three points from that sentence. We’re going to look at:
The Identity of the Sexes
The Mission for the Sexes
The Fulfillment by the Sexes
1) The Identity of the Sexes
To understand this we go back to Genesis 1, and we’re going to focus on verses 26–31, which was the sixth day, because that’s the day that God made man, and in the context of the whole chapter, there’s something similar and different going on here.
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.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God has been doing a lot of speaking and creating and making in verses 1–25, but verse 26 is the first time that he’s referenced himself in the creating. The sixth day, the last day of God’s creative work, as the pinnacle of God’s creation, he says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
And that has implications for us. So often we think of ourselves as individuals. The word individual has become another way to say person. We think of ourselves as self-supportive entities that simply exist, but the Bible shows us that actually humans are part of a larger work of God’s creation, and we are the highest point of that creation. We are connected to everything that God has made, but we have a different, special connection to him and the rest of the world.
Everything that God made in Days 1 to 5 are meant to communicate to us who God is. We know this from the poetic books like Job and the Psalms. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19). Everything in the world is meant to communicate who God is, but then humans are created in that world as the foremost communication of who God is because we are the only part of creation said to be like God. God himself said that we are like him. We serve as his special representatives in his world. We are made by God, like God, for God as men and women.
Nothing More Fundamental
It’s really important that we see that in verse 27, in this sort of summary statement about mankind. This is a comprehensive kind of statement in three parts. Look at verse 27:
God created man in his own image (this is mankind; the species of man)
in the image of God he created him (this species has a head, who is Adam)
male and female he created them (this is a distinction).
Mankind is created in the image of God in two distinct types or genres: they are called male and female. And this is at the root of what it means to be human. There’s no other way to be human. We might think that our humanness is somehow more fundamental than our maleness or femaleness, but that’s not what Genesis tells us. Instead, we are only human in the image of God as male and female. There is no deeper identity than that. That is what it means to be created in God’s image — male and female he created them. Male or female, all the way down, not as an accessory added at the end but from very the beginning.
Disjunction and Interplay
And this is really important when it comes to identity. Identity is how we talk about who we really are, and then how we project ourselves. And in our society we think of identity as self-expression. And because we have reduced humans down to mere individuals disconnected from God’s creative work, that self-expression has come to include our sex. It’s what we call gender. So as a society, our gender has become part of our self-expression. We have made it a self-selected part of our personal brand.
But the Bible says something very different.
The Bible shows us that we are humans created in the image of God as male and female, and that’s our identity — and it’s not about self-expression, it’s about God-expression. Just like with Night and Day, and Heaven and Earth, and Sun and Moon, God has made us male and female to communicate something about himself. Which means God communicates who he is through disjunction and interplay. Through differences and connections. We as men and women fit into the pattern of creation, except only more so because we are in the image of God, male and female. That is the identity of the sexes.
Some people want to say that the fall into sin is what created these distinctions between men and women, but that’s not what the Bible shows us. The curse of sin exploited our distinctions and created conflict, but the distinctions rightly ordered, in harmony, produces human flourishing — and that’s what gets into mission.
2) The Mission for the Sexes
Look at Genesis 1:28,
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.”
So not only are men and women created in the image of God, but the meaning of that imaging work is filled out with this mission in verse 28. There is a five-fold action that men and women are called to do: Be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and have dominion.
And this five-fold action has an effect. It is to extend the knowledge of God’s glory on the earth. That’s in our summary statement.
We believe that men and women are created in the image of God, and
called to the single mission of extending the knowledge of God’s glory on the earth.
And that mission is the mission of imaging.
What Imaging Is
If humans as male and female image God — if they resemble and reflect God — and then God tells them to reproduce and inhabit the whole earth, then that means the whole earth will eventually be entirely populated with the image of God.
And if the image of God, the reflection of God, is everywhere on the earth, it means that the knowledge of God’s glory is extended all over the earth. And we know that is God’s plan because he tells us that.
In Numbers 14:21, God says this purpose is as certain as himself — “all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.”
And then there’s Isaiah in Isaiah 11:9, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
And then there’s Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
That is what God is doing. God intends to saturate the entire earth with the knowledge of his glory. And in the end, that’s exactly what he does. That is what we see in Revelation 21–22 in the new heavens and new earth. God is making a new earth and his glory will be its light. That is where we’re headed, and it starts in Genesis 1. It’s the mission given to men and women.
We, as men and women, have a single mission. Men and women are bound together in this calling. And that’s important, because it means that manhood and womanhood are not things that we pursue directly as an end in themselves, but instead they emerge as we pursue God’s mission as men and women. In other words, my goal is not ultimately to be a man, but it’s to fulfill God’s mission as a man. The goal of a woman is not to be a woman, but it’s to fulfill God’s mission as a woman. We all, as men and women, are working together for the same mission.
Cultural Mandate to Great Commission
This mission in Genesis 1:28 is often called the Cultural Mandate — be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and have dominion. That’s the Cultural Mandate, and it’s still happening today. Except that now, because of Jesus, the Cultural Mandate is amplified with a more focused mandate called the Great Commission in Matthew 28. That commission is to make disciples of Jesus from all nations. And we can see how this is an amplification:
The Cultural Mandate was about extending the knowledge of God’s glory on the earth by multiplying the image of God through people. Well, Jesus is the perfect image of God, and so the Great Commission is about multiplying the image of Jesus through disciples (see Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:49). The Cultural Mandate is about earthly life in the present age. The Great Commission is about eternal life in the age to come. It is a greater and deeper reality, and it’s a mission is given to the whole church, men and women.
Both men and women are absolutely necessary for the mission.
Just as men and women are indispensable and vital for the Cultural Mandate, so they are for the Great Commission. Men and women have the same mission, even as our fulfillment of that mission is expressed in distinctive ways. This is the third point.
The summary statement again is that we believe:
that men and women are created in the image of God, and
called to the single mission of extending the knowledge of God’s glory on the earth
and the fulfillment of that mission is one to which men and women contribute in distinctive ways.
So we’ve looked at the Identity of the Sexes and the Mission for the Sexes, and now …
3) The Fulfillment by Sexes
Even without the Bible, we know that men and women are different. Most of the time the Bible just assumes the differences that nature reveals. We see those differences right away in Genesis, and throughout the rest of Scripture, and we could describe them as complementary asymmetries and mutualities. This is getting back to the disjunction and interplay of God’s creative design — these are differences that connect. And nature and the Bible give us several examples of how men and women are bound together in this way.
We see in the Bible right away that man is incomplete without woman — Genesis 2:18, “it is not good for man to be alone;” and then later in the New Testament, Paul reflects on this and he describes the mutual dependence of men and women — woman was made out of man, and then man is born from woman (see 1 Corinthians 11:8–12).
So there’s this combination of priority and necessity. A husband is the head of his wife, but there would be no husbands if not for wives because men are born from women … for which they need men … who need women … who need men … who need women — do you see? (see 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23). That’s the interplay! There is a mutuality! We need one another! At every level men and women are bound together. And there’s music here in how our differences connect. It’s what beauty is.
The Distinctive Contributions
And it’s expressed in how we fulfill our mission together. Men and woman contribute to our mission in distinctive ways — and of course there are all kinds of overlaps, but it’s important that we understand the distinctive contributions.
And right away, I’m going to assume that when we hear the word “contribution” we instantly try to compare and evaluate. We want to know who has the most to contribute, and which is more important. We want a division of labor, and we want to know whether it’s equal. But that’s our technological reading. The Bible doesn’t make those kind of measurements. It just describes what is.
For example, in the Cultural Mandate, there is asymmetry that the Bible doesn’t qualify, but just states. The five-fold action is be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and have dominion. And of these five actions, the first three require more of women than men. Nature shows us this, and the rest of Scripture bears this out. When it comes to multiplying, men have a necessary part in that, but it’s a relatively small part compared to nine months of gestation, and then childbirth, and then all the time afterwards where the woman is still giving from her body for the sustenance of the child.
Wisdom and Risk
Women are the ones who have the more weighted part in inhabiting the earth, and every woman has this maternal instinct whether or not they have kids, and it gets played out in wisdom (and I think we will talk more about this during the Q&A). But I’ve been convinced that one of the most under-appreciated contributions of women to our mission is their power to influence through wise counsel. It is not arbitrary that Wisdom in the Bible is personified as a woman. The book of Proverbs shows us this, and it’s fascinating that the son’s quest for wisdom in Proverbs parallels and is related to his quest for a wife (see Proverbs 18:22).
In fact, just from my personal experience, in whatever ways I’ve grown in wisdom over the last 12 years, it’s because of Melissa. She gives me wise counsel. And although I am the head, and she submits to my leadership, I have learned to cherish her counsel.
Every woman — whether single or married, with or without kids — every woman has a distinctive potential to be a wise counselor. The wise counsel of women is a distinctive way that women contribute to the fulfillment of our mission.
Now when it comes to the subduing and having dominion on the earth those are more manly actions that require all the traits that are naturally associated with men — things like assertiveness and risk — and the Bible assumes these differences that exist in nature. For example, the Bible doesn’t explain to us why men, not women, go to battle. That’s just the way it is. Men are the more dispensable sex who are called to risk and sacrifice their lives for the protection of their communities. That’s why its women and children who get in the lifeboats first. This is nature, and it’s right.
Y’all remember the movie Titantic? There’s the part at the end of the movie when the ship is going down — if I am remembering this rightly (this was middle school) — but they are putting women and children on the lifeboats, and there’s a scene where a man is breaking in front of the women and children. Do y’all remember that? What were we supposed to think of that guy? Do you remember? I remember seeing that and thinking What a scumbag! And I was in middle school. I was a twelve, and I knew that the man putting himself before women and children was a scrub (also a middle school word). Why was he scrub? Because he was going against nature. Men are the more dispensable sex who are meant to protect the vulnerable. Men are meant to protect women and children.
On Display in My Home
And I really enjoy seeing these differences play out in our children. The risk factor with our four boys is undeniably different than with our three girls — Melissa says all the time that she’s amazed that boys make it to adulthood. Our girls, though, are different; they love to cultivate warmth and wisdom. That’s what they’re doing with dolls. They are simulating relationships. Meanwhile, the boys are competing in a game of dodgeball, or they’re picking up dead squirrels outside. The boys lead with adventure, the girls keep them from going too far, and when they’re all doing it together, as the lines intersect, they learn from each other — the girls learn to be tougher and the boys learn to be tender, both as girls and boys, and they’re gonna do good in this world.
There is a complementary asymmetry and mutuality. Disjunction and interplay. Men and women are different, and we are bound together in the fulfillment of our single mission in distinctive ways. That’s true in the Cultural Mandate and it’s true in the Great Commission.
Foundational to All Other Discussions
And understanding this is foundational to all the other discussions we could have on the “roles of men and women.” The upcoming passage next week in 1 Timothy is about men and women in the church, and especially in corporate worship, but it’s just one little glimpse of a much larger painting that the apostle Paul expects for us to have in view. The verses about men and women in Paul’s letters are rooted in who men and women are in harmony with all of Scripture, which is why we need a theology of the sexes.
So we are just getting started, but we need to start here.
And that’s what brings us to the Table.
This Table, of course, in the bread and cup, represents the body and blood of Jesus, and in that symbolism it also speaks to something much greater. This Table is here because it’s part of a story, and that story is what makes sense of everything else in this world. That story centers on a man who went on an adventure to rescue his bride at great cost to himself, and the story assumes all the binary qualities that are natural to man. Jesus as the perfect man took the initiative and acted like a man in his Advent from Heaven to Earth, and he came here to save us. Our head became our substitute. Our progenitor became our sacrifice. That’s how Jesus created the church, his bride, who now shares, as men and women, in the single mission of extending the knowledge of his glory over all the earth.
And if you share in that mission, if you have trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, we invite you to eat and drink with us.