Men and Women on Mission
Father, we give you thanks for the Holy Scriptures, and we declare that it is indeed your word to us. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, and in all that we do, we long to walk in step with what you have revealed to us in this sacred text. Thank you, Father, for your word. And now, in this time of consecration, in this sermon, I ask that you bless us. Feed our souls and lead us forward, in Jesus’s name, amen.
Well, today we are going to hit pause one more time on 1 Timothy, and kind of like I did a month ago, I want to step out of this series and give another sermon on the topic of men and women.
We started preaching through 1 Timothy the first Sunday of January, and one of the reasons that the pastors decided it good to be in this book together is because of what this book teaches about men and women, and about pastors and deacons, and doctrine and mission, and money and creation — this is a letter written for the church to know how to behave, as Chapter 3, verse 15 says. Paul has written this letter so that we know how to order our lives together as a community borne by the gospel.
And month ago, before we got into the particular teachings about men and women in 1 Timothy 2, I gave a sermon that introduced a theology of men and women. That’s because before we consider the topic of our callings and practice, we need a foundational understanding of who are men and women. That was a month ago.
And today, now that we have come through Chapter 2 and the mention of “women” in Chapter 3, verse 11, we’re going to bookend that previous sermon with something like a Part Two. Part One was a theology men and women, and today, Part Two, is a vision for our life together on mission. And what I’d like to do, which again is unusual compared to most sermons, is rather than expound one passage, I want to lay out ten affirmations.
These are ten church culture-shaping convictions about men and women, and they form a vision for our life together on mission. And so the plan is to just state the conviction, give some comments, and move on to the next. That sound good?
Okay, here we go. Here are ten culture-shaping convictions for our church about men and women and our life together on mission:
#1. Our goal is to dance together, not keep counting steps.
Okay, so I don’t know much about dancing, but I do remember the electric slide [show of hands?]. This goes back to middle school for me. We’d have dances a few times throughout the year, and the electric slide was that one dance back then that everybody would do together. It was a big thing because everybody from all the 6th graders to all the 8th graders would be out on the floor doing this dance: “You gotta know it, it’s electric! Boogie woogie woogie!
And the “Boogie woogie woogie!” — we all did the dance together, and the reason everybody did the dance together is because the middle school PE teacher would teach the dance in his class throughout the week (I think it was an aerobics thing or something). But I remember we learned the dance in PE class, and learning the dance in PE and doing the dance together on a Friday night were very different.
Because in PE it was very mechanical. There was a lot of step counting. Mr. Walsh, our PE teacher, would walk us through the whole thing. He’d say step here, and then here, and then here, and he taught us how to time everything to the music. During PE class we were very mindful of all those pieces, but that’s what allowed us at the school dances to just dance.
The goal was to dance, not to keep counting steps — and it works the same way with how we think about the meaning and callings of men and women. There is a time for us to slow down and walk through the steps. It’s important that we learn the dance, but the goal is to dance. The goal is to eventually move past the hyper self-consciousness, and to simply fulfill the mission that God has given to us as men and women.
And in terms of where we are as a church, the timing is right for us to be counting steps. We are still a new church. We have just started our fifth year, and we’re at at that moment, in God’s kindness, when it’s good to teach more about order and details, which is why 1 Timothy is just right for us right now. So all this stuff — this topic and the conversations we’re having — it’s good for us. It makes sense. We need to spend some time counting steps. We need to look down at our feet. We need to learn about the dance. But goal is to dance. That’s the aim. It’s mission.
#2. There is room for us to grow in faithfulness.
Now one of the things that we have realized during this step-counting process is that we as a church of many members each have different instincts — and we as pastors figured as much (because we as pastors also have different instincts, and we are the better for it!).
As a church of many members, we all have different stories and experiences, and different influences and commitments, which means there are lots of moving pieces going on here, and at large there are basically two different views. On one side, there are some of us in this church, including the pastors, who have a complementarian understanding of men and women (see 4.2 in Elder Affirmation of Faith). We believe that the Bible’s vision for men and women is disjunction and interplay. We are bound together and also distinct, and that is good. That’s one view.
And then for the other view, there are those who think that the pastors’ complementarian understanding of men and women undervalues and represses women. This view thinks there should be less distinction and more overlap between what men and women do.
Both of these views are in-between the two extremes of male chauvinism to the far right and feminism to the far left. Both views reject these sinful extremes, but still we, at large, have these two views closer to the middle, and I think both views have room for growth — and the growth is growth in faithfulness.
It’s important to be clear that what matters most in this topic is faithfulness to God. As Christians, we care primarily about what God thinks, which means we want to conform everything we do to the vision of reality that God has given us — and that is never just a box we check! But we are always striving and working toward deeper faithfulness, to being shaped and formed more and more by God.
And that means that for the pastors and those who embrace our view, we have room to grow in making our practice more congruent to our theology. It’s one thing to embrace a theology of the sexes, and then it’s another to really live that out, and there’s room for us to grow here. We’re working on this. We know that when there’s a disconnect between your theology and practice it means you’re missing out. It’s means there is goodness and blessings for our church that we’re not laying hold of, and we want to lay hold of these things! This is something the pastors have been talking about for months. There is room for growth, and we are seeking to grow.
And then for the other view, there is also room for growth. There are all kinds of subtle ways that the value systems of our secular culture have influenced our thinking. There are forces and pressures from our world that shape the way we see reality, including the way we understand all kinds of things we take for granted, such as the body, or personhood, or marriage, or children, or work, or money, or men and women. Our default in these topics is to assume the world’s way of thinking, and that’s important to recognize, and it takes humility. There are ways that we are more shaped by secularism than by the Bible, and part of discipleship is building a Christian vision of reality. There is room for growth here.
Every side of this thing has room to grow, and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s the point. We all want to grow in faithfulness.
#3. We believe the Bible is true and good.
In the sermon a month ago, we talked about biblical minimalism. It’s that sometimes we can treat the Bible like it’s a manual or rule book, and therefore we only do the bare minimum of what the Bible says. This is the way of thinking that starts things with “Well the Bible doesn’t say [blank].”
And then we assume that if the Bible doesn’t explicitly address something then it gives us the creative license to figure it out on our own, which again, tends to be more shaped by non-Christian forces, and eventually, if you’re never slowed down on this road, you’ll end up becoming a Unitarian Universalist.
And we don’t want to do that. Instead, we want to see everything through the lens of the Bible. We want all of our thinking about everything to be shaped by the Bible, and we want to obey it with a mature obedience.
And Pastor Joe talked a little about this last week. There is one way to obey Scripture that says, “Well, the Bible says, and so I’m going do it.” This is the simple because-I-said-so obedience. And because it’s obedience, it’s good, but it’s an immature obedience. It’s the kind of obedience I expect from Noah, our three-year-old.
Noah is at the age where we can talk together, but we can’t exactly reason together. There are things that I tell him, and instructions that I give him, that I expect him to just do without knowing why — “Because Daddy said so.” But then it’s different with our 11-year-old, Elizabeth. We can talk and reason together, and we’ve been doing this daddy-daughter thing now for a while, and so when I give her instructions, I want her to obey not just because I said so, but because she knows I’m seeking her good. This is mature obedience.
This is so relevant for discipleship. We want to walk in obedience to God’s word not just because God says so, but because we believe that God’s word is true and good. In Christ, God intends our blessing. God is love, and he wants his people to have joy and to flourish in faith.
Immature obedience is better than disobedience, but mature obedience is better than immature obedience, and that’s what we want. Because we believe the Bible is true and good.
#4. The awareness of our historical moment is necessary for prudent application of the Bible’s teaching.
One of things that we’ve been saying a lot is that we’re in a unique moment historically. You’ve heard us talk about the different movements in the Western world from the pre-industrial age to the industrial to the post-industrial. And the first thing to mention about these changes is simply that we’re having to ask questions now that have never been asked before. Technology has transformed our world, and a lot of that has been for good, and at the same time there are these unintended side-effects that we’re still trying to recognize. It’s all new. We are trying to bring Christian faithfulness into a new frontier. And that means, at the very least, patience is important. We want to have conversations here. We want to work toward this together.
And I want to be clear, we are not trying to get back to 1950. We do not believe that past generations in America represent some kind of gold standard for how the church should be. Every generation of the church in every culture has faced all kinds of challenges, and they’ve had their issues — we can already see that happening in the New Testament.
The task ahead of us is to learn from the past and give a fresh application of the Bible to our current times, which means that we need to understand our current times, and we can’t understand our current times without some comparison to past times. That’s why we’ve been talking about this pre-industrial stuff, and that’s why we’ve talked about the productive household.
It is a significant historical change that before the 20th century a 30-something-year-old woman was arguably the most productive person in society, and then in only a few decades she went from being society’s leading producer to society’s leading consumer. This was an economic influence, and it changes things. And one change has to do with values.
Something happened in the 20th century that led us believe that valuable work is work that earns a wage, and that the higher the wage the higher the value of the work. We just assume that today, no questions asked. Work became associated with personal value, not social good, not positive influence, not a flourishing household. Work became about monetary value, and the more you get paid the more valuable you are — and no wonder women felt slighted. Our economy created a value system that did not value the work of millions of women.
And we want to say No to that. We want to recognize the meaningfulness of the home, and we want to be clear that the value of our work is not measured by a number beside a dollar sign.
And now we need to careful with this. Don’t jump to conclusions here. Just because we want to push back against our society’s values and highlight the meaningfulness of the home, it does not mean that we think women should be confined to only working at home. This does not mean that we think women should not have careers. I know there have been a lot of questions here, and I’d love to keep having these conversations. This is about prudent application of the Bible’s teaching. The Bible says, in Titus 2:3–5,
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
That’s the Bible. Now, what does “working at home” mean? Well, again, it doesn’t mean that women should be confined to the home, but it does get at the irreplaceable impact that women have in the home. That’s what we’re trying to say here — and stating the meaningfulness of one thing does not undermine the meaningfulness of another. We want a Proverbs 31-woman comprehensiveness. We want to be aware of our historical moment and faithfully, prudentially apply the Bible.
#5. We believe that men have a particular calling to provide, lead, and protect.
So here I want to talk about the distinct callings on men and women. And here I’m giving summary statements without a lot of nuance (for example, that men have a particular calling to provide, lead, and protect doesn’t mean that only men do these things, but at large, in summary, providing, leading, and protecting is a weight put particularly on men).
And we see this in nature, in how God has wired the world, and in Scripture, going back to Genesis 1–2. In the week of creation, in Genesis 1:26, we see that God created mankind on the sixth day. This was the pinnacle of God’s creation. The world was all laid out —
Day 1 was light and darkness, which God named Day and Night.
Day 2 was the expanse and the dry land, which God named Heaven and Earth.
Then on Day 3 there came all the trees and plants and seeds and fruit.
Then on Day 4 God made the lights in the heavens, the sun and moon and stars.
Then on Day 5 God made all the sea creatures.
Then on Day 6 God made all the land animals and creeping things, and then finally Adam and Eve.
Genesis 1 gives us the panorama of creation as a whole, and then Genesis 2 gives us more of a zoom lens into the creation of men and women.
Adam was created on the sixth day, as the pinnacle of creation, and here are the details: We see in Genesis 2:5 that before God created the vegetation (this is the plants and trees on Day 3), he says that there was no man to work the ground, and so that’s why he makes Adam on Day 6. Which means that God actually made Adam to join him in his creative work. All of creation is choreographed together, and nothing is arbitrary.
God formed Adam from the ground and Adam is oriented toward the ground. God puts Adam in the Garden and tells him to work it and keep it, or cultivate it and tend it. There’s an orientation toward it, and protection of it. That’s Genesis 2:15.
These same Hebrew words for “work and keep” are translated as “serve and guard” other places in the Old Testament, and they refer to the duties of priests (see see Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14). And as Pastor Joe said last week, this correlates to pastors in the New Testament. And it’s not just that only men should be pastors, it’s that all men should be pastor-like. Work and keep. Serve and guard. Love and protect. This is a particular calling on men.
And this gets worked out in men gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility. That’s a definition for masculinity. Men, in summary, are to provide, lead, and protect for the good of others. Men are designed to sustain and advance, to carry and expand, and to guard against all threats. Men are to stand firm and be strong. That’s what it means to “act like a man.” It’s an actual word in Greek, andrizomai, and Paul uses it 1 Corinthians 16:13. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” That’s the particular calling on men.
#6. We believe that women have a particular calling to vivify, fill, and complete.
In Genesis 2, after God has created Adam to join his creative work, and after he charged Adam to work and keep the Garden, God says, “Hey, it’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
God had invited Adam into his creative work, and he had handed off the task of naming creation, but Adam needed help. Adam needs a creative helper, and so from the man God creates woman. From Adam God creates Eve, and together they become one flesh.
And this order is important. We know it’s important because Paul refers back to it, both in 1 Timothy 2:13–15, which we’ve seen, and also in 1 Corinthians 11. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is talking about the very practical issue of authority symbols (which was head coverings back then), and Paul grounds what he says in Genesis 2. He says,
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
Now Paul has referred back to Genesis 2, but what does Paul mean that woman is the glory of man? Again, this comes from Genesis 2 — it’s that God made man to join God in his creative work, and God made women to complete that work.
God made man to work with God, and then God made woman to work with man in God’s work. Which means that if the pinnacle of creation is the sixth day in the creation of mankind, then the capstone of that pinnacle is actually the creation of woman. That’s what it means that woman is the glory of man. It means that woman is the radiance of man. She is the high point. She completes the work. She brings life — that’s what vivify means. Woman joins into God’s creative work by literally filling the world with mankind. She has a filling, completing, perfecting work. One way to say it is that if man is headship, woman is heartship. The man forms and then the woman fills. And the choreography here is beautiful.
And man orients to the woman in this way. Woman is the glory of man, and so man is bound to seek her flourishing. This interdependency is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:11–12, and it’s also what Paul says in Ephesians 5.
In Ephesians 5 Paul shows us the parallel between the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Jesus and his church. And what is Jesus doing for the church? He has loved her and given himself for her, and he is working toward her flourishing. He’s working toward the church’s beautification (Ephesians 5:26–27). The husband, likewise, is the nourish and cherish his wife as he does his own body.
And where does Paul go to ground this? He again quotes from Genesis 2! Paul refers back to the one-flesh union of men and women we see in Genesis 2:24. Women are the life-givers, the heart-fillers, and work-completers — and the work of women is meant to be radiant.
Overall we see that women have the particular calling to vivify, fill, and complete.
#7. We want our sons to be like trees and our daughters to be like corner pillars.
This is a short application of 5 and 6 for parenting. If men and women have particular callings, it means we want to raise our sons and daughters in particular ways. It means we don’t merely want to raise our children to be adults, but we want our sons to be men of God and daughters to be women of God. And I love the way Psalm 144:12 puts this. I’ve been meditating on this psalm for a few weeks, and in verse 12, David breaks into a prayer of blessing on Israel, and he says,
May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like pillars cut for the structure of a palace.
So there’s this symbolism: Sons like trees. Daughters like pillars. And nobody is getting shortchanged.
Trees are a big theme in the Bible, and in the Old Testament especially they often represent the righteous:
The blessed man who delights in God’s word is like a tree planted by streams of water, Psalm 1;
the faithful man is like a green olive tree in the house of God, Psalm 52;
the righteous flourish like a palm tree, Psalm 92;
the redeemed are called oaks of righteousness, Isaiah 61.
And so we want our sons to be that. We want our sons to be rooted like trees, fruitful like trees, and extended for the good of others.
And as for corner pillars on a palace, that is the most accented part of the highest prized structure. The palace represents the glory of the people, and the corner pillars are the part of the palace that people look at when they walk by and think, “Wow! What a glorious building!” Corner pillars are the glory piece. It’s the adorning piece of the structure that communicates God’s blessing. Moms and dads, hear this: our daughters are the witness of our community’s wholeness. Our daughters display what is wonderful about our homes, and our church.
God’s blessing on a community of people includes at the top of the list a blessing on their children. Our sons and our daughters are precious, and we should orient to them like so.
#8. Men and women should both pursue obedience and fight sin.
We know that men and women are both sinners, and that Christian men and women must both put their sins to death. Paul commands both men and women to let not sin reign in your mortal bodies (Romans 6:12), and to flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14), to put off the old self (Colossians 3:9). We know that goes for everybody, for men and women, and yet there are some sins that are more particular to men and others that are more particular to women. This works the same way as there are particular exhortations addressed to men and women. For example, in Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts men and women differently. And just like with the different exhortations, there are different besetting sins. Besetting sins of men include sins like anger, pride, impatience, and lust. Besetting sins of women include things like immodesty, gossip, busybodyness, and jealousy. And yet, while the New Testament addresses both, in the modern church it is more common for only the sins of men to be addressed, and not the sins of women.
Now there are different ways that we should address the sins of men and women. Men orient differently to their fathers, sons, and brothers than they do their mothers, daughters, and sisters. Paul gets at that in 1 Timothy 5:1–2. To the former we can be more direct and straight down the middle, and to the latter we are more tender and careful — it’s what Peter calls an “understanding way” in 1 Peter 3:7. And also in Titus 2:3–5, Pauls says that older women are to train and teach younger women, which means women have a vital role in the discipleship of other women. There are ways that women can teach and counsel other women that a pastor can’t, but that doesn’t mean that pastors should ignore exhortations to women or the besetting sins of women. And so faithfulness to this office means we address those like the Bible does. We’ll see this in 1 Timothy 5.
Men and women in Jesus, as a community borne by the gospel, are one body together (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–26). We are one body of many members, and all members, men and women, are to pursue obedience and fight sin, for the good of the body as whole. We are not in competition, but we are bound together. We are one body, and if one member suffers, we all suffer together. And if one is honored, we all rejoice together. We are one body of many members each working for the good of the whole (see Ephesians 4:15–16).
#9. Men and women as one body is necessary for our mission to make disciples.
In the same way that men and women are both necessary for the Cultural Mandate to fill the earth and have dominion, both men and women are necessary for the Great Commission. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus, and it’s a mission that we must do together.
And again, we can look to Paul in the New Testament. He mentions several women in his letters who were co-workers with him. There’s Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, the mother of Rufus, and the sister of Nereus. And then there’s Euodia and Syntyche, and Louis and Eunice, and Claudia and Apphia.
These were women saints who ministered the gospel and labored alongside Paul, and Paul recognizes them — the same Paul who taught a male-only eldership understood that women are vital partners in gospel advance. Men and women are both necessary in our mission to make disciples, and they are still no less distinctly men and women.
There is an important passage on this in Galatians 3, verse 28. Sometimes this passage is used to say that Paul completely eradicates the distinctions among the sexes. This is what Paul says, Galatians 3:28,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
So some will say that “See, there’s no longer such a thing as male and female. All those differences are behind us” — but that’s exactly what Paul is not saying here. Rather than dismissing those distinctions Paul is recognizing those distinctions and he’s saying that none of them keep us from Jesus. By faith in Jesus, everyone, despite where you’re from or where you land in society, everyone by faith becomes one in Christ. Everyone, with all of our differences, including the differences of men and women, become one body together.
And our mission can only be fulfilled as that one body together.
#10. The structuring and ordering of God’s household, the church, is based on a wise and prudent application of God’s design in creation, as expressed and clarified by the word of God, and is designed to both protect and advance the gospel of Jesus, to the glory of God.
You’ve heard this one before. It comes straight from Pastor Joe’s sermon last Sunday, and it’s a sentence we all worked on as pastors. It is a summary of our theological conviction.
We recognize that for some of you, this last month of our sermon series has been difficult and confusing. You’re wondering exactly what the pastors think about things, and you’re wondering about how a number of these things are fleshed out. You’re worried that what we believe and have taught from 1 Timothy is going to stifle women. And if that’s you, we want you to know that we’re not trying to run you off. We’ve already received a few farewell letters, and I understand where people are coming from, but we ask first that you’d lean in with us.
We’d like to have conversations about all this. We know that this is a complicated issue in the modern world, and we want to engage it in faith and wisdom. So if you’re confused about what we think or what the implications are, let’s get together. Let’s have more conversations. We’re going to continue to preach the Bible, because the Bible is true and good. But we want our ministry to be marked by a combination of clear preaching of the Bible and then extensive conversations face to face.
The structuring and ordering of God’s household, the church, is based on a wise and prudent application of God’s design in creation, as expressed and clarified by the word of God, and is designed to both protect and advance the gospel of Jesus, to the glory of God.
And one thing I really appreciate about that summary statement is that it’s pointed toward our goal. Our hope, our goal, what we’re trying to do here, is to protect and advance the gospel of Jesus, to the glory of God. We don’t want to keep looking at our feet and counting our steps, we want to dance. We want a beautifully choreographed, Jesus-exalting dance — “Boogie woogie woogie.”
And that’s what brings us to the Table.
At this Table we remember the death of Jesus for us, and we celebrate his grace at work in our lives. Jesus has loved us and he has given his life for us, and so we give him thanks, and if you’re here and you trust in Jesus, if you are united to Jesus by faith, we invite you to give thanks with us. We’ll serve the bread first and then eat it all together.