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Building up believers and the New Testament church

Woman, An Honored Vessel

God's Purpose

"...But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said:

'This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.'

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:20a-24).

"...'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,' So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:5-6).

Woman: specially designed by the hand of God from a part of man, given back to the man by the hand of God as a "helper comparable to him" to be joined together again by God himself, never to be separated--how much more special and honored could one be!

It was a beautiful beginning to a perfect relationship, but the very first thing to come under attack by the enemy of God, and probably the greatest target he has concentrated upon since. Should we wonder at the great confusion and conflict that centers upon women and their place in the world and in the church? Yet the Bible unveils God's positive direction to any who come to find out how to experience this perfect relationship, and how to walk in the total fulfillment God planned to give to man and woman alike.

God's purpose from the beginning was that man and woman be one, not two. We tend to relate this only to marriage, where it does, of course, find its fullest expression. But the words of Jesus, "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" could apply much more deeply than to any one individual union. Although the primary truth is that no man can separate a man and wife, can it not also have a broader application--to the relationship of man to woman, specifically in their oneness as heirs together of the grace of life? (Galatians 3:28 and I Peter 3:7)

I Corinthians 11:11 in the Amplified Bible reads, "Nevertheless, in [the plan of] the Lord and from His point of view woman is not apart from and independent of man, nor is man aloof from and independent of woman..." We see that God has established a relationship of unity, not competition. When you are one, there is no question about being "equal"--no reason to compare or compete! If we keep this in mind, we can consider specific directions given to women within the context of the family and the church without feeling there is any threat to our "equality." Instead we will see a recognition and an honoring of our uniqueness.

The Uniqueness of Woman

"So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). In the same sentence we see the unity and the diversity of "man" or "mankind." "Him" in the next phrase becomes "them" and the combination is what in unity represents "the image of God." Man was formed of the dust of the ground, and the breath of life was breathed directly into his nostrils by the Lord God himself. But woman's design was more unique, "taken out of man" to complete his lack of "a helper comparable to him." God took Adam's rib and "custom-designed" her from it, then brought her to the man who recognized her as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"--a part of his own body (see Ephesians 5:28-29).

There is great significance in God's use of Adam's rib, rather than another part of his body. The rib is closest to his heart, the organ by which we symbolize our emotions and the greatest of human attributes, love. It is encircled and protected by his arms, which are used to nourish and to cherish (Ephesians 5:29). God did not choose Adam's head, nor did He choose his feet. Woman is not meant to be the head (in authority over man), but close to his side, encircled in his arms of protection and affection, beside him and in union with him, the two seen by God as one.

I Corinthians 11 states that God is the head of Christ, who is the head of man, who is the head of woman. This is the order in which authority flows (authority does not imply inferiority/superiority). Verse 7 says man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man. A woman's glory is her long hair (verse 15). This is why I believe a woman covers her glory with a "symbol of authority" when the church gathers, so that only God's glory is seen, not man's. All of this makes no sense to the world around us, but the angels who observe us recognize its significance. Long ago in the heavenly kingdom, Lucifer disdained his appointed high place, wanting rather to be "as God," and was therefore cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-14). So when a woman wears the outward symbol of her inward heart submission to the order that God established for her, her act brings a rebuke to the fallen angels who joined Lucifer, and encourages the angels who retained their place of submission. We will look more at this topic in the third chapter.

"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (I Corinthians 11:3). God's order and call to the woman is to submission. Why does that word offend so many? "Women's lib" has been around for a long time--ever since the beginning, when Eve moved out from her place of protection and made her own choice. So, is submission a negative thing? Is woman indeed a captive to be set free, as proponents of feminism might assert? I see an entirely different model set by our Lord and Savior, who took the ultimate place of submission, described in Philippians 2:5-11: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Our mighty Creator took the humble place of a babe, lived as an ordinary man, and ultimately died a shameful death on the cross. Do we look down on Him? Does God? No! "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow..." Would a woman's calling and reward not be of a similar nature? I believe it is.

Heirs Together and Submission

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus....There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26, 28).

"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (I Peter 3:7). "Equality" and "submission" are not antonyms, not opposites, but different aspects of a single unity of purpose. Jesus was equal with God, yet He voluntarily took a place of submission and complete obedience to the will of His Father. In I Corinthians 12 we read, "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ" (v. 12). "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (v. 27). In a body you see differences of form and function among the various parts, but unity in the symmetry of the whole. There is order, purpose, and cooperation in every individual part, and the "control center" that directs and holds it all together is the head. If this were not so, the resulting chaos and disorder would prevent the body from accomplishing anything necessary or useful. We see in this chapter that each one has a certain place for full functioning of the body. No part can be considered "unequal," for each is part of the whole. So it is in the relationship between male and female.

As we consider the concept of submission, then, let us not confuse submission with inferiority. Was Jesus less than God? When He voluntarily humbled Himself in submission and obedience to His Father, did that lower Him? On the contrary, this act lifts Him higher in our affection and adoration than any other being! And "therefore God also has highly exalted Him..."! In a similar way, as a joint heir with man, woman has the privilege of voluntarily submitting to him as her head--for the same reason that Jesus did: it was His Father's will. The result is that she is brought into a place of great honor, a place of being nourished and cherished (Ephesians 5:29, I Peter 3:7).

The basic key to a right perspective toward submission is union, as we have already established. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been one for all eternity, and their relationship will never be broken. Separation is what we see around us: man separated from God, woman separated from man, master separated from servant. Each is looking for what he can have for himself; individuality and independence are the guiding principles. This has been true since before Eden, when Lucifer set his own goal! Again, our Lord lived His life and relationship with His Father before us to show us God's purpose: "...the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner, For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself does..." (John 5:19-20). The Father loves the Son and shows Him what He does. Jesus submitted and would not move in any way apart from that union (see John 17:20-23).

Jesus in turn loves us, the church, and shows us what He is doing: "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:14-15). This is fulfilled in our union with Jesus by the Holy Spirit: "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth...He will take of Mine and declare it to you" (John 16:13-15). We are one with Christ by the Spirit He places within us, and should never move apart from that union.

It is the same with the relationship between husband and wife. The husband "loves his wife and shows her what he is doing," and she responds and moves in submission and union with him. There is no place for the concept that the husband is "boss" and the wife an uninformed "servant." This would be separation, which is what the world twists and distorts submission to mean. The Bible does not anywhere make a place for independence and self-interest in this relationship. Submission is active and very positive.

We can recognize the wisdom in God's order as we consider how we are made. Let's begin with Eve. I Timothy 2:14 tells us that Adam was not deceived (he knew what he was doing and why), "but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." Read Genesis 3 for the whole story. Notice how cleverly the serpent insinuated to Eve that God was trying to keep something good from them, but he left a place for Eve to rightly correct him--and add a little more to what God said besides (do we women like to correct others and put them straight?). He went on to put doubts in her mind about God's character and motives (Satan always starts here), so she looked at the tree, thought about it, and ate. We could wonder what Adam was doing at the time and why she did not consult him, or what might have been different had she done so. But she ate, and "also gave to her husband with her, and he ate." It is difficult to imagine Adam taking the fruit first at the suggestion of the serpent (we are not told that the serpent approached Adam at all, but we know that Adam was not deceived), but it is also difficult to picture him refusing it from the hand of his wife. Many subtle things were happening throughout this narrative that can also be seen working in and between men and women today.

Having laid the foundation of woman's significance and position, let's look more specifically at the scriptures which address her role and relationships in the home, the church, and the world around her. From this point I will use the term "sister" in many places, which in biblical terms indicates one who has been born into the family of God by the Holy Spirit. But let us first consider some questions that may have come to mind during the previous discussion.

Unmarried Women

In many passages about women, wives are addressed specifically, or the application seems to be more to married women. An unmarried sister can sometimes read these passages and assume they do not apply to her; therefore, she may not give them careful consideration.

The sister who is not married is as much a part of the church as the married sister, for her connection is based upon her relationship to Jesus, not to a husband. (The same is true for married sisters, of course.) Although many of the admonitions to women are given in the context of the marriage relationship, they are also directly related to our relationship to the body of Christ, as Ephesians 5:22-33 points out. So the unmarried sister should not excuse herself from basic principles given to women regarding their attitude and conduct. In many instances she may apply these principles toward leaders in the church, parents, or brothers in Christ as they function in the church, and those in authority over her outside the church, as in work situations. The Holy Spirit will work godly attributes deep in the inner person of a godly woman, and she will manifest them in every situation without even being aware of it. These qualities express the life of Jesus in her to the world around.

Let's take a principle from Matthew 24:45-47, where it is said of the faithful and wise servant who will be qualified to rule: "Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing..." The young woman who hopes to marry will not be suddenly transformed into a godly woman and wife on her wedding day. In fact, a wise and godly man considering a possible wife will look to see whether the qualities he desires are already being manifested in her life and expression. A woman should respond to the Lord because she sees His desire and will for her as a godly woman, whether she marries or not. "As unto the Lord" is the basis for her obedience even when she is married, not "as unto her husband."

Of course, there are some who will never marry. The Bible gives very positive encouragement to these. Paul concludes for a number of excellent reasons that it is actually better not to marry, for then you are free of the care of husband and family that take so much time and attention, and able to be more concerned for the things that belong to the Lord (I Corinthians 7:25-40). He does not say that a married woman cannot care for the things of the Lord, but rather that she will have many things to attend to which the single sister does not. Any married woman with the responsibilities of a family can assure the single women that this is so--which does not mean, as Paul affirms, that it is unspiritual to marry.

One possible reason that some sisters do not marry is that they have not wholeheartedly received and responded to the admonitions we are about to consider. If there is rebellion against these, conscious or unconscious, it may be manifest in her life in such a way that the kind of godly man she desires is not attracted to her. This is a grievous place to be, for the rebellion can turn into bitterness that might ultimately destroy her relationship with God as well (Hebrews 12:15). But there are many reasons for not marrying, and it should never be assumed that a woman is somehow unfit for marriage just because she is unmarried. Many who do get married are not prepared for it!

The sister who has been divorced or has lost her husband is not left out, either. As she experiences more reality in her life in responding to the Lord as a godly woman, perhaps regrets will come to her over failures in the past that she cannot remedy at this point, but the grace of God is always available to lift her up into an ever-increasing relationship with Himself that will continue on into eternity, when Jesus will wipe away every tear. Yet I believe she also can find complete fulfillment--in her place as a woman, precious in the sight of God--as she walks in the light the Holy Spirit is giving her today.

Those of us who have daughters should be mindful to train them in these matters from their birth, for the Lord desires us to experience them from an early age. Ultimately each must respond in personal faith to the Lord, but until that time we are responsible to train them up in the way they should go, molding them as much as we are able into vessels that are prepared for the filling of the Holy Spirit. If we do, they will be ready to easily respond to His working within their hearts. How wonderful it is when the Lord does not have to undo many things in a wayward life as He begins to complete His work of grace.

The Man's Part

It would be good at this point to turn our focus and consider the man, and how God reveals that he should function in this relationship of oneness with the woman. It is possible for fear and mistrust to enter in when a woman considers the words "head," "submit," "obey," etc., if she or the man does not perceive the corresponding requirements of him in the relationship. Again, even the unmarried man should be cultivating the attitudes in his relationship to women which he must have if he should marry. The same principles apply to him as to married men, especially within the church.

Returning to Genesis 2:23, we see that the very first thing Adam did was to recognize that the woman was part of himself: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh..." Ephesians 5:28-29 fills out the rest of this picture: "So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church." Notice the command to the Lord does the church. Jesus again gives us the purest example to follow--what He Himself has already done: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (vs. 25-27).

Notice in rereading the verses above that Christ did not expect the church to come to Him already clean and pure and finished; He did not put the burden upon her to be as she should be, but took full responsibility to give Himself for her in order to bring about this marvelous reality in her. I believe if every husband saw his own responsibility and "laid down his life" for her, every wife would rejoice wholeheartedly to discover each new way to respond to her husband with submission--just as every believer will do in his or her relationship with Jesus. The more we see of His unfathomable love and complete giving of Himself for us, the more joy and satisfaction we find in returning the same to Him.

In the Amplified Bible, I Peter 3:7 addresses husbands (after wives are told how to submit properly): "In the same way you married men should live considerately with [your wives], with an intelligent recognition [of the marriage relation], honoring the woman as [physically] the weaker, but [realizing that you] are joint heirs of the grace (God's unmerited favor) of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered and cut off. [Otherwise you cannot pray effectively.]" It is clear that an improper understanding and wrong ways of working with his wife will hinder a man's own spiritual experience. God may not listen to his prayers! In other places, we are told that many of the qualifications of an elder relate to his relationship with his wife and family. We can easily see why this is so, for who can rightly respect an elder who does not treat his wife properly; will he treat the church any differently?

The key for the man is the same as for the woman: see your relationship as one, not two. When we are one with Jesus, we will reflect Him to the world around us because He is working within our lives by His Spirit. In a similar way, a wife reflects all that her husband is; and how he reveals himself through her is his responsibility. Jesus is continuing to cleanse and sanctify us (set us apart for Himself) by the "washing of water by the word" (the word He is speaking to our hearts). Sometimes it takes some hard scrubbing to wash out the spots and some hot pressing to get out the wrinkles, but He is willing to make all the effort so that in the end, He may present Himself with a "glorious" church. A husband who lays down his life to nourish and cherish his wife will also receive a great reward.

"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband..." "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord." "...But a prudent wife is from the Lord" (Proverbs 12:4, 18:22, 19:14).

Next: Marriage