In this issue of Theology for Life Magazine, we are learning about biblical gender roles, biblical manhood and womanhood, all with a focus to help people learn what these great truths are, and how to minister to them. These issues are not for the ivory tower. They also are not for debates. The Bible teaches that men and women are equal in dignity, value, and worth, but distinct in role and function. What that means is that a man is a man, and a woman is a woman. A man is not a woman, and a woman is not a man. Those fundamental realities are what Genesis 1 teach; specifically, how Adam was born from the dust, the Lord breathed life into him, and he came into being. Furthermore, Genesis 2 declares that woman was brought to life from Adam’s rib and the Lord breathed life into her. These truths frame the whole purpose of not only biblical manhood and womanhood, but how to preach on biblical gender roles.
Some people in the church believe there is no difference between being a man and a woman. To these Christians, a woman can do whatever she wants because she is given freedom from the Lord in His Word. And yet, as I read Scripture, I see that there are still limits in place for her. A man is called to lead in the home and the church. When we go to the New Testament, for example, the pattern established by God goes back to the creation account in Genesis 1-2 regarding marriage and church leadership. In 1st Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul establishes that an elder must be a one-woman man. And this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
Some people say, well a woman can do whatever she wants. After all, we don’t live in the 1st century culture, and therefore we are not restricted by the cultural baggage of 1st century Judaism. And yet, what’s interesting in saying that is such people reveal something about what they believe about the Bible. Namely, they doubt the authority of God, which has devasting effects on how they interpret the Bible. In this case, when we cast down or even cast aside the authority of Scripture by questioning whether the cultural language is still to be interpreted literally in the 21st century, what we are doing is questioning whether the Bible is trustworthy, sufficient, and authoritative.
What these people are actually saying is, “Well, the Bible can be right on salvation; it can be correct on eternity; it can even be right on the destiny of the lost going to hell—a real place of eternal, unending, unrelenting, conscious punishment. But the Bible cannot be right about a woman not being able to do whatever she wants in the local church!” We cannot go into the whole argument in this article, as there is not enough space. Entire (very thick) volumes have been written on these issues. I raise this point only to say that what we believe about Scripture itself matters because it will affect how we interpret the Bible. And how we interpret the Bible is how we will preach the Bible. So what we believe about the Bible matters. It matters that we consistently hold to a biblical and orthodox position on Scripture itself, so we do not veer off the road into the dead end of theological liberalism.
As Christians, we are all to preach the whole counsel of God. We are not to shirk our responsibility on this point. Heaven and Hell hang in the balance. As church members, we are to go forth and make disciples of the nations. Pastors are to herald the gospel in season and out of season, and preach the whole counsel of God.
Preach the Whole Counsel of God
First, we need to understand that the primary and most important responsibility of every pastor is to preach expository sermon series going through books of the Bible. For example, when going through the Book of Ephesians, which has much to say about the topic of biblical gender roles, you could slowly go through Ephesians 5:13-33, taking a month or more to preach and teach on these subjects. When doing so, one of the pastoral staff or elders could write articles that explain why the church believes this is so important. Another idea is to host a time of question and answer in the evening on Sunday or during the week for people to ask questions on these issues. These are just some ideas, but the main point behind them is to not only preach through books of the Bible, and in so doing address the topic of biblical gender roles, but find specific ways to add to what you are doing as you are preaching and teaching through these issues.
Lastly, as you are preaching through topics related to biblical gender roles, tie it to the whole of the Bible. The Bible has one unified message. For example, why does Paul ground his argument in Creation in Ephesians 5, 1st Timothy 3, and Titus 1 (and other passages) regarding the importance of male leadership in the home and the local church? Is it to exclude women from doing anything in the church? Surely not, otherwise Paul would not have thought highly of women and used them as coworkers to expand the gospel.
Marriage is under assault from homosexuality, transgenderism, pornography. And even more issues seem to assault our senses every day, from the newspapers to the front row of our churches. The people sitting in our congregations need to hear the truth about marriage between one man and one woman for life. They need to be reminded, again and again, regarding what marriage is about. Marriage is not about feelings. Marriage is also not about how much one loves another. Marriage is a covenant grounded in the character of God. It is not merely signing a paper contract where the pastor rubber stamps it. No, something more significant is at play than a mere formal ceremony. What’s at stake is the glory of God, who created man in His image and likeness and who instituted marriage.
Marriage is not only for the couple, it is a display of the glory of God in the lives of two people—sinner-saints—who have joined together under the Lordship of Christ, to do life with one another for as long as they both shall live. Pastors are charged with providing spaces where both men and women can grow, where they can share openly—men among men, and women among women—in Bible studies and prayer groups with one another about what is honestly going on in their lives in the context of the local church. These times should be structured around the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship.
Redemption, the Great Commandment, and Loving People
Jesus has taken the hearts of stone of His redeemed, Beloved Bride, and sovereignly removed them, giving them new hearts. He has and is redeeming a people for His possession; a people called out from among the tribes of every tongue and nation. Redemption is a beautiful picture of what biblical gender roles are because of our Covenant Head, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the Church, the Chief Shepherd, and the Lord our Righteousness. He not only commands men to love God, but He also commands everyone, everywhere to first love Him and then one another.
When we get the order wrong (love people and then love God) we are preaching a false gospel. The people of God need to hear the gospel story declared from the Word of God. After all, it’s not only marriages that are on the line; it’s eternity that is on the line. Each time you go to the pulpit and preach the Word, eternity hangs in the balance. You are facing people who come with all sorts of issues. Perhaps throughout the week, a husband yelled at his wife. A wife disrespected her husband. Maybe some people are having affairs in your church. Church members are at odds with each other. Dozens of others are looking at porn. And you are standing before them as an instrument, a vessel, to proclaim the glories of the biblical text.
My encouragement to Pastors is to preach the whole counsel of God. Do not shirk from your responsibility to declare all God has said. Do not water it down. Do not say, “Well, that’s cultural”, or “That’s not true”, or anything of the sort. No, as a Christian Pastor, you are called of God and have been commissioned by Him to preach the whole counsel of God to His entire people. The most unloving thing you can do is to shirk your responsibility. In fact, I will go so far as to say that to not preach the whole Word of God to the entire people of God is criminal (sinful). A criminal does what is wrong and commits a crime, but those crimes may affect only a dozen people. As a Pastor, you may affect thousands of lives, or more, for all eternity. People are sitting under your preaching, and you will be held accountable to the Chief Shepherd for preaching the whole Word of God. It is not your Word! It is God’s Word. God uses you to preach the Word.
And yet, we are seeing nearly this whole generation of Pastors fall into the cultural lie. They think that they have a better word than what God has said. The sad result is the slippery slide of women becoming pastors, which is only the start of a slide away from biblical truth. At the root of that slide is believing the wrong things about the nature and character of God, and thus the Word of God itself. When we have a right view of God, we will have a correct view of His authority, and in turn, have a proper and orthodox view of the Bible itself.
As you stand before the people of God this Sunday be challenged, even convicted, of the urgency of your task, Pastors. Bible study leader, as you teach the people week in and week out, you also be convicted of the seriousness of the task before you. Biblical counselor, as you sit in your chair in your counseling office and people come in and out, and counseling sessions go by, be convinced of the importance of your task. Christian author and blogger, be convicted and challenged about the urgency of writing with excellence, demonstrating sound biblical convictions and interpretation of the biblical text. We all need to take care whatever our role in serving in ministry. We will all be held to account, those who teach, with a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
To married Pastors, you have a responsibility. Your marriage is to be an example to others of the love of Christ. The most countercultural thing you can do even in the church is to prioritize your marriage. That is going to take a lot of intentionality and sacrifice. There will be times when you have to go to the hospital and can’t do date night, of course. But there are also times when you will need to not go to the hospital and send an elder or a deacon, or seasoned Christian to go so you can focus on your marriage.
I’m reminded of both of my great-grandfathers. Both of them were evangelists and had an extensive itinerant ministry. They would travel about preaching and teaching the Word of God. And yet, they sacrificed their marriages on the altar of ministry. Do not be that pastor or ministry leader, I plead with you.
There was a time in my life, over a decade ago, during which I gave into the lie of cultural accommodation on biblical gender roles. Specifically for a season, I believed and justified my position that women can be pastors, after all, God uses all of us. And yet, this is the same sort of thing I’ve been saying in this article. That position cannot be substantiated in light of the biblical evidence for how a man is to lead in the home or the church. Nor is it substantiated by a reading of church history. And yet, some would claim it is. Behind the positions we practice are biblical and theological convictions that shape us and lead us to the practices that we engage in ministry.
During that period of my life when I believed a woman could be a pastor, I actively encouraged women to be pastors. That was wrong, I see now. It was wrong to encourage women to call themselves pastors and to encourage them then to preach as pastors. And, I’m sure at various times in your life, you’ve held to non-biblical ideas before, and you may have even seen the futility of false views. Now, I need to repent publicly. Even though many years and much time have gone by, I should not have done what I did. While I never taught on that position openly, it matters little. Biblical truth matters as I’ve said in this article and it matters not only for me but for you.
Perhaps today you’ve shrunk back from preaching on biblical gender roles. All around you in your congregation are men who are hurting and need to hear what it means to be a man. All around you are also women who think they need to look like the lady in a superficial fashion magazine. We airbrush ideals of manhood and womanhood in our culture, and treat both as unimportant. After all, in the movies we see chiseled bodies, toned abs, six packs, and ripped muscles, and think, “That’s a man”, or “That’s a woman because she has all the right curves in all the right places.” Not to say that it isn’t good to be fit, because it is. But the definition of beauty has to change in our churches. The way we view one another has to change. It has to change because how we see one another, is not to be as objects for enjoyment, but instead as brothers and sisters in Christ.
And how will this happen? It will happen because pastors and elders take seriously the charge given to preach the whole counsel of God. The entire Bible addresses the whole man. The Bible addresses the issue of beauty by telling us that God created man in His image and likeness. Men and women are equal in dignity, value, and worth, but distinct in function and role. Each one of us has our role to function within, whether that’s women teaching a women’s Bible study, or a man preaching from the pulpit. The critical point is that we are shaped in our minds and hearts around the authoritative Word, to which we are to submit. And behind the preached Word are convictions that need to be straightened out. Much like I had to do to think through what the Bible teaches on biblical gender roles, specifically on men only being pastors and elders. We may need to revisit our convictions, and that is not bad. In fact, it is wise to do so; doing so is right.
As Reformed Christians, we believe in Sola Scriptura. Our battle cry is the Scripture Alone—the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, and clear Word. And all of that means we are to hold not just the right biblical and theological viewpoints, but then to practice and implement what we preach to others about those biblical realities. And the more we do this, people will see that we hold to the truth not only in theory but in practice. Furthermore, the place where the theology comes to life for people is in our lives, which is why we need to be growing and prioritizing our marriages.
Pastor, the more people do that, and the more they see us loving our wives, they will fill in the details on how they are to love their wives. And, Pastors’ Wives, the same is true for you. Women of the congregation will look to you to see how to respect their husbands. As you lovingly respect your husband and follow his leadership as you follow Christ, you are giving an illustration for other women to follow. They are looking to you to see how you are living. And they will follow your example whether you know it or not, or they know it or not.
And so we not only have work to do to preach the Word in season and out of season, but work to do in our hearts, in our marriages so that our doctrine and life matches by the grace of God. And when we fail (and we will, from time to time) perhaps, even more, we eat that humble pie. We apologize—for example—to our wives; Men, repent and pick up our cross and follow Jesus once again.
We take specific ownership before people about how we fail. And that even is a demonstration of the grace of God; a fill-in example ready-made for people to see what it looks like for their pastors or ministry leaders to walk humbly before the face of God. That is not only countercultural, it is a Scriptural, God-honoring, Christ-glorifying life that is aimed to destroy the arguments against biblical manhood and womanhood itself.
Such a life testifies of the glory of grace and is a living, walking sermon illustration. But make no mistake, such a life not only preaches the Word in season and out of season. It doesn’t do so on its own. It does so because of grace. It does so because the Spirit is at work in a person’s life. It does so to be an example of what godliness is like in a world confused about what it means to be a man and/or a woman. In other words, it’s the Christian life, not just in theory but practice. And that’s what we need: not just more theory, but doctrine and life together, as the Scriptures teach, and as the church has held together for millennia.
Doctrine and life together is the most significant cultural answer to the great problems of confusion about sexuality in our day. When a husband loves his wife, and a wife respects her husband, they are doing as the Bible teaches. They are doing so because of biblical and theological convictions. They are doing so because it’s been taught from the pulpit and modeled by the lives of godly men and women in their local churches. This is the kind of preaching we need, not just preaching that preaches the text but joins head, heart, and mind together to provide biblical preaching that focuses on the text, as well as illustrates that truth in how a person lives. It is not only preaching we need, but also Christian living, to answer the questions surrounding biblical sexuality. A life well lived before the face of God—a husband loving his wife, a wife respecting her husband—is the most significant answer that we can provide to a culture confused, not only about what biblical genders are, but also why they matter.