The Extraordinary Value of Women (II)
Yesterday I wrote about the Extraordinary Value of Women and did so in response to an email I received from a reader of this site. If you did not catch the first article, you can find it here. Yesterday I laid a bit of groundwork and today I want to address this reader’s specific comments. She wrote: “No matter how I push my body to its limits, and no matter how much endurance I have to exhibit, God will always consider me a ‘weaker vessel.’ Galatians 3:21 seems to indicate that men and women are of equal value, but it’s very difficult to distinguish between a lower ROLE and a lower VALUE. It’s an uphill battle for me. God told me to embrace what I cannot change.” I will provide the caveat that I am generally far better at talking to men than women about difficult issues like this one. I seem to have a remarkable ability to make women cry. So I will try to be as sensitive as possible, but don’t say I haven’t warned you!
First, I want to look at the concept of “the weaker vessel,” a term that is drawn from 1 Peter 3:7 which reads “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” I understand that this may be a difficult concept for some women to swallow for no one wants to be known as weak (though the Bible certainly values weakness over strength, doesn’t it?). The truth is, though, that both men and women are weak. We both depend upon God’s saving grace and sustaining grace. When compared to the infinite power of God, neither man nor woman is in any way strong. So do not look at this verse as if it is saying “men are superior to women because of their strength.”
Ancient society and religion commonly regarded women as weaker than men morally, intellectually and spiritually. As in Islam today, the testimony of a woman was meaningless compared to that of a man. It was a grave insult to insinuate that a man was in any way like a woman. Women were regarded as second class citizens. The Bible, though, says something different. The Bible promotes equal worth and equal value between men and women. 1 Peter 3:7 says nothing about a woman being weaker in any ultimate sense. Rather, it simply comments on the general rule that women are physically weaker than men. This is to say that the average man is stronger than the average woman. This verse says that men are to provide for their wives and to protect them. They are to do this in a way that is sacrificial and submits to their wives needs and desires. Without protection, women would soon fall prey to men (and, indeed, this is true throughout history and throughout almost every other religion). This is a verse promoting chivalry—a general honor and respect given to women by men.
I love what the Baker Commentary says about this verse. “Therefore, as the stronger of the two marriage partners, the husband ought to shoulder the heavier burdens, protect his wife, and provide for her according to her needs. Although the husband claims authority, he nevertheless honors, sustains, and loves his wife. We detect an apparent contradiction: the physically weaker wife submits to her husband’s authority, yet she receives his honor and respect. We conclude that the wife who understands her submissive role according to the scriptural norms finds complete fulfillment in her husband.” The loving husband, knowing that his wife is weaker, shoulders the heavy burdens and does all he can to protect, honor and sustain her. He gives sacrificially of his strength in order to show his love for her. Matthew Henry says the husband’s roles involves “giving due respect to her, and maintaining her authority, protecting her person, supporting her credit, delighting in her conversation, affording her a handsome maintenance, and placing a due trust and confidence in her.”
So I don’t know that God will always consider you a weaker vessel. The truth is that you will always be a weaker vessel. You will always be female and you will always be physically weaker. This is the way God made you. And even more so, that is the way God made the human race. It is just not a comment on your worth or value, but on the way God shaped you. And having made you this way, God has graciously provided your husband to protect and honor you.
Of course it would be wrong for a man to read this and to boast in his strength. His physical strength is given so that he can use it to serve his wife and to provide for his family. And yet even this strength is so weak compared to the power of God. Even the strongest man must rely on God.
I also wanted to briefly discuss the concepts of role and value. I understand that it can be very difficult to distinguish between the two or to understand how differing roles can maintain equal worth or value. I suppose there are all kinds of intellectual arguments we could make, but I find it best and easier simply to point to God Himself. The Trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the ultimate example of differing roles but equal value. God is three persons; each person is fully God and yet there is but one God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit together form the godhead. They are equal in their divinity but different in role. They have different primary functions. And yet neither one is of greater worth or value than the others. No one could rightly say that the Father has greater value than the Son or the Spirit. No one could rightly say that the Spirit has lower worth than the Father or the Son, and this despite the fact that the Spirit’s ministry always points away from Himself and to the Son and the Father. Though He exists primarily to point to the other members of the godhead, He is not a lesser being or of lower value. His role does not reflect His value.
Submission in marriage is a beautiful picture of the relationships within the Trinity. While the husband and wife have different roles, they have equal value and worth. If this is true of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it can and should be true of us. There is nothing in Scripture that hints at women being lower than men in value.
The reader wrote “God told me to embrace what I cannot change.” And this is true. God desires that you embrace what He has said is true. Perhaps your trouble is that you are attempting to embrace an incomplete or incorrect understanding of the issues. I pray that these articles, weak as they are, will have given you some things to think about that you may think rightly about God and think rightly about how He has made you. I pray that you can embrace what is true rather than struggling with what is not. God gave men and women differing roles in order to protect us and to bless us. He did not intend for them to be difficult or burdensome. They are given to us that we might live as He intends for us to live.