At my church last night I preached a message that was part of a series we are doing on various points of theology. The topic I had to address was biblical manhood and womanhood. It’s something of an uncomfortable topic to have to preach and one we, as Christians, are too often intimidated by. I sought in this message to emphasize the freedom and the delight in God that come to us when we understand and even celebrate the differences between men and women—when we understand what God tells us about biblical manhood and womanhood.
I guess I am very traditional (and hopefully biblical) when it comes to gender roles within the church and within marriage. I believe that God has called men to lead their families and to lead their churches. I believe that God has made men and women, husbands and wives, to be complementary—to complement one another. And in so doing he has given us the privilege of reflecting him in his Trinitarian relationship. Here we see the Father always leading, the Son submitting to the Father but exercising authority over the Spirit, and the Spirit always submitting to both Father and Son. We learn from the Trinity that we can be equal in value and worth and dignity, even while having different and subordinate roles. And this is the way God intends the church and the family to function.
The subject of freedom was much on my mind as I considered the topic. It was my conviction as I prepared this message that there is greater freedom for those who understand the roles God has assigned to men and to women than to those who deny that such roles exist. This may seem to go against the societal grain. We are told, if not explicitly at least implicitly, that there is more freedom in a lack of rules or a lack of boundaries than there is with their presence. Freedom comes, we are told, when we live without rules or when we cast off the old rules.
I do not believe this. I believe that we are free only when we live within the boundaries given to us. Here’s a silly illustration I used for this.
Imagine a country in which there were no traffic laws whatsoever. There were plenty of cars, but no rules about how those cars can be driven. No speed limits, no minimum age requirements, no safety standards, no “no parking” signs, no dotted lines down the middle of the road, no stop lights, no drunk driving laws. Every person would have freedom to do whatever he wished to do. I could drive on the left and you could drive on the right. I could park in the middle of the freeway and you could drive 100 miles per hour past a grade school. No one could rightly tell either one of us not to.
What kind of freedom would this be? Sure, we would all be free to drive however, whenever, wherever we wanted. But this freedom would be devastating and terrifying. I would have no real freedom to travel from Toronto to Ottawa; I would undoubtedly not make it far before finding myself in some kind of accident. We would be free to get killed in all kinds of original and awful ways. Freedom comes when we have rules and when we obey those rules.
Adam and Eve had freedom, didn’t they? They had true freedom—the freedom not to sin. And yet they also had rules. Or one rule, anyways. They were free to live before God but only if they lived within the boundary he gave them. You know how the story went. And human beings have been fighting boundaries ever since.
So I guess I see biblical manhood and womanhood through this lens. We experience a kind of freedom in submitting to the rules God has given us—the rules that tell us how men and women should relate and especially so within the church and within marriage. This opens up to us the freedom to live as he would have us live. It opens to us a freedom to understand the beauty of seeing things and doing things in God’s way. It allows us to see that, for all the supposed wisdom of men, God’s ways really are better.