The first session of the True Woman Conference was led by John Piper who spoke on “The Meaning of True Womanhood.” He made it clear that he counts it a privilege to address the most influential people in the world (distinguishing, he said, between privilege and authority). There is massive power in this room and he does not take this as a light responsibility. This message is offered as a foundation for the True Woman Manifesto which will be unveiled on Saturday (“a magnificent document” Piper called it).
He began with an assumption: wimpy theology makes wimpy women. The opposite of a wimpy woman is not a brash, pushy, loud, uppity, arrogant Amazon, but a woman of character (and here he provided several examples of faithful, suffering women). Wimpy theology does not give a woman a God big enough or good enough to deal with the realities of life and still rejoice. This poor theology is plagued by woman-centeredness; it does not have the granite foundation of God’s sovereignty underneath; it does not have the structure of a God-centered purpose for all human life.
The ultimate meaning of true womanhood
God’s ultimate purpose for the universe and for all of history (and for you) is to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression in his dying to make a rebellious people his bride. This is the reason the universe exists. Everything exists so this can happen and to make much of it. This is based on texts like Revelation 13:8 (which shows that, before anything was made, before sin existed, God had already planned the death of his Son). Why? Ephesians 1:5-6 says that all was done to the praise of his grace. Putting this together with Ephesians 5:25-27 we see that the ultimate purpose of all things is the praise of God’s grace through the death of Christ.
What does this all mean for true womanhood?
There is nothing wimpy about what God has done; he offers a place to stand when everything around gives way. Proper theology leads to a mind-boggling understanding of true womanhood. What we’ve seen just in these texts (and there are many more) is that masculinity and femininity belong at the center of God’s ultimate purpose. These are not an afterthought of creation and are not peripheral to the purpose of the cross. They are right there at the center at Calvary. So we need to be done with small thoughts about God’s design for womanhood. It is only when we understand God’s design for womanhood that womanhood takes on its true significance.
People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that God made man and woman and then went looking for some kind of analogy to explain what he had done. But nothing could be further from the truth. When God designed this human creature in two kinds, he had the cross in his mind already. This is the very reason that he made us this way! We know this from Ephesians 5:31 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 and shows that marriage has always referred to Christ and the church. Thousands of years before the cross, God said that it is about the most important event in history—this is why he made men and women as he did.
What is the ultimate meaning of true womanhood?
“True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of his Son in ways that would not be displayed if there was no womanhood.” When God described the work of his Son as the sacrifice of a husband for his bride, he was telling us why he made us male and female. He made us this way so this relationship would describe more fully the relationship of his son and his son’s blood-brought bride. If you reduce woman to biological features you not only reduce the value of womanhood but reduce the glory given God. We must understand that, in opposition to what the world teaches, womanhood is not incidental to personhood.
Piper offered a couple of questions of application: What does this look like for married women? What does it look like for single women?
Marriage is meant to display the covenant-keeping relationship between Christ and the church. Here Piper offered a word on headship and submission, defining both. Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant-leadership and provision and protection in the home. Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. These two correspond to true manhood and true womanhood in marriage. These differences are essential by God’s design so that marriage will display more fully the glory of the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride and the admiration of the bride for her husband. If you can embrace this truth that your true womanhood ultimately means that your distinctive role in marriage is meant to magnify the glory of God’s grace expressed in the covenant keeping love between Christ and his church, you will have a compass that can navigate hundreds of questions.
The Apostle Paul loved his singleness. He loved it because it gave him such radical freedom to get arrested month after month and to be beaten and lashed and shipwrecked. Singleness is a high calling. He celebrated it and called many to follow him in it, even with the beauty of all that marriage displays. Why would he lure some out of pursuing marriage if he made marriage as such a magnificent portrait? In this season of history since the Fall, the natural order God established is not absolute. The reason that rejoicing in singleness is not an assault on God’s glory is that in this world there are truths about Christ and his kingdom that can be more clearly displayed by manhood and womanhood in singleness than in marriage. He offered three things single womanhood can say better than married womanhood:
- A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witness that the family of God grows by regeneration by faith, not propagation by sexual intercourse. The main thing we’re about is growing this family!
- A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witnesses that relationships in Christ are more lasting than relationships in families.
- The Christ-exalting singleness of a woman bears witness to the truth that marriage is temporary and finally gives way in the end to the reality of what the portrait points to. A single woman who lives with this in view says something very powerfully about her Savior
Offering a final summary and challenge, Piper said that true womanhood is a distinctive calling to display the glory of the Son in ways that cannot be displayed in any other way. This is true whether a woman is married or single. No matter whether you’re married or single, do not settle for wimpy theology. Do not waste your true womanhood, for it was made for the glory of Christ.