The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
Listen to the sermon audio: Man and Woman in Christ (Gen 2-3)
*Originally preached August 15th, 2021*
- We live in an “anti culture” where we are defined by what we reject, not what we are for. Thus, our wider culture in rejecting traditional gender roles, is unclear about what it means to be a man or woman.
- Men and women are equal and very similar as both being made in God’s image and given authority over creation. This, however, does not mean that men and women are the same. The differences between men and women should be celebrated as a further display of the image of God, not denigrated.
- Men and women bear distinct roles in creation. In Genesis 2-3 we see that God creates Adam to lovingly lead his wife, Eve, and to use his strength and gifting to cultivate and protect the exterior life of the family. Eve is created to help Adam complete their God-given task of filling the earth through creating a family. Eve is to use her unique gifting to cultivate and nurture the interior life of the family.
- Manhood and womanhood are more about men and women’s character as they submit to and follow Christ than they are about cultural stereotypes.
- Jesus’ grace is available to us all and will train us in our pursuits for biblical manhood and womanhood.
What does it mean to be a man? To be a woman?
More specifically, what does it mean to follow Jesus as a man or as a woman?
Why is that question hard?
Tevye, the main character of the musical, The Fiddler on the Roof, opens the musical with this comment on his Jewish communities traditions: “Because of our traditions each of us knows who he is and what God expects of him.” The song “Tradition” then carries on explaining how each member of the family has their role to play in life and the wider society. The rest of the musical, however, is a sad story of the undoing of so many of these traditions. Modernity has undermined many of the ancient traditions that human societies have relied on for so long to tell them who they are and what God expects of them.
We live today in what sociologist Philip Rieff describes as an anticulture—we are defined by our rejection and cynicism of the past. We are not defined by a positive vision of what we believe life, society, or family to look like–all we know is what we don’t want to be. So this makes questions like: “What does it mean to be a man or woman?” very difficult for us. All we know is that we have seen things in traditional gender roles, for instance, that we don’t like and we don’t want to be that.
What I want to do in this sermon today is to provide a broad, general overview of what the creation account of Genesis tells us about God’s distinct design for men and women to be like.
How Are Men and Women Similar?
While there are important distinctions between men and women, we must not miss that there is far, far more similarities than differences. The overwhelming amount of what God has to say to us in the Bible is addressed to both sexes. In Genesis 1 we see a number of things that demonstrate ways in which men and women are the same:
1. They both are created by God
2. They both are made in the image of God. (Gen 1:27)
3. They both are given the charge to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28)
4. They both are given dominion over all of creation and told to fill and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28)
The Bible depicts men and women alike as being equal in worth, dignity, and status before God. Thus any perspective of manhood or womanhood which would denigrate the humanity of men or women runs into direct collision with the Bible’s own teaching. For Paul to encourage the Corinthians to consider singleness as a serious option for life, in some ways a superior option, then that has to mean that a man or a woman are not lacking in anything to experience a fully human experience (see 1 Cor 7:8; 26-40). A woman is not completed by a man, or vice versa—rather, they are both alike made in God’s image and given an ennobling calling as image bearers, whether male or female.
But being equal does not mean being the same. Because men and women are equally made in God’s image that means that the differences we see between men and women are not attributed to one sex being inferior or superior. As the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck notes, “The human nature given to man and woman is one and the same, but in each of them it exists in a unique way. And this distinction functions in all of life and in all kinds of activity,” (The Christian Family). Unfortunately, it has been common to assume that distinctions between the sexes are distinctions of competence or innate value.
We can see a popular ancient view of this in Aristotle, who taught that females were incomplete, deformed males, since they lacked masculine characteristics of strength and fortitude. So, for Aristotle, the masculine experience of life was, in his estimation, what real human existence was, and because women were difference he assumed this was a deficiency. We see a bizzarro inverse of this in contemporary pop-culture where typical feminine characteristics are disparaged, and women are encouraged to basically become men. If men are brutes who can clobber people who get in their way, then so can women; if men are sexually ravenous with little emotional attachment, then so are women; if men will prioritize their careers to the neglect of their family, then so can women.
But in depicting women constantly doing what men do (for better or worse; I am not at all condoning these behaviors), whether that be in a physical fight or the bedroom or boardroom, it subtly tells women that real freedom is to become like a man, which is just another species of the sexism Aristotle was saying thousands of years ago. It is telling women that they do not have anything unique or genuine to offer the world through their distinct femininity; it is only when they abandon their womanhood that life is found. It is, in a way, the erasure of women. I recently spoke with a friend who wondered out loud what would happen to our society if stay-at-home mom’s, school teachers, and nurses all were paid six-figures and given the same air of respect we give individuals who make that kind of salary. No stay-at-home mom is going to wow people with her profession the same way a female CEO will, we all know that. But what is the biggest thing that a woman has to offer that men cannot do: bear children. And yet, our culture quietly assumes that the woman who prioritizes raising her family over a career to be a missed opportunity, certainly not something to be held in a high honor.
But friends, men and women are equal, they both display the image of God and reflect God’s character and nature through their distinct roles as men and women. They are not the same; a man does not need to become a woman, and a woman does not need to become a man to bear God’s image.
How Are They Different?
Genesis one represents an overarching, sweeping description of how God creates and fills the whole world. Genesis two provides a deeper look at how God specifically made man and woman. In Genesis one we are simply told that God creates man and woman at the same time because it is providing an overview summary, but in Genesis two the camera lens zooms in, and we see the details of how God specifically created Adam and Eve.
How they are made
As we zoom in on the creation story of Adam and Eve, we find that there are a number of differences in how Adam and Eve are made. Let’s look at what Genesis tells us:
“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature,” – Gen 2:5-7
It is only later that God remarks, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him,” (Gen 2:18). After Adam names all the animals (Gen 2:19-20), God causes “a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man,” (Gen 2:21-22).
There are two distinctions we see in the text: (1) God creates Adam first, then Eve; (2) God creates Adam from the ground, and Eve from the side of Adam. These are details that may seem irrelevant at first, but the order of creation is something that Paul grounds his argument for male headship in marriage and the church (1 Cor 11:8; 1 Tim 2:13), so they can’t just be inconsequential details. Of course, even though Eve is made of Adam’s rib and Adam is made of the dirt, they are still fundamentally made of the same thing—the distinction isn’t that men and women are inherently different in their essence, but that they are different in the way they were made—one from the dirt, one from the side of man.
What they are called to do
Directly after God makes Adam He creates the garden of Eden, “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Gen 2:8-9. God is described as a gardener here, planting and cultivating Eden into a place of beauty and abundance. A few verses later, we see God charge Adam with a unique vocation:
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” Gen 2:15-17.
Adam is placed in the garden and is told to “work” and “keep” the garden (two words that describe the priests’ service in the tabernacle/temple). Like God, in whose image Adam is made, Adam is to work as a gardener, tending to the garden and protecting it from harm. Also, notice these two commands are given to Adam before Eve is created. Of course, as Eve is tempted by the serpent, she repeats this prohibition (Gen 3:3; although twisting it some), so it applies to her, but God only gives it to Adam. Thus Adam must have born a particular responsibility to teach his wife this warning.
In the creation of Eve we see a slightly different emphasis. After God proclaims that it is “not good” for Adam to be alone, God says He will create a “helper fit for him.” It may be tempting to assume that God’s pronouncement over the sad state of Adam being alone is primarily a psychologized evaluation—Adam is lonely and needs a companion. But if Adam simply needed another friend, God could have made another man for Adam. Or if he needed help in the labor of working the garden, He could have created a team of men or given him a herd of oxen to plow the fields for him. Instead, God creates a woman, something that is like and unlike Adam. There are many differences between men and women, from the composition and structure of their bodies, to their general interests, to the indefinable difference between rugged masculinity and feminine beauty. But of the differences between a man and a woman, none is greater than a woman’s ability to bear and care for children. God commanded man and woman back in Gen 1 to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28)—Adam cannot do this by himself. This is why it is “not good for man to be alone.” The “very good” design of men and women ruling over God’s creation together, bearing children and multiplying cannot happen with only one of them.
So Eve comes along to be a “helper who corresponds to” Adam. The word “helper” may carry negative, or belittling connotations today, and so we may be tempted to assume that this title is degrading in some way to women. But do you know who is called “helper” most throughout the Old Testament? God. God is repeatedly called Israel’s helper. So “helper” cannot mean anything diminutive or patronizing. Instead, it means that you possess a strength and ability that another does not and you are present to use that strength and ability to aid. Eve comes alongside Adam as help, blessing him with her unique giftings, interests, and femininity, manifested supremely in her ability to bear children.
In Genesis 5, Adam is described as a “son of God,” meaning God is like a parent who has created children. So, just as Adam gets to mirror God in his calling to work and keep the garden, Eve likewise gets to reflect God in her ability to create children.
Both Adam and Eve are given the command to be fruitful and multiply, to exercise dominion over the earth, and to subdue it. Both are made in God’s image and are therefore called to reflect what God is like to the watching world. But this isn’t something they can do apart from each other. To quote Bavinck again, “The human nature given to man and woman is one and the same, but in each of them it exists in a unique way. And this distinction functions in all of life and in all kinds of activity.”
For Adam, his primary emphasis is to be looking at the cultivation of the exterior life of the family through working for and protecting their home, the garden. We see this emphasized in how Adam is cursed after the Fall:
To the man he said:
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19)
Notice that last verse, the connection of the curse being tied up with the domain from which Adam was created. Adam was created from the ground, and was called to work and keep the ground, and now, the ground is cursed—Adam’s labors are now going to be met with toil, frustration, and sweat. Work, on this side of the Fall, is hard and tiring. But this shows us the unique emphasis of Adam’s vocation—God has given men strength and fortitude in a unique way so that they may use that strength and fortitude to labor, provide, and protect.
Eve’s emphasis is on cultivating the interior life of the family, through bearing and nurturing children, helping and supporting her husband. We likewise see this emphasized in how Eve is cursed:
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)
While Adam is cursed in the domain he is created from (the ground), Eve is cursed in the domain she is created from (Adam’s side). She experiences the curse in two distinct ways: in relation to her children, and in relation to her husband. “Pain in childbearing” doesn’t only refer to the physical pain of childbirth, but to every heartache that comes with raising a family, from childbirth, to miscarriages, to barrenness, to familial strife, even to the desire for a family or spouse but remaining alone. It is a tragically holistic pain.
“Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” could be more literally translated “Your desire shall be for your husband.” This, however, doesn’t mean a romantic desire or fixation. It means rather a desire to dominate. We see a near exact recreation of this phrase one chapter later when God is warning Cain of the sin in his heart: “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it,” (Gen 4:7). In the same way sin wants to dominate Cain, Eve will now be tempted to dominate her husband. And how will the husband respond? “He shall rule over you.” Nowhere in Genesis 1-2 is Adam told to “rule over” his wife. Adam and Eve together are to “rule over” creation, but not each other. In Genesis 2 we do see a unique authority given to Adam in the priority of his creation and the prohibition of the tree given to him and then taught to his wife, an authority that Paul likewise sees (1 Cor 11; Eph 5; 1 Tim 2). But the gift of servant-hearted leadership Adam is to exercise is now perverted into a cruel domination, so that now the marriage becomes a power struggle of who is dominating who.
What does it mean to be a man? To be a woman?
If we were to scoop up everything from Genesis 2-3 and consider God’s design, the ways we are tempted, and what God has called us to do, I think we could summarize what biblical manhood and womanhood looks like in a few words. For men, God desires you to gladly use your unique abilities as a man to, Paul tells us, to lay down your life as Christ did for His church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25), to take initiative and responsibility for others around you, to work, protect, and serve for the good of your family, church, and community.
For women, God desires you to use your unique abilities as a woman to pursue what 1 Peter describes as, “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” (3:4), to cultivate an environment of nurture, connection, and care to serve the good of your family, church, and community.
There are so many unhelpful cultural stereotypes about manhood and womanhood. Christians have to be careful about inappropriately baptizing what our secular culture tells us is manly or womanly, and believing that this is what God wants us to be like. While we should take what Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11 about not blurring gender lines in our dress and appearance seriously, we shouldn’t be overly rigid in assuming that everything that is culturally masculine or feminine is necessary for us to participate in as Christians. Ironically, much of what fuels the recent rise in transgenderism is a kind of commitment to these traditional, cultural gender stereotypes. If a young boy is more sensitive and doesn’t like sports, or a young girl is more of a tomboy, then our wider culture, rather than understanding that not all masculinity and femininity expresses itself the same, tells these young boys and girls that they likely are just transgender and should transition. I, for instance, do not particularly enjoy many traditionally masculine interests—sports, cars, guns, Jean-Claude Van Damme movies—and enjoy many things that many would associate as being something more feminine—I like art, literature, and poetry; I am more emotionally intuitive and enjoy children than most men. While masculine interests and feminine interests do tend to be different, we must be able to discern between what is descriptive (the way things commonly are) and what is prescriptive (what does God require of us).
Further, we shouldn’t assume that the distinctions between men and women are hermetically sealed categories. Just because I said that one of the primary emphases of manhood is responsibility and sacrifice, doesn’t mean that women are never going to need to take responsibility or sacrifice. And just because I said that womanhood is defined by nurture and connection doesn’t mean men are never required to be nurturing or work to cultivate relational connections. It’s much, much more complicated than that. These different emphases come from the unique ways God has made us, called us, equipped us, and the unique ways we are tempted to abandon God’s design—men are tempted to avoid responsibility or use their strength abusively, women are tempted to dominate or manipulate men. But, because both men and women are fundamentally made in the image of God, that means that both male-ness and female-ness alike reflect God’s character and thus, in the words of Bavinck, “No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities,” (The Christian Family).
So, Paul tells the entire Corinthians church, women included, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong,” (1 Cor 16:13). And then he tells the Thessalonians, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us,” (1 Thess 2:7-8). These tell us two things: certain characteristics are feminine and some are masculine. There is something manly about strength and resolved determination, and there is something feminine about gentleness and tender affection. But also, there is a way that women need to be strong like men, and men need to be gentle like women, even while we affirm that strength may be more regularly emphasized in men, and gentleness may be more regularly emphasized in women.
Manhood and womanhood have far more to do with character than anything else. What is the ideal of manhood? Womanhood? And individual who is submitted to the Lordship of Christ and reflecting God’s character and nature as they walk by the Spirit. How that manifests itself will look slightly different given our callings and temptations as men or women, but it will flow from fundamentally the same source of obedience to God. This is why it is possible for single people to pursue this just as much as married people. While it may look different some, it is still the same fundamental calling.
Under the original design of Genesis the distinctions and callings of men and women were exercised exclusively in marriage. But with the arrival of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, we see blessings being pronounced on single people and barren women. Why? Because although sin took away much from us as men and women, Jesus restores to us more than sin took from us. So the childless woman and single mom, and unmarried man, as they follow Jesus, can still pursue their unique callings of manhood and womanhood. Men will pursue leadership and responsibility and labor for the good of their church and community and women will use their giftings of nurture and care to love their church, to love their neighbors.
I heard a story this week of a little boy who ran to his father crying because his sister threw a rock at his head. His dad told him that he was proud of his son for taking it like a man. “No I didn’t, I am crying!” the little boy replied. “Being a man has nothing to do with crying. You acted like a man because you didn’t try to retaliate—that’s being a man.”
What do we do now?
What does the gospel have to say about our callings as men and women?
First, Jesus meets us where we are, not where we should be. Perhaps you realize that God’s design for manhood and womanhood is not something you have gladly embraced, but ignored or begrudgingly tolerated. Jesus is not waiting till you arrive at whatever plateau of godliness you think you need to be at before God is pleased with you—He comes to you here and now with mercy and grace in His hands. Titus tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” Titus 2:11. All people. That means the best of husbands and the worst of husbands, the best of wives and the worst of wives; single men and women who chafe at the calling of responsibility and nurture given to them—wherever we are, God comes to us now, where we are, not where we want to be. Jesus is not holding back on the storehouses of His grace until you shape up—it is the exact opposite. It is precisely because you and I fall so short that the storehouses are flung open and His grace flows our way, the way water flows to a parched desert.
But His grace does not only meet us where we are, but it leads us to where we should go. Paul continues, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus 2:11-12). How stunning. Grace doesn’t merely forgive us, and then we are brow beaten into obeying. Grace forgives and grace restores. The schoolteacher of the Christian life is grace! So we are led, shaped, and propelled forward into holiness by the gracious love of our Father towards us.
So, we, broken people though we are, lean into the current of this grace and let it sweep us into its path. We gladly embrace God’s design for us as men and women, knowing that God’s kindly heart is for our good, not against it.
Men, take responsibility.
Women, cultivate the imperishable beauty of a gentle spirit.
Husbands, love your bride and lay down your life for the good of your family.
Wives, respect your husbands and help him in the calling God has given him.