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Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-nuteral Society – How Should These Biblical Principles Apply in Church and Home?

Thinking and Living Biblically in a
Gender-neutral Society
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood series
First Presbyterian Church
Jackson, MS
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan

Ephesians 5:22

How These Biblical Definitions of Manhood and Womanhood

Apply in the Home and the Church

If you have your
Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Ephesians chapter 5. All summer
long the view that we have been proponing in our study of biblical manhood and
womanhood, we have called complimentarianism. And we have defined that in a
brief sentence or two this way: God has created men and women equal in their
essential dignity and human personhood but different and complimentary in
function, with male headship in the home and believing community, that is the
church, being understood as part of God’s created design. And we have attempted
to argue for this position, in the home and in the church, through a fairly
comprehensive survey, especially of the New Testament teaching and the original
creational teaching from Genesis 1 and 2 and 3 with regard to male/female role

Now, we want
to look a little bit at how this works out in the home and the church. Our goal
here is really to sketch out a vision for Christian manhood and womanhood. Now
this is hard to do because we are all individuals and each of our marriages have
distinctive aspects about them. Many various factors impact those distinctive
things: the vocations that we may be in, the life situation that we may be in,
the numbers of children that we have, where we live, the culture that we’re in.
There are hundreds of variables that impact the way that Christian marriages are
worked out at the micro level in terms of manhood and womanhood. But it seems
to me that there are principles and attitudes which are helped by looking at
these fundamental Bible teachings and which set the parameters for the way that
manhood and womanhood ought to work out in practice in the home and in the
church. So I want to look at Ephesians 5 with you and then at one verse in 1
Corinthians 11. And I want to sketch out a few larger points from those
passages, and then I want to look at a vision for biblical manhood and womanhood
according to the Bible. Let’s hear God’s word in Ephesians 5 beginning in verse

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the
Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the
church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject
to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself
up for her; that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of
water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church and all her
glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy
and blameless. So husbands ought to also love their own wives as their own
bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own
flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father
and mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.
This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the
church. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even
as himself; and let the wife see to it the she respect her husband.”

Amen, thus far the
reading of God’s holy word. Turn back to 1 Corinthians chapter 11 and just the
third verse, “But I want you to understand that
Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is
the head of Christ.”

Amen, this is
God’s word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Lord, as we
consider these passages and the principles that we have learned over the course
of our summer studies, we pray that You would open our eyes to understand Your
word, to embrace Your truth with our hearts and minds, but to most of all live
Your truth out in our own personal relationships in the home and in the church.
We know we need Your grace in order to do this, and so we ask for it in Jesus’
name. Amen.

you look at Ephesians five verses 22-33, what you find out there is Paul
spelling out the roles and rules and responsibilities of the husband and the
wife in marital relationship. And in that passage Paul makes this grand point:
that the husband-wife relationship is to be a mirror or a picture or an
illustration of the relationship between Christ and His people. So we have this
burden in our marriages: if our marriages do not reflect the norms of biblical
manhood and womanhood in the way that husbands relate to wives and wives to
husbands, then this illustration, this picture, this mirror image of the
relationship between Christ and His people is not reflected to the church around
us or to the world.

And so there
is a tremendous significance beyond the impact that it has on our own personal
interactions: it’s an impact on the witness of God. We are made in the image of
God. And one of the ways we are to image God is in the imaging of this
relationship between Christ and His church. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, if you can
imagine this, Paul gets even deeper than that. Not only are you a picture of
this mysterious union between Christ and His bride, the church, you are in your
male-female role relationships in 1 Corinthians 11–by the way, especially
male-female role relationships in the church–you are in your male-female role
relationships even a picture of the intra-Trinitarian relations of God. Is that
phenomenal? You thought God was understating or overstating when He said that
you were made in His image. And yet, Paul is saying here in 1 Corinthians 11:3
that in your male-female role relationships in the church, you become a picture
of how Christ relates to the Father and how the Father relates to Christ.
That’s a stunning thing that the apostle Paul says. So our vision for manhood
and womanhood in the home and in the church not only has at stake the obedience
to biblical norms which are clearly spelled out in the word, but also has at
stake our imaging Christ’s relationship to the church and the relationship
within the blessed trinity–Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

R.C. Sproul
likes to say this: “All theology is derived from theology proper.” Now theology
proper is the study of God Himself. And what Dr. Sproul is saying when he says
that, is if you really work out the rest of theology, all it is is the
application of what God reveals about Himself in the Bible. And that proves
true when you look at Ephesians 5 and at 1 Corinthians 11: our male-female role
relationships are simply the outworking of the way God is Himself. And we
cannot fully image God unless we follow His commands with regard to male-female
role relationships. Those are the first big points that I want to make from our
reading of Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11.

I. God’s role
for women.

Let’s look
closely now for a few moments at Ephesians 5, and then I want to make a few
global comments as we wrap our study up. First of all, if you look at verses
22-24 of Ephesians 5, we see here God calling Christian wives to a glad and
willing submission to their husbands. So as we think about how Christian
manhood and womanhood works out in the home and in the church, this is a
wonderful passage to turn to; it’s a command here in Ephesians 5:22-24 for wives
to respect their husbands, to acknowledge their spiritual leadership in the
home, to recognize the divinely given order of the household–that God has given
the husband certain spiritual responsibilities and has given the husband certain
spiritual authority under God. Therefore, the woman is called to a voluntary,
sacrificial, self-giving, longsuffering, loyalty to her husband because even
though he’s been given this authority by God and the ideal role relationship is
reflected in Christ and His relationship to the church, she’s called upon to
live with a sinner. And so her submission and her respect have to be given in
the context of sacrifice and patience to a person who is far from perfect.
Here’s how Piper and Grudem describe this relationship of the Christian woman to
her husband in the home:

“Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s
leadership and to help carry it through according to her gifts. It’s not an
absolute surrender of her will, rather we speak of her disposition to yield to
her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is
her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits out of reverence for
Christ. The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her
husband. She should never follow her husband into sin. Nevertheless even when
she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, where
she does not yield to her husband’s unbelief she can still have a spirit of
submission, a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and her
behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to
forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as
head can again produce harmony.”

And so there
we see the Christian wife in her role relationship in the home.

II. God’s role
for men.

Then in
verses 25-30 God calls Christian husbands to a radical, self-denying, spiritual
leadership for the good of their wives. Here Paul calls upon men to exercise
their responsibilities and authorities with the purpose of the best interest of
their wives. If you look at verses 26 and 27, Paul makes it clear that the
husband’s exercise of spiritual authority has a very practical purpose of
benefit to their wives. Listen to the language.
“That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or
wrinkle or any such thing; but she should be holy and blameless. So husbands
ought to love their own wives as their own bodies.” The point is: Christ
loves the church in such a way as to perfect her, to sanctify her. He treats
her as His own body and deals with her in such a way to build her up, and this
is the way that the husband’s spiritual leadership is to be exercised in the
home–loving your wife for her best interest.

And of
course the Apostle Paul turns around and says in verse 28: that turns out to be
in your best interest. When Christian husbands love their wives for her
best interest, it turns out to be in the Christian husband’s own best interest
because in caring for her you are caring, Paul says, for your own body. That’s
who she is. She is you; she’s your own body. And then, of course, he goes into
that glorious description of the mystery of the relationship between the husband
and wife as a picture of the mysterious relationship between Christ and His
people. And that’s where he points out what is at stake in our following these
male/female role relationships. That is the picturing of the union of Christ
and His people.

III. Applications for the home

So what are
the main principles for the way this vision works out, in particular, in the
home? As I’ve said before, you can’t sketch out one picture that can simply be
photocopied and reduplicated in every relationship. And let me give you a good
example of why. I’m going to read a testimony from John Piper–John Piper, the
pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. What’s interesting about this testimony is
that it’s a beautiful testimony to the way that he learned appropriate biblical
manhood and womanhood from his parents, but in many ways their home was not an
ideal situation. And you’ll understand why I am saying that when you hear me
read this testimony. And that’s a reminder to us that even in non-ideal
circumstances these principles can be conveyed; and it’s also a reminder to us
that every single one of our marriages and families are going to be just a
little bit different, and so we have to use sanctified common sense and apply
the principles of the word as we work these things out in practice.

Here’s what
John Piper says, “When I was a boy growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, my
father was away from home about two-thirds of every year.” You’ve
already heard in the first sentence what I was referring to in terms of a less
than ideal situation.

“My father was away from home about two-thirds of every year, and while he
preached across the country, we prayed–my mother and my older sister and I.
What I learned in those days was that my mother was omni-competent. She handled
the finances; she paid all the bills; she dealt with the bank and the
creditors; she once ran a little laundry business on the side; she was active on
the park board; she served as the superintendent of the intermediate department
of our southern Baptist church; and managed some real estate holdings. She
taught me how to cut the grass, splice electric cord, pull Bermuda grass by the
roots, paint the eves, and shine the dining room table with a shammy, and drive
a car, and keep French fries from getting soggy in the cooking oil. She helped
me with the maps in Geography and showed me how to do a bibliography and work up
a science project on static electricity and believe that Algebra 2 was
possible. She dealt with the contractors when we added a basement and, more
than once, put her hand to the shovel. It never occurred to me that there was
anything that she couldn’t do. I heard one time that women don’t sweat; they
glow. Not true. My mother sweated: it would drip off the end of her long,
sharp nose. Sometimes she would blow it off when her hands were pushing the
wheelbarrow full of peat moss, or she would wipe it with her sleeve between the
strokes of a swing-blade. Mother was strong. I can remember her arms even
today, 30 years later: they were big, and in the summer time, they were bronze.
But it never occurred to me to think of my mother and my father in the same
category. Both were strong, both were bright, both were kind, both would kiss
me, and both would spank me, both were good with words, both prayed with fervor
and loved the Bible, but unmistakably my father was a man and my mother was a
woman. They knew it, and I knew it. And it was not merely a biological fact,
it was mainly a matter of personhood and relational dynamics. When my father
came home, he was clearly the head of the house. He led in prayer at the table,
he called the family together for devotions, he got us to Sunday school and
worship, he drove the car, he guided the family to where we would sit, he made
the decision to go to Howard Johnson’s for lunch, he led us to the table, he
called for the waitress, he paid the check, and he was the one who we knew we
would reckon with if we broke a family rule or were disrespectful to mother.
These were the happiest times for mother. Oh, how she rejoiced to have Daddy
home. She loved his leadership. Later, I learned that the Bible calls this
submission. But since my father was gone most of the time, Mother used to do
most of those leadership things too. So it never occurred to me that leadership
and submission had anything to do with superiority or inferiority, and it didn’t
have to do with muscles and skills either. It was not a matter of capabilities
or competencies. It had to do with something I could have never explained as a
child. And I have been a long time in coming to understand it as part of God’s
great goodness in creating us male and female. It had to do with something very
deep. I know that the specific rhythm of life that was in our home was not the
only good one, but there were dimensions of reality and goodness in it that
ought to be there in every home–indeed, they ought to be there in varying ways
in all mature relationships between men and women. I say “ought to be there”
because now I see that they were rooted in God. Over the years I have come to
see from the Scripture and from life, that manhood and womanhood are the
beautiful handiwork of a good and loving God. He designed our differences, and
they are profound. They are not mere physiological pre-requisites for sexual
union. They go into the very root of our personhood.”

Mature masculinity

And so he
goes on to define what mature masculinity is and what mature femininity is, and
I just want to share these brief definitions. Here’s what he says masculinity
is, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility
to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing
relationships.” And here’s what he says about mature femininity, “At the heart
of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture
strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s
differing relationships.” By the way, I’d encourage you if you want to
read further about this to pick up a copy of Recovering Biblical Manhood and
and look at the very first chapter of where Piper explores these

But I want
to pick on the men for a moment and expand on some observations about mature
masculinity; because in a sense, as we said before, much of this is in the term
of attitude and the application of principle, and for the woman it’s often in
response to the leadership that is being given by the husband. You know the old
joke about Ginger Rogers–that she could do everything that Fred Astair could,
except she did it backwards and on heels? Well that’s kind of like it is in the
home. Much of biblical womanhood is responding to the biblical manhood of a
husband. And so I want to pick on the men as we specify this picture of mature

First of
all, mature masculinity expresses itself not in the demand to be served but in
the strength to serve and sacrifice for a woman. That’s how that responsibility
and authority is displayed–in serving and sacrificing for a woman.

mature masculinity does not assume the authority of Christ over a woman but
advocates for the authority of Christ. Isn’t it interesting that Paul says that
husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and that wives are
to submit to their husbands as to the Lord? He doesn’t say that the wife’s
submission to the husband is the same as submission to the Lord; but that
the submission of the wife to the husband is illustrated by her
submission to the Lord. And so masculine authority doesn’t assume Christ’s
authority but is, in fact, itself an illustration of Christ’s authority.
Masculinity does not presume superiority over a woman but mobilizes the
strengths of that woman in service. Mature masculinity does not have to
initiate every action but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern
of initiative. Mature masculinity accepts the burdens of the final say in
disagreements between a husband and a wife but does not presume to use that
authority in every instance. Mature masculinity expresses itself in a family by
taking initiative in the discipline of the children. Mature masculinity
recognizes the call to leadership is a call to repentance. At the end of that
chapter that Piper writes, he sketches out fifteen exhortations to men and to
woman. And I simply want to close tonight sharing with you these exhortations.
Several of these exhortations are the same for men and woman; some are
different. Listen, and I trust that these will be a challenge for you. To men
and woman both–each of these first eight exhortations are for men and woman

IV. Exhortations to men and women

First, that
in all of your life, in whatever your calling, that you would be devoted to the
glory of God. Second, men and woman, that the promises of Christ would be so
trusted so fully that peace and joy and strength would fill your soul to
overflowing. Thirdly, men and woman, that this fullness of God would overflow
in daily acts of love so that people might see your good deeds and give glory to
your Father in heaven. Fourth, that you would be men and woman of the Book.
That you would love and study and obey the Bible in every area of its teaching,
that meditation on biblical truth would be the source of your hope and faith,
that you would continue to grow in understanding through all the chapters of
your life, never thinking that study and growth are only for others. Fifth,
that you would be men and woman of prayer so that the word of God will be opened
to you, and so that the power of faith and holiness will descend up you, and
your spiritual influence would increase at home, in church, in the world.
Sixth, that you would be men and woman who have a deep grasp of God’s sovereign
grace which under girds all these spiritual processes, and that you would be
deep thinkers about the doctrines of grace and even deeper lovers of the
doctrines of grace. Seventh, men and women, that you would be totally committed
to ministry–whatever your specific callings–and that you would not fritter
away your time on unimportant hobbies or sports or other things of this nature,
but that you would redeem the time for Christ and Kingdom. Eighth, that if you
are single, and by the way, I love the fact that he gets to eight, and now, only
now, he has to specify something that’s distinct for those who are single;
because singles are called upon to do all the other things that he’s just listed
and this is, by the way, everything else that he goes on to list. If you
are single, that you would exploit your singleness to the full devotion of God,
the way Jesus and Paul and Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael did and not be
paralyzed by the desire to be married.

Now he has
some different applications for men and for woman. First of all for women, if
you are married, that you would creatively and intelligently and sincerely
support the leadership of your husband as deeply as obedience to Christ will
allow, and that you would encourage him in his God-appointed role as head, and
you would influence him spiritually, primarily, through your fearless
tranquility and holiness and prayer.

And then to
men he says, that if you are married that you would love your wife the way
Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her; and that you would be a
humble, self-denying, up-building, happy, spiritual leader. That you would
consistently grow in grace and knowledge so as never to quench the aspirations
of your wife for spiritual advancement. That you cultivate tenderness and
strength, a pattern of initiative and a listening ear; and that you accept the
responsibility of provision and protection in the family, however you and your
wife share that labor.

Tenth, again
to women now specifically: that if you have children you accept the
responsibility with your husband to raise up children in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord–children who hope in the triumph of God–sharing with
your husband the teaching and discipline they need, and giving them the special
attention that they crave from you as well as that special nurturing touch and
care that you alone are fitted to give. And to men, that if you have children
you accept the primary responsibility in partnership with your wife to raise up
children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord–children who hope in the
triumph of God. That you would establish a pattern of teaching and discipline
that is not solely dependent on the church or school to impart Bible knowledge
and spiritual values to the children, and that you give your children the time
and attention and affection that communicates the true nature of our Father in

again to the women, that you not assume that secular employment is a
great challenge or a better use of your life than the countless opportunities of
service and witness in the home, the neighborhood, the community, the church,
and the world.

you not only pose the question, career or full-time homemaker? But that you ask
just as seriously, full-time career or freedom for ministry?

you ask which would be greater for the kingdom: that you work for someone who
tells you what to do to make his or her business prosper or to be God’s free
agent, dreaming your own dream about how your time and your home and your
creativity could make God’s business prosper?

that in all this, you make your choices, not on the basis of secular trends or
upward lifestyle expectations, but on the basis of what will strengthen the
faith of the family and advance the cause of Christ.

And to men,
eleventh, that you not assume advancement and pure approval in your
gainful employment are the highest values in life, but that you ponder the
eternal significance of faithful fatherhood and time spent with your wife.

you repeatedly consider the new possibilities at each stage of your life for
maximizing your energies for the glory of God in ministry, and that you pose
this question often: Is our family molded by the culture, or do we embody the
values of the kingdom of God?

you lead the family in making choices not on the basis of secular trends or
upward lifestyle expectations but on the basis of what will strengthen the faith
of the family and advance the cause of Christ.

To both men
and women, that you develop a wartime mentality and life-style; that you never
forget that life is short–billions of people hang in the balance of heaven and
hell everyday–and that the love of money is spiritual suicide; that the goals
of upward mobility, nicer clothes, cars, houses, vacations, food, and hobbies
are a poor and dangerous substitute for the goals of living for Christ with all
your might and maximizing your joy in ministry to people’s needs.

Next, now to
women, that in all your relationships you seek the guidance of the Holy
Spirit in wisdom in applying biblical manhood and womanhood. To men especially,
that you develop a style, a demeanor that expresses your God-given
responsibility for humble strength and leadership and for self-sacrificing
provision and protection, and that you think creatively and with cultural
sensitivity in shaping the style and setting the tone of your interaction with

To women,
finally, that you see the biblical guidelines for what is appropriate and
inappropriate for men and woman, not as arbitrary constraints on freedom, but as
wise and gracious prescriptions for how to discover the true freedom of God’s
ideal of complimentarity. And that you not measure your potential by the few
roles withheld but by the countless roles offered, and that you look to the
loving God of Scripture and dream about the possibilities of your service to
him. And then to men, that you see the biblical guidelines for what is
appropriate and inappropriate for men and woman, not as license for domination
or bossy passivity, but as a call to servant leadership that thinks in terms of
responsibilities not rights; that you see these principles as wise and gracious
prescriptions for how to discover the true freedom of God’s ideal
complimentarity, and that you encourage the fruitful engagement of woman in the
countless ministry roles that are biblically appropriate to them and deeply
needed. May God help us as we do these things. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and
our God, we thank you for this brief time that we have had together this summer
to meditate on what our proper roles are as men and woman in the church of the
Lord Jesus Christ and in homes and families. Grant us the grace to live in
accordance with Your word and, frankly Lord, to love living in accordance with
Your word. And in so doing, not only become a blessing to one another and to
this whole body, but to the world for the sake of Christ. This we ask in His
name. Amen.

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