Men and Women in God’s Plan

Title: Men and Women in God’s Plan

Text: Genesis 2:15-17, 2:20-22

Time: May 19th, 2010

Last message I talked about how there is so much gender confusion today in society and even in the church – I mean there is so much confusion as to what is a man and what is a woman, and how should men and women act. I stated that part of the problem, part of the confusion is that people are not reading the Bible, and particularly, they are not reading Genesis in the Old Testament. God spells out basic elements, the foundational parts, for a proper understanding of men and women, as individuals and as they relate to one another. Of course, the Bible goes on to outline in much more detail the plan and purpose of both men and women in the rest of the Old Testament and also in the New Testament, but for starters, Genesis lays the foundation. But human society today doesn’t read much of the Bible, and when people do read the Bible they have the bad habit of “reading into it” what they want to get out of it. So consequently not much is gained from this faulty approach. As I prepare this message there is news that the Episcopal Church has just ordained its first openly lesbian bishop in California. Here is an historical Protestant main-line denomination that traces its roots from the time of the Reformation, but today it has strayed so far from the spirit of the Reformation that it now ordains practicing homosexuals, not only to the priesthood but also to leadership above that – to the level of bishop or overseer of pastors. The gender confusion has now risen to the highest ranks of this historic church denomination. Don’t these leaders read the Bible? If they do read the Bible, don’t they believe it? Apparently not, because if one honestly reads and believes the Bible, one won’t place a practicing homosexual in church leadership. The Bible is very clear in its prohibition of all homosexual activity; it’s clearly a grave sin according to God’s Word. But the gender confusion isn’t limited to clear-cut cases of homosexuality, it’s also a problem in the average person’s understanding today of the purpose and plan of men and women, individually, relating to one another, and in society at large. How is a man to be? How is a woman to be? How is a man to act? How is a woman to act? The Bible outlines the answers to all of these questions, not necessarily in every detail, but the general outline. Our society desperately needs to hear God’s Word on this important subject. For far too long the church has been silent or confused itself on the issue. It’s time we opened up the Bible and taught from it on this subject instead of hiding our light under a bushel basket. The teachings of the Bible on the roles of men and women may not be popular today, but because of the terrible confusion and awful results that have come out of the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 60s, there might be more people today willing to listen. But whether they listen or not we must teach what God teaches us from his Word. Let me ask and answer three questions from God’s Word.

First, what is a man? Genesis 2:15-17, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” From Genesis 1 we already know that man was created in the image and likeness of God, which means that he has the capacity to reason, make moral decisions, is self-aware, can communicate, has personality – and all the other capacities that make up a human being. Here we see God speaking to the man whose name is adam in Hebrew, which also literally means “man.” So before anything else we see God relating to man, speaking to man, communicating to man. How different is the Hindu or Buddhist understanding of an impersonal God or “life force” as in the popular movie Star Wars. The biblical God speaks and has personality and desires fellowship with the man. Because man is made in the image of God, the famous imago dei, he is capable of communicating and fellowshipping with God. Why can’t the plants and animals fellowship with God? Because they aren’t made in the image of God; only men and women are made in God’s image, only they can truly relate to God. So we see first a kind of fellowship between God and man. How is man to be? First, man is to be in fellowship with God. Man is to relate with God, speak with God, and communicate with God. But that’s not all. He’s also to work with God. “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed,” Genesis 2:8. So God plants a garden and then creates man and puts him in the garden to “work it and take care of it.” This is man’s calling – to work together with God, to continue the work God started, to be a co-laborer together with God. Man isn’t just a worker, like a worker ant might be in the ant colony, a colorless life of labor, eating, sleeping, and then more labor. No. Man also fellowships with God – we’ll learn more about this fellowship later in Genesis, for example, when it talks about “the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” in Genesis 3:8. It says that the man and woman heard the sound of the Lord walking, so it must be that they were used to hearing the sound of the Lord walking in the garden; they recognized it from past experience. So there must have been times of fellowship with the Lord, walking and talking with God. How that actually took place is difficult to imagine, but that it took place is clear! So Adam has being, being in fellowship with God, being in relationship with God. And Adam has work, an assignment, a calling, something to do from God. Being and doing. In the case of Adam, his calling is very specific – work and take care of the garden of the Lord. And he has a way of being – be in fellowship with God. Now then, in answering the question today, “What is a man?” we need to start with these two basic dimensions: a man is to be in fellowship or relationship with God and a man is to be about pursuing his work calling from God, his vocation, his career, his doing. But what about the woman? Let’s turn to her now.

Second, what is a woman? Genesis 2:20-22, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” How is the woman to be? What is the woman to do? In the man’s case, he is to be in relationship with God and he is to do the work of God in the garden. But what of the woman, how is she to be, what is she to do? The same thing? Not exactly. In the case of the woman, we see that she too is made in the image of God – Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So woman is created with all the god-like capacities just like the man. She is created with the capacity to think, feel, speak, with self-awareness and the capacity to relate. She is capable of relating directly with God; we see that in Genesis 3:13, “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” But before this dialogue we can also assume that the woman related to God and fellowshipped with God in a similar way as Adam because of the reference to them both hearing the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the evening. Again, the assumption is that they were used to fellowshipping with God in the garden and they knew the sound of the Lord. So we can assume the woman, that is, Eve, could and did relate to God. She, like Adam, was to be in fellowship with God. But what about her work? What was woman called to do by God? The word “helper” or ezer in the Hebrew is used to describe what Eve was called to do. Eve is called to be Adam’s helper or “help mate” in the old KJV Bible. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him,” Genesis 2:18. But none of the other creatures of God’s creation had the capacity to truly relate to Adam because none of the other creature were made in the image of God. There is no question that a cute little puppy or a lovable and loyal pet can fill a spot in a person’s life; they can come to mean so very much to any animal lover. But they can’t fill the spot in a person’s life that another person can simply because they aren’t made in God’s image, they don’t have the capacity to relate. “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. . . . Then the Lord God made a woman . . . and brought her to the man. This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man,” Genesis 2:20, 22-23. Woman is the “suitable helper” for man. Both are made in God’s image, both have the capacity and calling to be in relationship with God and one another. But Eve’s calling is different in respect to her work.

In Adam’s case, God calls him to a project; in Eve’s case, Adam is her project. It’s interesting to speculate how it could have been otherwise. Let’s recreate the garden scene, only let’s tell it the way the modern feminist would have it. Feminism is the social movement of the 60s that sought to throw off all biblical and traditional role assignments for women. It’s pretty clear how it would go. Both man and woman are placed in the garden and given their work assignments from God. Adam is to work and take care of the garden. Eve also is to work and take care of the garden. They may work in different areas of the garden, for logistical purpose, so they don’t run into each other or interfere with each other’s work, but their basic activity and responsibility is the same. What is Adam’s responsibility in this feminist scenario? He’s to work in the garden. What is Eve’s responsibility in this scenario? She’s to work in the garden also. In other words, in the feminist vision for men and women there are no unique role distinctions. But according to the Bible, according to God’s Word, according to the will of God there are very important role distinctions between men and women. Eve is not assigned to work directly in the garden in the same way as Adam; she is assigned to Adam, to be his helper or assistant. But that’s too simplistic a definition of Eve’s role because it doesn’t explain the richness of her calling as a woman by God. In order to fully understand what the role of “helper” truly is, we need to look more closely at the word ezer in Hebrew. It doesn’t mean servant, it doesn’t mean slave! According to “Theological Word Book of the Old Testament” edited by my old Trinity Seminary professor Gleason Archer, ezer refers to an assistant. The word is often used in the Bible to describe the activity of God as our helper, but it also refers to human helpers as well. In the context here in Genesis it’s pretty clear that Eve is given the assignment of helping Adam fulfill his calling of working and taking care of the garden. So it’s clear from the Genesis account that woman was not given an independent career apart from Adam her husband. Her career was to be helper to her husband. But it’s not just a “work-related” situation, but also for companionship also. “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” Genesis 2:23-24. Eve wasn’t just a helper for Adam while he was working, but she was also a companion for Adam at all times. This is the biblical description of Eve’s role.

Third, how does this biblical teaching apply to us today? Well to begin with it totally explodes the modern feminist notion that men and women need to be about pursuing the same kind of work in the same kind of way. Having lived through the 60s and 70s, during and after the feminist revolution, I’ve seen the propaganda put out that tried to show women and men interchangeable in their work roles. We’ve all seen the pictures of women plumbers, women bricklayers, women combat soldiers, women lumberjacks, women boxers, women construction workers – well, you get the picture. This is supposed to communicate the message that women should be into all these various fields because essentially there are no differences between men and women other than the fact women can have babies and men can’t. But while it is true the women can function in these roles I wonder if they are truly called by God to do these kinds of things. What usually gets overlooked is any sense of a biblical calling that is in harmony with God’s Word. It’s safe to say that it is generally God’s calling for a woman to be married and raise a family; there are exceptions because the Bible describes God calling women into other callings that don’t involve marriage, but generally speaking God is calling most women – as he does for most men – into marriage. Now, if that is the case, then the woman’s primary calling, according to Genesis, according to the Bible, is to be her husband’s helpmate. What that means for 90% of all women is they are called to be their husband’s helper. Again, some women are not called by God into marriage, but they are the exception and they are not the typical situation and they have a different calling and agenda. But for the vast majority of women who will marry – or live in situations that are de facto marriages like cohabitation – they are called to be an ezer, a helper. Why are there so many divorces today? Why is it that 50% of all marriages end in divorce? Because men don’t know how to fulfill their roles as husband and women don’t know how to fulfill their role as helper. In respect to men, they aren’t necessarily pursuing their calling from God – or if they are, they aren’t pursuing it in a godly way. So then their wife doesn’t feel any obligation to be the ezer or helper because she sees the man isn’t living up to what he should be. So what happens is that each one just does their own thing and pursues their own activities with little coordination. At some point they both become so independent of each other divorce just seems the logical conclusion. Not to mention that society is feeding both of them conflicting definitions of marriage roles. There is so much disunity that is it any wonder that divorce rates are so high? Is it any wonder that many young persons simply give up on the whole notion of marriage completely – they just live together with no commitment and no expectations.

But there is a better way. God outlines his plan and purpose for men and women clearly in the Bible. What Genesis teaches is what the Bible teaches from beginning to end. Men are responsible for forming a relationship with God, directly with God, in order to have fellowship with their Creator and Guide. Then, they are responsible to discover and pursue their own unique calling from God. Call it a vocation, call it a career, call it their life work, whatever you call it, it’s man’s responsibility to find and do it. They are to pursue this calling, their calling, in a godly and holy way. Now women, on the other hand, have a different calling and a different way of pursuing it. They are to form a relationship and have fellowship with God also, just as the men, and women are supposed to discover their calling from God as well. And for most women, the vast majority of women, their calling will be to marriage and family – and they will need a husband to accomplish that. So the best thing they can do, the biblical thing for them to do, is to look for a godly man who is pursuing God’s calling in life and pursue being that man’s help mate in life. We aren’t back in the old days when the father selected a husband for the girl, so each women is free to choose who they will marry, but the question of who they will marry should be determined by who they can help. God is calling some man to do some work that he’ll need a good wife to help him do – that’s the biblical model. Of course there will be mutual help, the wife helping the man, the man helping the wife. But the biblical order is for the man to get God’s calling for his life and the women to sense God’s calling for her to help the man in his calling. Now practically speaking, it works both ways too – the man senses the woman’s calling to be married and have children and he affirms her godly desires. And then, of course, both the man and the woman desire close companionship, so in this sense they become helpers of one another fulfill these godly desires. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the biblical order of things, the order that Genesis outlines generally and the rest of the Bible fleshes out specifically. God calls a man to do a work and he calls a woman to do a different work that involves working with the man to help him fulfill his calling. The woman also has different works to do, but not separate or independent of her primary calling of helping her man. In another message, I’ll try to outline the biblical calling for singles; it’s a little different. There is a better way than the chaos of our present state of society today; it’s the biblical way as outlined in Genesis.

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