Do not consider ‘equality’ something to be used to your own advantage.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or of vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves; not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage,
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death
even to death on a cross.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the father
The Bible says a few things that, to our modern ears, sound really degrading to women.
‘For the husband is the head of the wife… wives should submit to their husbands for everything’
‘The head of the woman is man… neither was man created for woman, but woman for man’ (1 Corinthians 11:3-9)
‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man, she must be quiet’ (1 Timothy 2:12)
While Western society is historically patriarchal, roles have changed rapidly over the past few decades. It’s archaic to suggest that women can’t do anything men can do- in fact, lots of women outperform men in lots of areas.
So if the Bible suggests that a man is the ‘head’ of his wife, it must be out of date, right?
If a church upholds that women shouldn’t perform certain roles- (like being ordained as a minister or preaching to a mixed congregation) based on passages like the ones above, it needs to get with the times… right?
The idea that there might be different roles and rules for men and women makes us really uncomfortable. Why? From my observation, these are some of the core beliefs behind our objections.
Saying that a woman isn’t allowed to do the same things as a man is the same as saying she isn’t worth the same things as a man.
Leadership roles are the best roles, and the best roles go to the best people. If we say one type of person is allowed to lead a church and another type of person isn’t, we’re saying one type of person is better than another.
A relationship where one person submits to another can’t be a loving relationship. If God really thinks wives should submit to husbands, he must love women less than men.
Are those beliefs biblical? Let’s test them
1.According to the Bible is it possible for two people to be in an equal, loving relationship when each plays a different role… even if this involves one submitting to another?
Humans aren’t very good at this, we’ve got a terrible tendency to misuse our power, and we’re unwilling to submit it to each other. But God is really good at this- we see it on display in the relationship between God the Father and Christ the Son. Jesus and the Father are absolute equals, yet Jesus submits to the Father, even to the point where the Father asks him to do something he really, really doesn’t want to do. (See Matt. 26:36-39, Mark 14:32-36). Is there any doubt that the Father and Jesus are in an equal, loving relationship? Do we define love, or does the relationship between the Father and the Son define love?
‘But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man, and the head of the Christ is God’ (1 Corinthians 11:3)
2.According to the Bible, are leadership roles the best roles? Do the best roles go to the best people?
In the first century world Jesus stepped into, humility wasn’t considered a good thing- everybody was expected to pursue their own honour. If you put yourself last and others first, you’d be considered some kind of moral weirdo. The best people had the loudest voices, the most recognition and the weightiest authority. When Jesus knelt to wash his disciples feet (John 13), they were shocked and uncomfortable. Their leader wasn’t supposed to serve them! Jesus turned the concept of leadership and the ‘best roles’ on its head. So, why are we still so obsessed with who’s allowed to stand up the front and lead? Do we value roles the way Jesus values roles?
‘Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom to many’ (Mark 10:42-45)
3. According to the Bible, is a person’s value measured by what they can and can’t do?
We humans tend to value people by what they can do. So if we prevent somebody from doing something, it’s like we’re saying they aren’t good enough. But when we say, “Women are devalued if we don’t let them do everything in church”, we’re actually, by implication, de-valuing EVERYBODY who can’t do everything in church. Does that sound like God’s intention for his precious people?
When we say,”Women are just as good at leading as men, so women should be allowed to lead”, we’re basing POSITION on PERFORMANCE. Does that match up with the way the gospel works?
One of the radical things about Jesus was that he hung out with people who had nothing to offer. For example, in Jewish society, kids weren’t counted as proper members of society until they reached a certain age , because they couldn’t contribute to the social ecosystem. When Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14) he was showing that he doesn’t base people’s value on what they can do. Do we measure people’s value the same way Jesus does.
One final note- submitting, the way Jesus does, is not something that people in power force us to do. It happens when people set aside their own power in service of others
Strong women, stand up and use your power to submit like Jesus.
Strong men, stand aside and let us exercise our power to imitate Jesus.
Strong Christians- honour Jesus by acting like him. ‘In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.’
Head: How do you define equality? How do you measure a person’s value? Are your definitions the same as God’s definitions?
Heart: Are there parts of the Bible’s teaching on men and women that hurt your heart? Has anybody misused their power against you? if you brought these greivances to Jesus, how do you think he would answer you?
Hands: Whether you are a man or a woman, is there something you need to repent of in the way you’ve been relating to others? Is there more you need to learn from the Bible on this issue?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you that Jesus lay aside his power to serve others. Thank you for his example, that he transformed a humiliating service like washing another person’s feet into a beautiful , glorious thing to do. Thank you that he turned the concept of leadership on its head. Thank you that he humbled himself even to death, for our sake. Help us to focus on him first as we think about whether its right for men and women to have different roles and rules. Help us, as a church, to repent when we have mishandled this. We are sorry if we’ve misused the Bible to prop up our own power. We are sorry if we’ve handled Scripture in a way that is unhelpful and stupid. Please work in us as we continue to wrestle with your word, which is eternally good, wise and true. Help us each to not look to our own interests, but value others above ourselves. Amen.
A song to listen to: What Love My God
Kamina Wust- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- South Bank