Lesson 2: Women, Designed by God
Rev. and Mrs. Joseph Clemmons.
Rose smiled as she wrote the words across the top of the loan application. It always made her proud to see her name linked with Joe's. She had fallen in love with him when he was a seminary student, and it still seemed like a dream come true that they were married and that he was pastor of his own church.
Rose had been attending a college on a full-tuition scholarship when she met her future husband. She had been a high achiever in school, with a straight-A average reflecting her diligence and intelligence. Rose had always led her class, from junior high school right up to her graduation from the college.
Now, as a newlywed, she was deeply committed to Joe, their marriage, and his ministry. Joe didn't want his bride to pursue her studies or to get a job. "It really isn't appropriate for a pastor's wife, Rose."
With no papers to write, no classes to attend, and no educational goals to achieve, Rose was beginning to feel bored and restless. After weeks of inner struggle, unwilling to be disagreeable, she'd concluded, I'll turn my energies toward making our home a place where people like to come. When people eat with us, the table will be beautiful. We'll have candles, nice china, polished silver, and linens . . .
That morning she had decided to buy some dishes for the parsonage. Their wedding gifts had not included china, and it was evident that they would soon be entertaining a great deal. Maybe she was somewhat overenthusiastic about her new project. Nevertheless, Rose had impulsively rushed off to Macy's and was now filling out a china club application.
"Could I call my husband and ask him what his social security number is? I can't remember it . . ."
"Of course, dear." The saleswoman was more than happy to allow Rose to use the store's phone, especially if it would lead to a sale.
"Hello, Joe? I'm at Macy's buying some china, and I need to know your social security number."
"You're buying what?"
"China. For the parsonage."
Joe paused, and then quietly instructed his wife, "Don't buy anything, Rose. Come over to the office. I want to talk to you."
"Joe, there aren't any finance charges on a china club account—no interest at all. And . . ."
"No, Rose. I want to talk to you right away." Joe's voice became quite firm.
Rose was embarrassed. She politely excused herself and drove to the church. Joe's voice had sounded so hard and cold. Why?
As she sat down across the desk from her husband in his office, he solemnly opened his Bible and, in a rather businesslike tone, began to read from the book of Genesis, chapter 2, verse 18.
The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
"Rose," Joe spoke kindly, "God wants you to be my helper. I'll do the important stuff, and you do the detail stuff."
"What does that mean, Joe?"
"It means that if I want you to buy china, I'll tell you to buy china. I'll decide which china we should have, take care of the financing, and ask you to pick it up and put it away. Later you can fill the plates with your great cooking!" Joe winked at her.
Rose wasn't especially flattered by Joe's compliment. Surely he expected her to be more than a cook. "But I'm perfectly capable of making decisions myself."
"That's not the way God planned it, Rose. You are my helper, remember? You know women really aren't emotionally equipped to make important decisions. And besides," he smiled proudly, "that's what I'm here for!"
What Are We Supposed to Think?
Like many men, including some seminary graduates, Joe hasn't learned everything there is to know about God's Word. Or about marriage. Or about women.
Recent decades have placed a woman's role, her rights, and her responsibilities center stage in the arena of world opinion. There has been statement and counter-statement, action and reaction. And there has been change. Some changes have had negative implications when weighed against Christian values. Others have been positive and productive.
Our culture's focus on women has forced the church to rethink its position. What is biblical and what is traditional? And are they one and the same? Or has tradition gone beyond what the Bible really says? Books on the subject abound, and it is mind-boggling to try and determine whose perspective is the right one.
What are we supposed to believe? We can't judge truth without a standard for truth. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, His inspired Scripture has to serve as that standard for us.
The next few pages contain some of the most basic, foundational lessons in this book. Once you understand God's original design for women, I hope you will be able to eliminate wrong concepts and faulty ideas from your mind. Like the young pastor in our story, you and the women to whom you minister may have been living under some serious misconceptions for a lifetime.
In the Image of the Creator
Just what did God have in mind for us when He created woman? Was she an afterthought? Or was she the final word of completion in His beautiful, perfect world? As always, the best place to start is at the very beginning.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." . . .
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:26-28, 31
The most distinctive thing about our human race is that it is created in God's image. That is the line of demarcation between us and the rest of Creation. We are like Him but not identical to Him. "Image" implies that we are to mirror God. That is why we were created in the first place.
By the way, please don't make the mistake of thinking that "man" being made in God's image refers to males only. Man is the generic name for the human race, while male and female refer to sexual differentiations. Man is the image of God, woman is the image of God, and together they give the complete image of God because there are both male and female aspects to the character of God. Man and woman are different but equal. Do you notice any superiority or inferiority implied with regard to either one in the Genesis account? No, there is none.
What does "in the image of God" mean? God is not a force and not a thing; He is a person. And both the male and the female are persons, too.
People Who Need People
I'm grateful to Dr. Larry Crabb for some of the following insights.
Because we are persons, God has built within us a rightful hunger for relationship, a longing for impact. Those needs for relationship and impact are built-in and legitimate. It's only when we try to meet them ourselves, without depending on God, that we get into trouble.
A young woman may come to you and say, "I just want to be married, and that's all I really need to be happy." God created her with that longing for a lasting relationship. After all, we were created in God's image and the Godhead is relational. God is a triune being—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Don't rebuke her for her desire. Just encourage her to wait for God's choice and God's time.
Spirit, Mind, Heart, and Will
What are some of the components of being a person? Besides being relational, male and female human beings have an equivalent spiritual capacity—we are spirit beings. This distinguishes us from animals, because as spirit beings we have the ability to know God. When we are born, we don't know God without being introduced to Him, but the capacity to know Him is inherently there. Adam and Eve knew God—they walked and talked with Him.
In addition to being spiritual, we are created as rational beings, with the ability to think and reason. When Adam and Eve were created they had an extra benefit intellectually—their minds were not yet darkened by sin.
Whether male or female, we are also emotional beings. Emotions are perfectly appropriate and are part of our created nature.
Furthermore, we are volitional. That means we are able to choose, to decide. We aren't robots, preprogrammed to certain actions. As a matter of fact, if Adam and Eve had been so controlled, the "fall of man" would probably never have happened.
Acting Out a God-given Destiny
Both Adam and Eve were persons, made in the image of God. And, as persons, they had several functions—things they were to do. They were equals in both their responsibility and accountability. God blessed both Adam and Eve, and as one of their functions, He gave them dominion over the earth as co-regents.
Another of their primary functions was to "be fruitful and increase in number," obviously referring to reproduction. Now we know for certain that this was said to both male and female, because neither could do it alone. Adam and Eve were equal partners in reproducing their own kind. This tells us something very important about our sexuality. Sexual relationship existed in marriage before the Fall. Sex is good and pure and part of God's gracious provision for mankind.
Adam and Eve were also expected to function by living in obedience to their Maker.
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."
Adam and Eve were jointly responsible to obey God. He said, "You can eat of all the trees in the garden. There's just one you cannot eat of." Why do you think God put this one prohibition in place? I believe His purpose was to test their will. When these two were created they were of the highest possible intelligence. But unless we acknowledge God as our authority, it's easy to become proud and independent.
A Design of Immense Value
Woman was created to share equal value with man. The single woman and the married woman alike are complete in their relationship to God through Christ. Our value does not come from being attached to or accepted by a man. Nor does our value decrease because a man has rejected us. If we understand that, we will have a much healthier view of men, marriage relationships, and what to expect from our husbands.
Just remember this: Women are of equal value to men; equal in personhood, and equal in responsibility. And our immense value lies in the fact that we are made in the image of God.
It is interesting to note that before sin entered the picture, there was no need to emphasize the headship of the husband. Eve was a co-ruler, not one of those ruled.
Never Meant to Be Alone
Man and woman were created to be equal. But they were also created to be different.
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. . . . The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him."
Genesis 2:7, 18
Man's aloneness was the first thing in Creation that was not good. It was never intended that he be isolated and alone. His personhood was affected because human beings are made for relationships. His function was affected because he could not reproduce, could not do all he was intended to do without someone to complete him—someone who was like him.
The full expression of humanity required the creation of the woman.
The Genesis text continues:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
God gave Adam the responsibility for naming all the animals He had created. Why did God make Adam go through this procedure before He gave him his own mate? I believe He wanted him to realize that he had a need. Surely the implication here is that all the animals came before him, and each one had a counterpart that resembled it. Lion and lioness. He-wolf and she-wolf. Goose and gander.
Can you picture Adam? He was gazing across that vast host of animals passing before him, looking all the way down to the end of the line, hoping to find somebody like himself. But for Adam no corresponding person could be found—no one like himself.
God wanted him to recognize his uniqueness and his incompleteness. Most of all, he wanted Adam to be aware that he had no ability to meet his own needs.
Doesn't God do that with you and me? He gets us into situations where we're helpless, where we feel like we have no place to turn. Finally we say, "Okay, God! I don't know what I am going to do. I guess I'll just have to depend on you to provide for me."
Then He says, "That's the idea! That's why I brought you into such an impossible situation in the first place. Now I'll give you what you need."
Much More Than a Helper
And so it was that the first "surgery" was performed, along with the first anesthesia.
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.
The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man."
God said something significant about the woman He made. He said she was to be a "suitable helper," two words which are translated in the King James Bible as "helpmeet." Most women react to that word with annoyance. "That makes me mad!" they complain. "A helpmeet is nothing but a doormat!"
Well, "doormat" is not the meaning of the biblical word—not at all. "Helper" is the word ezer, a term used about nineteen times in the Old Testament. Four times it is used to describe a man helping another man, indicating that a peer was assisting a peer. However, on no fewer than fifteen other occasions it refers to God helping man. God is our Helper—our Ezer.
Clearly, God is a superior being helping an inferior one. "Helper" is never used of an inferior helping a superior.
We usually think of the helper as the dummy who hands over the tools to the smart guy. But this word helper expresses something far different. Helper means that woman's nature, her disposition, and her abilities supply what is lacking in man, and vice versa. They had to be different but equal to complete each other.
In short, a helper is one who assists another in reaching complete fulfillment. There is nothing demeaning about that, is there?
Marriage Made in Heaven
It was God who brought Eve to Adam. In this first marriage we learn a lot about God's standard for our own marriages. First, marriage is God's institution and it represents His absolute best for man and woman. Don't forget, before they disobeyed God, those two people were intended to live forever. If sin had not entered the scene, neither one would have died. Every human would have had one mate forever. You can see how serious God was about marriage when He originally initiated it.
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). The marriage relationship is supposed to take priority over every other human relationship, including the tight bond between parent and child.
The man is to leave home and become the head of a new family. Each man was to take his wife away from both his family and hers in order to form a separate unit. This doesn't mean that they were to desert their parents, as though they no longer cared for them. It does mean that they left behind their parents' authority, along with their dependence upon Mom and Dad. If we really took this idea to heart, it would eliminate a great many in-law problems.
The marriage relationship was to be permanent. The word "cleave," which is translated "united" in the New International Version, is the word for glue. The husband was to be permanently glued to his wife. It meant that this was an indissoluble union and that man and woman were to be united in a one-flesh process. The Bible doesn't say that they were to be one flesh, it says that they were to become one flesh. That process continues for a lifetime.
Let's consider for a moment the definition of the word flesh. Flesh is not just talking about the body. To become one flesh means becoming a spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical unity. The sexual union, which is the distinctive of marriage, should symbolize the uniting of two personalities in the lifelong process of becoming one flesh.
Do you see why sexual immorality is such a desecration of what God originally intended? Sexual intercourse represents a uniting of two personalities. It is not supposed to satisfy some irresistible, sensual appetite that can be fed from any source available.
In Genesis 2:25 we read, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." Here is true intimacy. Intimacy means that the basic heart needs of a human being are being consistently understood and met. You and I, because we are fallen people, cannot even begin to understand what this involves.
But Adam and Eve were naked without shame. Their relationship was one of complete openness. They were thoroughly vulnerable and trusting. They had no hidden motives. They felt no fear of exploitation. Their love was unhindered by criticism or rejection, and it flowed freely between them.
I know what you're thinking—"I can't even imagine what that would be like." But that is exactly the way it was in the beginning. There was nothing unpleasant between Adam and Eve to hinder their intimacy. Tragically, that sublime intimacy was the very first thing affected by their sin. We'll look at that more closely in the next chapter.
All Women Are Created Equal
As we meditate upon Creation, God's original intention for woman emerges more clearly in our minds. It's exceptionally important for us to understand who we really are intended to be. Before we are able to reach out to other women we must have a proper perspective on our own value as persons. We must also grasp our responsibility to function as God intended. Then we will be able to share it with other women.
Dr. Allen Ross of Dallas Theological Seminary has written an excellent position paper on women. I'd like to quote his summary comment:
She (woman) is his (man's) peer, his equal in capacities of intellect, moral worth and sensibility. She can think, feel, imagine, reason. She can sell goods, plan buildings, make statues, diagnose diseases, construct philosophies or write epics. In a word, what is open to a man as a human being is open to her.
Men and women are the special handiwork of God, they both have the same nature and they both have a spiritual and moral capacity from God.
A Place of Her Own
Charlotte is a refined, well-manicured redhead with a marvelous sense of humor. Women love her down-to-earth style and her practical approach to Christianity. She grew up in a home where the Word of God was respected and treasured, and she has carried that reverence for Scripture into her adult life.
For years her pastor asked her to lead a women's Bible class, and for years she refused. But deep inside, Charlotte knew she was gifted, and she longed to share with other women her love for God, His ways, and His message.
But she hadn't shared her longing with her husband, Richard. A highly successful land developer, he had banked his first million before he was thirty years old. And his favorite pastime was making spontaneous trips here, there, and everywhere.
Richard might arrive home on Friday night with two first-class tickets to Hawaii. Or he might call on Wednesday, "Charlotte, can you meet me at the airport tonight? I want to go to London for the rest of the week." She had long ago learned to keep a current passport in her always-packed overnight bag. On more than one occasion she had actually been on her way overseas in less than an hour's time.
Charlotte's friends envied her. How could anyone complain about an arrangement like that? Richard was a man who loved living, and nothing made him happier than sharing life with his beautiful wife. But, in an odd way, Charlotte was trapped by his spontaneity. She couldn't make long-range plans. In fact, she couldn't commit herself to anything more than a few days in the future.
Charlotte and I had a talk about her unique problem. "I feel guilty complaining, Vickie. I know Richard is one in a million . . ."
"Well, I have to admit, I've certainly heard worse problems."
Charlotte laughed. "I know, I know. The most important thing is, I don't want to hurt Richard. I hate to even bring it up. But, you know, it's more than just wanting to teach, Vickie."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean my whole identity is wrapped up in being Richard's wife. I want something of my own—something to give me satisfaction without depending on his money or his success. Does that sound terrible? I'm sorry if it does."
"No, in fact I think those are healthy feelings. God gave you gifts that Richard doesn't have, and you should be using them. As a matter of fact, he should be helping you use them!"
"I sure don't want to hurt him . . ." It appeared to me that Charlotte and Richard were genuinely devoted to each other.
"You don't need to hurt him at all. Explain to him that you feel God has given you a special gift of teaching, and that you'd really like to be using it. But you don't want to miss any opportunities to travel with him, either. Ask him if he could possibly give you a schedule for the next few months so you can make arrangements both to teach and to travel."
"Don't you think he'll be offended?"
"Why should he? It's his responsibility to help you become everything God intended you to be. And it's obvious to everyone who knows you, God intended for you to teach His Word."
Charlotte made up her mind to try. And fortunately, Richard really is one in a million. A committed Christian himself, he was wonderfully cooperative when his wife brought up the subject of teaching. He agreed that she should give it a try, and he immediately scheduled their trips around the Wednesday-night commitment she wanted to make.
The experiment worked better than either of them had dared hope. Today, Charlotte sets aside about one-third of the year for teaching, and her classes are packed with women. The rest of the year she is free to come and go with Richard, wherever his wanderlust may carry them.
"I'm proud of her," he told me one day. "She's got so much to offer, it wouldn't be right for me to keep her all to myself!"
Two of a Kind
The facts are irrefutable, both in biblical teaching and in practical experience. Male and female together were created equally in God's image. They were meant to be in perfect harmony with each other and with their Creator. They were to function as His representatives on earth, equally blessed, equally ruling, equally reproducing, and equally responsible to worship God in obedience.
We must reject, authoritatively on the basis of God's word, manmade notions about a "woman's place" (usually in the kitchen!). We must not accept ideas about her inferiority either intellectually, emotionally, morally, or spiritually. We were created to complete mankind in God's image. We are intended to act as godly counterparts to males, because our natures supply what is lacking in theirs. Most of all, we were declared, by our Creator, to be "very good."
As women, God is for us. Who can be against us?
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