SESSION 3 - Gender
Session 2 introduced the distinction between role and identity. We usually express roles in statements about what we do (“I am an engineer”), while identity statements express who we are, regardless of what we do (“I am trustworthy”). The attributes of identity, what sort of person we are, will go with each of us into whatever roles we fill and will transform the ways we carry out any given role.
We must grasp this distinction as we move into the discussion of gender. Gender is one key component of identity. Being a man or being a woman affects our outlook on life in ways we may be unaware of. In this session we will ask, “What kind of man or woman am I?” and “Where and from whom did I learn to be that kind of man or woman?”
- Individual Aim: To explore past influences and present views regarding gender.
- Group Aim: To gain greater understanding of the influence of gender on how people think and act.
Read Session 3: Gender.
Complete the Life Inventory: Gender exercise beginning on page 94.
While our biological sex traits (anatomy and physiology) are determined at birth, our sense of what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine, develops through our family, culture, and experiences. One striking example in Scripture that points to the difference between men and women is when God gives distinct curses to Adam and Eve after they eat the forbidden fruit:
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:16-19)
A proper understanding of sexuality and gender must be based on Scripture. While it’s not within the scope of this study to give a complete overview, we’ll flesh out a few fundamental ideas.
First, men and women are equal as God’s representatives:
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)
Scripture never portrays either men or women as superior to the other in foundational issues, such as one’s potential to glorify God.
The Creation account provides the bedrock for understanding gender issues throughout Scripture:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Raymond Ortlund Jr., pastor and former professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, notes the distinct emphasis in each line:
Line one asserts the divine creation of man. We came from God. Line two overlaps with line one, except that it highlights the divine image in man. We bear a resemblance to God. Line three boldly affirms the dual sexuality of man. We are male and female.
This passage in Genesis demonstrates that each human being reflects God’s image. Humankind is the image bearer, and humankind is male and female. As the Creation account continues, both man and woman are commissioned to rule and fill the earth. The command in 1:28 is for humans to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Humanity has the responsibility to produce life, both spiritual and physical.
Likewise, God commissioned humanity to rule over His creation. Ortlund continues, “Man was created as royalty in God’s world, male and female alike bearing the divine glory equally.”
But the equality of men and women does not diminish the differences between them. The Creation account of Genesis 2 provides insight into these differences. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him’” (verse 18). The only part of Creation that God judged as not good was that the first man was alone. But God did not simply create another male human. Adam, representing all maleness, was insufficient to carry out the mandate to fill and subdue the earth apart from the creation of femaleness found in Eve.
Old Testament scholar Allen Ross points out that “helper” (Hebrew: ezer) is not a demeaning term:
God is usually the one described as the “helper” (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7; 1 Sam. 7:12; Ps. 20:2; 46:1). The word essentially describes one who provides what is lacking in the man, who can do what the man alone cannot do.... The man was thus created in such a way that he needs the help of a partner. Or we may say that human beings cannot fulfill their destiny except in mutual assistance.
Ross continues by explaining the concept of a “suitable” helper:
The man and the woman thus correspond physically, socially, and spiritually . . . the woman by relative difference but essential equality would be man’s fitting complement. What he lacked (“not good”) she supplied; and it would be safe to say that what she lacked, he supplied, for life in common requires mutual help.
We can’t overlook the male/female equality before God. Both in personal relationship with God as our Father and in our ability to fulfill the divine mandate for humanity, men and women are equal. But as Ortlund notes, this equality “does not constitute an undifferentiated sameness.” He expands:
The very fact that God created human beings in the dual modality of male and female cautions us against an unqualified equation of the two sexes. This profound and beautiful distinction, which some belittle as “a matter of mere anatomy,” is not a biological triviality or accident. It is God who wants men to be men and women to be women.
What does it mean for men to be men and women to be women? If God made us with differences that are complementary to fulfill the divine commission, how should those differences be expressed?
We would have no problem understanding and living in a truly complementary manner if sin had not entered the world. Sin has devastated interpersonal relationships. God’s judgments in Genesis 3 show how sin has affected the male/female relationship.
In the judgment on Eve in verse 16, God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The term desire in this verse is similar to the usage in Genesis 4:7, where sin desires Cain. It means a prompting for evil. Likewise, the term rule in this verse refers to dominion or mastery. The punishment would fit the crime. As the woman will desire to usurp, rather than complement, male authority, the man will seek to dominate, rather than honor and respect, his “helper.” Ross notes,
If Eve is an archetype, that is, if she represents every woman as Adam represents every man, then the story portrays a characteristic of human nature—the woman at her worst would be a nemesis to the man, and the man at his worst would dominate the woman.
However, with salvation comes a restoration of all aspects of creation. The restoration of true equality can only be found in Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)
Likewise, the restoration of the male/female complementary relationship is found in Christ. As believers who desire to reflect God’s image and promote God’s glory, we must seek to understand what it means to be a Christian man or woman.
Scripture does not clearly define every aspect of gender issues. Even so, we must continue to explore what it means to be a man or woman in Christ. This topic is much debated, but it’s worthwhile for each believer to personally seek wisdom about how gender influences the way roles are performed.
Read Session 4: Temperament.
Complete the Life Inventory: Temperament exercise beginning on page 98.