“Manhood and Womanhood: God’s Perfect Purposes and Plan”
By Jamie Hoos
Here we are at the very last section of our quote from Women’s Ministry in the Local Church[i]. As I mentioned at the beginning of our series, this quote has been a goal of mine for many years. It has challenged me as a woman, as a leader, as someone who desires to excel in the pursuit of service that honors the Lord Jesus. A handful of words that stuck out to me the first of many times that I would read it, this quote was highlighted and set apart as a guide for how I would approach the responsibilities of heading up a women’s ministry in the local church.
The last phrase says, “To be committed to cultivating a women’s ministry that . . . promotes a comprehensive view of manhood and womanhood.” Let’s not be fooled by the seemingly simplicity of this statement. Making sense of gender in a world that is beyond a complete state of confusion about the topic is a complicated process for a church and for a women’s ministry. It’s not easy to confront what the Bible says about manhood and womanhood nor is it easy to live it out.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we can make in approaching this topic is to take a few verses here and there from the Bible—usually from the Pauline letters, right?– in an effort to try to explain what we want to say. There is a more effective way. We would do well to consider teaching and living out a complete picture of God’s purpose and plan for male and female. To truly commit to a biblical proclamation of the “qualities and attributes thought to be appropriate to”[ii] a man (and likewise, to a woman) in a world that has lost the meaning of who man and woman really are in the eyes of God and in the eyes of each other.
To term it the way the quote does, we would say comprehensive. This word alludes to a broad, inclusive covering of any given topic. So then, the broad, biblical truth is that maleness and femaleness, manhood and womanhood, are woven all throughout Scripture beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. In between those two pivotal points, we see the “inclusive coverage” as we read about the beautiful journey of God’s people, including both male and female, from one part of His plan to another. This tapestry is the account of His image bearers being brought unto Himself, of manhood and womanhood (both the good and the bad about them), being fleshed out in this daily thing we call life.
That’s a lot to take in. We’ll break it down into ten points that will interweave to describe a theology of gender all the while giving us a basic foundation for a discussion on what a comprehensive, biblical view of manhood and womanhood looks like. We’ll then add a few comments about the application of such points.
Ten Points of a Comprehensive View of Manhood and Womanhood
The origination of manhood and womanhood: Manhood and womanhood as we know them to be began at the time of creation; however, they did not originate there. Before time, before space, before there ever was a single created thing, the eternal God had a plan for all that He would create, and that plan included a plan for mankind, a plan for the genders and a plan for the way He desired them to be lived out. It was a beautiful plan that had less to do with a bunch of “to do’s” and more to do with His image. Think on that for a few moments and then move on to our second point. . .
The grander picture of manhood and womanhood: God’s very own image is in fact the grander picture of manhood and womanhood. We read in Genesis 1:26 that mankind was made in His image, that there is a distinct “likeness” about the created human being that points us to the Creator God. We are different from the animals, from all the other created things, because we were fashioned “according to (His) likeness.” Scholars have suggested that this likeness is found in mankind’s ability to be relationally connected, to God and to one another, as well as in our “characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art”[iii], to name a few. The scoop on this point is that image bearing includes all of mankind, including male and female and the design God had for each.
The plurality in gender is intended to be in unity: The physical differences between the two genders are evident in their created state, as is their ability to become unified in one in flesh. The functional differences in manhood and womanhood are likewise evident in that each were created to be lived out in different ways from the other, yet also made to come together in those separate functions, in unity. Here we see the essential foundational truths for the plurality that is present in gender. Beyond the physical differences, God’s plan for man included leadership and protection of the family, as well as provision for his wife and children. His purpose and plan for woman included the privilege of bearing and nurturing children, and being a willing helpmate to the man. When men and women function in these ways within the home and church, unity is displayed. This unity is unique in that it reflects the unity of the Triune God, that is, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, the three persons in one in the one and only true God, who are equal in essence and attributes, but remain different in function.
Unity between mankind and God and between man and woman was broken at the fall: When Eve ate of the fruit in the garden, against God’s word, she and Adam disobeyed God’s voice, which was the first sin that cataclysmically changed the world forever. Unity with God would never be the same; neither would unity with one another. Consequences were announced (Genesis 3:14-19) and as we read in this text, the consequences were specific toward each gender. What males would struggle with after the fall was directly related to their manhood; what females would struggle with was directly related to their womanhood. Provision for family would no longer be a blessing for men. They would seek to dominate woman or the opposite, be totally passive to their responsibilities to her. The ability to bear children and respect their male counterparts would no longer be easy for the women. Ultimately, mankind felt shame and regret before a holy God.
Manhood and womanhood’s ability to reflect His image was marred: As we have said, God’s forethought regarding male and female was a beautiful design that He spoke into existence when He created mankind. It revolved around His image, in order that mankind would reflect who He was (and who He still is today). The details of that image-bearing are important to understand. In the declaration of His command not to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17), God was declaring the terms of his covenant, or binding agreement, with Adam and with all of those who would come after him. The covenant, which ultimately said that Adam was to obey the voice of God and in return, he would not die, had specific ways, called ordinances, by which mankind would reflect God’s image. Marriage, procreation, labor and rest were the four areas (ordinances) that mankind could and would accomplish that, living out their created purpose. This is precisely where we see the depravity of the result of Adam and Eve’s sin; beyond unity being broken, the Image of God was now marred when the unique relationship between husband and wife, in the divine covenant of marriage, would no longer reflect the Triune God. In addition, the acts of procreation, labor/work and rest would be difficult for mankind to obey, leaving the ultimate purpose of reflecting God’s image to be painfully, disturbingly, seemingly, almost impossible to accomplish.
The purposes of gender are redeemed by the Gospel: What was lost in the failure of mankind to obey God’s covenant with Him, can only be found again by the sacrifice for sin that Jesus Christ made on the Cross. Remember how the sin of disobeying God’s voice created consequences that directly related to the plan and purposes that were intended for both the male and female. The purposes of unity with plurality was marred; the purpose of image bearing (through mankind’s ability to marry/commune openly, to procreate, to labor and to rest) was marred, as were the functions of both the male and female designs. However, God’s plan was never to leave sin at its worst state. In fact, in Genesis 3: 15, the good news of the Gospel is announced and in Genesis 3:21, the sacrificial atonement of Christ is alluded to in the act of God making a covering for Adam and Eve after the fall—He “made for (them) garments of skins and clothed them”—pointing to how the LORD God would make a way for the redemption of mankind. Even in the midst of despair, by the work of the Cross, of the Gospel plan, men and women can be given the power to overcome sin in their lives as well as the ability to walk freely with their holy God, freely with one another, as was originally designed in their purposes.
The unchanging goal of God is to bring a people to Himself: The before, during and after of sin and redemption is a God who desired to be intimate with His people. We can’t miss this overarching purpose of the Triune God. In initiating the covenant with Adam from the beginning of creation, God revealed his desire to graciously condescend to, and develop a relationship with, mankind. The terms of the binding agreement proved it . . . and the relational aspects of it cannot be overlooked. The Triune God had determined for the Father to give a people to the Son, whom the Son would redeem, and whom the Holy Spirit would seal. This pursuit of making a people for Himself, of an earthly and a spiritual kingdom, is evident in Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 28:9 and 29: 12-13 as well as in Leviticus 26: 12, which says, “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
The lives of men and women described in the Bible detail God’s pursuit: The Bible is a book about God, a divinely inspired journey that includes the happenings of real life men and women who echo the truth about who God is and how His people are reconciled to Him. This shows us that mankind was intended to be actively involved in His purposes and plans. The initial evidence of human involvement is given in some of the first words that God spoke to his created, when he commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). These words not only gave them an opportunity to reflect His image through the ordinance of procreation, they also granted a privilege and responsibility to be a part of His ultimate plan to bring people to Himself by the making of human life. Beyond this, the first man and woman knew, from the words of the good news given in Genesis 3:15, that there would be One born of them who would come to rid them of sin and give them victory. Thus began their wait for the seed of the promised One to arrive. The Old Testament Scriptures detail the difficult wait. Genesis through Malachi describe in detail the justified judgment and wrath that God had to bestow on the fallen creation, as well as the divine promises of hope that was to come. As we read through this journey, we should intentionally note how God chose to use manhood and womanhood to accomplish His plan and purpose for His people. Abraham’s faith to obey and believe God when He promised to multiply and make him a father, was counted to him for righteousness; Sarah’s willingness to judge God faithful in it all proved to be same [iv]. Moses giving the Ten Commandments, the moral law, so that the revelation of the Triune God could be visible in the lives of God’s very own and his leading of the people. Esther’s prayer and act of courage that allowed for deliverance of the Jews. The attributes of manhood and womanhood certainly played into each of these events (and the many, many others that we do not have time to mention) as they lived out, in faith, what would end up being their unique part in His plan.
The coming of the Messiah meant a final Mediator under the New Covenant: The final cleansing of sin and reconciliation of God’s people was given when the Savior was sent, when He lived a perfect life, died in the place of mankind to cover those sins, and was raised again, giving man new life, the eternal life with God that was lost at the fall. Let’s take a brief look at how manhood and womanhood played into the life of our Savior. . . Mary, a woman and a descendant of Eve, received the favor of God as she became the one whom the Jews had waited for. She would be the mother of the Christ Child, the Son of God, conceived by the third person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit, as He overshadowed her very human state. As a woman, she was designed to give and nurture this physical life, and as a woman of faith, she would be one who would believe God’s voice, as spoken through the angel, and humbly submit herself to His plan by obedience (see Luke Chapters 1 and 2). Her male counterpart and betrothed husband, Joseph, though oftentimes overlooked, played a crucial role as the earthly man in this story. He was challenged by God, in his own divine encounter with the angel, to step forward as the courageous leader of Mary, despite his fears and inhibitions, and to provide protection, care and a place for her to deliver the Christ child (see Matthew Chapter 1). All of this took place by the will of God, as He used His image bearers, though stained and marred by sin, to carry out His ultimate plan to graciously fulfill the New Covenant, which, through the work Jesus Christ is spoke of in Ezekiel 36:26–27 and described as, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
The people of the covenant promise fulfilled are the Bride of Christ: As the New Testament alludes to, those who accept by faith, this gracious work of imputed righteousness and active obedience from the Son, are collectively referred to as the Bride[v]. They, we, are the covenantal people of God, bound to Him by the blood of the Christ Jesus, the Bridegroom, in what is illustrated in the marriage relationship, but most gloriously presented in the heavenly kingdom. What the Triune God promised within Himself before time is indeed taking place, this side of the Cross, as God’s people are being redeemed and being sanctified in preparation for the consummation and final reconciliation with Him.
Comments About How We Can Apply This Theology of Gender
Gender will cease on the day Christ returns or when individuals are taken home through physical death on this physical earth. Not before. As a part of a creation ordinance, maleness and femaleness are critically connected to the Gospel and are crucial to God’s ultimate design and plan for mankind. In a world that, as we have noted, is confused to no end about manhood and womanhood, we must be able to know and then also apply a biblical view on the topic. Following are some suggested application points for individuals, churches and ministries.
- Manhood is honorable. Its attributes are more than admirable, they are awe-striking. Created to be the leader, the provider, the protector, the man is called to be the head of the woman[vi] as Christ is the Head of the Church[vii]. The one who spiritually guides those under his care, who washes the woman with the water of the Word[viii], showing her honor and dwelling with her in an understanding way,[ix] the man continuously has “an eye on the goal of salvation, measured by the fruitfulness of (his) prayer”[x] life. Manhood fleshed out in daily life is a courageous call to strong, active and confident leadership, and as such, is not for the wimpy or weary. Because of the power of sin and its tendencies to keep men from this intentional state of biblical manhood, faith in Christ as Lord and Savior is required. No man can do what he is called by God to do, without it. Indeed, individual men must embrace Christ’s work on the Cross which gives him, as mortal man, the righteousness required to reverse the consequences of sin; His active obedience, the power to fulfill the calling on his life.
- Womanhood is honorable. The qualities are equally admirable and worthy of notation. Created to be the helpmate to the man, her position as such, is one of distinct uniqueness, in that she was made to personally and intimately complete him. A woman’s mind, intellect, and intuitions, among other things, complement the man’s to such an extent that it was “not good”[xi] for him to be alone, even before the curse of sin was established. She is a life-giver, as read in Genesis[xii], which means that she has been given the opportunity not only to give physical life through the design of her physical body, but also the opportunity daily to speak and minister words and deeds of life into her husband and her children. As was the man, the woman is powerless over the curse of sin. A portion of her specific curse was referred to as a “desire” for her husband, which is interpreted in Genesis Chapter 4:7 as a not-so-good desire; rather, it is a desire to rule over him, to reject his headship and leading, something that is ever-present in our culture today. There is only one remedy to overcome the curse and its consequences. It is the power of Jesus Christ living in a woman. With His law written on her regenerated heart, she has the ultimate capability to serve and love her husband with faith and strength, the way that she has been designed to do so as his co-heir “of the grace of life” (see 1 Peter 3:7).
- In the eyes of the other, manhood and womanhood redeemed are powerful. Man, you are representative of God to woman. When you lead her, by submitting to Christ as Christ submitted to the Father, you model for her biblical submission. She longs for you to pursue her, pray for her and love her sacrificially like you do no other. Woman, you are set apart for your man. As his glory, you are the best part about his being. When you willingly come under his leadership, you affirm his God-given role. He longs for you to do this, to tap into his uncharted potential in Christ, through your loving support.
In closing, we can see the importance of having a firm, biblical theology of maleness and femaleness. Despite what the culture says, gender cannot be neutral nor can its design (in physical form and in function) be determined by the created. Gender still is what it was because it was and it is what God had determined it to be. The purposes of maleness and femaleness, therefore, have not ceased. Though some may attempt to deem these purposes archaic and irrelevant, the followers of Christ, His Body, are to engage in gender purposes with intentionality and with the power of God Himself working in us. Doing so means that individual believers, churches and ministries alike will unquestionably embrace a comprehensive view of manhood and womanhood and live it out daily in front of a world that may not see its beauty today, but that will one day, witness in full the glorious plan it was created to display.