National and international news have been showing a significant increase in cases of domestic violence, especially against women. We know that domestic violence is not the exclusive problem of men. It is perpetrated by women as well. However, we have seen a very concerning trend in the objectification of women at every level of our society, from the highest office to the poorest home.
How should Christians respond? Can we just dismiss it all with platitudes such as “men will be men”, or “that’s just locker room talk”? What does God have to say about the way we should treat women?
Love One Another
Let’s start by making one thing very clear: if we, the Christians, were truly following Christ’s great commandment to love one another as He has loved us, among us there would be no abuse, no violence, no racism, no sexism. The list could go on. That great commandment is as simple as it is profound in the way it changes our fundamental direction in life. So, we should all start out by humbly confessing our sin, our own sin, and seek His forgiveness.
Is contempt against anyone, but in particular against women (that is what we are addressing at the moment) in any way sanctioned or condoned in the Bible? I expect to hear the answer of most to be a resounding no! So, then, why is it that we seem to have closed an eye to it in our homes? That we have chosen to ignore it and dismiss this problem as something that is “just the way men are?”
Just the Way Men Are?
In all honesty, I consider that statement an insult, not just to me, but to the many men who are not like that. Many men have a deep respect for women, and for their wives in particular. I have been happily married for almost 39 years. I refuse to regard my wife as anything less than the child of God she is. She is created in the image of God as much as I am. By all means, I have been far from perfect with her. I have made many mistakes, but I have also learned a lot from her, including the true meaning of love.
Over the years I have learned to respect her more and more, and to respect women in general. Am I less of a man because I don’t follow the example of some of our leaders, who have no shame when they talk about women only as objects of their lusts? Am I less of a man because I totally dislike what is called “locker room talk”? And by the way, that kind of talk is not limited to the locker room as the saying implies. Am I less of a man because I have had sexual relations only with my wife, and would never consider anything else? Am I less of a man because I don’t brag about my many conquests, reducing women to little more than trophies or scores to place on display? My wife’s answer, as well as mine, is a resounding no!
What Is the Problem?
The problem is that all too often we have allowed culture and even the leaders in our society to set our values for us. This has disastrous results. Yes, devastating results for both men and women; and let’s not forget, for our children’s future, for they learn from what they see and hear. It is damaging for women because it robs them of that image of God that they carry in themselves since creation. It is deplorable for men, because it redefines manhood as some sort of wild beastly behavior governed only by hormones or some Freudian combination of morbid instincts of sexuality and violence.
Once again, let’s be very clear! Nowhere does Scripture condone such a base and distorted view of manhood and womanhood. Nowhere does Scripture condone a misogynistic view of sexuality. Even in a patriarchal culture, God’s instructions were intended to protect women from potential abuse and injustice. Nowhere in Scripture will you find the idea that men are somehow “superior” or “better” and that women are “lesser” or “inferior”. So, what does Scripture actually say on this topic?
What the Bible Has to Say About Women
The answer could be very extensive, but I will attempt to summarize the key principles here. First of all, we encounter the relationship between the sexes at the very beginning of humanity, as God created us, male and female, in His image and likeness.1 But notice something very important about it, that all too often escapes the attention of the casual reader. All through the stages of creation, God stated that it was “good”. However, when it came to the creation of humanity (male and female) Scripture tells us that “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”2
Yes, it was “very good” indeed. So, you can imagine the surprise of casual readers when in the next page they read of God Himself stating, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”3 Yes, you read it right. When God had created the first man, He did not say, “Wow, this is awesome! Now I’m going to create an object he can play with.” No, God stated that it was not good! Sorry, men….
It was only after the creation of the first woman that God exclaimed, “it is very good”. Far from defining either man or woman as superior, God made them complementary to one other, each needing the other to be complete. It represented the first lesson about love and marriage: a lesson that taught them to appreciate one another and give of themselves to the other in oneness and mutual respect. Only after their rebellion against God their relationship turned sour, resembling more a blame match than a loving union. A careful reading of Genesis 2 and 3 gives us great insight into our human relationships even today.
The Objectification of Women
On multiple occasions, throughout the Old Testament, God rebuked the treacherousness of men who were abusing their role in order to take advantage of and cause suffering for women. Of course, women are not immune from sin and being abusive, either, but I am limiting our discussion here to our role as men of God. In the New Testament, many saw Jesus as a revolutionary man in this regard. I really don’t think He was quite as “revolutionary” as they claim. Rather, I think He manifested the true intent of God and Scripture in regards to male and female relationships.
I want to repeat it and make it as crystal clear as I can: nowhere in Scripture can we find the slightest support or justification for sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, pornography, and other similar sins even our leaders have seemingly minimized in recent years. All of these, and many more sins, however, have one thing in common. Instead of loving others, people objectify others, demeaning them and regarding them as tools to give them satisfaction for their lusts. This is a problem, a sin, that we find rampant in our society.
New Testament Statements About Women
Notice, now, some clear statements from the New Testament:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.4
That’s right. We are all one in Jesus Christ. Neither male nor female has a claim to superiority, only different roles, and both roles being Christ-like.
Throughout the gospels, we find Jesus healing women as well as men. He talked to women and extended grace and compassion toward them as well as men. He recognized that the Father had created them in the image of God as well. In the book of Acts, we find the Holy Spirit choosing women like Lydia for a role of leadership in the church. Throughout the epistles women are regarded as fellow heirs of the grace of God in Christ, and husbands are reminded that they owe their wives understanding, honor and respect.5 Yes, Peter also states that wives are weaker, but that is far from being stated in a derogatory sense. Peter intended to remind us, husbands, to be gentle with them, holding them in honor in our hearts.
The role of wife as an image of the church
The New Testament uses women to represent the church. This teaches us respect and voluntary submission to the Lord Jesus and to one another in Christ. We don’t see Jesus abusing the church, nor demeaning it with His words. One of the most misunderstood passages of the Bible, drives such an image home for us, as God inspired the apostle Paul to use it in reference to our marital relationships. In the context of calling us all to be imitators of God, Paul wrote,
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. for the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.6
I can still hear the voice of so many husbands quoting these verses to their wives in an attempt to subjugate them, and to impose “respect”. But is that the meaning of this passage? Absolutely not. Notice, first of all, that these verses are not directed to husbands at all. They are like a letter addressed to wives, not husbands. To use these words to impose submission is like stealing someone else’s mail and then distorting it to make it say what we want.
What the passage communicates to wives is a call to voluntarily subject their role to their husband in Christ, just as the Lord Himself is voluntarily subject to the Father. As a husband, I cannot escape from reading here that my role of guidance and leadership in the family is to exemplify Christ’s role in the church. I wonder why the husbands who use these words to force their wives into submission never seem to read or address that part of the same statement. Once again, is Jesus Christ abusing, humiliating and demeaning the church? Absolutely not!
The Role of the Husband
Paul, however, did not stop there. Please, keep reading:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.7
Yes, it is true. Just as husbands misuse the preceding verses, so wives often misuse this passage, which God addressed to husbands, not wives. But what does it call us to be and do as husbands? Do we pay as much attention to these words as we do to the part that pertains to our wives? I am afraid not. Yet, we must understand it if we truly want to be men of God.
First of all, it calls us to love our wives. Once again, Scripture defines love as a giving of ourselves for the benefit of the beloved (in this case the wife), just as Jesus gave of Himself for the church. Have we, as husbands, been willing to give of ourselves for the benefit of our wives to the point of being willing to give our life for them?
What God calls us to do, fellow men, is to sacrifice ourselves for our wives, as Christ does for the Church. That is only possible as we surrender to the Holy Spirit, who pours out into our hearts the very love of God.8 The matter, then, is not just an issue of marital relationships. It depends on and affects our very relationship with God Himself. It is a measure of our own surrender to the Holy Spirit, a badge that identifies us as Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ and men of God.9
How the Lord Wants Us to Regard Our Wives
Paul did not stop there. As he called us to follow the example of Jesus, he pointed out why Jesus gave Himself for us. He died to sanctify us, to cleanse us, to present us to Himself in all our glory, “having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing;” but that we would be holy and blameless.10 Nice, right? But keep reading.
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.11
Are we doing that when we demean and humiliate our wives? Are we “sanctifying” our wives, presenting them to ourselves as the Lord Jesus does, without spot or wrinkle? Or are we still offending them, insulting the image of God in them? Are we less masculine if we value and honor our wives as the Lord sacrificially does for the church? Are we less manly if we refuse to bash our wives and their reputation in our “locker room talks”? Notice that in imitating Christ (the topic of the chapter) we are to look at our wives as glorious and blameless.
How can we do that? The only way we can do this is to recognize that God created them in His image and likeness as well. We need to understand that they are forgiven and purified in Christ, just as we are. So, just as we would like for others to see us for who we are in Christ, we too are to look at our wives as they are in Christ. The Lord has redeemed them, and made them partakers with us of His grace and glory.
Submit to One Another
I wonder how many have noticed, however, that in reading this passage I skipped a very important statement that actually precedes it and introduces it. It is verse 21, and it reads as follows:
And be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.12
Read it again and again. It does not call us husbands to subdue our wives, but actually to submit to them in Christ. Let’s understand that. As partakers of the same grace as we are, our wives also receive the Holy Spirit, and the gifts the Holy Spirit imparts to believers. That is in addition to the natural talents and skills the Lord has blessed them with as well. So, if my wife has a gift from the Holy Spirit that I don’t have, should I not surrender to the will of the Holy Spirit and be subject to her role as she expresses her God-given gift?
I rejoice greatly when members of our church acknowledge the beauty of my wife’s gifts. Does that make me less of a leader in my family? Not if we understand leadership as an expression of God’s love and Spirit. Then, it moves us to respect all women, as well as our wives.
Brethren, it is high time for us to stand up as men, truly men of God. It is time to be models and examples of Christ’s love in the community as well as in our homes.
May the Lord lead us and bless us as we seek to do so!