Archives For Women

This seems to be the conventional wisdom on the subject: men and women cannot be friends. Things will always turn romantic for one or the other. They will try to manipulate one another and one or both will always be hurt.

I understand where this line of thinking comes from. Who among us hasn’t experienced unreciprocated love? Who hasn’t fallen in love with a friend? Also, affairs happen. People are manipulative. Men and women pursue their lustful desires under the banner of friendship.

But I don’t think the Christian community has considered the implications of saying that men and women can’t be friends. Here are a few reasons I believe we need to stop saying and believing this.


1. All love involves boundaries.

Men and WomenBy saying that men and women can be friends, I’m saying that they can love each other in a certain sense (that’s what friendship means) and still keep that love within its proper boundaries. Take my sisters, for example. I love them deeply. Yet there are boundaries that my love for them will not cross, expressions of love that are simply off limits. The same with my mother and my daughters. The same with my coworkers and students.

Now, people go astray in all of these areas. Incest and affairs are realities. But we can’t let the sinful distortion of love push us to throw out love altogether. In every friendship, there is genuine love. Yet that love must stay within its proper bounds. If that love prompts romantic feelings where they don’t belong, the love must be redirected.

Consider this: even with my wife my love has boundaries. Jesus says that if I love my wife more than him (actually, if I don’t hate her by comparison), I’m not worthy to be his disciple (Luke 14:26). So while marriage opens up many expressions of love, I don’t have free reign to love my wife in whatever way or to whatever degree I choose. My love for God may be boundless, my love for my wife may not.


2. Women are not valuable only insofar as they are potential partners (and vice versa).

Lloyd Christmas "putting out the vibe."

Lloyd Christmas “putting out the vibe.”

One major problem I have with the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends view is that it over-sexualizes, or at least over-romanticizes, love. It’s saying, “I won’t be friends with a woman unless we’re heading towards dating/marriage.” This is part of the reason breakups are so awful—you’ve now made each other ineligible for “friendship.”

This one actually makes me angry. A Christian man will look at a woman made in the image of God—a human being for whom Christ gave his very life—and say, “I’ll only get to know / be edified by / invest my time in this person if there’s a chance I’ll marry her.” If you can’t interact with a woman without playing romantic or sexual possibilities in your head, then yes, you’re not ready to spend time hanging out with women (and vice versa). But that’s a horrible place to be, my friend. That’s a sin issue you need to attack for the glory of God. Your sisters in Christ are too valuable to be sidelined because of your lust (and vice versa).


3. We can’t divide the body of Christ.

Another tragic consequence of the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends view is that it splits the church in half. Half of the church I may be edified by, I may use my Spirit-empowered gifts to bless, I may see and appreciate the image of God in. The other half, meh.

One of the reasons I love being in a small group in our church is that I get to interact with men and women over biblical issues. I get to learn from both genders. I get to know them better. I get to hear their perspectives. We get to use our spiritual gifts to build one another up. If you read 1 Corinthians 12 carefully, you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t talk about two bodies of Christ: one male, one female. No, we’re all stuck in this body together. There can be no divisions, all suffer and rejoice together (vv. 25–26).


The Challenge

Picture a flower garden. I could do nothing to my garden but compulsively soak it in Miracle Gro. But uncontrolled growth leads to a tangled mess. If every flower is allowed to grow however it will with all of the growing power I can give it, ugliness abounds. But if I carefully tend the flowers, adding fertilizer to this plant, skillfully pruning that plant, my garden can grow beautifully.

So it is with love. We cannot let our love for each person manifest itself in any way we may desire. We certainly can’t pursue distorted versions of love. Love requires pruning, discernment. And that’s the challenge. We have to be careful to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). But shunning half of the body of Christ out of fear is not Christian. I don’t know precisely what your relationship with members of the opposite sex should look like, but they are your neighbors, and you are called to love them.

[If you’re interested in delving in to this topic further, I recommend this blog series on dating, and this excellent book.]

The book of Exodus is filled with outcasts who become conduits of God’s grace and power, when God thunders from heaven to deliver his people from Egypt. If you have never noticed this, it’s probably because you’ve been reading the Old Testament through a thick moral lens—looking for heroes and saints to emulate, instead of a gracious God to thank.

Or it’s because you’re a man.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it was three years after I completed a Ph.D. in Bible that I noticed that God uses a bunch of women to rescue His people from slavery in Egypt. God’s choice of female redeemers is a backhanded slap to midwife the patriarchal, male-centered culture He was working with.

In the ancient world, women were considered inferior to men and were subject to much oppression. Their identity was one of property: they were the daughter of their father or the wife of their husband. “I am a daughter, I am a bride, I am a spouse, I am a housekeeper,” was the mantra sung by women as they slugged along through life with little self-worth. Women existed in order to bear children, keep a good home, and in some cases, brew beer for the local tavern, where the men would guzzle ale, listen to music, and enjoy the company prostitutes. Oh yes, I almost forgot. Women made good prostitutes as well.

But God created people in His image “male and female” (Gen 1). Women reflect God’s image just as much as men, or should I say, men reflect God’s image just as much as women. You cannot see God’s image reflected very clearly in a monastery.

In Exodus 1, in order to halt the rapid birth-rate of the Israelites, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill off all the firstborn male children. But the “midwives feared God” (Exod. 1:21) and oppose the command of the king.

In the midst of the attempted slaughter, we read about one particular woman who hid her boy to keep him from being slaughtered (Exod 2:1-2). But after three months, she could no longer keep him a secret, and so she slipped him in a basket and sent him down the Nile river. The boy’s sister, Miriam, watched him until he bumped into Pharaoh’s daughter, who was bathing in the river with her lady friends. Miriam suggests to Pharaoh’s daughter that one of the Hebrew women could nurse the child, and she agrees. So Miriam finds the baby’s mother—a refreshing twist in irony in the midst of genocidal horrors.

And then there’s Moses’s wife, Zipporah. We don’t know much about Zipporah, but what we do know is that she saved Moses’s life (Exod 4:24-26). Even though God demanded that all male children were to be circumcised, apparently Moses forgot to perform this operation on Gershom. One day, Moses was strolling along with his family when all of the sudden God is seconds away from destroying Moses for not circumcising his son. So Zipporah intervenes and saves Moses’ life. That is, she cuts off Gershom’s foreskin with a flint rock and tosses the piece of skin at Moses feet. I know, I wish I could have seen the look on Gershom’s face too. (“Mom, what do you plan on doing with that sharp rock?”)

The story raises more questions than it answers, but one thing is clear: God’s grace invaded the desert with unwelcomed splendor and targeted a bunch of undervalued cricumcision_cartoonand oppressed women. Were it not for Zipporah, Moses would have never lived to see the Red Sea part in two.

Midwives, slave-women, the daughter of a wicked king, and an African woman with a very sharp rock. The only ounce of testosterone used by God is stored up in an abandoned child name Moses, who became a tongue-twisted murderer. Women are the real human heroes in the early chapters of Exodus.

Now, without getting into all the details, I’m complimentarian. I believe in male leadership in the home and the local church. However, or perhaps therefore, I believe that we—my circles—often neglect the wisdom, ingenuity, creativity, insight, and theological expertise of our female image bearers. We undervalue, under-use, and sometimes belittle the knowledge and strength and intelligence of our image bearing females. If you too are complimentarian, make sure you don’t confuse one’s role with one’s value as a true reflection of the One who breathed the stars into existence.

This is a weird post for me to write. I don’t presume to know anything about pastors’ wives. Or about women, for that matter. I am not a pastor, so there are many things I’ll never know about a pastor’s wife. But on the other hand, my detachment from the situation gives me an advantage. On a regular basis, every pastor has to make a choice between standing up for his wife or biting his tongue. So let me, as an outsider, share some of the concerns that many of my pastor friends have with regard to the way their wives are viewed.

Churches aren’t fair to the wives of their pastors. For one thing, the pastor, his wife, and their children live in a fishbowl. Everyone looks in and watches everything they do. There is a healthy side to this. We should consider the way our leaders conduct themselves (Heb. 13:7). But more often than not, we do this critically and with a spirit of judgment. I have heard of pastors’ wives being criticized for their hair being too shiny, their hair not being shiny enough, and for sitting down while ironing. And I’m not joking or exaggerating any of those.

When people are in sin, we have a biblical responsibility to confront them (see Matt. 18). But when it comes to preference issues (i.e., issues not clearly defined in the Bible), then our judgmental spirit means that we are in sin. So if you don’t like the type of nail polish your pastor’s wife wears, then feel free to choose a different color for yourself. But don’t flaunt your pride by gossiping about hers.

The other major concern I have about the way we view pastors’ wives is the assumption that she has to be the women’s ministry director. Or the children’s ministry director. Or at least be a major player in the ministries of your church. When a new pastor is hired, many churches see it as a two-for-the-price-of-one kind of a thing. We’re getting two pastors here, but we only have to pay the salary of one, and we have every right to complain if the pastor’s wife isn’t spearheading at least a couple of major programs in our church.

Many pastors’ wives are gifted, willing, and effective in leading all sorts of ministries in the church. But to simply assume that the pastor’s wife is gifted to lead a ministry because she married a pastor is extremely wrongheaded. It ignores Paul’s description of spiritual gifting in 1 Corinthians 12. The fact of the matter is that every member of the body has been given gifts by God. And each person’s gifts differ from those of others. The Spirit distributes these according to His will (1 Cor. 12:11), not according to our desires or expectations.

Believe it or not, God sometimes allows people with pastoral gifts to marry people who have other gifts. This means that demanding your pastor’s wife to lead a specific ministry is presumptive at best, and at worst it is dangerous to her and to the life of your church.

I’m not saying that we need to treat pastors’ wives as angels or let them run around with a sense of entitlement and never confront them. I’m sure that your pastor’s wife is weird in at least 100 ways. I’m sure that she does things differently than you expect her to and differently than you would do them yourself. But that’s okay. She is who God made her to be. She has struggles and blindspots just like you do. So let’s give her grace. Let’s expect her to be an essential member of your church body, but let’s not expect her to have the same gifts as her husband or as the previous pastor’s wife. Let’s love her and encourage her rather than suspecting her and slandering her.



Preston Sprinkle —  April 25, 2012 — 5 Comments

The New Testament says a lot about women. Jesus’ ministry was largely devoted to instilling value in women. The growth of the early church was to a great extent shouldered by women. Most of us “Bible believing” Christians have probably not realized the depth of how radical Christianity’s positive view of women would have been in the first century context. Because when Jesus stepped into the Mediterranean world and reconfirmed the dignity and value of women, he was going against the grain of the common view of women in his own culture.

Here’s a sample of what Jesus was up against.

A popular Roman philosopher named Arius Didymus says that “the deliberative (reasoning) faculty in a woman is inferior [inferior], in children it does not yet exist, and in the case of slaves it is completely absent” (Concerning Household Management, 148.14-18). In other words, only men have brains. Women have ½ a brain. Children will have a brain but it doesn’t exist yet. Slaves don’t have a brain at all. Aristotle used to call women “deformed males” (On the Generation of Animals). They may be human, but not completely. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, says: “The woman…is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be obedient” to her husband (Josephus, Ap. 2.24 § 199). The New Testament does talk about wives being submissive to husbands (Eph 5:22), but it never bases the command on some inferiority among women. Rather, like the Trinity, there’s role distinction within the relationship.

Another ancient writer said “The two best days in a woman’s life are when someone marries her and when he carries her dead body to the grave” (quoted in Snodgrass, Ephesians, 302). The book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) says: “Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good” (42:14). In most places, if a girl was not aborted at birth, she would be minimally educated, could not be a witness in a court, and was considered in all respects inferior to men. Women were considered less intelligent, less moral, and sometimes confined to the other side of the house.

There were some exceptions. The Jewish philosopher Philo used to praise the wife of the emperor, calling her “intellectually male.” Hmmm…not quite a compliment. Some Christian leaders weren’t much better. The famous early church preacher named Chrysostom taught that “the female sex is weak and vain.” Really? I’d love to see Chrysostom try to give birth to a child.

This degrading view of women in the ancient world is best portrayed in a letter that we found written by a man named Hilarian to his pregnant wife, Alis (about 1 B.C.). Hilarian is away on business in Alexandria and he’s writing to Alis back in Rome. In it, he says to his beloved bride: “…I am still in Alexandria…If you deliver the child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it.”

So this is the world that Jesus stepped into. And the New Testament, when read against this backdrop, radically upholds the value and worth of women in a way that was unmatched in the ancient world. For instance, when the angel appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth, it was Elizabeth who believed the word of God and Zechariah who doubted and was therefore unable to speak (Luke 1:5-23). Again, in contrast to Zechariah, Mary the mother of Jesus believes the word of God and sings out in confident praise about the miraculous birth that would come upon her (Luke 1:26-56). In Luke 2:36-38, a prophetess named Anna is described as being a dedicated follower of God and she blesses Jesus when he is presented in the temple. The entire story of Jesus’ birth, according to Luke, elevates the godliness and faith of women, and therefore critiques its surrounding culture that dehumanized women. In Luke 4:26, Jesus compares his ministry to that of Elijah, who in the days of a famine deliberately sought out a widow. In Luke 4:38-39, Jesus heals Peter’s mother in law, showing that he valued not just men enough to heal them, but also women. (I wonder if Peter was actually excited about that one.) In Luke 7:11-17, Jesus raises from the dead the son of a widow. In Luke 7:36-50, one of the most dramatic scenes in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is anointed by a women who was probably a prostitute. She’s forgiven; the male Pharisee in room is rebuked. She gets it. He doesn’t. Later on in Luke 10:38-42, we learn about two important women named Mary and Martha, and Mary is seen sitting at Jesus’ feet, which is the posture of a disciple of a rabbi—quite untypical of women.

Now, keep in mind. All of this is just a partial survey of the role of women in the first ½ of one book in the New Testament. We could go on and on, showing you how the entire New Testament exalts the role of women in the growth of the kingdom. We could look at Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, where 5 women are named when it wasn’t customary to name women in a genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary the mother of Jesus. If we had the time, we could look at the Samaritan woman, who was redeemed by Jesus and then became the first missionary to the Samaritan people (John 4). The zeal of women in the book of Acts alone could fill quite a number of blogs. Lydia, for instance, was the very first convert of Europe and became a significant figure in the church at Philippi. Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, was a major catalyst in the growth of the church in several cities in the Mediterranean world. Philip’s daughters (Acts 21) were called prophetesses and mediated God’s word to God’s people. And then there’s Phoebe, the deacon from the seaport town of Cenchrea, who delivered Paul’s letter to the Roman church (i.e. book of Romans). And since the person carrying the letter would usually read it aloud to its recipient(s), it is very likely that the first person to read the book of Romans in church was not Paul, Peter, Augustine, Calvin, or Luther. It was a woman named Phoebe.

This is just a small sampling of women who by the power of the Spirit fueled the growth of the early Church. And this shows that Christianity boldly proclaimed that women were of equal value and worth as men. So 2000 years before women rose up in the 60’s demanding their rights, Jesus, the Lord of all, declared women their rights and infused them with value and dignity—in fact, he died for it! So you don’t need to burn your bras and fight your way up the corporate ladder of success to affirm your equality with men. You just need to embrace Jesus! Because Jesus fought for the value of women all the way to the cross.

It is a shame—it is unfortunate and unbiblical—that at least in some parts of the church today, women have been sidelined as only marginal influences in mediating God’s reign on earth. God seeks to rule the earth through men; God seeks to rule the earth through women (Gen 1:26-28).