There is a terrible plague ravaging our world. It is the plague of destructive conflict between men and women. If we're going to work to eradicate that plague where it breaks out in our own lives or where we have any influence, then we have to begin by getting a right understanding of just who men and women are and what the relationship between us really is. 'Men and Women' is the topical concern that we're tackling this morning.
The truth about such basic issues is to found in the Bible, and the fundamental teaching of the Bible on men and women is to be found in the early chapters of Genesis, so that's where we're going to look this morning. The key passages for us are at the end of chapter 1 and the end of chapter 2. We'll come to them in a moment.
I've been fascinated by a bestselling book around at the moment called 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus'. This is how it begins.
"Imagine that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. One day long ago the Martians, looking through their telescopes, discovered the Venusians. Just glimpsing the Venusians awakened feelings they had never known. They fell in love and quickly invented space travel and flew to Venus.
"The Venusians welcomed the Martians with open arms. They had intuitively known that this day would come. Their hearts opened wide to a love they had never felt before.
"The love between the Venusians and Martians was magical. They delighted in being together, doing things together, and sharing together. Though from different worlds, they revelled in their differences. They spent months learning about each other, exploring and appreciating their different needs, preferences, and behaviour patterns. For years they lived together in love and harmony.
"Then they decided to fly to Earth. In the beginning everything was wonderful and beautiful. But the effect of Earth's atmosphere took hold, and one morning everyone woke up with a peculiar kind of amnesia – selective amnesia!
"Both the Martians and the Venusians forgot that they were from different planets and were supposed to be different. In one morning everything they had learned about their differences was erased from their memory. And since that day men and women have been in conflict."
It's obviously not intended literally, but that's the basic premise of the book: men and women are so different that to all intents and purposes it's as if we come from different planets. We are alien to each other. John Gray, the book's author, says that it 'reveals how men and women are different in all areas of their lives.'
That's one perspective. Another perspective takes an almost opposite view. Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman."
In other words whatever differences there are between men and women are not innate and inborn but are the product of culture and social conditioning, and they can and should be resisted and overthrown. To be sure there are some pretty obvious biological differences between the male and female human, but these are essentially superficial, and the limits that are imposed by these biological differences can and should be overcome by such means as artificial insemination and abortion. What is needed is a massive sexual and cultural revolution.
So there are two views, both of which are current in our society today: men and women are different in every area of life; men and women are to all intents and purposes identical.
What does God have to say on the matter? What is the Bible's perspective? These early chapters of Genesis make clear three key principles. They're there on my outline. Men and women are, first, equal; secondly different; and thirdly, interdependent. The relationship between men and women is one of equality, complementarity and interdependence.
Let's take each of those in turn.
First, MEN AND WOMEN ARE EQUAL
That is the fundamental truth expressed in Genesis 1.27-28:
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.'
Men and women share equally in the privilege of being created in the image of God. There is a quantum leap from the creation of the animals to the creation of men and women. Humankind, male and female, is radically different from the animal kingdom which does not bear this divine image. This common humanity of men and women is wonderfully expressed by the first man's joyful cry when the first woman is brought to him. That's over in Genesis 2.23:
"This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman', for she was taken out of man."
In the original the words for 'man' and 'woman' are 'ish' and 'isha'. The very similarity of the words expresses their common humanity, for all their differences.
So there can be no room for any notion of superiority or inferiority of men or women. Both are equally the precious creation of God, equally human.
Aristotle said: "The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior."
Napoleon Banaparte was if possible even wider of the mark. He said:
"Nature intended women to be our slaves … they are our property; we are not theirs. They belong to us, just as a tree that bears fruit belongs to a gardener.What a mad idea to demand equality for women! … Women are nothing but machines for producing children."
They were both utterly wrong. Charlotte Whitton said: "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult."
But women are no more intrinsically superior to men than are men to women.
But the equality of men and women goes further. For a start, both men and women are sinners in need of a saviour. Romans 3.23:
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...
Some women regard men as superior when it comes to sin. Two examples.
Madame Roland, in the Eighteenth Century, said: "The more I see of men, the more I admire dogs."
Then there is this little anonymous ditty, which for some reason I speculate was written by a woman:
"Women have many faults, men have only two: Everything they say, and everything they do."
One radical feminist perspective was put in these words: "All men are rapists and that's all they are."
What is the male reaction to such views? Very easily it is one of self-righteousness. 'We're not that bad.' Well, we may not all be rapists. The Bible's perspective is that we are all sinners.
We are all rebels against God's loving and just rule. And that is incredibly serious. 'The wages of sin is death' says Romans 6.23. That's how serious the sin of men is. And that's how serious the sin of women is as well.
Maybe the diseased and poisonous fruit of sin does vary between men and women. But the root is the same: rebellion against God's loving will; rejection of God himself. It's that rebellion that's described in Genesis 3.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Both rebel. Both knowingly disobey God's command.
Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?'
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… for dust you are and to dust you will return."
Men and women are all in the same boat. And it is sinking. Not only in our God-given humanity, but in our sinfulness, we are equal. Men cannot point the finger at women, nor women at men, until we have first understood the depth of our own wickedness.
We are equal in creation. We are equal in sin. But praise God, we are equal, too, in being on the receiving end of God's mercy and grace through Christ. We are equal in redemption. Christ died for all of us, male and female alike. Christ was raised to rule in all our lives. All of us are called to repentance and faith in Christ. Galatians 3.26-28:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with 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.
In other words, by trusting in Jesus, men and women alike become co-heirs of every spiritual blessing in Christ – co-heirs of eternal life.
So men and women are equal. We are equal in creation: neither one inferior or superior; both sharing a common humanity in the image of God. We are equal in sin: neither one more than the other. We are equal in redemption: all of us so loved by God that he sent his Son to die for us. And we are equal in our eternal destiny in Christ; co-heirs of eternal life.
So the conclusion is obvious. Women: do not denigrate men. And men: do not denigrate women. The truth is that, for all the protests against such denigration, there is still masses of it about. It happens in the massive industry of pornography; in films; in advertising; in the violence of men against women; in a thousand little thoughts and comments. When we denigrate women, we denigrate our equal partners; we denigrate the work of the one who made us all; we denigrate God himself. He has made us equal, and we are precious in his sight.
Secondly, MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT
Equal does not mean identical. The equality of God the Father and God the Son does not mean that there are no distinctions to be made between them in who they are or in what they do. All that we share in common far outweighs any distinctions, and it's vital to remember that. But the equality of men and women doesn't mean that we are the same in all things.
Before we think about what the Bible says, let's think first about our experience of our differences.
In his book 'Man and Woman in Christian Perspective' Werner Neuer reviews research into male/female differences. He makes two very important introductory points, though. First, we mustn't forget that what men and women have in common is much greater than their differences. Secondly, the differences between men and women are statistical generalisations – they are average differences, and don't, of course, apply to every individual. Bearing that in mind, then, some of the things he mentions are these.
He says that one of the basic distinctions is that men have a closer relationship to the world of things, whereas women have a closer relationship to the world of people. Men are generally taller. They are also stronger than women, and are therefore better equipped to reshape and master their environment. A woman's body is softer and more sensitive, and equipped for motherliness, whether that is expressed in biological motherhood or in other ways. Women are more supportive, caring and empathetic.
Boys tend to play competitive and technical games; girls tend to play family games. Boys prefer adventure stories, narrative history, action films (and have more of a taste for violence). Girls prefer character-based, relationship-centred stories, novels and films (and have more of a taste for romance).
Men have more aggression (and it's true that, for instance, almost all crimes of violence are committed by men); they also have a greater desire for leadership; and a greater ability in abstract and spatial thinking. Women are more adaptable, more sympathetic and sensitive to feelings, more sociable, more ready to care and serve, better with words. (So in situations of conflict, men tend to dominate women with physical strength; women tend to dominate men with words). And of course, women live longer. Remember – all of these things are tendencies, not absolute contrasts.
John Gray in 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus' bases his observations about the differences in how men and women relate to each other on the questionning of over 20,000 men and women who have attended his seminars. So what he has to say simply what you might call experimental observation. And he, too, makes the point that these are average generalisations and do not apply to everyone – though he claims that a large majority identify with what he says. Here are his conclusions. Ask yourself whether they fit with your own observations and experiences. He summarises the different male and female ways of communicating. He reckons…
"… the two biggest mistakes we make in relating to the opposite sex [are that] men mistakenly offer solutions and invalidate feelings while women offer unsolicited advice and direction."
And he says:
"While [men] tend to pull away and silently think about what's bothering them, [women] feel an instinctive need to talk about what's bothering them… Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished… men need to overcome their resistance to giving love while women must overcome their resistance to receiving it… men and women speak and even stop speaking for entirely different reasons. A man gets close but then inevitably needs to pull away [while] a woman's loving attitudes rise and fall rhythmically [with what are] sometimes sudden shifts of feeling… Men need a kind of love that is trusting, accepting and appreciative. Women primarily need a kind of loving that is caring, understanding, and respectful."
He expands on the issue of speech and silence in this way:
"One of the biggest challenges for men is correctly to interpret and support a woman when she is talking about her feelings. The biggest challenge for women is correctly to interpret and support a man when he isn't talking… Quite often a man will suddenly stop communicating and become silent… At first a woman thinks the man is deaf… Women think out loud, sharing their process of inner discovery with an interested listener… a woman often discovers what she wants to say through the process of just talking… Before [men] talk or respond, they first silently 'mull over' or think about what they have heard or experienced… They first formulate [their response] inside and then express it. This process could take from minutes to hours. And to make matters even more confusing for women, if he does not have enough information to process an answer, a man may not respond at all."
Those are John Gray's conclusions.
Here are two female views. First:
"Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speech by something outside himself – like, for instance, he can't find any clean socks."
And then there's this
"After an acquaintance of ten minutes many women will exchange confidences that a man would not reveal to a lifelong friend."
So much for experience. What about the Bible's perspective? Equality is established in chapter 1. Being equal does not mean being identical, and the difference becomes evident in the account of the creation of mankind in chapter 2.
First, in this account, the man is created before the woman. That is no indication of superiority. After all, the animals were created before mankind. But it does indicate a difference.
Secondly, look at the way this expresses God's purpose for the man, and for the woman. 2.15:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
And then 2.18:
The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'
Again, that is no indication of inferiority. The word for helper is often used for God as our helper. But nonetheless, the man is to work the garden, and the woman is to be the helper of the man.
Thirdly, the man is presented as the initiatior in marriage. 2.24:
… a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife…
And fourthly, the man names the woman. 2.23:
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."
So the key differences seem to be in the emphasis of God's purposes for the man and for the woman, and in what we might call the leadership of the man, under the rule of God.
Well, are we right to draw these distinctions? If we're going to interpret the Old Testament accurately, we have to be guided by the New Testament. Does the New Testament draw these distinctions? Yes, undeniably. One example only, of several that could be given: 1 Corinthans 11.3:
Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God
What we might call male headship and female helpership in family and church as they are described in the New Testament reflect the differences in God's earthly purposes for men and women built into creation.
The way we deal with this teaching is fraught with misunderstanding and with plain sin. But we cannot deny that it is there in Scripture. And we are told to live by it because it works for all of us.
But, of course, it does not work apart from Christ. Apart from Christ, male headship is so easily distorted and becomes oppressive. In Christ, it is liberating.
And notice something about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11.3. In our relationship to one another, Christ is the example both for men and for women. Christ is the example of headship: 'the head of every man is Christ'. If you want to know what headship means, look at the way Christ laid down his life for the world. And Christ is also the example of submission: 'the head of Christ is God'. If you want to see true submission, look at how, in the words of Philippians 2.8, Christ…
… humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him…
So Christ is our model. And following his example leads us all, both men and women, to lay down our lives for one another.
As Werner Neuer puts it:
"God has created men and women to be different because he has different purposes for them. For the character of the sexes is not the chance result of blind evolutionary processes, but the product of a consciously planned creative act of God… The sexes therefore have the task of realising God's creative purpose and thereby glorifying him… Christians are called to live as men and women in God's intended way and prove it to be a source of deepest happiness."
We are equal. We are different.
Thirdly, MEN AND WOMEN ARE INTERDEPENDENT
Gloria Steinem famously said: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle."
Men and women often find it hard to live together – hard to cope with each other. But can we do without each other? Most certainly we cannot.
Have you noticed the force of what God says in Genesis 2.18? All through chapter 1 we've heard the refrain about creation: 'And God said that it was good.' But now, with the man in the garden, he says: 'It is not good…' What's not good? 'It is not good for the man to be alone.'
Here's Henri Blocher's comment:
"The world was suffering from an absence: the absence of woman. Solitude contradicts the calling of humanity. Human life attains its full realisation only in community. No man is an island… In the final paradise, as in the first, mankind will for ever be no longer alone… The constitution of each of us is a summons to community."
We are bone of each other's bones. We are flesh of each other's flesh. The apostle Paul is crystal clear in 1 Corinthians 11.11:
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.
We are equal. We are different. And we are interdependent. We need each other!
We are created for each other to the glory of God. Sin divides us, and there is conflict and divorce and war between the sexes. But we need each other. And the gospel reconciles. Through Christ we can begin to overcome the ravages of sin. In Christ we can begin to experience the blessing of our unity in the love of God
Centuries ago, Matthew Henry wrote a famous comment on the account of God's creation of the woman from the rib taken out of the man. It seems to me he is not far wide of the mark. He says that God did not make the woman…
"… out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."