Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Look at Women's Roles

The role of women in the church is something that has been coming up a lot in my life recently. I guess when you're a young woman looking into seminary and ministry, that's something you think about. But really, I think all women ask that question. What is our role? What does the word "submit" really mean for us? And it becomes especially difficult to answer when we look at verses like these from 1 Timothy 2:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

What does THAT mean? And I am really quick to get defensive. Women must be quiet because Adam was made first. It was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. Okay Paul, what are you trying to say? But then as I started to think about these verses, they started to make a lot of sense to me.

The first thing I notice is Paul's call to modesty and humility. Don't wear flashy and expensive clothes. Clothe yourselves with good works instead. Be genuine. And I can understand the significance of that. Why, most of the time, do women where flashy, immodest clothing and lack humility? It's out of an effort to feel important and valued. We want to be noticed and affirmed. And the women Paul was talking to had more reason than we can imagine to desire affirmation. These are women who had been oppressed for years, some of them were reformed prostitutes. These were all women who were finally realizing what freedom is. In Christ they had found something totally new, revolutionary. Jesus valued women. He called them, worked through them, anointed them, healed them, loved them, and set them free. But they hadn't learned to trust that freedom yet. Paul is calling women to live quietly, and affirm that they worship God. He calls them, and us, to live a life that exhibits trust in God, rather than a fear of being overlooked or oppressed again. That's why a husband's call is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. God calls him to faithfully provide, in a tangible way, the affirmation and respect that a woman's heart so deeply longs for.

Another thing I notice is that Paul never says women shouldn't learn about God. He doesn't say they shouldn't study or sit at the feet of the Rabbi. He would have been contradicting Jesus if he did, because Jesus allowed women like Mary to sit at His feet right along side His disciples. Paul doesn't even say women shouldn't teach. The Scripture only says women shouldn't teach in authority over men. Let's note, however, that it does not say men can't learn from women. Here's the deal: women were created for a very specific purpose. We are every bit as endowed with God's image and His Holy Spirit as men. We are valuable. We are, however, different, and God intended it that way. Since He made us as sensitive nurturers, we are more vulnerable to Satan's deception, which is why he hit us first. So God calls us to let men have authority as a way to help us fulfill our own purposes. I feel like the call to submit is more of God's way of calling us to have faith in Him and our identity in Him, rather than trying to grasp at straws for affirmation and a sense of security and value. Submitting to man requires that we trust God to fight for us and to protect us from oppression. It requires that we believe that our value comes from the fact that the Son of God died for us, and through His blood we become coheirs with Christ, and our inheritance is nothing more or less than the love and affection of the God of the universe. It requires that we believe that when Christ says "It is finished," it truly is and nothing can take away the freedom He has earned for us. We don't need to fight for it or try to earn it. God is in control.

Men are called to trust God enough to have courage and lead. They take up their authority in faith. Women are called to trust God enough to submit and let Him protect us. We submit to authority in faith. As I think about it, that's exactly what didn't happen in Eden. When Satan said, "Surely God didn't say you'd die..." he caused Eve to question God's goodness toward her. She felt like He was holding out on her, and she took things into her own hands. Adam didn't stand and protect her from the deception, and when Eve offered him a bite, he didn't say no. He didn't lead. In so many ways what our roles in life come down to is trusting God's goodness and His love for us. This trust manifests itself in different ways, but it is the very core of truly living.

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