The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission (pt. 2)

Yesterday, we considered the biblical theological continuity and discontinuity of the creational imperatives of ruling and bearing children and how they are picked up in Jesus’ Great Commission.  I concluded by asking how gender roles in marriage impact the presentation and the proclamation of the gospel.  In other words, I wanted to get at how gender roles in marriage interact with the Great Commission.   Are they necessary for the discipling of the nations in such a way that if abandoned the message of salvation would be distorted or denied?  Or are they merely inconsequential components that actually impede the progress of the gospel?   Would it be better to “get over” issues of gender so that we can reach the plethora of egalitarian socities that are resistant to the gospel?  Which is it? Surely Scripture which in its opening chapter distinguishes male and female has something to say about the matter. 

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman” (1 Cor. 11:2).  Just as Peter says, “wives, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1ff), commending them to be daughters of Sarah who showed her husband respect and deference by calling him “lord.”  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wifes in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  Even if the world lives to turn the Bible on its head and rejects these teachings in passionate unbelief, the Scriptural portrait is undeniable.  Men and women are equal, yet distinct.  Both made in the image of God, they are co-heirs; nevertheless in their roles and natural relations they are different.  Husbands are to lead and wives are to help.   This is the original pattern, and this is the restored relationship in the plan of redemption.  The man’s good works are uniquely masculine, while the woman also displays a particular feminine conformity into the image of Christ.  And in the Great Commission, these roles are not to be undermined.  Rather as mutually distinctive partners, husbands and wives, can, should, and must complement one another in the work, not compete for one another’s place of service.  Douglas Wilson writes about this in his book, Reforming Marriage:

A husband and wife are not to be shoulder-to-shoulder, marching off to work at the task together. Nor are they both to be home all the time, face-to-face, eternally and perpetually ‘in love.’ Rather, with both man and woman understanding their respective roles, he faces his future and calling under God, and she, by his side, faces him (Doug Wilson, 66).

The point is, Jesus’ Great Commision is not a sex-less enterprise. Rising from the dust of the original imperative to be fruitful and multiply, it is not to be accomplished by androgynous disciples; rather, it is to be fulfilled by redeemed men and women who are shaped by the Spirit into distinctly masculine and feminine representives of the kingdom. Paul commends this in Titus 2 when he instructs older women to teach younger women and older men to model the faith before younger men (cf. 2:1-10).  Though cross-gender evangelism is frequent and fruitful, this is not the same thing as biblical discipleship.  Men need godly men to whom they can pattern their lives, and women need mature females to train them in domestic holiness.

Likewise, we who claim the name of Christ must realize that the evangelistic task is not simply about winning disconnected individuals to the Lord, though many will come on their own (Matt. 10:34-36), but to see the families of the nations (Ps. 22:27)–men, women, and children–saved and adopted into the family of faith.   When this happens, relationships are built, roles are revived, the household of God flourishes, and the glory of the gospel is seen.  The gospel then does more than give eternal life to the transexual male who flees from their former lifestyle, it completes its task by “restor[ing] the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).  Likewise, the gospel’s witness and effect is not only seen in that it redeems the soul of a pro-choice prostitute, it also dignifies that woman’s choice to become a mother, so that she may be saved through child-bearing as she “continue[s] in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).  Here we are not talking about the rudiments of the gospel–what must be believed–but the effects.  The gospel is seen in the transformed lives of men and women (cf. James 2:14ff, not coincidentally James includes a man and a woman in his illustration–Abraham and Rahab).

This kind of specific gospel transformation can only take place when gender roles are upheld.  Moreover, the Great Commission can only have its true effect when the nations obey all Scripture has to say about men and women’s roles.  This can take place in the jungle tribe that forsakes polygamy to conform their marriages into unions that resemble Christ and the church, or it can take place in the urban jungle where a young married couple decides against the pill and to pursue a family in a culture that normalizes two-person incomes.  In his wisdom, God designed his Spirit-indwelt children to find gender-specifc niches in his family–as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters–and in doing this the Great Commission is advanced.  To neglect this is to reject the whole counself of Scripture and the need to rightly reflect in our marriages and homes the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not optional, but absolutely essential.

Focusing on the need for marital conformity to the Great Commission is instructive because it calls Christian husbands and wives to consider their marital orientation and to ask, “How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?” For those who are married, this must be the central aim of their marriages. It must become the one thing that sets the agenda for everything else. Truly, this is a high and holy calling and one impossible without the Spirit, but then again, why should we settle for anything less?  Jesus promised to all those who believe in him, that he would come and live within them, until the end of the age, and that by his Spirit we would be bold witnesses (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  This is the promise that accompanies the command to be worldwide witnesses. This reality is true personally and in marriage.

May the Spirit of Christ be pleased to grant us grace and wisdom to fulfill the task of winning the nations, through husbands who lead their families to love the kingdom of Christ and wives who come alongside their men to help accomplish the task.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission

Over the next couple days, I want to consider the subject of gender complementarity and the Great Commission. While reading Reforming Marriage by Doug Wilson, this subject arose, and it prompted some lengthy reflections. I hope you will consider the subject with me.

“For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9).

Douglas Wilson comments on these verses: The prepositions in these verses are important. The woman was created for the man. The man was not created for the woman. Now Paul is telling us here about how God made us. His instruction elsewhere about what we are to do as men ans women is based on what we are as men and women, and how we are oriented. The fundamental orientation of an obedient man is to his calling or vocation under God. Under normal circumstances, he cannot fulfill his calling alone–he needs help. The fundamental orientation of an obedient woman is to give that help.  Another way of saying this is that the man’s orientation is to do the job with her help, while the woman’s orientation is to help him do the job. He is oriented to the task, and she is oriented to him (Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage [Moscow: Canon Press, 1995], 64-65).

Responding to Wilson’s cogent analysis, the question becomes, “What is the God-given task?  And what difference do gender roles make in the accomplishment of the task?”  In other words, can the task that Wilson describes be accomplished without particular attention to the roles?  Fortunately, the Bible is not silent to the nature of the task or the means by which men and women united together accomplish the task. 

In Genesis 1:28, God instructed Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Their task was to have dominion over the earth, labeling all creation and overseeing its productivity. In Genesis 2, before the formation of the woman, this was Adam’s vocation in the garden of Eden:  “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). In other words, by drawing connections between Genesis 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 11, the plain teaching of Scripture is that man was given the task of having rule in the world and the woman was created to assist in that endeavor. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”, says the Lord (Gen 2:18). Why?  So that together they could accomplish the task of multiplying image-bearers, cultivating creation in the field and at home, for the purpose of having God-glorifying dominion over all creation.  This was the original task.

Enter Genesis 3 and this program is destroyed through stealth.  Adam fails miserably at his priestly task of service and protection in the garden (cf. Num. 3:5-10), and Eve is acts as his tempting accomplice when she listens to the serpent and dismisses Adam’s protective role of authority.  (Adam is by no means guiltless.  He watches the whole scenario take shape, and passively remains silent [Gen. 3:6]).  The result is a curse upon creation, the land that the man and woman were to cultivate and keep (Gen. 3:17; cf. Rom. 8:20ff).  Moreover, a curse is put on them with the promise of pain, toil, interrelational strife, and ultimately death.

But what about the task?  Does it change?.  A survey of the Scriptures, seems to indicate that it does not.  Despite the increased difficulty, in fact, the impossibility of accomplishing the task, the imperative to be fruitful and multiply does not change, nor does the command to have dominion over the earth. The problem is now that men and women have insufficient resources to accomplish the task.  This is because all descending offspring are now marked by their father’s pattern of rebellion and sin (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), and their ability to rule over creation as God’s vice-regents is now infused with personal ambition, relational competition, and the ever-present threat of re-appropriating the serpents promise, “to be like God.”  The task of subduing the earth for God, when humanity is in sinful rebellion against God.

Still the task remains. As the biblical narrative unfolds, glimpses of YHWH’s creational directive surface. To borrow terminology from Stephen Dempster’s work on the Hebrew Bible, dominion (rulership over creation) and dynasty (the proliferation of offspring) continue. Man’s orientation to the field and to the task of subduing the earth remains, though viciously skewed by sin and sometimes enacted with utter disregard for the Creator. Likewise, women in the Bible and in history continue to fulfill the task by bearing children who image God (cf. Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). Nevertheless, humanity itself has been unable to fulfill the task in all of its glory as is apparent in a world that groans and in a human race that dies!

So what can be done? 

The resolution to the problem is that in the midst of mankind’s puny attempts to carry out the work established by God in the beginning, God himself interceded and interjected his own man to accomplish the task. Promised from the beginning (Gen. 3:15), brought about in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), Jesus Christ came as the second Adam (cf. Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) to accomplish the task, to redeem and remake humanity, and to put all things once again under humanity’s feet. He did this by living a life completing obedient to his Father in heaven, thus attaining perfect righteousness, by dying an undeserved death on a Roman implement of torture and punishment–the cross, and by raising again on the third day proving his righteousness and newly creating the promise of life after death (1 Cor. 15:1-3). In so doing, Jesus Christ accomplished the task and recast it in the form of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

In the Great Commission, we have the miraculous and powerful reversal of the effects of the Fall and the re-establishment of original task: “Make disciples” corresponds with the original command to be fruitful and multiply.  Now image-bearers of the risen Christ are not simply born, they are reborn, and all those who are born again will be able to enter and see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). Moreover, the authority that Christ possesses is a promise that the earth, knocked from under the feet of Adam and Eve, will one day be restored to all those who have submitted themselves to Jesus Christ, believed his gospel, and have been made ready (i.e. made ready through imputed righteousness) for his coming reign. In this, the task has been restored to redeemed humanity in an already but not yet fashion. Whereas the creational imperative to be physically fruitful remains, and the task of cultivating the earth–even in its corrupted state–continues, the greater task now becomes the preaching of the gospel and making disciples of all the nations in preparation for the age to come. This is the task of the Great Commission, and the task of every Christian couple!

From here we can ask, “How do gender roles fit into this biblical mission? Are they essential or merely optional?  And why does it even matter?” Certainly, the Bible is not neutral and gives us instruction for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Tomorrow, we will pick up this theme and continue to consider marriage, gender roles, and the Great Commission.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Sex in the Service of God

When was the last time that you read a book or a chapter and had your worldview rocked?  Where as soon as you finished the chapter, you wanted to start it again?  When the result of extended meditation on the book actually changed your thinking and your view of life?  For me this has come from John Piper’s Desiring God, Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism, A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God,  and only a handful of others.

This morning I would have to add Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of Godto the list.    Like an unexpected earthquake, Ash set off a series of tectonic shifts in my thinking about marriage, sex, and the glory of God.  His premise is that the primary purpose of marriage is not human companionship to overcome loneliness or personal satisfaction derived from a heterogeneous coupling.  No, instead, the divine design of marriage is more cosmic, more missional, and larger than just two people in bed together. 

Going back to the Garden, God’s intention in creating mankind male and female has always been to perform a work that could not be done alone.  God’s command to mankind to till and cultivate the earth, to serve God and guard the garden has cosmic significance.  And today, after the Fall, it has a missions imperative.  This changes everything about marriage, because the blessed union is far more than simply two becoming one. 

The force of Ash’s chapter, “Sex in the Service of God,” comes from the fact that his argument is clear, intensely biblical, and incredibly relevant–not to mention inspiring in a Great Commission sort of way.  Marriage and sex as an act of proclaiming the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ has been something I have thought about before, but never with such clarity and potency as I had this morning.  I pray it will have a lasting effect.

So I commend you to pick up the book and read the chapter yourself and ponder its significance.  I know that I will, again and again. Here is a sampling to consider your marriage in the light of God’s glory:

Marriage is to be a visible and lived-out image of the love of the Lord for his people, and this relationship is so central to reality that the project of imaging it is seen as the primary purpose of marriage.  The paradox is that when we begin to think of the marriage relationship as an end in itself, or even as an end that serves the public signification of the love of God, we slip very easily into a privatization of love taht contradicts the open, outward-looking and gracious character of covenant love.  By this I mean that the covenant of the Creator for his people is a love that has the world, the whole created order, as its proper object; in loving his people with a jealous love he has in mind that this people should be a light to the nations and that through them blessing should spread more and more widely.  The moment we begin unquestioningly to treat marital intimacy as the primary goal of marriage, however, we contradict the outward-looking focus and the project becomes self-defeating (Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, 127).