Gender-Specificity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When Paul speaks in Titus 2:1 about sound doctrine, he immediately turns to relationships. Rather than expatiating a systematic theology, Paul says that theology is worked out in the context of distinctly masculine and feminine roles, in youthful and elderly stages of life, and in varying spheres of leadership and influence (i.e. masters and slaves).  Clearly theology that is genuine is incarnated in the daily life of Christians.  In regards to husband and wife relations, Christopher Ash in his book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God  picks up this same idea– theologically-infused living– when he comments on another Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians 11.  He writes:

Paul’s teaching here (1 Cor. 11:2-16) seems to be conditioned by women (perhaps reacting against the abuses of patriarchy) behaving as if they can ‘go it alone’ in their behaviour, whether by ceasing to be gladly feminine or by reluctance to cooperate in the marriage partnership. By their contentious and disorderly behaviour they bring disrepute on the gospel. In the absence of proper order (which includes Christian subordination of the wife to the husband, and headship as sacrificial serving authority) there will be rivalry rather than partnership between the sexes. Perhaps in Corinth the women needed reminding both of their interdependence with the men and that they were made ‘for the sake of’ man, as partners in a shared God-given task. Disorder (and in particular a wrong attitude of subordination) leads to rivalry in which the weakest go to the wall; the task will be neglected. Proper order will promote sexual relations in the service of God (302).

Ash does not only address women but men as well.  Writing later in his book, he furthers his argument of gender-specific gospel living by saying:

The love of husband for wife is to be modelled on the cross. It is to be self-sacrificial love and not the self-serving enjoyment of some misguided privilege. Christian headship in marriage is marriage in the shape of cross; most contemporary debate misses this central point. For Christ to be head of the church was not a cheap or comfortable calling; it involved crucifixion (322).

The purpose of marriage then, says Ash, is that “the husband takes upon himself the goal of being such a husband whose love will lead his wife into growth in personal and spiritual maturity (for there is not dichotomy between these two), so that his greatest aim in marriage is not his self-fulfillment but the blossoming of his wife. ‘Husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives’ (Peter O’Brien 1999:422-424). This might sound a little self-righteous, as if he from his Olympian spiritual height can raise up his wife to his level; it is in fact deeply humbling. No husband can take responsibility seriously without himself being deeply conscious of his own need for cleansing, holiness and growth in grace” (324).

Both headship (expressed in sacrifice) and submissiveness (to unjust authority) are expressions of the way of the cross (327).

In these bold and counter-cultural statements, Christopher Ash is saying something twenty-first century Christians need to hear.  Both expressions of headship and submissiveness adorn the gospel of God and manifest, in part, the inner workings of the Trinity. In fleshing out male and female roles, husbands and wives, become more like the men and women God created them to be.  In other words, they more accurately display the gospel of Jesus Christ when they bear the fruits of biblical masculinity and feminity in the roles of head and helpmate.  Just as Jesus came as the perfect second Adam, so too married men and women, when they gladly take on their biblical roles, dignify humanity and call men and women living outside of God’s moral order to return to the truth. 

Realistically, the world’s response may not be commendation and praise, but rejection of the gospel light reflected in these godly marriages.  Nevertheless, when the world encounters a gracious patriarch willing to lay down his life for the care and protection of his family and gentle feminine companion unwilling to usurp his authority or combat his leadership, the world encounters something different, perhaps even transcedent.  When the world encounters a 1 Corinthians 11 woman or an Ephesians 5 man, it encounters a picture of Christ and the church! This is a powerful testimony and one the world can only hate. It cannot deny its Spirit-wrought reality!

May who claim the name of Christ all grow in grace and godliness, not as androgynous saints, but as brothers and sisters manifesting distinctly masculine and feminine godliness in the marriages God has given to us.

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).