The Bible has a lot to say about men and women. The Bible also has a lot to say about the roles of men and women, especially in the context of the church, marriage and the family.
The Root Of Christian Roles In Marriage
The first verse to have a look at is in Genesis 1:27. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
God affirms – categorically – that both women and men are equally made in his image
Now that’s an extraordinary verse. That is a critical verse in our understanding of the roles of men and women.
Right on the first page of the Bible, God affirms – categorically – that both women and men are equally made in his image. We both bear the likeness of God.
Equal Image Bearers Of God: So What?
So, it affirms the dignity, the value, not only of men, but of men and women. And that both are equally image bearers of God.
And therefore, when we are talking about men and women – when we are talking about roles in marriage or gender roles – the first principle is not to talk about gender roles. The first principle is to talk about the fact that men and women are equally made in God’s image.
We must treat both men and women equally: with great dignity, and honour, and respect
And before we talk about roles, we need to affirm that. Both in our teaching – in our beliefs – and in our practice. That we treat both men and women equally: with great dignity, and honour, and respect. Because both men and women – young and old – are made in the image of God.
Different Roles For Men and Women
The Bible then states that God has given different roles to men and women. Particularly in the Church and in marriage. But let’s just talk about marriage. Let’s just talk about the family.
God said in Genesis 2:18 that it’s not good for man to be alone. And so God made a helper suitable for him. And God said that they shall be one flesh.
God gives Adam the responsibility of leading his wife and his family.
Right there in the creation narrative, in the creation story: Genesis 2, you have the first marriage. And in that marriage you have two people: one man and one woman. They both are equally made in the image of God. And God gives Adam the responsibility of leading his wife and his family.
Equal Rights of Men & Women in Marriage
It’s stated here before the fall; before Genesis 3. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives a wonderful passage on singleness and marriage. And he really goes against the culture of his day.
When speaking about marriage, he says here, (1 Corinthians 7:3-4) “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
Paul says quite clearly, just as a man has authority over his wife’s body, so she has equal authority over his body.
Paul’s Teaching On Roles in Marriage Shocked The Corinthians
Now the great shock in that culture, would not have been that Paul says that the husband has authority over his wife’s body. That would not have been a shock at all. That was the norm. Women were often treated as property.
But Paul turns that on it’s head, and he says quite clearly, just as a man has authority over his wife’s body, so she has equal authority over his body. And they shall be one flesh.
So Paul is affirming here the equal rights, the equal value, of men and women in marriage.
It means a man cannot have a second wife or a third wife. He cannot have other women. Why? Because his wife has authority over his body.
The Extraordinary Role of The Husband
We pick it up in Ephesians 5, where Paul talks about the roles of husbands and wives in marriage. Now we all understand, especially here in Africa, we understand verse 22: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” That is not where our confusion reigns, in Africa.
I must be willing to die for my wife
Our confusion reigns in terms of the duty of the husband. Because Paul says “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Now that’s an extraordinary command! I’m to love my wife as Christ loved church. How does Christ love the church? Well he died for the church! So I must be willing to die for my wife!
The Essence of Servant Leadership
So, even though there is leadership in our marriage, that leadership has to do with responsibility. That leadership has to do with me serving my wife. That leadership has to do with me being willing to give up my life for my wife.
It’s an extraordinary concept!
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.
Choose Your Spouse Wisely
So perhaps you are watching, and you’re not yet married. If you’re a man let me say this to you: do not marry a girl that you are not willing to die for. Don’t marry her.
And I’ll say to a young girl: do not marry a man who you are not willing to respect and submit to. Because those are our duties.
Husbands Must Serve Their Wives
The picture here is of a husband leading his wife, leading his family, taking responsibility, and serving his family. It’s servant leadership. That’s what Jesus modelled in the gospels.
If there’s not enough food in the house, the husband should be the last to eat… because he loves his family.
So practically what that means, is that – for instance – if there’s not enough food in the house, the husband and father should be the last to eat. Not the first to eat. The last to eat. Why? Because he loves his wife, his children, as Christ loved the church.
So there’s the biblical picture. It’s a beautiful picture.
Now, we don’t always get it right, and we fall and we fail. But that is the model God has given us. That men and women are equally made in the image of God, and that within marriage – and then the church – because the church is really just a group of families getting together.
Roles In Marriage & Roles In The Church
So when we understand the roles within marriage, well the church is just a larger group of married families. There will be singles of course – and we love them – but the same roles would then apply within the family of God.
The church is just a larger group of married families
Women are to be treated with great love and respect, as precious. Made in the image of God, of equal value and worth as men.
And within marriage – which is a wonderful picture of Christ and the church, his bride – we are to be a picture of that. Where the husband leads his family, and his wife, and exercises servant leadership, as together they build a Christian home, which should be a witness of the gospel.