Say the word “feminine” and what comes to mind? Do we most often describe femininity by appearance and behavior? In an era of gender confusion, pervasive sexual abuse, and cries against “the patriarchy” in both church and society, the Church cannot afford to misunderstand how God has made men and women or for what purpose.
Our culture has shaped our views of femininity and masculinity. A quick survey of ethnographies or even our own culture’s history will demonstrate how pervasively we are impacted. For more than 400 years in China, a desirable trait for a marriageable woman was tiny feet, broken and painfully bound in childhood. European women of the 17th and 18th Centuries sought beauty through white lead-based cosmetics. The baleen corsets of the 19th Century whittled down the waists (and whale populations) of North American women to unhealthy proportions. Each of these choices focused on specific physical attributes of a woman to highlight an ideal figure.
But true Biblical femininity is less about appearance and more about ontology. It is not so much what we look like, but who we are and how we act based on that. When we understand and accept who God has made us to be, we become free to act in accordance with His purpose.
What is helpful for a woman to understand about Biblical Femininity? For the pastor? For the average man in the pew? Paul proclaimed that he desired through his proclamation, warning, and teaching to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). We need a Biblical framework to explore these expressions of God’s creation and calling on our lives.
Femininity means being created by God in His image.
Men and women were created by God in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) and thus are equal in value and dignity, in personhood. God designed Adam and Eve as differentiated and complimentary image bearers with clear, ordered distinctions apparent even before the Fall: Adam was created first and then Eve (Gen 2:7, 1 Tim 2:12-13). Adam was made from the ground and Eve from Adam. God gave the primary strictures of life in the garden to Adam, (Gen 2:15-17). Adam named Eve. Eve was Adam’s supportive helper. And after their sin, God made Adam primarily accountable for the Fall (Gen 3:9ff).
God also gave Adam and Eve a unified calling, a single purpose: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” While the Garden instructions were given specifically to Adam, this responsibility of representing God in the world was given to both (Gen 1.28). As co-regents, they were blessed by God, given a home, a vocation, a family, and a relationship with Him.
God made Adam and Eve as image bearing humanity, unified in purpose, complimentary in function, and ordered in responsibility. He gave them a job to do, and then called it all “very good.”
Femininity embraces the diversity of help needed to accomplish God’s mandated work.
Adam named the animals, but no compliment was found for him. God formed Eve from Adam’s side, a fit helper עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ. Eve was Adam’s help-meet, his ezer. She wasn’t his servant or a companion to stave off loneliness. Eve was not some warm, fuzzy comfort because God didn’t create Adam to make it on his own. Rather, Eve’s support was integral to their mutual success in pursuing God’s blessing.
This word ezer, “helper” is critical to our understanding of the essence of woman’s being. Ezer did not mean that Eve was subservient in her relationship to Adam. As a matter of fact, ezer is most often used in the Old Testament as a descriptor of God’s care for His people: God is your refuge and ezer (Ps. 46.1). (See also Ex. 18.4; Deut. 33:7; 20, 29; Ps 10:14, 27:9, 118:7, 145:4; Is 30:5; Dan. 11:34.) Eve was meant to be Adam’s helper together in the role that God had just given to both of them: Be fruitful and multiply. Both Adam and Eve were necessary to the plan of God.
Femininity means coming under ordered, loving leadership in the Family and in the Church.
In addition to living a life in submission to Christ and the Word of God, all men and women are under some authority. As noted above, this order was planned from the beginning and reflects the order found within the Trinity. All men and women at some point or another are called to submit to parents, church leadership, and governmental authorities. Ordered submission is not uncommon to life, but what that looks like may differ depending on marital status, work, family relationships, living situation, or even culture.
Within the realm of the family, a wife is called to submit to her own husband as the husband is called to love his own wife (Eph. 5: 22ff.) All women are not called by Scriptures to submit to all men, just as all men are not called to sacrificially love all women.
Within the realm of the church, men and women both submit to leadership. Each believer, male and female should find themselves engaged in a local church, learning and serving together with other Christ-followers. The pastors and elders of the church are called to shepherd the flock—that involves teaching and caring for each member. Hebrews 13:17-18 admonishes: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Submission, however, does not preclude women from serving in the church. While male leadership and teaching is the order of the entire church, women have innumerable ways to serve through nurture and discipleship.
Femininity means nurturing and discipleship.
Much ink has been spilled on the activities of women within their home, but not as much on the responsibility given to women to care and nurture spiritual children through discipleship (Titus 2) or the care of saints and strangers through hospitality (1 Tim. 5:10ff). Wives, widows, and single women can all nurture through sacrificial, loving discipleship in a way that adorns the Gospel.
Titus 2:3,4 clarifies that all women are called to discipleship relationships, to wit: walking together toward increasing maturity of faith in Jesus.
The call to raising godly children—whether physical or spiritual—also means that women need to learn to handle the Scriptures, to teach the Word clearly, to counsel, to encourage, and to discern what is true and right (2 Tim 3.1-7).
Isn’t the Proverbs 31 woman an example of this kind of influence? Her relationships within her household, as an employer, and in support of her husband demonstrate the power of discipleship. She is praised for her activities, wisdom, and loving instruction by all who know her.
The opportunities for such discipleship among women are bounded by maturity and by season of life. How might women in the church care for one another? Young woman, newly married, mothers with babies, women struggling with infertility, loss, or an empty nest? Abandoned children or abused wives? Singles? Foster Teens? Divorced women? Discipleship must be intentional. Faithful progress doesn’t just happen. As we spend time together, we grow, learn, and search the Scriptures together to encourage each other to be more like Jesus.
Femininity means a posture of faithful waiting for the final Restoration.
The Fall of man through the actions of Eve and Adam brought great brokenness to every part of our world, and it only took one generation of humanity to give us a clear understanding of just how broken things had become–conflicted family relationships, pain in labor, sickness, death, waiting for the Redeemer.
You don’t have to read far into the Scriptures to see that women who entrust their roles and futures to God act with great courage. Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Abigail, Esther—each of them recognized their time, spoke truth, and served God and their people well. Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus’ mother, Mary and Martha, Phoebe, Lydia, and even factious Euodia and Syntyche served with distinction, sometimes in the face of opposition and danger.
The mature, godly woman is active in her service and active in her trust that whatever the misunderstandings, whatever malice, whatever faulty interpretations may come regarding the value and role of women, one day, the Father will restore everything sin has stolen. His children will be united as the Bride of Christ, untainted by sin, and able to fully glorify our God and Creator.
What does this femininity mean for the Church today? How should the church teach, encourage, and challenge women? What roles should women play in the church? In the home? In corporate or political settings? How should women partner well in the Great Commission? How does the Gospel shape our view of marriage? How can single women use their gifts well? How can men and women partner together for the sake of the Gospel?
Let’s work together to explore these expressions as we pursue our Biblical calling in a meaningful way together, to the Glory of Christ.
The article above was published in the IFCA publication Voice: An Independent Church Journal in August, 2021.