You probably know that I have written a book about women. You may be wondering about my agenda.
“What are Paul’s views on gender roles? Is he a complementarian or an egalitarian? Does he support traditional arrangements where the man is in charge or does he promote equality?”
Full disclosure: I believe in the equality of the new creation.
It is my conviction that if we are to return to God’s ways, and follow the example set by Jesus, equality and mutual respect are essential. Black or white, male or female – all are precious in God’s eyes. All are equal in grace.
But I am not a rabid egalitarian. Let me explain.
On the one hand, I am convinced that equality protects us from the abuses of hierarchy and the misuse of authority. But on the other, I fear the dogged pursuit of equality can hinder authentic relationships.
The name of the game is love
Like a referee, equality is essential, but it’s not the game. Jesus never said his disciples would be known for their equality and sense of fair play. We are to be known for the way we serve, respect, and prefer one another. If we settle for equality, there’s a danger we will fall short of all that God has in store for us, particularly in our marriages.
So even though I believe in treating everyone equally, let me say that equality is not the goal; love is. And true love is so other-focused, that equality doesn’t come into it.
In an essay entitled “Equality,” C.S. Lewis compared equality to medicine, which is good when we are ill, but is otherwise no good at all. As medicine is no substitute for nourishing food, equality is not the substance of love and life.
Have as much equality as you please—the more the better—in our marriage laws, but at some level consent to inequality, nay, delight in inequality, (as) an erotic necessity…. Let us wear equality; but let us undress every night.
A good marriage is a partnership between equals who ironically don’t see themselves as equal. The husband loves his wife more than his own life, and the wife submits to her husband as to the Lord. Each prefers the other to themselves.
In such a marriage, there is no score-keeping to ensure both partners are pulling their weight. Rather, each aspires to love at all times and excel in the gentle grace of giving.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
Gender equality in the new creation
To see how well you’re getting this, let me ask one of the most provocative questions around: Should wives submit to their husbands? There are three ways to answer this question.
The traditional answer is that wives should always submit because “it’s commanded in scripture.”
However, this approach leads to imbalanced and unhappy marriages that are burdened with the heavy yoke of law. Even if the husband is a good leader and the wife a good follower, the pursuit of intimacy will be frustrated by the partitioning of the partnership.
How can they be truly together while he’s up there and she’s down here? The horns of hierarchy can only add discord to the marriage melody.
The egalitarian answer is that wives should never submit because doing so leads to abuse and the perpetuation of patriarchy.
However, the egalitarian response, like the traditional one, undermines a marriage for it replaces one law (submission) with another (equality), and any law will minister death.
This may come as a shock to those with an egalitarian mindset, but the pursuit of equality can shipwreck your marriage. A woman who is mindful of boundaries and maintaining her position may never experience abuse, but nor will she experience authentic love. How can she when her heart is constantly guarded?
The third and biblical answer to this question is that husbands and wives who freely submit to each other—who are tolerant, tender-hearted, kind and caring, always seeking to edify and serve the other—infuse their marriage with the sweet fragrance of Jesus. In their union, they experience heaven on earth.
Traditional and egalitarian marriages may get a taste, but they never enjoy the full riches of heavenly submission. How can they, when love is demanded rather than given?
A wife who demands respect from her husband denies him the joy of giving it, and in denying him that freedom, she undermines her marriage.
But a wife who dares to surrender, who gives respect and trusts her husband, will inspire him to joyfully go all in. Her vulnerability will empower him to love far more than he might have accomplished on his own because we this is what we were made for.
Equality is not the end game in the war on gender discrimination; it’s the starting point for the new creation.
Equality is a good thing, but what we do with it is far more important.
Image: Rebekah at the Well, by Michael Deas
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