Men and women working together. It’s been God’s good order since the beginning.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
This is God’s beautiful, sin-free picture of men and women ruling together. As Kevin DeYoung has written in his recent book Men and Women in the Church, “the man and the woman were given joint rule over creation. Together they were to fill the earth and subdue it. God blessed them, and God told them to have dominion over every living thing (Gen. 1:28).” It’s worth noting that neither one of them could fulfil their joint responsibility without the other. This is why it was not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). The partnership of man and woman was essential to them fulfilling the mission God had given them.
Furthermore, what made the man and woman uniquely qualified for this role is that both man and woman were made in the image of God. Both were given equal dignity to be “like statues or icons placed in creation to testify to the world that God has dominion over this place.” In the partnership that they enjoy, they are equal before God in value and worth.
In Genesis 2 we learn about the ways in which men and women are created differently, and how God interacts first with Adam and then with Eve, creating her to be something that he calls himself again and again (Gen 2:18; cf. Ex 18:4b, Deut 33:7,26, 29a; Ps 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11, 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; Hos 13:9) These differences are well worth pondering as to their possible meaning, especially in light of Paul’s inspired thoughts on them (1 Corinthians 11:7-12, 1 Tim 2:13), but what is clear is that the picture first given to us is that man and woman were created in partnership, peace, and pre-eminence over creation. It is beautiful.
As we read the opening chapters of Genesis, however, this blessed picture seemingly lasts only moments before Adam and Eve’s sin destroys it all. The man and woman turn on God (Gen 3:6) and on each other (Gen 3:12), and God’s words to Eve tell us that because of the fall a woman’s desire for her husband will be twisted and men will now rule in “harsh exploitative subjugation over women,” to cite Gordon J. Wenham. The beautiful picture of partnership, peace and pre-eminence is now going to be marked by privation, oppression and pain (Gen 3:16-19)
Praise God that in Christ all who believe have now been justified and reconciled to God (Rom 5:9-11), and all believers have been made a part of the body of Christ and reconciled to one another (Rom 12:4-5) This gives us all hope that the pain and perniciousness that was brought about by sin, and affected man and woman’s ability to work together, can in our continuing sanctification be put to death more and more.
But this is a continuing work. Putting sin to death (or mortifying sin) is something that we must continuously pursue. As John Owen has said, “Do you mortify the sin in your life? Do you make it your daily work? Always be at this work while you live! Do not miss a day from it. You need to be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” What this means is that, when it comes to men and women working well together, we must continuously be putting to death sinful patterns that so easily rear up amongst us. Despite the hope that we have in Christ for reconciliation between men and women and that we can work well together there are numerous indicators that we still have much work to do. The examples of high profile pastors abusing women, the proliferation of porn and rape culture, and the books being written about the history of how men and women have related to each other, are all signs that indicate we need to keep thinking hard about how we can work well together. This goes for us in the Presbyterian church the same as anyone else.
If we as men and women are going to work well together then we have to look to the awesome picture we have as reconciled brothers and sisters in Christ, but also be honest about looking at the stuff that is sinful and problematic amongst us, even that done with good intentions. We have cause to hope, and we have cause to repent, put sin to death, and continue to grow in our sanctification together. By doing this we will best equip and position ourselves to fulfil the mission has given to us as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not so much now to multiply and fill the earth in a biological sense (although this remains a good thing!) but rather to make disciples of all the nations. (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:8)
– James Snare is the minister at Gosford Presbyterian Church