As some within various “Christian” organizations argue the merits of such concepts, and strive to re-frame biblical teachings, essential truths have been sidelined—truths far more important than who can or cannot lead or teach within the local church.
First and foremost, before all else, it is essential to note that regardless of the construct, order or position, one’s role in this world is temporary in nature, and not eternal.
In Galatians 3:26-29, the apostle Paul underscored this reality saying, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Clearly, the construct Paul mentions is not literal in terms of how it applies here on earth. When a man or woman becomes a follower of Christ, their physical makeup does not change. Just as their physical makeup does not change, neither does their societal or God-ordained roles. Christian men cannot bear and mother children. Non-Jews cannot claim a physical genetic tie to the earthly seed of Abraham. Slaves remain slaves apart from great and terrible events such as the American Civil War.
The construct Paul refers to here is spiritual in nature and does not impact earthly constructs instituted by man or those established by God when He created this world. Rather, Paul helps us understand that regardless of who and what we are in this world, at the point of salvation, we may be a “slave” from man’s perspective, but in and through Christ, we are fully equal in terms of our relationship to Christ and our ability to approach Him as Lord and Savior with all other believers.
The new construct was initiated here on earth and will embrace fulness come eternity, when the construct of this world will altogether cease.
The apostle is not advocating the total abandonment of the earthly construct. Why? Because with it comes some sense of order here on earth.
In 1 Corinthians 7:19-24, Paul says, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you-although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”
Here Paul recognizes the earthly and spiritual constructs now set in place. The literal earthly construct consists of those things that distinguish one person from another. They are temporary. God established or permitted them, and God can do away with them as He pleases.
In terms of earthly standing, few things are more humiliating and humbling than the role of a slave. Paul does not advocate the overthrow of such things, rather, he strives to put them in perspective. This is a temporary condition. It bears no standing on how God views you as a believer. If you can properly obtain your freedom, then do so. If not, “Don’t let it trouble you.”
Paul goes so far as saying, “remain in the situation in which he was in when God called him.” Why? Because all these things are temporary. They are not eternal. They do not impact our relationship with God. From a big picture perspective, they just don’t matter.
As we begin to see the two constructs for what they are, and as we adjust our frame of reference to such realities, we may be temporarily bound to the earthly construct, but the spiritual offers true and lasting freedom in Christ.
If Paul could say to slaves, “remain in the situation which he was in when God called him,” and “Don’t let it trouble you,” then regardless of role and position, who are we to complain? Why are we troubled if we are called to remain silent, stay put, or humble ourself to the headship of a husband or father?
Those who are troubled by such things, as role and personal standing in this world, place too much value and weight on the temporary earthly construct which is passing away. Paul says, “don’t let it trouble you.” If anyone had the right to make this claim, it was Paul.
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, Paul says, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Paul, indeed, was a slave for Christ. He surrendered the entirety of his Christian life to Christ and for Christ.
For those who wish to question Paul’s teachings, consider Christ’s teaching on the subject when He said in Matthew 22:21, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The earthly construct being “Caesar”; the spiritual construct that which is “God’s.” (NKJV)
Did Christ somehow fail to see the great injustices rendered by Caesar? Of course not. Rather, He realized that this world is so tainted that there is no way to reform or clean it up enough to make it eternally suitable for His Kingdom.
Christ understood the words of Isaiah 65:17-19, when it said, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.”
Both Christ and Paul looked forward to the greatness of that which is to come, and thereby encouraged all believers to fix their hope not on the construct of the old world, but the promise of the new one, yet to come.
Contentions for position among Christ’s followers is nothing new.
In Mark 9:33-35, we see an instance in which the twelve apostles were contending over supremacy. There it says, “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.'”
The twelve apostles, like so many of us, were focused not on the spiritual, but the earthly construct. Christ turned their thinking upside down. If you want to stand supreme among the apostles, then embrace servitude. In short, the last shall be first. Those with genuine hearts of servitude will rise to the top in the new paradigm.
Every time there is an argument among so-called Christians in which the centerpiece is one of personal elevation above others, regardless of reason, they ignore the new paradigm and embrace the old. They, by example, say to Christ, your way is not good enough for me.
Come eternity, many, who claimed to be seeking Christ’s interests by demanding that their “rights” and “abilities” be recognized and used, are going to find themselves on the bottom. Why? Because of their indifference toward Christ’s new paradigm.
Personal Abilities and God’s Will
Some argue that if a woman has an ability, then surely it must be God’s desire for her to use it within the local church. Fact is, one’s abilities are not the determining factor in whether they ought to be used within the local church.
Christ, while here on earth, did not use or display all the abilities He possessed. Rather, He humbled Himself and His abilities to the earthly construct set in place.
Christ, as the leader of leaders, had but a very small following of loyal believers. Christ, as the richest of rich, took on the lowly life of a common carpenter. Christ, as the smartest of smart, limited His brilliance to a handful of minor intellectual clashes with the religious leaders of His day. Christ had abilities that dwarfed all men, but He humbled these things before His heavenly Father in order to fulfill the role given Him here on earth.
If Christ could humble Himself to such a lowly role, can any of us honestly stand before God demanding that our so-called “gifts” and abilities be recognized and used in spite of the role God has set before us?
Paul said in Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!”
Given the fact that Christ humbled Himself to the pattern of this temporary position here on earth and limited the free exercise of His abilities, who are we, as mere humans, to act as if we are somehow being slighted by God if we are called to a subordinate position? Christ Himself fully embraced a subordinate position as a man. If that is the case, then the mere presence of an ability does not necessitate the free exercise of it within the local church or the home.
The talk of subordination and submission, as if it is evil, is a very dangerous position to embrace as a true Christian. Why? Because as Paul says, Christ was “in very nature God,” but “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Rather, Christ “made himself nothing.”
Christ knew subordination to the Father. Christ knew the limitation of His personal abilities to the Father and before mankind. To argue that such things are travesties toward women in the local church is to argue that such things are travesties heaped upon Christ. The Lord lived a life of subordination and submission, and commanded that we too embrace such a posture.
In truth, far too often our understanding of what Christ desires of us is totally off-base.
When one looks at Luke 10:38-42, this becomes apparent. There it says, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ 41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'”
Martha was utilizing her skills by working very hard to please Christ. Problem is, what she thought would be pleasing to Him, and what was pleasing to Him, were greatly different. In this instance, labor is not what He desired, but loving affection.
The greatest way we can spend our time is not teaching, preaching or leading a church, but laying at the feet of Christ in prayer and worship. This is not to say that such things are not important and necessary, but if they are not under-girded by loving affection and submission to Christ, they are meaningless to Him.
Most of us, regardless of gender, are not called to teach, preach or lead in the local church, but all of us are called to humbly sit at His feet in loving submission to Him. Just as was the case with Martha, I dare say, Christ takes greater joy when we are at His feet, then when we stand in a pulpit.
Be it man or woman, what drives us to desire to teach, preach or lead a local church? I dare say, given the state of the church, far too often, temptation.
Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:6-7, “they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.'”
Too often we, like Pharisees, want the perceived esteem that comes with standing up front and teaching or leading others. If this is the case, we have failed before we begin. If Christ peered into the hearts of the Pharisees and condemned them for wrong motivation, how can we hope to avoid it? Following Christ means following Him on His terms, not our own. Let me repeat that. Following Christ means following Him on His terms, not our own.
Interestingly enough, when the devil sought to tempt Christ in Matthew 4:8-9, he offered Him the “kingdoms of the world.” Undoubtedly, such a thing would grant Him the greatest of earthly esteem. Nonetheless, Christ refused the offer. Be it inside or outside of the church, far too often some pursue the “place of honor” with fulness of heart, no matter what they are giving up in the process.
From cover to cover, the Bible is more than clear when it comes to roles and order. One must pick, choose and ignore a great deal of scripture to embrace the liberal teachings now influencing our homes and the church. One must take direct, clear teaching and humble it to less direct passages. In the process, one may gather the applause of the world, and those who are like minded, but when all is said and done, and we must account to Christ for our actions, we will suffer loss if we ignore Him. Why? Because even though this earthly construct is temporary, God set it in place for the purpose of order within the home and church, just as He uses human government to accomplish a degree of law and order.
As this earthly construct has deteriorated, we have seen more and more societal breakdown. And whether we be Judas or Satan himself, be it small or large, be it in the name of self or in the name of Christ, opposition to the temporary order God set in place is opposition to God Himself.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 says, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
Is your reward but for a moment? Is it here today and gone tomorrow? Are you humbly embracing God’s role for your life, or that which the world would seduce you with? In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Which master, which role, which path are you embracing—God’s or man’s?
If you have been embracing man’s way, hope is always before you. Go to the Lord, seek out His forgiveness, study His Word and strive to embrace it as your own. In doing so, the world may mock you, but God Himself will one day say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things… come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).