Male and Female

Original Date: 
Sunday, April 28, 2013

Genesis 2:18-25 Who Do You Think You Are? Male and Female

Storm the Genderless Baby
A couple of years ago the birth of a baby named Storm, up in Canada, created a storm of controversy when the child’s parents decided not to reveal the baby’s gender.

When Storm came into the world in a birthing pool on New Year’s Day of 2011, parents Kathy Witterick and David Stocker sent out this email: “We decided not to share Storm’s sex for now—a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a standup to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime.”

Only the parents, midwives, a close personal friend, and Storm’s two older brothers know the baby’s gender. Even the grandparents have been left in the dark. “What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children,” the father said, “It’s obnoxious.”

Instead, apparently, the goal is for Storm to develop his or her own gender identity—free from the expectations and norms that society might put on a child based on gender alone. Thus, if Storm wants to wear pink and play with toy soldiers, that will be encouraged. And if Storm wants to wear blue and play with Barbie dolls, that will be encouraged as well.

Some of this parenting style is evident in the older brothers: Jazz (aged 5 at the time of the birth) and Kio (aged 2). While it is freely admitted that both are boys, Jazz likes to wear his long hair in pig tails and play with dolls.

When the story became a hot topic on the morning news and debate shows (which may or may not have been what the parents were going for when they sent out their email) they responded by saying: “The strong, lightning-fast, vitriolic response was a shock. The idea that the whole world must know our baby's sex strikes me as unhealthy and voyeuristic."

In similar news from 2011, a preschool in Stockholm, Sweden announced that it would defy gender stereotyping by keeping all gender-specific references–including the pronouns “his” and “hers–out of the classroom. Children are referred to as “friends,” rather than by gender-specific pronouns. Construction toys are placed next to toy kitchens to discourage gendered play, and classroom books feature homosexual couples, single parents, and adopted children.

There are no Snow White, Cinderella or other classic fairy tales which might be seen as cementing stereotypes. School director Lotta Rajalin, 52, says the staff also try to help the children discover new ideas when they play. “A concrete example could be when they’re playing ‘house’ and the role of the mom already is taken and they start to squabble,” she says. “Then we suggest two moms or three moms and so on.”

Is this the ideal? Should we be striving for a world that does not see gender?

Not Trivial
We are in the midst of a series called “Who do you think you are?” We’re spending a couple of months considering what the Bible says about what it means to be human. We’re trying to understand some of the majesty and significance that is ours as creatures made in the image of God.

I came across a verse this week that helps capture why a series like this is important. It’s Deuteronomy 32:46-47, part of Moses’ pep talk to the people before they enter the promised land:

Lay to heart all the words which I enjoin upon you this day, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no trifle for you but it is your life (RSV).

The part that grabbed me is that last line: “It is no trifle for you but it is your life.” Your life is not a trifle. It is not trivial. It is no small thing to be alive. It is no small thing to be made in the image of God.

John Piper writes:

To be a living human being is a grand thing. Haven’t you all had those rare and wonderful moments when you are standing by a window, or door, or anywhere, and suddenly, unbidden, and powerful comes the awakening: I am alive. I am alive. Not like a tree or rabbit, but like a human being. I am thinking, feeling, longing, regretting, grieving. Alive. Made in the very image of God. And this is a grand thing. (God Created Man Male and Female: What Does It Mean to Be Complementarian? November 24, 2012)

It is a grand thing to be a human being.

And part of the grandeur is that you are either male or female. Genesis 1:27, the verse that announces our divine beginnings, says:

So God created man in his own image,
In the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.

Nobody is a generic human being. There is no such thing as a genderless child. God never intended that there be. God creates male human beings and female human beings. And this is not a trifle.

And this more than just the biological mechanics necessary for reproduction. The differences between male and female are too many and too deep for superficial explanations. A woman is a woman to the depths of her humanity. And a man is a man to the depths of his humanity. And this is a grand thing.
So the big idea today is that God created us male and female. It is part of His good design for us. Or, to put it another way: men and women are created with equal value before God—both genders are created in God’s image, and it is only about human men and women that this can be said—but the differences in our gender are put there by God and should be embraced and celebrated as complements to each other.

Dangerous Ground
Now, we are embarking on some dangerous ground. My goal here is to attempt to navigate between two pretty serious errors that have been made with regard to gender relations.

On the one hand is the male dominated, chauvinistic attitude that has marred so much of human history. This is the view that says men are in charge and women are something less.

You can see examples of this in the Bible. From the way Adam treated Eve when he tried to throw her under the bus for eating the fruit to the way Abraham treated Sarah when he sold her to Pharaoh to the way Solomon treated his wives by marrying several hundred of them; it’s not hard to find examples of sinful distortions of God’s design.

But keep in mind, just because these stories are in the Bible doesn’t mean God approves, and just because that was the cultural norm doesn’t mean it was right. You can still find examples of this sinful chauvinism in the Taliban-like rules of some Muslim countries and the selective abortions of female children in countries like China and India to the human trafficking and pornography that is rampant in our Western Culture. Any view of the genders that turns women into property is deplorable and evil.

But, on the other hand, I am trying to steer clear of the gender obliterating view that I described in the introduction. The impulse that says gender doesn’t matter and that we all choose our sexuality and our roles regardless of how we are designed seems equally dangerous (if not, at times, ridiculous) to me.

We are now coming out of several decades of sexual politics in which the goal has been to minimize the significance of maleness and femaleness. And yet, as we survey the moral landscape, can we really say we are better off? The irony of our attempts to level the distinctions between men and women is a society in which we have more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more sexual exploitation and pornography, and more emotional distress and suicide related to sexuality than ever before. Can we really say that is a good thing?

The answer, it seems to me, is not to continue to downplay our maleness and femaleness, but to get back to what God intended in the first place. To affirm that God has a plan in our sexual design—a plan that has been distorted and twisted by sin at times—but still a plan that is good. “Very good,” as God said in Genesis 1.

The middle ground, the Biblical ground, is the view that says God has made male and female equal in value, but has assigned to the genders different and complementary roles.

Genesis 2
Our text this morning is Genesis 2:18-25. This is the account of the creation of Eve. The story of the first marriage. Genesis 2:18-25:

18The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

19Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

21So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman, '
for she was taken out of man."

24For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

There are two points I want to highlight. The equality of the sexes, and their differences.

This is It!
First, I want to talk about the equality of the sexes. This passage goes out of its way to emphasize the match between the man and woman.

Think about the context for a moment. God has created the first man and stationed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it. He’s given the freedom of eating from all the trees in the garden save one. In that one prohibition God has established the importance of obeying Him.

It is a good world. But then, verse 18 interrupts the idyllic scene:

18The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Amid all the stunning perfection of the Garden of Eden, there is one problem. The man is alone. He needs a “helper suitable for him.”

But God does not immediately set out to create this helper. Instead, God parades the animals before the man and gives him the responsibility of naming them. (verses 19-20) Why does He do this? In part, this is Adam fulfilling the creation mandate we talked about last week. This is Adam going to work and exercising dominion over creation.

But more than that, I think this is God’s way of helping to man to see his problem. The man has not yet realized the issue of his aloneness. So God walks the beasts of creation before him so that it will dawn on the man that there is no creature in the garden that shares his nature. There may be friendly dogs and aloof cats and talking parrots, but it is going to quickly become apparent that there is not a creature like him. There is no one with whom he can share companionship on his level.

So God performs the first surgical operation (verses 21-22). Imagine the scene: as the last of the animals walks away with its new name, Adam turns away with a hint of sorrow in his eyes. God says: “Son, I want you to lie down. Close your eyes and sleep.”

Then the Creator goes to work. He opens the man’s side and removes a rib. He closes the wound. Then He goes to work on the rib. He builds a woman. (I love the story of the little boy who went to Sunday School and learned about Adam and Eve. Later that day when he was at home, he got a tummy ache and his side started to hurt. His momma asked him what was wrong and he said, "I think I'm having a wife.")

So there she stands: perfectly gorgeous and uniquely suited to man’s need. Then the Lord says to her: “Daughter, I want you to go stand over there. I’ll come for you in a moment.” Then God touches the man and says: “Wake up son, there’s someone I want you to meet. One more creature for you to name. What do you think of this one?”

And God leads Eve out to Adam, and Adam explodes with relief:

"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman, '
for she was taken out of man." (v. 23)

The first recorded human words, and they are poetry. The man instantly recognizes that this is what he has been missing. Only this creature, out of all the creatures he has seen, is suited to him.

She is his equal, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. She is his partner, not a threat. The only one capable of fulfilling his longing within.

The story is written to emphasize the perfect match that now exists between man and woman. As Genesis 1:27 makes abundantly clear, they are both created in the likeness of God. They both reflect the image of God. They are suitable for each other.

Suitable Helper
But there is also a difference. You can see already in this story the emergence of different roles for men and women.

The conspicuous phrase, repeated in both verse 18 and 20, is “a helper suitable for him.” On the one hand, the woman alone, out of all the creatures, was “suitable” for the man. She alone is Adam’s equal.

But on the other hand, there is an ordering here. Not an ordering of value or worth or dignity; but an ordering of responsibility. The woman is called the man’s helper. The man is created first and he is given the lead. In their relationship with each other, the man bears the responsibility for the God-ward direction of their family, and the woman is called to support him in that undertaking.

Theologians use the word “headship” to describe this relationship. The burden of leading, providing for, and protecting women has been placed on the man. Ray Ortlund, one of my seminary professors, puts it like this:

In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction…A man, just by virtue of his manhood, is called to lead for God. A woman, just by virtue of her womanhood, is called to help for God. (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 99 and 102)

Is this an insult to women? I don’t believe so. I know that there have been all sorts of sinful distortions of Biblical headship. We are sinful human beings, we make a mess of all sorts of things. But God’s design is not meant to set men and women in opposition to each other, but give them complementary roles.

It may be helpful to know that the Hebrew word used for "helper" here is a word which is elsewhere in Scripture used almost exclusively in reference to God. Psalm 33:20, for example, says “We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help [same word] and our shield.”

Don’t think of a helper then as a maid or a servant, but as someone who has the strength and the resources to come in and assist someone in need. The woman is the helper of her husband the same way God is the helper of Israel. In Genesis 2, it is the woman who saves the man from his loneliness.

The point then, Biblically speaking, is that men are given primary responsibility for the direction of their marriages and their families.

You can see this already in the next chapter. After the fall, when God comes to the Garden looking for the guilt-laden couple, it is the man that He specifically seeks and holds accountable. (Genesis 3:9)

In fact, it is probably because of the roles God assigned to the man and woman that the serpent sought out Eve to tempt in the first place. It wasn’t because Eve was weaker or more susceptible to temptation. Rather, it was because the serpent wanted to subvert the God-given roles. Adam, for his part, abandoned his post and stood by passively while Eve made a decision he should have made.

Both were guilty of sin, but again, it is the man who bears the primary responsibility.

And so, we see that by God’s design men and women are made equal, but given complementary roles.

A Word to Singles
So, what should this look in your life? What difference does it make? I want to close by saying a few words to men, a few words to women, and then holding up the New Testament picture that ties all this to Jesus.

But, before I do that I need to say a word to singles.

I realize that it can be very difficult to be a single person in the world of church. I realize that so much of what we do at church is about families. We do couples-based small groups and we put an emphasis on children’s and youth ministries and sometimes the sermons assume everyone is married and I can only imagine that at times it feels like there is no place for you here.

For that I want to say that I am sorry. We do not do a good enough job of welcoming single people into the church. And there’s no excuse for that.

I want you to know too that while Genesis 2 sets the foundation for marriage and pictures the creation of Eve as the answer to Adam’s loneliness; that does not mean everyone must be married or they are somehow incomplete.

In fact, the Bible has a strong tradition of encouraging singleness, and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 that if we can stay unmarried, we should. We need to remember that Paul was single and so was Jesus. We would hardly dare to call their lives incomplete or unfulfilled because they never took wives. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 7 that unmarried people have more freedom for serving the Lord (v. 32, 34). He doesn't say that it is wrong to get married (v. 28), but he wants to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with being single either. It all depends on God's plan for your life.

And so, for those of you who are single or widowed or divorced, and for you young people who are wondering whether or not you will ever get married, we need to recognize that marriage is not God's plan for everyone. And as a church, we need to apologize for the things we've done--intentionally and unintentionally--to make you feel like there is something wrong with you if you aren't married.

But, at the same time, I want to encourage you to hear what the Bible has to say about mature manhood and womanhood. Even though I’m putting it primarily in the context of marriage, this is still God’s ideal for all of us regardless of marital status.

Lazy Lions and Aggressive Praying Mantises
So, a word to men. Men, we must take our responsibilities seriously. Men, we have been called to lead our families, not for our own sake, but for theirs. Not for our own glory, but for the glory of God.

There’s a scene in the movie The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible is feeling dissatisfied with his life. He’s in a superhero relocation program working as an insurance salesman and he’s just not happy. So he sits in his mancave all night just stewing.

Meanwhile, his wife is trying to manage two preteens and a baby. The kids are squabbling, the baby is crying, and she’s trying to get dinner on the table. Finally, in frustration, she cries out: “Engage Robert! Engage!”

Men, many of us need to engage. Too often we are passive and uninvolved at home. Too often we become masculine wimps. That is, we are wimps in that we do not tackle the issues confronting our families; and when we do finally stir it is as a bully—asserting our rights as the “man of the house.”

Our headship does not give us the right to act like lazy lions. You know how, in the wild, the female lion does most of the hunting while the male just lies around? But then, once a kill is made the male comes in and uses his superior size and strength to push everyone else out of the way to eat first? That is not what it means to be a man. We have to see that our responsibilities to protect and provide for our families means that we should be serving them and sacrificing on their behalf.

Dr. James Dobson writes:

A Christian man is obligated to lead his family to the best of his ability… If his family has purchased too many items on credit, then the financial crunch is ultimately his fault. If the family never reads the Bible or seldom goes to church on Sunday, God holds the man to blame. If children are disrespectful and disobedient, the primary responsibility lies with the father… not his wife… In my view, America’s greatest need is for husbands to begin guiding their families, rather than pouring every physical and emotional resource into the mere acquisition of money. (quoted in Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 39)

And, a word to women. I don’t have as much to say here, because I’m not a woman, and also because I think the primary burden of this message is for men to step up to the plate.

But to the women I’ll say encourage the men in your life. When you see the men taking steps to exercise Godly leadership and sacrificially serving you and your family, encourage them.

Don’t be so eager to prove that you are capable and competent and able to do whatever a man does that you refuse all efforts of men to show Godly headship. To take another example from the world of nature, don’t be like those praying mantises or other insects where the female destroys the male right after mating—just in a show of independence.

In order to recover a sense of God’s plan for us as men and women we need to show our boys that it is possible to lead without being bullies and we need to show our girls that it is possible to be led without being weak.

A Beautiful Picture
Finally, let me point you to a passage from the New Testament. I don’t have time to say much about it, but let me remind you of the beautiful picture the Bible sees in the relationship between men and women reflected in the relationship between Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5, starting at verse 22:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body. [And then Paul quotes from our passage in Genesis] "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Your maleness and your femaleness is not a trivial thing. It is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Let’s seek, then, to be the kind of men and women He created us to be.