Sex, roles and gender have been discussion topics since the beginning of time (Genesis 2). An article released last week on The Gospel Coalition USA site (now taken down), which presented sexual intercourse as an “icon” for salvation—a man’s seed as the analogy of the gospel and a woman’s vagina as the fertile heart of a new believer, together with the occasion of International Women’s Day—today, the 8th March—has prompted me to write.

Created Woman

Last Wednesday, as part of the women’s Bible study I attend, we studied Genesis 3. In the previous study, we had delighted in the intricate creation of a glorious God who intentionally took time to form Adam and then put him into a deep sleep before making a helper according to his kind. As Adam erupted in poetry, declaring that “at last there is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”, we had all discussed the longing we have as women to be known and loved—and even romanced now and then. However, as I participated in this discussion, I was reminded of the fact that romantic love, sex and marriage is just one aspect of womanhood. God created women as his image-bearers: to beautifully reflect his creativity, to nurture and encourage those around them, to reason and reflect, to confidently declare the goodness of God and the wonders of his word (Genesis 1:26-28, Mark 12:30, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:15).

As our group returned to continue in our study, we saw that in just the next breath, all hell breaks loose (a fitting expression for the appearance of the serpent!) in Genesis 3. The harmonious union of man and woman turns to a passive man, a deceived woman, spiritual guilt and relational blame. Curses are pronounced by the LORD, and men and women are henceforth burdened with relational tension, where men are prone to dominate their wives and women are told they will “desire” their husbands—if understood as it is in the next chapter, this means “seek to take over or usurp their husbands.” (Genesis 3:16; 4:7) We shouldn’t be surprised that we find the gender-struggle of Genesis 3 throughout history, whether expressed in male domination or passivity, to the tragic detriment of women, or wives opposing their husbands in sinful ways.

Yet in the midst of this tension, the beauty of God’s original creation remains, tarnished by sin and burdened by the curse, yet not lost entirely. Together, both men and women share the dignity and duty to actively serve our Lord God together, having dominion over the world, tending it and taking care of it. (Genesis 1:26).

So, in this our current time, on International Women’s Day, how do Christians righteously and beautifully celebrate women? As Adam first celebrated the first woman, poetically honouring her not only as lover and mother, we too can attest to the spirituality, intelligence, strength and vitality of women and their brilliant contributions to church community, life and theology!

What Is a Woman?

In our time, we need to be unwavering on how we define “womanhood”. We need to clearly uphold the fact that a “woman” is someone born biologically with female reproductive organs. While many may be single, or struggle with fertility issues, or be born with exceptional anatomical complications, women’s bodies are the bodies which (ordinarily) have the anatomy to foster life.[1] For as Adam called his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living; being “woman” means belonging to the sex which has the biological organs to make bearing children a possibility. However, reproductive anatomy is not the sole grounds for the worth of a woman, any more than it is for the worth of a man. There is more to being human, than gender, marriage, sexual intercourse and reproduction. Just as our female life and experience encompasses more than simply our experience of sexuality and children.

What Does a Woman Do?

The way a godly woman lives out her “womanhood” has glorious flexibility. A woman may be single or a woman may become a wife and raise children. A woman can work outside the home or stay working inside it. A woman can mow the lawn or clean the house; she can cook the meals or manage the finances. She can pursue academic study or career progression. A woman can possess a gift of leadership or she can be an introvert who enjoys spending time in quietness. We need to allow space for women to live out their lives as apprentices of Jesus in many and various ways. One glance at women in Scripture, shows the brilliant tapestry of the ways women can be women.

I can’t help but feel that so much of the beauty of the lives and ministry of women in the church has been overshadowed by the discussion around what a woman is allowed to do and what they aren’t allowed to do in formal teaching and leadership. While this discussion is important, it is just one small piece of the valuable contributions women make to life and the community of believers, as it is for men. I love hearing of women both inside and outside the church who demonstrate initiative, selflessness, creativity, leadership, innovation. It makes me wonder then, why we don’t spend some time celebrating the ways women are servants of Jesus in all their splendid variety—not just arguing over whether a woman can teach on Sunday or what precisely should be considered modest attire.

The Worth of a Woman

The worth of a woman (and a man!) though, isn’t in what a woman achieves or what a woman does; it is in who a woman is. Both women and men were called to live for Jesus, honouring “Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). May we honour women in our church communities today, this week and beyond, not simply for what they do but for who they are; not at the expense of men but for the good of men, too. For when men and women work together in unity, living out their calling as disciples of Jesus, the church is built up and the individual flourishes. When we bear with one another in love, in humility and patience, Christ is honoured (Ephesians 4:1-2).

May our loudest collective voice declare the beauty of a heart surrendered to Jesus and hands in service of him, whether it comes in a woman’s body or a man’s body. May the gospel of grace go forth from us both with clarity and joy. For right there, in the midst of relational mess and the gender-specific curses of Genesis 3, we see the hope of the Saviour:

I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

This hope pierces our culture and speaks life into the brokenness and wickedness all around us. May we be known inside and outside the church as communities who build one another up for the flourishing of women and of men. May we also live having our eyes fixed on Jesus and the future hope he offers, being assured that one day perfect relational harmony will exist once more.

[1] I realise there are complexities of various kinds in terms of biological conditions. For more information, Patricia Weerakoon has numerous resources on this topic in print and on her website.