Some Practical Questions About Men's and Women's Roles


Africa 1996

We could take all the parts of a car—a steering wheel, a bumper, a motor, a door—and pile them in a room. They could all be very wonderful parts, but you could not drive very far in that car if all the parts were not put together. In fact, you couldn’t go anywhere in that car. The gift of apostle puts all the good parts together. In the churches, we need the gifts that can help put the car together. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 3. He tells people about Jesus’ great love and helps put the church together so that it will be the house of God. All the wonderful gifts and all the committed Christians need the gift of apostle to help them put the House together.

In Ephesians 4, Paul said that God gave gifts to the church—apostle, prophet, and the other gifts so that we can all grow together. Those gifts don’t make us Christians, but they do teach us how to grow together. They teach us to no longer be infants, help us grow into the full measure of the stature of Christ, and help us to be compacted together. Paul says that this gift is very important to the church in helping good people to build together properly.

Many of Paul’s letters talk about very practical things. He does talk a lot about Jesus, but mostly he talks about how the Believers should live with each other. He gives them practical teaching about money, their marriages, children and widows, and about how to build in the Church with authority matters. He teaches them about their worship together, their meetings, and how to share with one another.

Teaching all the good parts (the way to become a car) was most of what Paul did with his gifts. In other words, he taught them how to build together so that they could go somewhere; we don’t want to be a bunch of parts sitting in the middle of a room. We want to be a bus for Jesus to go somewhere. We want to build together and learn how to do our work together in love.

Paul said it was okay to have practical questions. In 1 Corinthians 1, we read about how some from the household of Chloe traveled hundreds of miles to ask Paul a question. They asked him questions about divisions they were having, questions about marriages, or about what to do when sin was in their midst. And because his gift was that of an apostle, he could see what to do. God’s people needed Paul to be able to see and help. Paul was not a “superstar”. He knew he had weakness in his heart, and had fallen into sin in the past. But because God loved Paul anyway, Paul wanted to say “thank you” by using his gift for God’s people.

“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman must learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to have authoritative teaching over a man. She must be silent. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived. It was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth if they continue in faith, in love and holiness with propriety” (1 Timothy 2:9-15).

This is similar to 1 Corinthians 14, and Paul wrote both Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. So we want to understand what the Holy Spirit was thinking when He wrote these things. The Holy Spirit is a person and He has thoughts and feelings, just like with you and me. If you say something to me, you are probably thinking and feeling more than you are saying. So we want to understand what the Holy Spirit is feeling and thinking since the Holy Spirit is a Person, not just words.

The heart of the Holy Spirit is that He loves men and women just the same. In Galatians 3, He said that there is no male nor female; we are one in Christ. There is no Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. If we have faith in Christ, we now wear Christ. We have the clothing of Jesus—not Jew, not Greek, not male, not female, not black, white nor yellow. Hallelujah?! But now we all are Jesus. What color is Jesus? Who cares? He is wonderful! And so, if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we all put on Jesus, and there is no more Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. This too the Holy Spirit has said in Galatians 3.

Precious Thoughts on Authority

There are many things that the Holy Spirit thinks concerning male and female. These things are precious and we must understand them together. As we consider all the teachings about man and woman, we see that the Father is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of man. Man is the head of woman. But, is not Christ the same as God the Father? Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” Yet the Father is over Christ, though they are one. Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” The Father and the Son are one.

Certainly Christ is head over the man. But if we have been clothed with Christ, we are one with Christ. So there is still authority between Christ and the man, yet they are one in another way. There is authority between the man and the woman. The man is over the woman in the same way that Christ is over the man. Yet the man and the woman are one in Christ. So, in one sense, the man and the woman are very equal. And yet there is authority between the man and the woman.

These things are very precious and you must try to understand. The man can serve the woman with a whole heart. A man can love the woman and cherish her deeply. A man, in a way, can make himself a slave to the woman as Christ has come to serve the Church. But even though Jesus washed our feet as a slave would, He still has authority. And likewise, as a man cherishes and loves a woman, even becoming a slave to her in some ways, he still has authority over her, and she must respond to that.

Because Christ is so kind to us and loves us, we shouldn’t forget His authority, should we? There is an order in God. There is authority in God. And when the Holy Spirit speaks these things to us in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, He is not saying that men are dictators, ruling over the women with an iron fist. Women are not slaves that have to hide in the corner in the darkness. We must celebrate the wonderful gifts God has given our women, and even submit to the gifts that He has put into their hearts. But women must still recognize the authority that God has placed in man. So all of these things are matters of the heart. All of Christianity is a matter of the heart, not a matter of rules and laws. Jesus did not give us a set of rules. He taught us how to have His heart. He teaches us to think like He thinks. Therefore our goal with 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 is to have the heart that He wants us to have about these matters. The Bible is not a rulebook, but a way to have a heart.

Now how does that look in a practical way? In a relationship between a man and a woman, the man will feed, care for, and cherish his wife. He will lay down his life for her in every way possible, even so far as to become a slave as Christ did for the Church. At the same time, the woman will listen very carefully for the voice of the man because that is her heart, just as is the Church’s heart to hear Christ. The woman’s heart is to hear the man’s voice and respond to it. This is not a law, but this is the way Jesus wants us to live in our hearts. The more a man lives that way towards a woman, the more he can hear God. The more a woman lives that way towards a man, the more she can hear God. The Scriptures say, “How can two walk together unless they be in agreement?”

Authority Sets Us Free!

All of these matters are very, very important. When the whole church is together, if our hearts and our minds are right, then the man will be very respectful and loving towards all the women (who will not disappear like the furniture). The men will deeply love the gifts in the women and will not want them to bury their talents. The women will respect the men and, as they are in the gatherings of the saints, will understand the authority of the men and never come over the top of that authority. Paul said, “I do not permit the women to teach with authority over the men.” And yet they can offer their gifts.

A practical example: If one of the women has something burning in her heart to say, she must not bury her talent. She must not ignore the gift of God that is within her because the men need that gift. We need all of Jesus desperately. So if a woman has something burning in her heart that she wants to speak, she can respect the authority of the men by asking permission to say this thing. She should turn first, perhaps, to the authority over her personally. If there is a man in her life that has special authority over her, then she should, perhaps, turn first to him and ask him if it is okay. Perhaps then that man should ask the assembly if it is okay if the woman speaks. If the man does not think it is a good idea for her to speak, or if the assembly does not think it is a good idea for her to speak at that moment, then she should be happy to be silent. She should not resent that or be angry. She should not say, “Well, then, I will never share anything.”

This is how the woman can be Jesus to everyone, with the man still having the authority. The man draws the gift out, but the woman does not push herself to the top. When you look at all the teachings of the word of God together, what you see is that God has a wonderful heart towards women. A woman is not like a chair or a table in the room. She is alive with Jesus and we need her very much. But she must also understand God’s order and not be proud or arrogant. She must be humble in order to offer her gift. This is the order of the angels, the order of God the Father and Christ the Son, and the order of man and woman. We are all one, but there is an order in God that helps everything to work smoothly. We are equal, and a wife’s gift may be even better than her husband’s, but God made him a man and so there is order. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to be in a place of authority. But God chooses things that we must honor, so we must all work together to draw out the gifts and also to love the order that God puts us in so that we can work together.

Where I live, we have some very, very gifted women. The Church there has been blessed by several women who are very, very strong in Jesus. They will all tell you the same thing about functioning within God’s Order—it does not press them down; it sets them free. There is great freedom in offering their gifts rather than just taking authority. It is a very precious thing to be in submission. The women will tell you that it frees their hearts and makes them sing inside to offer their gifts rather than to take. So, while we do not desire to push down any gifts at all, these gifts come as an offering from the women, and that is true in the home or in a gathering of the saints. This is a heart that is precious to Jesus—a heart He will bless.

Do you remember when Jesus spoke to the Centurion, the Roman guard? He said to that man that in him, He saw greater faith than was in all of Israel. The greatest faith Jesus had ever seen was in a man who said he knew how to be under authority and how to have authority. The Roman guard said that he would say to his servant “Go”, and he would go. He would say to another servant, “Come”, and he would come. He said he too knew how to respect authority and go and come under authority. Jesus said this was a man of the greatest faith He had seen because he knew how to respond to authority. It was something that set him free, not something that pushed him down.

When Christ is head of the man, the man is set free. Jesus said if we are not His slave, we are a slave of sin. When we choose to not let Jesus be our Master, sin becomes our master. But when the Son sets us free, we are free indeed. Do you feel these things in your own heart? When you obey Jesus, are you free? When you don’t obey Jesus are you dirty inside?

The same is true with a man and a woman. When we respond to God’s order, we are not slaves; we are free. But when we don’t, we become slaves to the wrong thing. A woman that is not under authority with faith will feel dirty inside. She will be confused and frustrated. God gives order and authority in the family and in the Church—not so someone can be better than another person or tell them what to do and order them around. He gives order and authority so that we can all be set free in love and God’s order.

Talking to Daddy as Family

We speak of a way to live, not a way to have meetings. The answers to many practical questions are easier than they seem at first. The more we become a family in truth, the more things begin to make sense. Most people are caught between being a family and being a religious organization. Some groups of people are totally just a religious organization. Others are somewhere between being a religious organization and a family. But, as God brings His Church more and more toward being Family, then more and more things begin to make sense. When we view ourselves as a family, the answers to different questions begin to make sense. Because we love each other so much, we share every part of our lives with each other every day. Now it’s no longer just about meetings. Rather, because our lives are so wrapped together everyday, men know how to treat women and women know how to treat men. If we know how to do it in our homes and in the streets, we will know how to do it in the meetings.

In all things, we must recognize God’s order, but we must also not quench the Spirit. We must recognize order, but we must not bury our talents. So, if all the Saints are together and God puts a prayer in my heart, as a man I might ask if it would be okay for me to pray. If I’m a woman I would probably ask a man if it would be okay for me to pray, and he might ask the whole assembly, “Would it be okay if this woman prays?” If that man and the assembly think it’s okay, then she is under authority. She is covered by authority if we ask her to do it. If she just decides to do it, then that could be out of order. But if we all want her to pray because she is our dear sister, then she is under authority and at that moment it’s okay. These things are true.

We should understand something about prayer. The word “prayer” sounds very religious to our ears. As we become more like family, then the way we work together makes more sense in the meetings. As we all become closer friends of God, then prayer makes more sense. In false religion, people “say their prayers”. In Jesus’ Christianity, we have a friendship with our dear Father. So, what then is a “prayer meeting”? I’m not sure I know what a “prayer meeting” is anymore. I know what it is to have God’s family together. I know what it is to have God’s family talking to their Father together from time to time. But I’m not sure I know what a “prayer meeting” is in Christianity. Can you see the difference? One is religion, and the other is relationship.

We don’t “say prayers,” we talk to Father—just like a young child would talk to his daddy. Does a young child have a prayer meeting with his daddy, or does he just enjoy talking to his daddy? Does he need a meeting to talk to him, or can he just talk to his daddy because he loves him? Well, what if all of God’s little children are in the same room and they want to talk to Daddy? That would not be a prayer meeting. That would be a family being a family with their Daddy. So now you can see perhaps how corporate prayer works. It doesn’t work, per se! What we can do, though, is if a brother loves Daddy and wants to tell Him that, when he gets done, I say, “My turn, my turn, I want to talk to Daddy!” That is how we pray together. That is how we talk to God together, as God stirs in our hearts. A special sister might ask a man, “Would it be okay if I talked to Daddy now?” And so she is still in order because the man has authority over her. But she still has the freedom to talk to Daddy if she has worked that out. This is how we can be with teaching, with prayer, with singing, and with everything because we are family together with our Daddy.

We want to continue to brush all of the traditions of men and religion out the door and just be simple children with each other. We don’t want to be religious, holy men with titles and rituals. We want to be loving children with each other and with our Daddy every day. Meetings take care of themselves because we are family all the time. We talk to Daddy together all the time. We bring the teachings of Jesus to each other all the time. If we all happen to be in the same room, that’s great. But that’s not any different than outside the room 30 minutes later.

A Question About Women

Question: But the Bible says that when we pray, the men raise their hands, but the women do not. So the women can also raise their hands? Can that be right?

Good question. 1 Timothy 2:8-9 says, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes…”

He says, “I want men everywhere to lift holy hands in prayer… I also want women to dress modestly…” Does that mean that men should not dress modestly? Men must dress modestly also, even though he speaks to women here. And he does not say, “The women should not lift up hands in prayer.” He does not say, “Men must not dress modestly.” Men must dress modestly. Women must dress modestly. If a man lifts a hand, he should lift a holy hand. The key word is “holy.” He should lift a hand that is dedicated to God and wants to serve God. Unless a woman violates authority, if she has a hand that wants to serve God, it might be okay for her to lift it. God did not say that men should not dress modestly, even though he does address the women to dress modestly. God did not say that women should not be able to lift hands in prayer; so maybe it’s okay, if they are holy hands, just as it’s okay for men to dress modestly.
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