Jesus came not only to give us Life, but abundant Life in all its overflowing fullness. How can we as a Christian community have this Life in it its fullness? And how can this fullness be experienced and enjoyed, overflow among those we live -bringing in the expression of equality and development of both the male and female? How can we bring God’s ‘shalom’ to one’s whole being?
This leads me to explore how the Bible addresses this question of gender equality.
What is God saying about women and men?
Created together in His image, what is His design and purpose, for not only women but also for men?
A challenge to address and bring remedy to abuse, arises out of the emphasis at creation:
- Woman as God’s image bearer
- Man and woman together are called to reflect God’s image.
- Both are created for relationship with God and one another
- And that this is done effectively only in the context of community
Human inequality and abuse should be seen as a violation of all the above.
Gen. 1:27 declares: “And God created man (humankind), in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Unlike the other forms of His creation, God created humankind uniquely in His image. This humankind came as ‘male’ and ‘female’. Both components were in Adam. When God took part of Adam to create Eve, he became predominantly male while she came to embody the female dimension of God. It is therefore imperative for both men and women to be reconciled to be able to express the fullness of God’s image on earth.
To understand this, we need to ask ourselves: What is God’s image? Verse 26 tells us it is “according to His likeness” and normally we would understand this as God’s moral character, and that we too have a spirit and He breathes His Spirit into us, making us alive to be what we are. I am however excited to discover it is more than this.
To me ‘in His image” also means three other important factors:
- God is a Trinity but one God. There is a perfect unity and harmony within these three Persons.
So as His “image bearer’’, humankind whom God created as male and female are meant to be ‘one’. We are called to live together in a beautiful harmony and unity.
- The three Persons within the Trinity are one but different from one another. They are Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Likewise, though this male and female are to be as one, they are created different from each other, with different roles and functions.
- The three Persons in the Trinity, are seen to relate to one another in loving, self-giving love. Father loves the Son, the Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son.
Likewise, we are created and designed for relationships, primarily with God Himself, and equally important with one another in self-giving love. Our relationship with God is reflected in our relationship to one another.
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In a society intoxicated with the spirit of competition, Jesus establishes a community of disciples who seek the status of servants making themselves available to each other in sacrificial service and devoting themselves to the fulfillment of the needs of others. This community of disciples includes both men and women.
“Created in the image” of three self-giving, loving Persons of the Triune God, we are called to live in solidarity with others in the community, not for ourselves alone. What we do governs everything about our relationship to the life in the world. If we truly believe that we are daughters and sons in the family of God, then we have a responsibility to nurture this sisterhood and brotherhood within this family. We, the Church are called and gifted by God to give space to one another, to help us grow and develop in unity, love by the giving away of ourselves for the good of others.
However, in this present fallen sinful world, we do not experience the ideal perfection and fullness that God intended in His original creation. But through our redemption in Christ we are restored and called to live again according to God’s original design and purpose with the help of the empowering and enabling Spirit of God. This is the Church, the community of Jesus people, the Body of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus has come to give fullness of life and make us whole, both women and men. He has come to set us free from everything that binds us and brings us into bondage. One cannot hurt another, without the whole Body suffering.
Today however, we live in a community- shattering world, bringing abuse and creating barriers. But the only hope for breaking down racial, caste and gender barriers lies in community. If there is true community, there will be equality – for men and women of every race and class and caste. There will be unity in diversity
Unity means oneness – a total acceptance of each other, and the commitment to build one another. There can be no second-class citizens. The unjust structures of society around us therefore should have no relevance inside the Church. The call is to overcome the worldly way of looking at gender, race and class.
Women need to be assured of their identity in Christ. In spite of their cultural inhibitions and natural timidity, they need to be taught and trained to take up the responsibilities and encouraged to develop their God-given gifts for the building up of their family, the Church and in the extension of His kingdom.
Continuing the biblical perspective of community, there is one more area where we must pay serious attention, and that concerns gender and men. Gender is not only therefore, about women – it is also about men. It is about gender relations and the different roles that men and women play. It is a matter of concern that empowering women is sometimes seen as disempowering men. This should not be so!
We do have to attend to the roles of men and women, and if women are to be major economic players in the churches, household, then men’s roles must also change. It is a matter of concern if, for example, when we encourage and develop women, we need to make changes also in the function and very structures within the family, the Church and the workplace. Women’s empowerment is about supporting their ability to negotiate and achieve more justice and equality in their daily lives, freeing them up to take on new opportunities. in their family, Church and workplace. Without changes to the present structures, development and wholeness of women will remain only a dream!
The restoration of men is crucial to the eventual restoration of women and fullness of life.
The most warming example I saw of this was in talking to a small group of village women who had come for a women’s empowerment program, in the city of Jabalpur. I asked them: “Who is looking after your children and home while you are here?” Very happily several voices answered together: “ Our Mr. “
We sometimes also see similar changes in the cities where women are engaged in demanding professions outside the home. Men are beginning to take a more active and positive role in releasing their women to develop their own potential, by taking time for caring for the needs of their home and children.
Jesus is a reconciler, not a divider. He is an intercessor, not an accuser. Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And what was lost is not in one piece or in one pile. It is broken and scattered all over the place. He does not pick the best-looking parts and reject the most damaged ones. He waits until He is able to embrace all the broken pieces, take them in His arms, place them close to His heart and then fix them- to make them whole!
This is how Paul describes the outcome of such healing, equipping and fullness:
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ …. from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:13-16 emphasis is put in)
The abundance of superlatives – “all”, “fullness”, “whole” and “every” – is indicative of an ideal that will be reached through a process as indicated by the expression “until we all attain…. the fullness of Christ”.
The greatest harvest in history shall be brought only as men and women learn to walk and work side by side, so that all the fullness of His coming kingdom will be displayed through His people here on earth before He comes again.