Who Is Winning the Battle of the Sexes?

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Who Is Winning the Battle of the Sexes?

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On Sept. 20, 1973, two tennis champions squared off in a much-publicized challenge match dubbed the Battle of the Sexes. Representing women was Billie Jean King, a formidable opponent with 20 Wimbledon titles to her name. Bobby Riggs represented men.

Although Mr. Riggs at 55 was also a former champion, he was 26 years older than the 29-year-old Ms. King. The match was set up according to the men's standard: The winner would have to win three sets instead of the customary two for women. Using this test of endurance to her advantage, Ms. King made her opponent run as much as possible and prevailed by scores of 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3.

Billie Jean King's victory in the Battle of the Sexes was symbolic of significant changes in athletic opportunities that were occurring in the United States. Laws were passed requiring colleges, universities and other schools to offer the same number of sports for women as they offered for men. With this change and an overall greater awareness of women's causes, many believed females were on track to receive opportunities and respect equal to men's.

Some 26 years later our society still grapples with the same issues. Though outwardly claiming not to discriminate according to sex, equal pay remains an issue because many companies still pay men more than women to do for the same job. As more women work full time outside the home, the decision of who will take care of the children and handle domestic duties such as cooking, housecleaning and washing clothes has become an important issue. What does a family do when a husband and wife both have good jobs and one is asked to transfer to another area?

Workplaces can be hostile environments for men and women. Men feel demeaned when a woman (or another man, for that matter) who doesn't know the job is placed over them. Women are insulted when their contributions are either not taken seriously or are not rewarded the same as men's—or when they are the objects of insults and sexual jokes.

The battle between the sexes continues. But is any of this what God intended when He made us as two sexes, male and female? Are men and women doomed to a life of fighting each other for their rights? Let's understand God's instruction book, the Bible, and see where humanity has gone wrong.

A "very good" plan

A modern, and somewhat biased, account of mankind's creation says God first created man and, after realizing His mistakes, created woman. Such reasoning assumes God made a mistake in creating humanity male and female. Yet the biblical account tells us God described His creative work, including designing people as male and female, as being "very good" (Genesis 1:31). His plan was not flawed. Disharmony between the sexes is not a design problem.

It is also plain from the creation account that both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God (verses 26-27). If both sexes gave more thought to the awe-inspiring legacy bequeathed to human beings by the eternal God, some of the conflicts we have would appropriately pale into insignificance.

From the outset the creation of Eve from Adam's rib links the first woman and first man together in a particularly important way. They were literally made of the same flesh and bone. Being exactly the same flesh, they were a perfect match. Their only difference was their masculinity and femininity.

In teaching that future husbands and wives were to "become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24), God emphasized that the sameness of flesh that Adam and Eve shared was to be a continuing concept for marriages for all time.

Jesus Christ underscored the importance of this concept in His basic teaching about marriage. "But in the beginning, at the creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and is united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.' It follows that they are no longer two individuals: they are one flesh" (Mark 10:6-8, Revised English Bible). Christ used the strongest of metaphors to emphasize the intimate and loving relationship a husband and wife were to enjoy in every aspect of their lives.

The apostle Paul upheld this principle and added that it is symbolic of our relationship to Jesus Christ. "So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:28-30). God designed a husband and wife to be a close-knit team—not opponents in constant conflict.

A shared inheritance

When we examine the Scriptures, we find, as Paul explained, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

During His earthly ministry, someone asked Jesus about marriage in the Kingdom of God. He responded: "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die" (Luke 20:34-36, New International Version).

Reflecting this common future, Peter admonished husbands and wives to think of themselves as "heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). Husbands and wives are joint or fellow heirs of the Kingdom of God. Men and women have the same glorious spiritual future. Both will be "sons of God" in God's Kingdom (Galatians 3:28; Luke 10:36).

But in this life God has ordained differences between the sexes. God gave men and women strengths complementary to each other. In other words, God has given us different roles. Let's examine two specific areas in which God has ordained varied roles.

Different roles in marriage

God intends husbands and wives to treat each other with love and respect (1 Peter 3:7; Ephesians 5:33). God's way does not authorize abuse or any feelings of superiority. Although the Bible shows husbands and wives have different roles within marriage, they are to treat each other with kindness and honor.

Within marriage the Bible reveals that the husband should be the leader. Wives are instructed to "submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:22-24).

A woman's voluntary acceptance of this role requires spiritual strength. It is a conscious choice godly women make first and foremost because of their respect for Christ. The reality is that no husband can effectively carry out his duties and responsibilities as the head of his family without his wife's cooperation and positive input.

Another important concept to understand is that a husband is to be the head of his wife, not the head of every woman he meets. Further, proper leadership within the family flows from a husband's understanding that he, too, is under authority—in this case the loving authority of Jesus Christ.

Even though some husbands' poor choices and actions have made it difficult for their wives to fulfill this role, God's standard remains. As Peter explained, this is something godly women do whether their husbands are godly or not. In such cases some women have positively influenced their husbands by their good conduct, wisdom and example (1 Peter 3:1-2).

But wives aren't the only ones with a challenging marital role. Husbands have an equally difficult task: loving their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25-29), especially when their wives act in unloving ways.

A loving husband must put his wife's and family's needs and desires above his own. Consider Christ's example. He died for sinners who put Him to death—not just loyal, friendly people who supported Him and encouraged Him throughout His physical life. Godly husbands and wives try hard to fulfill the roles God has given them within their marriages even though their mates may occasionally be selfish and inconsiderate. God doesn't expect mates to endure cruel abuse, but He does expect us to be tolerant of human frailties. The ideal of marriage is everlasting faithfulness to one's partner, reflecting Christ's unending faithfulness to the Church.

In recent years some have assumed that a husband's leadership within the family has simply been a cultural phenomenon from male-dominated societies and therefore changeable as culture changes. In the truest sense, marital roles are cultural matters, but not in the way some have thought.

Throughout time God has invited people to adopt His culture and standards, not faddish human cultural values. Paul and Peter emphasized this principle by explaining that godly culture with different roles for husbands and wives goes back to creation (1 Timothy 2:11-14) and was reflected in former times by holy women and men such as Sarah and Abraham (1 Peter 3:5-6). Godly husbands and wives follow these biblical examples as they make God's culture their culture.

Different roles in the Church

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul explained to the Christians in Corinth how to conduct religious services. Paul made it clear that the speaking role was the responsibility of men (verses 34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-14). This is not a reflection on a woman's spiritual understanding or her innate ability to teach.

The Scriptures are clear that God grants both men and women His Holy Spirit with its accompanying wisdom. At the founding of the Church on Pentecost, God poured out His Spirit on men and women. As Peter publicly explained: "But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:16-18).

Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). Prophesy comes from the Greek word propheteia and signifies "the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, "Prophecy, Prophesy, Prophesying"). It should not be thought of strictly as telling the future. "... Prophecy is not necessarily, nor even primarily, fore-telling. It is the declaration of that which cannot be known by natural means ... whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future ..." (ibid.).

Most often it is simply reflective of conveying spiritual wisdom. Some of the biblically approved ways for women to "prophesy" include teaching children (Proverbs 1:8) and other younger women (Titus 2:3-5). One thinks of "the words of King Lemuel" in Proverbs 31, "the prophecy that his mother taught him" (verse 1).

Women may also teach spiritual principles, but not during religious services. Note the example of Priscilla, whom Paul called one of his "fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3-4).

"Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately" (Acts 18:24-26, NIV). In the privacy of their home, Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos spiritual principles he did not yet understand.

It is worth noting that Aquila and Priscilla are each mentioned six times in the New Testament—never separately but always together as a team. Sometimes one is named first and sometimes the other. People just didn't think of Aquila without thinking of Priscilla, and vice versa. This is perhaps the ideal New Testament example of oneness, togetherness and teamwork in a marriage—perhaps the personification of Christ's teaching that "they are no longer two individuals."

Since the apostle Paul is the author of the directives that women are to keep silent in religious services, some have theorized that he was a backward thinker whose writings reflected his bias against women. But should his instruction be understood as merely a personal preference?

Perhaps realizing that some may mistakenly view his statements in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 about women not speaking at services as just his own idea, Paul added that "the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (verse 37). Paul's teaching was God's instruction, not just an expression of his personal opinion.

And the winners are ...

Now that we have examined the scriptural roles of males and females, it is time to abandon the concept of the battle of the sexes.

The real winners are those who are not fighting against the roles God has given the sexes. The winners are husbands and wives who respect God's standards and understand that we are joint heirs of the coming Kingdom of God who follow the inspired apostle's instruction in Titus 3:2 to "speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all." This is the correct formula for successful male-female and marital relationships. This is how to make marriage work! GN