God’s Word instructs us to use the gifts He has given us to build up His kingdom for His glory. We often want to place the bulk of this responsibility on our pastors, elders, and church staff. But Paul challenges this misconception by exhorting the Ephesian church leaders to equip the rest of the members of the church so that they too may participate in the work of the Lord (Eph. 4:11-16). This means we all have a responsibility to contribute to the work God is doing among His people and within His world. But what does this responsibility look like for us specifically as women?
First, we must acknowledge that in God’s created order, two distinct genders exist—male and female—and that this is good. Man and woman were made equally in the image of God and with equal dignity but with distinct roles. At creation, God made Adam first and then made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs (Gen. 2:21-22). Adam also gave Eve her name, which implies a level of authority. Jerram Barrs notes that this authoritative distinction isn’t made in Genesis 1, though. In the first chapter of the Bible, we see God establish His relationship between Him and all His creation, including with both man and woman. Both are made equally in His image and given dominion over the earth and are commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:26-31). This, as Barrs claims, emphasizes “a primary relationship upward to our Creator.”1
Genesis 2 gives a more detailed account of the creation of man and woman, which, according to Barrs, focuses on our “secondary relationships horizontally with our fellow human persons.”2 This is where the order between man and woman is established more specifically. Man, Adam, is made first, and Eve is made from him. Adam names her woman, and in Genesis 3, he names her Eve. God established man to have a level of authority over woman in marriage, but this does not mean that woman is less than man. (It also does not mean that every woman submits to every man equally.) See what Genesis 2 says about Eve when she’s created.
After Adam is created, he’s left alone for a time—long enough for him to see all the other creatures God made and to realize that none of them are “a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18, 20). God declares it isn’t good for man to be alone, so he puts Adam to sleep, takes one of his ribs, and makes Eve. The word “helper,” or ezer in the Hebrew, used to describe Eve is not a small role. Eve was not “just” a helper, as we sometimes think of someone who’s helping out with someone or something today. Usually with this English word there’s a connotation that the one helping isn’t as important as the one running the show, but in terms of God’s created order, there’s no diminishment in who Eve is. The word ezer is used to describe God in several places in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms (Deut. 33:29; Ps. 33:20; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; Hosea 13:9). Susan Hunt writes about woman’s role as helper in this way:
The helper design is not limited to a woman’s role as a wife. This design is intrinsic to who we are as God’s female creation. It is an incredible design that reflects some aspects of God himself. The Hebrew word for helper, ezer, is frequently used in Scripture, especially in the Psalms, to refer to God as our Helper . . . As we reflect on how God ministers to us as our Helper, we begin to understand the strength and beauty of our design. The helper verses can be summarized as a ministry of community/unity and compassion. Redeemed women have the capacity to bring a dimension of community and compassion to our relationships. The creativity of this design is limitless in the ways it is expressed in various relationships and circumstances, but it is constant in its purpose to glorify God. This has application for us as individual women and as we join together with other women to be corporate helpers in God’s church.3
And when God says that He intends to create a helper “fit for” Adam, the word translated “fit for” means “corresponding to”—literally, “according to what is in front of.” That means woman would be, and was, made equal and adequate to Adam. Jerram Barrs quotes an old English folk song to describe the way Adam and Eve’s relationship was meant to function:
She was not took out of his head, sir,
To reign and triumph over man;
Nor was she took out of his feet, sir,
By man to be trampled upon.
But she was took out of his side, sir,
His equal and partner to be.4
If we see men treating the role of women lightly or vice versa, it is not because of who God is and how He intended us to act. It’s about our sin and distortion of God’s good order. As God’s image bearers and children, we need to proudly acknowledge the beauty of femininity as He intended it to be and the working together of the masculine and feminine to give Him glory.
There is an order and structure to the family and the church, and some of that order includes a limitation regarding what women can do. In the church, women are not to be authoritative preachers and teachers. But there are also limitations on men. Not every man can be an overseer/elder. Paul lists the specific qualifications for this important role in his first epistle to Timothy and in his epistle to Titus (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-16). As women, we should not let these limitations make us passive. Women are not told to be silent in all situations, and they are given a valuable place in the church, which brings us to a second way in which women specifically are to live out their responsibility within God’s kingdom—discipling others.
To disciple as women means women are to teach other women how to follow Jesus, and we’re to be intentional about inter-generational relationships (Titus 2:3-5). We will have shepherding tendencies with women in the church, with our children, and maybe in the lives of other men if done in an appropriate way. One thing Jerram Barrs notes is that men ought to be willing to learn from women. If they aren’t, they negate what God’s Word teaches us from women like Deborah, Hannah, Mary the mother of Jesus, and others.5 Further, Paul writes that we’re all to strive for the gift of prophecy (i.e., speaking God’s truth for the strengthening and edification of God’s people) in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5. In explaining what has happened at Pentecost in Acts 2:14-21, Peter quotes from Joel 2:28-32. Notice that God promised to extend the gift of prophecy to all His people, young and old, male and female. As women, our goal should not be to have authority over men but to build God’s kingdom and glorify Him through humble, joyful appreciation for the way He’s created us and the gifts He’s given us in the Spirit because of our equal salvation in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27-28).
If we are part of the body of Christ, we have a responsibility. We have an important role to play based on how God made us and the gifts He’s given us, and we need to faithfully exercise our gifts and talents for the church. God’s Word tells us that one of the ways in which we serve Him and His people is to teach and encourage one another as women. In “Discipling as Women: Our Foremothers (Part 2),” we’ll look at some specific examples of women who served faithfully in the early church, and in “Discipling as Women: Our Modern Context (Part 3),” we’ll look at some practical ways we can faithfully serve and build one another up in Christ today.