Sexual Complementarity

Session 5

The Pursuit of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Here’s the key text on the controversial issue of whether women should be elders in a church, or should be on the ruling board of a church. At Bethlehem, it’s men who are the elders, and that’s a constitutional mandate.

In 1990, when the constitution was rewritten, I was part of the group that pressed for it to be included in the constitution, and I’m glad it’s there. It would take two-thirds of our folks to be up in arms to change that, and I hope it never happens. I think it’s a healthy thing for a church to love their women, free their women, liberate their women, affirm their women, and put their women in hundreds of different life-transforming ministries, and do it from a standpoint of men assuming the primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.

A Peaceful and Quiet Life

First Timothy 2:1–2 says:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

The reason I included these verses, when the main passage is 1 Timothy 2:8–14, is to catch that word quiet, because the women are going to be told to be quiet in the passage I am referencing. I want you to see the use of the word quiet here. Do you see how it’s used? He says, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Clearly that verse does not mean we shouldn’t say anything; it means we should have a demeanor of not being rowdy in culture, or something like that. So now watch what happens in 1 Timothy 2:8–10:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

So again, this is the same point as 1 Peter 3:1–6, which puts an emphasis on the inner and moral dimension of life, not the external dimension. Then, 1 Timothy 2:11–12 says:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

The same word for quiet is used, so I’m assuming this doesn’t mean a woman can’t talk. I think it’s referring to a kind of quietness that accords with submissiveness or accords with valuing the leadership. She’s not going to be rowdy, pushy, or domineering. She’s not going to stand up at business meetings and make a real pain of herself verbally. Though, I’m not going to say she can’t talk at a business meeting. Then in 1 Timothy 2:13 he says:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

He gives two arguments in this section, and we dealt with the first one in the original context of Genesis regarding what those pointers were. Paul is just picking one of the nine things that point to the fact that male leadership was implied before the fall, namely, the priority of creation. And then in 1 Timothy 2:14 he gives the second argument, saying:

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Weaknesses and Strengths

I gave you my explanation of what I thought that meant. Many have thought it means women are gullible, so don’t make them elders because they can’t hold fast to sound doctrine. Are women more gullible than men? You know how I answer a question like that? I have in my mind two columns — a weakness column and a strength column for men and women. One is for males and the other is for females, and you can put weaknesses and strengths in both.

I’m inclined to say women are more gullible than men on some things, and men are more gullible than women on some things. Anything you would come to me with, regarding strengths for men and women, that’s the way I would respond. If you asked, “Are men more intelligent?” I’d say, “There’s probably a kind of intelligence that men generally have the edge on, like chess for example, because 99 percent of the best chess players in the world, for all the centuries that we’ve done chess, have been men. That’s not because women don’t play chess in Russia. They do. They just usually don’t make it to the top. There’s something about the way our brains are wired.”

But you could take a completely different kind of intelligence, like EQ instead of IQ, and women would be off the charts but men are going to be blokes. I have to read you something just to underline what I’m saying here, lest you don’t feel the force of this. Some statistics I just read say that six times more men than women are arrested for drug abuse. Ten times more men than women are arrested for drunkenness. Eighty-three percent of the serious crimes in America are committed by men. Twenty-five times more men than women are in jail. Virtually all rape is committed by men.

So who’s superior? This is bad news for men. We’re bad. So someone might ask, “Do you believe in equality, Piper? Do you believe that men and women are made equally in the image of God? You just said on some things women are inferior, and on some things men are inferior. So how do you think about this?” Here’s my little paradigm. See if this helps. It helps me. Consider the male and female columns I was just referring to, with all kinds of weaknesses and strengths on both sides. My take is that if you put a plus and a minus by all these things, hundreds of them, and then at the bottom you totaled them up, it would be the same sum at the bottom of both columns. But they will be better at different things.

Superior or Inferior?

So it’s not an easy question when someone says, “Do you think women are inferior or men are inferior?” Well, the answer depends on what point. Are you talking about singing soprano? Running the 100 yard dash? We don’t we have men competing with women in the Olympics. Why? Isn’t that chauvinistic? The NBA has no women, and I hope it never does because the way they play is so aggressive now. I mean, basketball was once a dignified sport where you weren’t supposed to touch each other. If you touched each other, it was a foul. And now I don’t know what a foul is — blood, maybe, or an ambulance siren.

So my point there is that when it says, “It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression,” even if that means that there is a kind of vulnerability of a woman that a man may not have doctrinally, it is not an argument that the man and the woman are unequal on the totality of intellect, the totality of emotion, and so on. I argued in the previous sessions that’s not what this means.

I think this is an attack by the devil on the order that God set up, and that Adam and Eve were both listening to the devil. Adam was failing by not intervening, and she was failing by taking his word, and they were crashing and burning together, not because she’s more gullible but because Satan went after her as the one he shouldn’t have gone after. He should’ve gone after the man because the man is the leader. That was my whole way of understanding that. But even if the traditional interpretation of women being more vulnerable to doctrinal deceit is true, I would say men are more vulnerable to deceit on a lot of other counts.

I think I could statistically prove that men fall for some things in this world more quickly than women do. It might relate to sex-related things. So whatever the meaning is, it feeds Paul’s understanding that men, not women, should be the elders of the church. I’m going to leave 1 Timothy 2:15 out because if I tried to explain it to you we won’t finish.

Key Terms

What I want to stress is that there are a couple of key words. I’ve dealt with the word quiet, and what I think that gets at. The words teach and exercise authority are other key terms here. First Timothy 2:12 says:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man …

Now, clearly, in the Bible women teach. Lois and Eunice taught Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 3:14–15). Older women are commanded to teach younger women (Titus 2:3–4). They’re not considered unsuited to do that because they’re doctrinally foolish or anything else. Paul wouldn’t put all the young women of the church in the charge of the older women to teach them if he thought older women could only deceive them. That’s not the point at all. The point is not incompetency to teach; the point is the dynamic of men and women and how they relate to each other, not competencies.

And so, teaching is not ruled out for women in general. There is a kind of teaching ruled out for how it’s done to men. Now, what kind is that? I would just take this next phrase as defining that. It says, “teaching or exercising authority.” In other words, the teaching that has authority behind it — the teaching that carries the weight of authority in the church — should be what men do. That’s my general take on the meaning of that text and how it supports eldership.

Let me say one other thing about it. When you read the list of qualifications for elders and the list of qualifications for deacons, these two words — teach and exercise authority — are the two main distinctions between what an elder is called to do and what a deacon is called to do.

Elders must be apt to teach; deacons are not called upon to be apt to teach. Elders must also rule well. The text for that is 1 Timothy 5:17, which says:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor …

That’s referring to the elders. So when it says, “I don’t allow women to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12), I think the easiest way to say that is, the elders of the church should be men because those two things are the very things that define an elder over against a deacon, which is why I have no problem with female deacons.

Sometimes we call them a deaconess, and that seems to take away the problem. But it’s the same word, basically, in Greek — deacon or deaconess. You can’t even tell the difference in the third declension noun. So my conclusion from this text is that God loves the church, and he loves women, and he loves men, and churches flourish better where there is a group of Christ-like, humble, loving, women-honoring, spiritual men who lead the church, and women love to have it so if the men are honoring them, lifting them up, blessing them, and encouraging them in ministry.

Life-Transforming Ministry

Here’s a little sidebar. Sometimes a woman will say, “Well if we can’t be an elder, what is ministry supposed to be?” And my sense is that being an elder is quite a burden, and often draws you away from ministry as much as it plummets you into it. Ministry is being in a person’s life in such a way that they change into Christ-likeness. Women are as good at that as men are, and are called into it in hundreds of ways. It’s about being in people’s lives with word, prayer, and care in such a way that people are won to Christ, and people are matured in Christ. Women will navigate that largely in relation to women and children, admittedly, but it’s not only that. A woman can bear witness to a man at work about Christ, and she’ll do it in a certain way.

The doors of world-shaping and life-transforming ministry are what the elders should release everybody to do, including women. So to be told, “You can’t be an elder,” doesn’t mean you can’t be a minister, or a transforming person, or have a significant life. Let me sum it up with these six thoughts on women in ministry, according to the Bible:

First, all Christians, men and women, are ministers. Not one is off duty. All of life should have a radical orientation around the work of the kingdom.

Second, ministry is the stewarding of grace through gifts for the demonstration of love and the upbuilding of faith, and the ingathering of God’s elect. First Peter 4:10 is a crucial text in this regard. It says:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace …

God has graced women and men and now tells us to steward that grace. Bend it out to others in life-transforming ways.

Third, All spiritual gifts, but not all offices or roles, are given to women. Do you get that? Look at the lists in the New Testament. All of them are given to women and are used for the good of the church, reaching the lost, and the glory of God. Being a woman and being a man may shape the way you use your gift, but there is no gift listed in the New Testament that I know of that is not given to women and men. It’s just a matter of where and how you use them.

Fourth, the office of elder, overseer, or pastor is the responsibility of spiritual men who aim to equip the saints for the ministry, through teaching and oversight. First Timothy 2:12, which we just looked at, says that this teaching and authority is the unique responsibility of men, not women.

Fifth, the difference between an elder and a deacon is the role of teaching and governing. So the easiest way to apply 1 Timothy 2:12 is to say that the elders of the local church should be men. The elders should be men.

Sixth, the real action, the real ministry in a healthy church takes place by the members. There are churches that so elevate clergy or elders that they don’t even conceive of everybody else as a minister. It’s just all clerical. All the important stuff is done by the clergy, and the people, they just kind of show up and listen and go home. That’s not our mindset. It’s not a healthy church mindset. We exist to equip the saints, men and women, to do the work of the ministry.

The whole mindset of the church should not be, “These pastors do the work of the ministry and we listen.” The whole mindset should be, “These pastors equip us to do the work of the ministry, and male and female are ministers 24/7, whether at home, or work, or in the church, or in the neighborhood.” A woman should get up in the morning and think about mministry. Men should get up in the morning and think about ministry. We shouldn’t waste our time on television and all that junk. We should think about investing and not wasting our lives, as male and female, influencing and transforming people according to our gifts.

Healthy Church?

Real ministry is what’s happening by the power of the Spirit, through the gifts of the Spirit, in small groups and informal times of ministry to one another, with words of knowledge and wisdom, gifts of faith and healings, miracles, prophecy, discernment, mercy, teaching, exhortation, prayer, and so on.

I could tell you story after story of women who have read some of these things have talked to me, and lights go on, why their churches feel so dysfunctional to them. Because the men have backed away, and women have filled the void, because they felt like they had to, and now the women are on all the committees. The women are on the ruling board. There might even be a woman pastor, and the men are just gradually going away because we’re just not wired to be led that way and that forcefully by women.

And women, deep down, don’t want it that way. They want to minister. They want dignity, they want honor, and they want freedom, but they don’t want those leading roles. They want those men to free them, support them, protect them, pray for them, equip them, and release them. They want to minister. But I think the deep heart of a woman feels that way about a healthy church.

The Dignity of Women

Let me move towards the end here with our last few minutes by making sure I strike this note. The effect of the New Testament is to elevate the dignity of women over against a culture that diminished it, and it has been doing that ever since everywhere the church has spread. I just want to highlight a few texts.

Honoring Women

Jesus honored women in the most remarkable ways that sometimes got him into trouble in his own ministry. He says:

Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15–16).

Now, the reason that stands out to me is that he calls her a daughter of Abraham. He could have just said, “You hypocrites! You don’t think I should heal this woman? You lift your oxen out of ditches on the Sabbath day, and you don’t want me to just touch this woman, who’s been bent over like this for 18 years?” But he adds, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham…” I think when Jesus says that, he’s looking at these sons of Abraham, and he’s saying, “Do you have any sense of who you’re dealing with in this woman? This woman has dignity, and you’re just treating her less than your oxen?”

That’s the effect that Jesus has when he comes into a culture. I won’t read all of these texts, but women followed him around and ministered to him, and he let them provide for him. He leaned on these women, who must’ve been fairly wealthy women who were accompanying him everywhere he went to support him. Mary, in Luke 10:38–42, was sitting at Jesus’s feet, and Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the good portion.” So here’s Martha serving Jesus, right? She was scurrying around, getting the meal ready, and there was Mary, just like a disciple, like a rabbinic student, sitting at his feet, absorbing truth. Martha was bent out of shape that she’s not assuming the traditional role to help get things ready, and Jesus was saying, “No, no, no, no. Martha, the way I relate in the world is that this woman has chosen an absolutely essential thing; she’s a listener. She’s a learner from me.” It’s Amazing in that context.

Fellow Heirs of God and Grace

In Matthew 28, Jesus sends the women to tell about his resurrection, so he entrusts the resurrection message with them, and they go away saying, “He’s risen.”

Peter confirmed that women could prophesy with men here in the last days. He says:

God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams …

We have to make room for that. What does that mean? We haven’t spent any time on that, but there is a way for a woman to prophetically speak the word of God into a situation without compromising her role in relation to men.

Paul also worked side by side with women. Look at this:

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel … (Philippians 4:3).

Now, I wouldn’t jump to the collusion there that they’re authoritative preachers. You don’t have to go there, but that’s significant. It’s not nothing. These women were laboring side by side with Paul. I would say that about my wife, and I’d say that about women in this church who are laboring side by side with me and the elders in the gospel, doing what we can’t do, and doing it better, probably, in so many ways.

Peter extolled women in 1 Peter 3:7–9. This is what I really love. Let me read it carefully:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Don’t get bent out of shape about Peter calling women the “weaker vessel.” In the Olympics, we don’t have men competing with women. This doesn’t have to be an ugly thing. It just can be a simple, realistic thing that, by and large, men are stronger. Don’t take that in the worst way, take it in the best way. This passage is saying to us husbands, “Spend time contemplating who you are married to. Contemplate that she is a fellow heir of God (Romans 8:17), of eternal life, and an inheritor of the world (Matthew 5:5). Your wife is going to be a fellow heir of the universe with you. Don’t treat her badly; she’s your queen.

Equal Share in the Fulness of Christ

And lastly, Paul taught that neither manhood nor womanhood is a hindrance to the fullness of Christ. He said:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27–28).

Now, it really makes me mad when people use that to say there’s no role distinction, because if that works, so does homosexuality. I used to say that 30 years ago, and people would be furious with me. I would say to egalitarians, “If you use this as an argument, that the fact that Paul says there is no male or female means there can’t be any distinction with male pastors and women who are not allowed to be pastors, then what if a woman says, ‘I’m going to marry this woman,’ and a man says, ‘I’m going to marry this man’? This text would support that because there’s neither male nor female, so you can marry whoever you want. It would imply sex doesn’t count in the church.” There are people today, a professor of mine in seminary is now one of the strongest leaders of the big gay church in Houston, who would argue just that way.

What this does mean is that we are equally baptized into Christ. Our maleness and femaleness doesn’t mean one of us is more baptized. We are equally putting on Christ. It’s not that males get to put on Christ more than women. We are equally in Christ Jesus. Males aren’t more in Christ than females. We equally belong to Christ. We are equally Abraham’s offspring. We are equally heirs according to the promise. There’s a lot in this text to fill the statment “neither male nor female” with meaning without taking it over to Ephesians 5 and canceling out the other parts of Scripture.

So women, I want to leave you with the note that when you were made a woman, you were made in God’s image equally with men, and you are called to a significance in life as great as men, and an influence in this world that is perhaps greater. Out of mothers and fathers, who has the greater influence in what these little ones become? Think of mothers on their knees, in prayer for a nation or for a church — who has the greater influence on what happens in the world? I would not presume to say. It’s not obvious to me that the men who are the big, heavy-honcho hitters, who run governments and military, that they have the main influence in the world. It doesn’t follow. When you’ve got mothers shaping men and women, and you’ve got mothers on their knees, changing the world by prayer, I don’t know.

Standing with Male and Female Distinctions

So closing, here is why I stand by this distinction in role between men and women. These are five concluding, summary reasons.

First, because the sense seems plain to me and not terribly complicated in First Timothy 2:12–13.

Second, because this fits with the overall picture of complementarity in Genesis and Jesus’s ministry, since he chose 12 men. Paul and Peter also teach in this way about marriage.

Third, I have never seen any texts that contradict this meaning of complementarity. What other texts do, like the one we just looked at in Galatians 3:28 and Acts 2:17, where women are prophesying, is to refine our applications and protect us from abuses.

Fourth, the aim of the New Testament is to redeem sin-distorted relationships between men and women, but it redeems them by removing the distortions of headship and submission, not by leveling distinctions in role.

Fifth, since I see this distinction in the Bible, I believe it is good for women and men, for our society as a whole, and for the glory of God. Let me say that again. If you believe like I do that the Bible is inspired by God, then this book — which is vastly, infinitely, more important than my books — is God’s design. And if you believe also, as I do, that God loves us infinitely, and he’s on our side in Christ, then his design is really good for us.

Here’s my conclusion: What the Bible teaches about complementarity is the source of great joy and great flourishing for males and females in the home, in the church, and yes, even in the ambiguities of the world.