Good morning! We're starting a new series today on the family. It's called Family - God's Way. We're going to spend some time looking at what God has to say about his design for the family. We're going to do some research into the Bible to go beyond what a lot of us have been told about the family to what God has to say about the family, because the family was God's idea. Families aren't just social structures - they go way beyond that. We're going to see that families can reflect God's nature. They can shape our characters. The family was God's idea.
I want to start today by looking at one of life's greatest pleasures - and also one of life's greatest mysteries. Genesis 1:26-27 says:
Then God said, "Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life-the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals."
So God created people in his own image;
God patterned them after himself;
male and female he created them.
Therein lies one of life's greatest pleasures. I don't know many people who haven't thought, at least once in their lives, "God, you did a very good thing when you created the other gender." Many of life's greatest joys come from appreciating and enjoying the difference. I'm not just talking about sex. God did a very good thing when he created us male and female. Robertson Davies once said that nothing is as intolerable as a room full of just women, with the possible exception of a room full of just men. Imagine what life would be like if we were all just men, or if we were all just women. We are all much better off because God created us male and female.
But this also presents one of life's greatest mysteries. I don't know many people who haven't thought, "God, why did you create the other gender the way that you did?" I'm sure that females wonder why the world needs another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. I mean, weren't Terminator 1 and 2 enough? Or why does a man who knows, by touch, the difference between a quarter-inch and a three-eighths bolt not know which is the sock drawer and which is the underwear drawer? Why do men think The Simpsons is television at its best? Why did the XFL ever exist? Why is men's dry cleaning so much cheaper? These are questions that even men aren't able to answer.
Speaking as a man, there are many questions that we have of females. We don't understand why you like Yanni or Michael Bolton. We don't understand why you think that curling should be an Olympic sport. We don't understand why you would voluntarily buy and wear pantyhose and makeup. In fact, we don't understand why you would voluntarily go shopping at all. We don't understand why you like romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan, and we don't understand how you can cry at the end of a good comedy like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Yes, the differences truly are a marvel. They're one of life's greatest pleasures - but the differences can also be one of life's greatest struggles.
Men and women aren't just a little different. The Bible mentions the creation of all kinds of animals, and never once mentions gender - until he creates us. Gender is a fundamental part of who we are. Understanding the family - understanding ourselves - begins with understanding who we are.
If you have your Bibles with you, please open up to the very beginning. We're going to start by looking at the first few chapters of the first book of the Bible. I want us to do some research into what the Bible says about being male and female. Let's begin by looking at the verse I already read - Genesis 1:27: "So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them." The first fact that we learn about God's design is this:
1. WE WERE MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE
There are a number of qualities that set apart the creation of humans from everything else that was created. For everything else that God created, he said, "Let there be." When it came time for him to create us, God said, "Let us make " The account reads as if God took a more personal interest in our creation. Creating us was a very personal endeavor by God.
A second difference is in the description of what he created. Genesis 1:25 says, "God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to reproduce more of its own kind." But when God created people, we're not merely mentioned in terms of reproducing after our own kind. We're mentioned as being patterned after God. Rather than reproducing just after our own kind, we are patterned after God himself.
A third difference is that up until now, gender hasn't been mentioned about any other creature. They were created male and female, but it didn't seem important enough to mention. But when it came to us, it was important enough to mention. The Bible repeats it again in Genesis 5:1-2: "When God created people, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them 'human.'" You can't understand humanity unless you understand gender. We were created male and female. Our gender is an important part of who we are. It was important enough to mention out of everything that God created. It's an integral part of who we are.
I also notice that we're the only thing or creature in creation to be given a job to fulfill. We have a creation mandate, and it was given to humans - both male and female. Let's read Genesis 1:28: "God blessed them and told them, 'Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals.'" God had a purpose when he created us - a purpose different than he had given any other creature. It's a purpose that was given to both males and females.
There is something about us that reflects God in a way that is unique. We hold a place in God's creation that is different from anything else that's been created. The Bible says that you hold a unique place in creation - made just a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5). And that's not just true of men. It's not just true of women. It's true of both of us.
Scholars have spent a lot of time debating why God said, "Let us make " Why not, "Let me make"? The theories range from the fact that God was using the royal we, or that this is an early glimpse of the Trinity. One of the best theories - one that I like - is that God, as a plurality - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - created human beings as a plurality - as male and female. Just as God has community among the Godhead, God created us to have community by creating us male and female. Our gender is more than a biological fact. It's a reflection of the community that the triune God has with himself. Our relations with each other can reflect a little of that relationship.
One of our greatest challenges in life is to see each other as made in God's image. Just as a child is a reflection of its parents, so we have been given the capacity to be like and to act like God. We have been given the potential to mirror divine attributes. We've been given characteristics like reason, conscience, self-awareness, and spiritual discernment. Our challenge is to see God in each other - to catch glimpses of that honor. To dishonor the image of God in someone is no different than dishonoring God himself.
It takes both men and women to reflect God's image. One alone is incomplete; it's inadequate to reflect God's glory. Men and women are different, but we're equal in the eyes of God. Neither is closer to God. Both are made in his image.
Those parts we don't understand about the other gender - it's possible that they reflect something of the image of God. The Bible describes God with the image of a mother comforting her children (Isaiah 66:12-13). It also describes God as a king (Psalm 47:2) and as a warrior (Exodus 15:3). It takes both men and women to reflect his image.
The Bible teaches us another fact about us being male and female. The Bible teaches:
2. WE WERE DESIGNED TO BE COUNTERPARTS
Genesis 2:18 says, "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.'" That word - companion, or in your version it could be helper - is a very difficult one to translate. Some have used it to say that women are to be in a subordinate role as helpers to men. But the word itself suggests nothing of a subordinate role. If anything, it elevates the female. God himself is called our helper many times in the Bible. What does the word actually mean?
Probably the closest we can come to translating the Hebrew is to say something like this: "indispensable companion." It refers to a counterpart - somebody who supplies what we lack and desperately need. It's somebody who does for us what we could not do for ourselves. Women are necessary counterparts to men, and - although it's not stated - we can assume that men are necessary counterparts to women. Both need each other.
God was no doubt talking about biology - but he was talking about much more than that. God didn't stop with creating our bodies differently. We are more than just biological counterparts. We know this because God had Adam first look for a companion in all the animals. Genesis 2 goes on to say how God created all the animals and birds, and brought them to Adam for him to name them, "But still there was no companion suitable for him" (Genesis 2:20). Adam wasn't looking to the animals for something to reproduce by. But he was looking for something - something that he never found until God created Eve. Adam was looking for more than a reproductive partner. He was looking for someone to help him fulfill the purpose for which he was created. God's provision was tailored to our needs. Men and women are counterparts to each other - indispensable companions.
Fact number three about men and women:
3. MEN AND WOMEN ARE SOURCES OF JOY AND LONGING
God could have made the first woman in any way that he chose. He could have made her the same way that he made man - by fashioning her from the dust of the ground. But God chose a different way. Genesis 2:21-22 says, "So the LORD God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam's ribs and closed up the place from which he had taken it. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam." God chose to make the first woman from the first man. Women are made from the same substance as man. We're the same flesh and bone - foreshadowing that when we marry, we become one just as we were formed from one.
Imagine how good Adam felt when he finally saw Eve. No offense to the animals that God had brought before him, but there was no comparison. "'At last!' Adam exclaimed. 'She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called 'woman,' because she was taken out of a man'" (Genesis 2:23). Adam recognizes her as the same - as who he was longing for. The reaction is one of joy. One Bible scholar wasn't too far off when he said that you could paraphrase Adam's reaction as "VAVAVOOM!" Adam longed for what God created in Eve. It was what - it was who - he was looking for.
The next couple of verses at first seem a little out of place. The author switches his thoughts to marriage. He interrupts the story to say this in verse 24: "This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." The author is saying that there is something stronger than your bloodline - your tie to your own parents and your own family. There's a flesh-line - a realization that part of me is missing and beckoning me. One rabbi puts it this way: that "Every marriage is a union; not a union of two strangers, but rather a reunion, a reconstitution, so to speak, of the primordial unity" (Rabbi Brichto). Women are a source of longing for men - not just biologically - and when a man enters into relationship with a woman, it's a relationship that's designed for much joy.
If you're in one of those relationships already, you know it's not that easy. You may have a smirk on your face. You can buy that men and women are made in the image of God - that the relationship reflects the community the triune God has with himself. You can buy that men and women are counterparts to each other - that in physical and in many other ways they were designed for each other. You may even buy the part about longing - that men and women are drawn to each other. After all, it seems to happen pretty regularly. But the skeptics among us may wonder about the "source of joy" part. There are many who long for the type of relationship that men and women are supposed to have - but you haven't experienced it. That's because of the final fact about men and women that we're going to look at today, from Genesis 3:
4. OUR RELATIONSHIPS CAN BECOME SOURCES OF CONFLICT AND TENSION
That which God created to be a source of joy and pleasure now has the potential to be a source of conflict and tension. That which was created to be so good now can become so bad. What we're about to read explains how the relationship between the sexes became poisoned. It's lead to countless abuses and violations against both genders - especially against females, to our shame. It's not what God intended, but it's what's happened as a result of sin.
Genesis 3 tells us about the first sin - a deliberate act of disobedience against God that brought sin and death into the world. Up until that point, Adam and Eve enjoyed the relationship that God wanted us to enjoy. But something happened between men and women when sin entered into the world. In Genesis 3, God appears in the Garden to describe the consequences of sin. Verse 16 says, "Then he said to the woman, 'You will bear children with intense pain and suffering. And though your desire will be for your husband, he will be your master.'" The first part of the verse is pretty easy to understand, and most women would concur that it's true. The second part of the verse is a difficult one to interpret, but its basic message is clear. The relationship between the sexes - one that started out as a blessing, a source of joy and comfort - is now a source of conflict and tension. In fact, what could have been the two best parts of a woman's life - her children and her marriage - are now filled with pain.
Let's look at the verse and see if we can understand it any better. "Your desire will be for your husband." Some think that this is talking about the sexual drive, but I don't think so. The sex drive was already there before this point. It wasn't introduced by the Fall. The verse is probably talking about a power struggle - a desire to control men, while men struggle to dominate women. It could mean that the woman so wants a man that she ends up being pushed around by him. But it's not what God intended. In any case, the picture is clear here. What began as good is now less than perfect. In some cases, it's become very, very bad.
Men and women were created to be different. That difference goes beyond the physical. There's something fundamentally different about us, and that difference extends even to our desires, our longings, even the functions that we fulfill. But up until this point, even with the mention of our differences, there was no mention of inequality. We had different functions, different dreams - but we were equal. But since the Fall, the relationship between men and women has gone downhill. Sex was designed as one of God's greatest gifts, to be enjoyed in the context of the closest relationship possible between two human beings. But today we have rape, pornography, and deep hurt. We have marriages in which men dominate women and see them as less than equal. We have all kinds of problems. They don't come from God's intentions for men and women. Sin's destroyed what we were meant to enjoy.
The differences between us - which were once meant to be a source of joy and contentment to ourselves and to our spouses - have now sometimes become sources of frustration. The relationship that was supposed to mirror the relationship that God has with himself has now become a very pale imitation. But make no mistake. Both men and women still bear God's image. We still are allowed to enjoy this thing called marriage, and we're still called to reflect God's nature in our dealings with each other. And we can still attain to restore our relationship with the opposite sex to what it used to be.
Galatians 3:28 says, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus." This doesn't mean that our differences as men and women no longer exist. They very plainly do. It does mean that the divisions between us, that used to separate us, are no longer significant. When Paul wrote these words, there wasn't even a hint of teaching on the equality of the sexes before God in any of the ancient texts - except for in Christianity. The Jew prayed in a common morning prayer, "I thank God that thou hast not made me a woman." Josephus wrote, "Woman is inferior to man in every way." The Gentile world had similar expressions. But Paul reverses this. Jesus restored the relationship between the sexes to what it should have been.
Two weeks from now, we're going to look at God's design for marriage, and how this plays out in our marriage relationships. Today, I'd like you to take two actions. The first is to begin to look at yourself differently. Whether you are male or female, you were made in God's image. You were made to be like God. You were made just a little lower than the angels. It sounds like an oxymoron, but you could say that we should be Christian humanists. We should see ourselves as God sees us. To be sure, we shouldn't see ourselves too highly. We're not gods. We were made to serve God. But it may be a long time since you've seen the image of God in yourself.
Truth be told, you'll never really reflect God until Jesus Christ undoes what sin has done in your life. The greatest gift you could receive is to accept the gift of the one who came to give you forgiveness and eternal life. He died for your sins, and you can be joined with him in new life. You were made in God's image. You were made for a relationship with him.
I want you to take a second action. Don't just see God's image in yourself. Don't even stop with receiving what Jesus did. I'm going to call you to treat others as if they were made in the image of God - because they were. If you're married, let's begin with your spouse. Your marriage has the opportunity and privilege of being a living picture of the Trinity. You can reveal God by the way you love your spouse. But it goes beyond marriage. Somebody has said:
Men and women must treat each other as who we are: God's representatives on earth. If we degrade, abuse, or neglect one another, we insult the very glory of God. Like the psalmist, we should be on the edge of wonder as we consider other people. (Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies)
Father, we've fallen so far from what you designed us to be. You designed men and women in your image as indispensable companions, as sources of joy and longing. Yet our marriages, our relationships with the other gender, even our view of ourselves have been polluted by sin.
Father, right now, touch the hurt. For those struggling with pornography, help them to see and to enjoy what the sexual relationship could and should be. For those who are struggling in their marriages, would you give them the courage to get help, to have no shame in asking for help. Let them see in each other the beauty and glory of God.
For those who have children, let us raise them knowing that they don't just carry a resemblance to us as their parents. They carry a resemblance to you.
For those who have been hurt, or wounded by others, I pray that you would surround them with your comfort and your strength.
Jesus came to undo the damage that sin did. If you would like to be restored with God through Jesus Christ, to be forgiven, to receive eternal life, I invite you to cry out to him in your hearts and ask him to be the leader and the forgiver of your life.
Father, we pray all these things in Jesus' name, Amen.