I have always had a deep appreciation for women. It probably stems from the fact that I have been influenced greatly by strong women. I grew up in a house full of women: a mom, a sister, two step-sisters, and a step-father who traveled a lot, leaving me at home to “fend for myself.” I considered my nuclear family to be my mom, my sister, and my very strong grandmother from Tyler, who lived in the house I live in now (another long story). Through those experiences, I learned to understand and respect women (to the extent that any man can truly understand a woman, right?). I was also well-prepared to be a girl daddy, a father of three females, years later.
Women have a unique role in the design of Christ’s Church. I often hear complaints about church: where are all the men? It seems as though women greatly outnumber men in the church- serving, holding Bible studies and events, and praying and caring for those in need. I was reading a book this week by Rebecca McLaughlin, who called my attention to the fact that the highly-influential, perhaps disproportional role of women in the Church is not a new thing.
In Jesus Through the Eyes of Women, McLaughlin notes that even in the first and second-century Church, women significantly outnumbered men. Ruins from ancient churches reveal disproportionate numbers of women’s clothing and other artifacts, versus those of men. Records from the Roman era of the Church listing names of Christians in the senatorial class show up to two-thirds of them were women. Why was this new religion so popular with women, as well as enslaved people?
In Roman culture, the overarching ethos was dominance and power. This ethos relegated women, even those who were married to wealthy men, to second-class status. While it was acceptable for men to use women and slaves for selfish purposes and to satisfy their needs, the converse was not true. Women and slaves were truly subjugated under this culture.
Yet, Christianity offered a better way. The Church preached an ethic of love and service. People were all made in God’s image, and one was no better than the other. This meant that women enjoyed elevated status, a status greater than at any point in the classical age. Records show that women served as deaconesses and leaders in the Christian Church, in an age when this would have been impossible elsewhere. And, as the Church spread across Europe and its cultural influence gained momentum, these ideas of respecting women as equal image-bearers of God became a new cultural norm.
Far from being a religion of misogyny, Christianity is the foundation of women’s rights and equality as we know them in western culture today. The reason these rights aren’t recognized to the same extent elsewhere is because those cultures have not been as historically impacted by Christianity. Our is a faith in human dignity, of women as much or more than any. This high regard for women is rooted in the love and special attention Jesus gave women throughout His life and ministry.
When we understand the cultural norms of Jesus’ day, it’s quite shocking to see the attention He showed women throughout the gospels. As McLaughlin notes, women prophesied over him at his birth, through Elizabeth’s prophecy over the expectant Mary and Anna the prophetess’ proclamation over the infant Jesus in the Temple. Women were captivated by Jesus, and were discipled by Him at a time when rabbis did not take female followers. Although the apostles were male, Jesus had many disciples, and the gospels are clear to identify “the Marys,” Salome, Martha, Joanna, (“the wife of Chuza in Herod’s household”), Susanna, and many others among them.
Jesus first revealed Himself as Messiah to women – to the woman at the well, and to Martha (“I am the resurrection and the life!”) Jesus raised their dead to life. He forgave them for their sin, healed them of their illnesses, and commended them for their faith. They served Jesus, and stood by His cross as eyewitnesses when most of the men vanished in fear. When He was resurrected, He appeared first to women; they are the initial eyewitnesses to the salvation of the world. Pretty incredible for a marginalized group of people, huh? No wonder Jesus was a game-changer for women.
And, He still is. As a father of girls who are now women, there are so many lessons on parenting girls we can learn from Jesus and how He loves and treats women (for those of you who have little girls, by the way, parenting lasts until the day they put your body in the grave). Here are just a few:
From His first interaction with them, it’s obvious that women were and are prized by Jesus. We are truly raising daughters of the King, the living God. They are precious to Him. This is who they are, their identity. This means He created them unique and special, and called each of them for His purposes. The world around them will always target them with its designs for perfection on their lives, whether it’s messages regarding body image, what it means to be a good student, a good athlete, a good wife, a good mom, or whatever. The weight of perfection in our culture is crushing on women. As moms and dads, it’s our honor and privilege to constantly remind them that they are God’s beloved, and that they don’t have to meet some false standard of perfection because they are already exactly perfect in who God made them to be. God is in the process of perfecting them through the blood of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. They need to be reminded of this all the time, by telling them and showing them with our love and praise.
Closely related, there is no place for shame. Shame is a lie we tell ourselves or that the devil or others tell us about ourselves that we internalize and believe to our great emotional and spiritual harm. This Jesus met the woman at the well, speaking to her when no one else would, and releasing her from her sin. He also met the woman caught in adultery in the same place, speaking words of forgiveness and freedom from condemnation, allowing her to go forth as a new creation.
Likewise, God empowers us to speak words of life into our daughters, and we always should. We should release them from shame, and speak out against the lies that the world, others, and their own flesh may tell them about who they are. We should pray that shame would be cast out, and that they would realize the free, beloved creatures they are.
We should also reinforce that they are complete in Him. While God very well may have a husband ordained for them, and they may desire it, we can and should speak into them that they don’t need a man (or anyone else) to complete them. They are already fully complete in Jesus, and made for community with Him and with His people. While it is a good thing to be married, and good to aspire to it, we have done women (and men) a disservice in the Church in our culture by implicitly teaching them that they aren’t yet complete as adults until they are married. This is not a scriptural idea, and it can bring emotional and spiritual harm. We should remind them that their identity in Christ is rooted in who they are in Christ, not in another.
In our highly-sexualized culture, there are lots of mixed messages on relationships between men and women. Through His life and how He loves, Jesus shows us that intimate chaste relationships with both men and women are not only possible, but are to be sought after and treasured within the body of Christ. This is a way we as a Church can really be a testimony to the world, in the way we love and care for each other, by respecting and honoring each other as friends, brothers and sisters, and children of God. Parenting girls well means teaching them how to honor and respect those of the opposite sex, and how to have good, strong, honoring relationships with men, while also teaching them to be wise and discerning in those relationships.
It’s a truly powerful thing for a church to be full of women. They are uniquely created by God, wired for intimacy and connectedness to incline toward Jesus, and made to empower the Body to be all it was intended to be. The way Jesus loves women instructs us how to love and equip our girls.