Men are to be proactive to serve others
Genesis 1, the satellite view of creation, emphasizes the innate equality and unity of men and women. As we have seen, both men and women are created in God’s image. Together they are given the mandate to populate the earth and steward the creation. They are equal in essence and united in mission.
When we come to Genesis 2—the street view of the creation of Adam and Eve—we see details and differentiation. We learn Adam was created first, from the dust of the ground. We listen in as God gives Adam instructions to work and keep the garden. We watch as Adam names the animals and comes to the sobering realization that nothing in creation qualifies as a fitting partner or true match for him. After naming the animals, Adam is put to sleep. God creates Eve, not from the dust but from his own flesh and bone. We see Adam’s delight as he sees Eve for the first time. “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).
As we come to Genesis 3, we learn how things quickly fall apart. Eve, then Adam, disobey God’s instruction not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (3:6). When God confronts Adam, he tries to shift the blame to Eve. She follows his lead by passing the blame to the serpent (3:12-13). God pronounces judgment on the serpent and then on both the woman and man. Even creation suffers as a result of human disobedience (3:17: compare Romans 8:19-22). Suddenly and sadly, everything changes—including the relationship between Adam and Eve.
What are we to make of the events and dialogue recorded in Genesis 1-3? How are we to understand the various details of the narrative? Is there any significance to the fact that God created Adam first? That God confronts Adam first?
If all we had was the text of Genesis, giving definite answers to these questions would prove difficult. After all, the meaning of the events in the opening chapters of the Bible can be interpreted in different ways. Thankfully, God gave us more than the Genesis account. The rest of the Bible, especially the New Testament, gives divine insight into the meaning and application of the events recorded in Genesis 1-3.
Interpreting Genesis in light of Jesus and the New Testament
As we read the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament authors, we discover the ancient events recorded in Genesis have abiding significance for us today. For example, Jesus affirms the reality and reliability of the creation account. He references Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:24 to affirm a binary understanding of gender (“male and female”) and to highlight God’s desire for marriages to last (“What therefore God has joined together let not man separate”).
New Testament authors Paul and Peter affirm the essential equality of men and women. We not only share a common humanity (1 Peter 3:7), but after we come to faith in Christ, we are equal members of God’s new humanity, the church (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:10-11). Both men and women continue to bear God’s image—an image that has been defaced but not erased by sin. Further, as followers of Christ, men and women are commissioned together to make sure the gospel message goes global (Matthew 28:20; Acts 1:8).
In addition to highlighting the innate, abiding equality of men and women, New Testament writers interpret Genesis 1-3 as revealing a divinely-designed order for the relationships between men and women in both the home and the church. From the fact God created Adam first, Paul concludes God intends husbands are to take primary leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-23) and that qualified men are to serve as elders for a local church (1 Timothy 2:12-13). Husbands are assigned the position of “head” in the marriage (Eph 5:22-23); godly men who meet biblical qualifications are given the responsibility to be elders or overseers in local churches (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Equality and Order
When you consider the various New Testament passages which reference Genesis 1-3 in order to give insight and instructions about the relationship between men and women in the home and in the church, you discover two consistent themes: equality and order. There is a foundational equality as well as a functional ordering in the way God wants men and women to relate in the home and in the church. These themes (equality and order) must be held in tension. Both are true; both must be taught. Both must be lived out in spite of the fact this is often difficult to do well.
In light of the abuses perpetrated by men over the years, some have concluded the safest and best recourse is to deny or downplay any notion of functional ordering in the home or church. While I understand this sentiment, I’m convinced this approach winds up downgrading Scriptural authority, damaging women and diminishing men. A better way forward is to develop better men who understand the nature of biblical leadership in the home and church. Better men are pro-active to serve others in sacrificial ways.
I am using the term “pro-active” to describe the kind of leadership responsibility given to husbands in the home and elders in the church. I realize the concept of leadership carries a wide range of connotations and applications in our day. It can easily be misused and abused. However, the same was true in Jesus’ day. Jesus knew the concept of leadership was normally framed in terms of position, prestige, power and perks. He also realized his disciples were infected with a defective, self-serving view of leadership. So, Jesus redefined leadership for his followers—then and now.
“And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them and those in authority overcome over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the one who serves’” (Luke 22:25).
In Jesus’ understanding, leadership is about taking the lead (or being pro-active) to serve the needs of others. Jesus practiced the truth he preached: “But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). Jesus exemplified taking the lead to serve others. No wonder Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to Jesus as “the man for others.”
A biblical view of leadership that emphasizes pro-active service for the good of others, protects against the all-to-common abuses of leadership. It also combats the notion that those responsible to lead are intrinsically superior or more important. Further, it allows for and even encourages women to thrive using their gifts and abilities to serve Christ. In fact, a test of whether men are leading in Jesus’ way is whether women (in the home and in the church) are flourishing.
But some will still push back, contending that a functional ordering in the home and church undermines the foundational equality between men and women. My response would be that equality is not undercut when husbands and elders are seen as “first among equals” but also “first to serve.”
Here’s where a biblical precedent for equality and order can be helpful. In the Old Testament, we learn that the Levites were given a special place of spiritual leadership among the twelve tribes of Israel. They were not innately better or more important than others in Israel. In fact, their original ancestor (Levi) was labeled a troublemaker by his father (Gen 48:5-7). However, God assigned the descendants of Levi a place of unique service and spiritual leadership.
In a similar way, men are assigned a role of providing pro-active, servant leadership for their families and the church family. Sadly, because of the fall, men have all too often abused this position of leadership. One of the direct consequences of Adam’s sin, stated by God in Genesis 3:16, would be the twisted tendency for men to serve themselves and “rule over” women. Patriarchy (a word which literally means “father rule”) was not part of God’s original instruction but a result of God’s judgment when Adam and Eve sinned.
If we are to develop better men who do a better job of pro-actively serving others, we will need to disciple men to live and lead like Jesus. What are the implications for discipling men in the area of being godly leaders for their homes and churches? Let me highlight two.
First, boys and men must, like Jesus’ first disciples, be re-oriented to understand leadership biblically rather than culturally. They must be discipled to see godly leadership as sacrificial service, following the model of Christ (John 13:13-15; Luke 22:24-27). They must be divested of the common notion that leadership is about position, privilege, power, and perks. Instead, they must come to see leadership as pro-actively loving others through sacrificially pursuing their best interests and spiritual good. When men are not challenged to proactively serve others, they easily turn inward and become passive and selfish. It is in the struggle to fight off selfish impulses and to actively serve others that men grow up. As in so many areas of life, only as we are forced to stretch and take on difficult challenges do we reach our true potential as people.
Second, boys and men should be trained to step into arenas of spiritual leadership that will stretch them in good ways. Christian men who are married should be discipled to pro-actively serve the spiritual welfare of their wives, even if she is more naturally inclined towards spiritual leadership. I remember reading a blog post by a Christian woman who said she was the more spiritually strong partner in their marriage. Her husband felt awkward when trying to lead out in prayer of Bible reading. So she took the lead in these areas, wanting to free him from any expectations or pressure. He served her in other ways—keeping the cars in good order, taking care of their home and yard.
I would agree that some Christian women are more gifted and inclined to provide spiritual leadership than their husbands. Without wanting to limit a wife’s contribution to the spiritual health of the home, I’m convinced that allowing spiritual leadership to be only the wife’s domain can have an unintended, negative impact on a marriage. When a Christian husband opts out of proactively providing spiritual care for his wife, he fails to grow up in all the ways God intends. He coasts spiritually. He fails to develop fully. There are many areas of life where maturity comes only as we step into arenas where we feel awkward or inept.
Fathers don’t get a pass when it comes to discipling their children in the instruction of the Lord just because they feel inept (Eph 6:4). The same holds true for a husband’s responsibility to proactively serve the spiritual needs of his wife. Young husbands can be taught to be proactive by praying for and with their wives. By initiating reading of Scripture together. By leading the family to be involved in a local church. As a man learns to take responsibility for providing spiritual care for his family, a man grows up and becomes more like Christ.
As we reflect on how the New Testament draws theological truth and relational implications from Genesis 1-3, we discover God’s original intent and ongoing intentions for men and women in the home and the church. There is both an equality and ordering in how we relate to one another. We share an essential unity in creation and in Christ. At the same time, this unity comes with a complimentary ordering in the family.
Men are designed and called to use their God-given strength to serve sacrificially through being productive, protective and pro-active. While these qualities are not exclusively male (women can be productive, protective and pro-active), they are entrusted to men as a primary responsibility in both the home and the church.
So, when a nine-year-old boy asks, “Dad, what does it mean to be a man and not a woman?”, his father can give an answer. He can talk to his son about being productive, protective and pro-active in serving others. As this nine-year-old boy is discipled to become a godly man, he will become the kind of “better man” our world desperately needs.
 See Experimental Theology, “Letters from Cell 92”, accessed October 9, 2019, http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/12/letters-from-cell-92-part-6-man-for.html/.