Our pastor is beginning a new ministry series for the new year. He feels constrained by the Spirit to speak on the love of God and how our being loved by God should impact upon our ability to genuinely love others. In the introductory message he touched on some texts that really got me thinking about how it is that the Biblical injunction to love should not be determined by our gender. One of the passages that he referred to was Ephesians 4:1-3, which, in the TNIV reads: “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
As these verses were being read it occurred to me that our tendency would be to immediately translate those verses to incorporate gender. The Biblical imperative, as encouraged by the Apostle Paul in verse 2 is, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Note here that there is no instruction as to which gender would do this better, yet we may immediately categorise this as, this is something that would be more natural for women to do. Paul doesn’t even go there. His emphatic instruction is addressed to the whole church and concerns all human relationships. Just because men are culturally conditioned to be rough, tough, proud, loud and said to be more naturally gifted to take the initiative we might presume that for them to be completely humble, gentle, patient and put up with others in love is beyond the expectation of the male ego.
This is precisely why I am an egalitarian. To approach the biblical instruction to love unconditionally in any other way causes us to be unduly influenced by cultural expectation or church tradition. The suggestion that men are hard-wired in a certain way and that we need to make allowances for what men can and cannot do, to me, is bringing compromise into the clear teaching of Scripture. There is no hint of pink and blue in the passage under consideration here. This injunction to demonstrate our love, in this particular way, (by humility, gentleness and patience) is universal and therefore encouraged as an essential practice of every follower of Jesus, regardless of gender.
It disturbs me when I hear of other christian leaders, either by instruction from the pulpit or through a plethora of written material, making excuses for men because they believe that men are gifted by God to be the leaders of both the home and the church. What we are being called to here, by the Apostle Paul, (a love expressed through humility, gentleness and patience) is something much higher than gender stereotyping would have us believe. It takes a real man to move against the status quo and humbly admit to a failure to love as he ought. It takes a real man to be gentle in his dealings with others when both the church and the world cast him as the tough, no compromise individual whose steel will must be obeyed. It takes a real man to be patient with, what he conceives to be, the bumbling efforts of others. It is just these kinds of men that the Apostle Paul is appealing to here. Men that will stand against the tide of public opinion and stand up as real men who will obey Scripture with a total disregard of their privileged status as males.
I have to admit that a part of the reason that I am a believer in and a follower of Jesus is that I believe him to be, and see him as, just this kind of person. One who was willing to put everything on the line and not bow to public opinion. One whose sole purpose was so much to do the will of the Father that he would not bend to either religious tradition or cultural expectation. For me, to have any other view of Scripture than that which promotes full Biblical equality, that is, where the same expectations fall on both men and women, is unworthy of the great God whom we serve. It seems to me to be right and proper that all Scripture can speak to all believing humanity with equal measure and that we are all bound, regardless of gender, to obey and walk in the light of what has been revealed to us.