June 29, 2018

The Worth of a Woman

Gary Thomas — 


If you’ve been a longtime reader of this blog, you know I don’t typically speak out on topical issues, news items, or politics. There are plenty of places you can go to for that kind of information, written by people much more in the know and more capable of immediately writing about late breaking events, scandals or controversies.

The way my brain works (slow, slower still, and then come back and rewrite), I shoot for what could be called “timeless truths.” Blog posts should hold up and be true regardless of who is in the White House or what pastor did what thing in what church, or what denomination invited what speaker to what convention.

One timeless issue we have been facing is the way women are viewed and treated, especially by men in the church. Just as important is how women are viewed and treated by other women in the church. A woman fully alive to who she is called to be in Christ makes for the best wife, the best friend, the best sister, and the best servant of Christ.

So this week I’m going to excerpt a bit from Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. While trying to set women up to have the most influence they can have in their marriage and on their husband, I stress the need to first ground themselves in their identity in Christ—that we matter not because someone chose to marry us, but because God adopted us. That we have security not because someone else contributes to the family income but because God has promised to meet all of our needs in Christ Jesus. That we have worth not because our spouse is still attracted to us and interested in us, but because God calls us “chosen and dearly loved.” Once we know who we are in God, we are better able to handle the inevitable hurts and pains of being married to an imperfect spouse in an imperfect world.

What I set out to show in Loving Him Well is how the Bible affirms women in a way that was quite radical for the time in which it was written. Because some passages seem to suggest husband and wives share different roles in marriage, there are those who see the Bible as an accessory to the oppression of women, when in fact, even the Old Testament became an agent of radical change in a world that viewed women as children or property.

For example, the Old Testament stepped outside its cultural milieu to insist that women mirror God’s own character and image just as fully as do their male counterparts: “So God created man in his own image, he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Right from the start, we learn that women and men together mirror the image of God. Since God is above gender, males alone (or females alone) fail to adequately represent his character and image.

Just as tellingly, the admonition to shape this world and even to rule over this world is given to women just as much as it is to men: “God blessed them [the man and the woman] and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28, emphasis added).

Women are not told to sit passively on the sidelines and cheer for their husbands as the men run the show. On the contrary, from the very beginning, women share God’s command for humans to rule, subdue, and manage this earth. They are co-regents.

This strong, affirming view of women continues into the first book of the New Testament, with the inclusion of women in the genealogy of the Messiah (a literary act that breaks with the tradition of the first century). Yes, there is Abraham and David and Joseph — but there is also Rahab, Ruth, Mary, and Bathsheba. Who would expect such a thing from a very patriarchal and even misogynistic culture? It took both men and women to set up the human events that led to the birth of the Messiah. God chose women of diverse personality and status to build the human line that ushered in the Savior of the world.

Rahab, of course, was a prostitute. Bathsheba may well have been raped (when the king calls for you, consent isn’t an option). Ruth was a Moabite, a tribe whose genesis came from a grotesque act of incest, and it was her taking action (“Let me go to the fields” she pleaded with Naomi) and bold proposal that set up not just the birth of King David, but the human ancestry of Jesus as well.

Including each one of these women in the hallowed ancestry of Jesus is God’s way of saying that even if you’ve been sexually abused or come from a horrific background, God still has a plan to use you mightily.

Jesus came into this world through a woman; not a single male had anything to do with the immediate conception or birth of our Lord. Mary, a woman, is the only human who contributed to Jesus’ DNA.

Jesus also elevated women in his teaching. In Mark 10:11, Jesus astonishes his disciples when he tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” Why was this astonishing? According to rabbinic law, a man could commit adultery against another married man by sleeping with that man’s wife, and a wife could commit adultery against her husband by sleeping with another man; but no provision stipulated how a husband could commit adultery against his wife. Jesus was telling those first-century men, “Your wife has equal value in God’s sight. It is possible for you to sin against her every bit as much as it is possible for her to sin against you.”

And let’s look at Jesus’ death. While one male disciple betrayed our Lord and the others cowered behind locked doors, some very courageous women dared to watch Jesus’ final minutes on this earth. Mark goes out of his way to emphasize the scene at the foot of the cross: “There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40 – 41). In Jesus’ most trying moments, he was supported by many women. Modern readers might read right over this narrative fact — but in the first century, this was a startling truth and a challenge to any false view of male superiority.

But perhaps the boldest statement came after Jesus died and was raised from the dead. According to ancient Pharisaic law, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a tribunal as too untrustworthy. Only men could give witness. So when Jesus rose from the dead — the most important event that has ever occurred or ever will occur — who was present to give witness and testimony? Women! Jesus pointedly uses women, whose testimony could not then be heard in contemporary courts of law, to proclaim his glorious resurrection.

This elevation of women at all points in theological pronouncements, historical accounts, and practical teaching should astonish us, given the male-oriented culture in which the Bible took shape. It should form the way we respect our wives as women and teach our children to honor their moms with the respect given them by God.

We don’t have to tear down the Bible or men to lift up women; the story of God’s redemption took millennia to unfold and is even yet unfolding. What matters most is that women understand who they are in Christ, and that their husbands and fathers and sons also let their thinking be shaped by Scripture’s arc.

As much as the above Scriptures challenge me however, I still have to confess that few things have motivated me as a man more than having God reiterate to me that Lisa is his daughter and I’m to treat her accordingly. As a father with three children, including two women, this image shapes, corrects, inspires and challenges my every interaction and thought in marriage. The more I respect my wife in particular, the more I respect other women in general. I don’t want any other man sexualizing my wife, making her feel uncomfortable, or putting her in the miserable position of spending nine hours a day in a creepy environment or find some other place to work—so I’m going to go out of my way to not do that to someone else’s wife.

It would break my heart if a son-in-law was harsh or abusive to a daughter; that motivates me to be encouraging and gentle with Lisa.

It comes down to this: if we would look at people as God looks at them, and treat men and women the way God calls us to, all these news items would be resolved. They’d never happen to begin with.

I have great respect and appreciation for those who push necessary conversations, who bring abuse to the surface, and who have the fortitude and demeanor to enact change. The world needs activists and prophets, and I thank God for them. We need servants who cry out, “This is wrong.” We also need some, and I hope this blog can be such a place, to cry out, “This is right.”

Treating all women, but especially our wives, with respect and dignity, is right.


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35 responses to The Worth of a Woman

  1. Margaret R Laird July 1, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    Culture plays a part in this too, depending where you are from. The old question of which comes first culture or Christ, very relevant esp in Asia.

  2. Hi Gary,

    I think this post does a great job of showing the positive and I realize there are length issues to take into account with a blog, but none of the negatives about women in the Bible are listed. Perhaps you wanted to focus on the positive, but I’ve been struggling a lot after reading a Bible study on Exodus and how it was God words, not man’s that allowed and said all those awful things about women. I felt so depressed after reading Exodus each day of that study and angry. That study then went to Corinthians and even Paul says some negative things. I realize women were used to do some positive things in the Bible, but I feel to God we’re the after thought sex because male was first and he views us as inferior. I don’t by the new/ Old Testament things about God changing because the Bible says He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I’ve been really struggling with my opinion of God after reading Exodus even though I’ve read it in the past, but this time it really hurt me deeply. I don’t view him as living towards women or all humanity in general after reading what’s He made law in Exodus. Some of it is horrible and it makes it hard to view him as loving or fair at all. It makes it impossible to put my identity in Him because it’s hard to love much less like him. This may be a whole other blog topic but I hope you can maybe address these negatives for me because I haven’t been able to reconcile them in my mind and heart. Thank you.

    • Oh! And another good book is “Emboldened” by Tara Beth Leach. She goes into great detail surrounding the very Scriptures Gary addresses above.

    • Hi, Ashley! I just wanted to tell you that I TOTALLY get it. I was in a spiritually abusive environment for years. By the time I left, I truly believed that a woman’s function was to have babies and be a cheerleader . . . I was a SHELL. In order for me to still love Scripture, I had to reconcile myself with Paul (ha!) and with other passages in the Bible (like the one you mentioned). As it turns out, I have discovered that wrestling with those passages completely changed my mind about their meaning. I think that we are conditioned by (possibly) more fundamental cultures and we read Paul and Exodus through the lenses of what we have been taught. It seems as though Paul was actually one of the earliest advocates for equality for women, children and slaves, when understood in its historical context. Further, I have heard all of those same words about Adam being created first so . . . . if we follow that line of logic, the cow was also created before Adam. Does that make the cow superior to man? Or the fish superior to the cow? It doesn’t make sense. No. God created men AND women in His image and He expects us to behave accordingly, treating every one person with dignity and equality, as those created in God’s image. And the laws in Exodus, if you dig REALLY DEEP, are seen as protecting women in that particular culture (for various reasons). I HIGHLY suggest a book called “What Does Paul REALLY Say About Women” and then looking at commentaries on the Torah (I suggest Walter Breuggemann but I know a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me, as he is more liberal). I needed fresh eyes. You may need them, too, I don’t know. But, don’t give up, sister. Don’t give up, yet. Keep pressing on. Hugs.

      • Hi Megan, thank you so much for your replies and book recommendations! I so appreciate the advice and sharing your journey. I also never thought about the cow before man analogy but it’s a really good one. Thank you so much! I pray God blesses you in all ways and all areas of your life.

  3. Dear Gary, have you ever read Pope John Paul II’s writings? You understand what he wrote more than most Catholics do 😉 This post is AMAZING! Keep up the good work & God bless you!

  4. Jennifer Phillips July 1, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks Gary for this wonderful message. It is important for a man to have such spiritual insight. God bless you

  5. Many thanks Gary for this post. God bless you

  6. This post reminds me of something my mother taught me… When God calls woman the “weaker vessel” in I Peter 3:7, he tells the husband to “honor” her – not look down on her! As a woman, I do not take offense at that moniker because my mom repeatedly reminded me that we ladies are the “fine china,” not the melamine. Furthermore, as useful and as practical as my Tupperware is, it’s my heirloom china that I CHERISH!

  7. Sarah Peloquin June 29, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you so much for this timely post. As a victim of an abusive father and a manipulative, bitter mother, I have struggled for years over my identity and the truth of God’s word in my life. I have, by God’s grace, married a man of integrity and godly character who loves me through my struggles and demonstrates what a loving father and husband looks like. He treats me as his equal and co-heir and I want my daughters to find men who cherish them like my husband cherishes me.

  8. Thank you Gary so much for this post. I have struggled a lot with putting my worth and desirability into what other men think of me. This has led to much heartbreak, jealousy, and insecurity. So thank you for letting God speak through you and remind me that my worth is found in God alone, and not in what an imperfect man thinks of me. I hope to one day have enough trust in who God says I am so that when I do meet the man I marry, I will accept him with all his faults and not put undue expectations and pressure upon him to meet my needs that only God is meant to fulfill. Thank you again.

    • Thanks, Samantha. You might enjoy a sermon I’ll be preaching July 8th that addresses this a bit more. You can watch it online at http://www.second.org that morning. I’ll be preaching at the Woodway service that starts at 11:05 a.m., central time (it streams live, and a copy is usually posted the following Tuesday). It won’t be specific to male/female relationships, but it will address how God views us in general and the need for us to not draw our identity or worth from others.

  9. (Claps loudly) I fully endorse this post!

  10. Gary, I deeply appreciate your relevant message and measured approach to this; thank you for sharing Truth. The only thing I would want to add is the picture of Eve being “helper” (with man (Adam) and women (Eve) both reflecting God’s image, like you stated). Helper is not subservient, contrary to our culture’s attitude today. It reminds me of the ultimate Helper, the Holy Spirit.

    Keep teaching on timeless issues, and thank Lisa for her part in helping share our Savior’s Truth! May our God bless you.

    • Thanks, Kay. The book has an entire chapter entitled “The Helper,” so we’re on the same page, here. It just didn’t fit into this particular post.

  11. Patricia S Ivie June 29, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you Gary. Very much needed.

  12. Thank you for posting this, Gary.

    I love that you noted how elevating women doesn’t mean degrading men, which seems to be the way our culture is drifting. They also seem to be attempting to elevate women *above* men, which is just as wrong.

    We are equal in value but not in design, and it’s only a Biblical worldview that keeps everything in balance.

  13. I guess what I am trying to say, is why when speaking about women being great, and the great things that they can do inside and outside the home, does it always come back to what she is doing for her husband and advancing him. Not that this is wrong, but people don’t talk about men this way. They don’t relate everything a man does back to his wife. Is it truly biblical to have men in the forefront and women in the background always. Did God really design it like that? I know that behind every good man is a good woman, but does it not work the other way around? Why for women is it always about what we do for men, people always talk about how amazing women are BECAUSE of what we were created to do for our men. Helpmeet is powerful, submission is powerful, but it all relates back to men and having them up front and us behind. Does this make sense? I am really struggling to know what is right and if I can even expect to equally be up front with my husband, or if God designed him to be the superhero and I am the sidekick. We are said to be so wonderful and God gave us so much value because of what we were created to do for our husband, but our husband seems to have value in what he does in the world and what he is in himself. Why when people are trying to prove the worth of a woman does it come back to God created you as a powerful helpmeet and you have this amazing position to serve your husband, but it is never the other way around. Can’t we women, even married women, do great things that have nothing to do with our husbands. Can’t we have worth outside of that? Can’t we say God created us for our own separate purposes and not ONLY what we give to men? I hope this makes sense. Sorry for rambling.

  14. Gary,

    I really appreciate your ministry. My husband and I are newlyweds and are going through one of your devotionals and it has been amazing. I have a question about proverbs 31 as it relates to the role and worth of a woman. I was reading an article by another Christian writer, although I generally do not agree with a lot that he writes, and he was talking about how based on proverbs 31, a woman’s role is to take care of everything domestically and behind the scenes so a husband can go out and be successful (and just well known, like the husband sitting at the gate). While I agree proverbs 31 pains the picture of a hard working woman and a lot of her work is in her house, she also does things outside of the house, and maybe they help her husband, but maybe they are also her passions as well. Basically what I am trying to ask, is that the role of a woman? To serve her husband through home so he can go do what he wants outside the home? Is a woman allowed to work outside the home, especially if it is one of her personal passions or dreams that does not necessarily help or serve her husband? Should a husband do things at home, not just help but actually have responsibility and be expected to do things? What about a man taking care of things for his wife, either at home or making money, to help her do things? I am not sure if my question makes sense, but basically is it only a one way street and are there specific roles such as work and housework that only one of the genders can do or mostly do? I want to serve my husband of course, but it also just makes me feel…not as valuable to be told that my whole purpose is just to serve him to make his life easier and he is not supposed to do the same. Not because I don’t want to serve, but because it feels like if that is the way God made it, he made men more important and their dreams and ambitions more important. What do you think proverbs 31 teaches us? It just seems contradictory to be told that men are supposed to serve and lay down their life for their wife, but yet it is actually the wife who is to lay down every dream, ambition and do everything for the husband while he sits at the gate. I would love any wisdom you can give.

    • Grace,

      I’ll respond to both of your comments with this one comment.

      (I go into this in much more detail in chapter 6 of Loving Him Well. If money is the reason you can’t get the book, email Alli@garythomas.com, mention this comment, include your mailing address, and we’ll send you a complimentary copy.)

      In Cherish, when I talk about “showcasing,” I intentionally use a story where a wife showcases her husband (Dr. Hugh and Kathy Ross) AND where a husband showcases his wife (Curt and Laura Kates). In a healthy marriage, there will be opportunities for the husband to help his wife and the wife to help her husband. I also mention a marriage (Jaclyn and Donnie) where the husband has gone out of his way to help his wife succeed at her business, and their relationship has benefited enormously from the sacrifice.

      What I like to suggest is that we look at Matthew 6:33–seeking first God’s Kingdom–and do an inventory of how best, as a couple, we can fulfill that call. Whether the husband or wife is in the forefront should be dependent on gifts, not gender. i do believe there are different roles in marriage, but a spiritual leader who is always upfront isn’t a leader by biblical or even corporate understanding. A senior pastor who preaches every sermon, leads every song, shakes every hand, and signs every check isn’t really a leader. He’s not leading anyone.

      Marriage is lived in chapters–sometimes the husband will sacrifice for the wife, sometimes the reverse. Sometimes both husband and wife will have to sacrifice for the benefit of the children.

      My goal as a Christian is to fulfill Matthew 6:33, but my goal as a husband is to help my wife fulfill Matthew 6:33 as well. How that looks depends on a couple’s calling and gifts. Again, I write much more about this, with more nuance, Scripture and explanation, in chapter 6 of Loving Him Well, so I’ll refer you back to that for a more complete answer.

      • Thank you so much for your reply. I hope you don’t mind, i have one more question. You say you do believe in roles within marriage, i do too, but could you characterize what you think those roles are? I have never heard anyone speak of different roles while also saying that both a husband and a wife should help and serve each other and either can and should be in the forefront at different times. So what are these roles, in your opinion, and how do they play out?

        • I have more room to cover this in Loving Him Well and do so. If money is an issue (I.e you can’t afford it), email Alli@garythomas.com, mention this comment and give us your mailing address. Otherwise it’s 13 bucks on Amazon or $10 on kindle

  15. Beautiful. Solid. Real. Thank you.

  16. Gary,
    This is a timely and wise post. Thank you! I love that you stay true to your calling and stand firmly on that foundation no matter the topic.
    Blessings to you and all those who will read this.

  17. Felix Cervantes June 29, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Excellent, true and necessary post. My doctorate research on intimate partner violence showed me that compared to the secular world, we are no different. Partners abuse each other, heck, all the way up to the church doors Sunday morning. Many pastors are not sure what to do, so the old ways of “just pray about it,” or “go back home,” seem justified. A week later, that person is seriously injured or dead.
    We need to know the value of women and be reminded of that daily in God’s Word. I am trying to get pastors in Maricopa County onboard with training to keep them knowledgable and as a resource to protect women in the church. Posts like this just reinforce what God has been saying all along. Thanks Gary.

  18. Gary, thank you so much for writing this blog post. Very timely message for me. My husband and I have been married for almost 18 years, with two years of separation in that time. We are living in the same house but in separate rooms, trying to make our way back to a place of whole, healed and healthy relationship. At almost 48 years of age in two weeks, my husband has struggled with a pornography and sex addiction for 34 years. That, coupled with major clinical depression, has made cultivating any meaningful relationship with him extremely difficult. While he is taking steps to address his struggles, I have often wondered how I can support him while at the same time care for myself spiritually and emotionally. I have been looking for a resource, and I think Loving Him Well is what I have been looking for! Thank you!

  19. Great post! Thanks for sharing, and for encouraging people to cling to their identity in Christ, man AND woman!

  20. Thank you for sharing this. It brought peace and confirmation that I needed.