The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood
Announcer: Thank you for listening to this message from True Woman '08, Revive Our Hearts' first national woman's conference. It's our prayer that God blesses you with His word and His heart as you listen.
John Piper: Let's pray together.
Preserve me, Oh God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You." As for the saints in the land, they are the noble in whom is all my delight. Those who choose another god, multiply their sorrows. Their libations of blood I will not pour out nor take their names upon my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who keeps me and gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. You show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. In Your presence is fullness of joy. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:1-11).
I pray that Your Word would run and triumph in these days; that my mouth would be protected from error and folly, and that only what is good for upbuilding, that ministers grace to those who hear would come out. I pray that You would protect us from the devil. How I thank You that You disarmed him; that You put him to a public shame, triumphing over him in Jesus Christ when You cancelled the record of debts that stood against us with their legal demands-nailing it to the cross. What a freedom!
So come and grant us to know it, to taste it deeply. Move in power in these days, Lord. Do exceedingly and abundantly above what any woman has dreamed for her children, her friends, her husband, her parents, her neighborhood, her church. I pray that the unreached peoples of the world, the nations that will one day bow, willingly or unwillingly, before You, would be touched in power by these women and by their children and grandchildren.
Lord, don't let us think small thoughts about what You might be pleased to do in Your sovereign goodness to mend marriages, rescue children, heal churches, and touch bodies and lift dark clouds that have settled over some of these women for eight years passed. This will be the time when the oppression goes away.
So come. Make Yourself supreme. Through Christ we pray. Amen.
My aim in this message is to clarify as best I can from the Scriptures the ultimate meaning of true womanhood. Before I launch into it, I want to thank Nancy Leigh DeMoss for trusting me with this amazing privilege. I do not take this for granted. This is most remarkable that I would be given the privilege to address the most influential people in the world. There is massive power in this room, so I do not take lightly this moment, and I ask that you would be silently praying that I wouldn't blow it.
What I will say is intended to be a foundation for the True Woman Manifesto which will be unveiled to you, I believe, on Saturday. I have read it more than once and regard it as a faithful, clear, true, wise, indeed magnificent document. What an amazing thing it would be if hundreds of thousands of women in America signed on with their heart to the True Woman Manifesto.
I'd like to begin with a huge assumption, tell you what it is, explain it a little bit, and why it matters that you hear what this assumption is. I give it to you partly because it will help you feel emotionally some of what I would like you to become as a result of the conference-not just think about it, but feel what I'm up to and what I think all of us are up to here. Because if you understand this assumption, you'll understand why I minister the way I minister and why this message will sound the way it sounds.
The assumption is this:
Wimpy theology makes wimpy women.
I don't like wimpy women. I didn't marry one. With Noel, I'm trying to raise Talitha, who turns 13 on Saturday, not to be one. The opposite of a wimpy woman is not a brash, pushy, loud, controlling, sassy, uppity, arrogant Amazon.
The opposite of a wimpy woman is 14-year-old Marie Durant when in the 17th century in France was arrested for being a Protestant, put in prison, and told, "You may get out for one phrase: I abjure." She wrote on the wall of her cell, "I resist," and stayed there 38 years until she was dead doing just that (Karl Olsson, Passion, [New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963], 116-117). That's the opposite of a wimpy woman.
Gladys and Esther Staines
Another opposite of a wimpy woman is Gladys Staines. In 1999, remember the story? After serving for three decades with her husband Graham in India, to the lepers, heard one day that her husband Graham and little Phillip (10) and Timothy (6) had been set on fire, burned alive in the back of their car. She said to the newspapers, "I have only one message for the people of India. I am not bitter, neither am I angry. Let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ's love."
The opposite of a wimpy woman is her daughter, well named, Esther. When asked by the reporters, "How do you feel about your father's murder?" She said (she was 13), "I praise the Lord that He found my father worthy to die for Him."
Krista and Vicki
The opposite of a wimpy woman is Krista and Vicki who together, in my church, have had 65 surgeries for so-called birth defects from Apert Syndrome and Hypertelorism. They write, "I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know them right well (Psalm 139:14)." Krista says, "Even though my life has been difficult, I know that God loves me and created me just the way I am. He has taught me to persevere and trust Him more than anything."
Joni Eareckson Tada
The opposite of a wimpy woman is Joni Eareckson Tada, who would give her right arm to be with you. After forty-one years in the wheelchair she prays, "Oh thank You, thank You for this wheelchair. By tasting Hell in this life, I have been driven to think seriously about what faces me in the next. This paralysis is my greatest mercy." (Christianity Today, January, 2004, 50)..
The opposite of a wimpy woman is Suzie. Four years ago her husband (59) was taken, then a month later she found she had breast cancer, and then her mom died, and then a miracle happened. She wrote to me, "Now I see that I have been crying for the wrong kind of help. I now see that my worse suffering is my sin-my sin of self-centeredness and self-pity. I know that with His grace, His lovingkindness, and His merciful help, my thoughts can be reformed and my life conformed to be more like His Son."
Wimpy theology makes wimpy women. That's my assumption as I begin this message.
Wimpy theology does not give a woman a god big enough, strong enough, wise enough, good enough to handle the realities of life in a way that enables her to magnify Him and His Son all the time. He's not big enough.
Wimpy theology is plagued by woman-centeredness, or as we usually call it, man-centeredness.
Wimpy theology doesn't have a granite foundation of God's sovereignty underneath. It doesn't have the steel structure of a great God-centered purpose for all of human existence, including the worst of it.
The Ultimate Purpose for the Universe
So I turn to my main point, the ultimate meaning of true womanhood, and I start by stating that solid steel structure of God's ultimate purpose in all things. God's ultimate purpose for the universe, and all of history, and your life, is to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression in His dying to make a rebellious people His bride. That's the reason the universe exists: To display the glory of God's grace in its highest expression as the Son of God dies to make a rebellious people His bride.
Everything exists so that that can happen, and everything exists to highlight that and make much of that, especially you. God's ultimate purpose in creating the world and choosing to let it become this sin-wrecked world that it is, is so that the glory of Christ could be put on display where He bought the rebellious bride at the cost of His life.
Now that's based on text. Let me give you a couple of them.
Revelation chapter 13, verse 8, goes like this-God is talking about writing names down in a book, and those that are in the book don't worship the beast-and He says, "Before the foundation of the world, in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain."
So names are being written before the foundation of the world in a book, and the name of the book is the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain. That is amazing. Before anything existed but God, Christ was crucified in God's mind for sin that didn't exist anywhere in the universe. That's amazing. That's not wimpy, and it doesn't produce wimpy women. It is staggering to think that God was planning the death and slaughter-that's the word slain-of His Son before the universe was made.
Why? Here's the other text. This is Ephesians 1:5-6, "In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto the praise of the glory of His grace." There isn't anything on the other side of that design-like that's a means to anything. It isn't. When you arrive at the praise of the glory of the grace of God, you're home. That's it. There isn't anything beyond that. That was what the universe was made to do, to be. God was planning it in such that the apex, the climax, the supreme expression of that grace would be the Son's purchase, at the cost of His life, of His wife-you and me.
Listen to Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church [there's the parallel-husbands love wives / Christ loves church, His wife] and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."
So putting those three texts together-Revelations 13:8, Ephesians 1:5-6, Ephesians 5:25-27-I draw the conclusion: The ultimate purpose of all things is the praise of the glory of the grace of God supremely manifest on Calvary when the Son of God laid His life down to purchase and purify His wife out of an absolutely hell-bent rebellious people. That was the apex, and that's why God created the world, and that's why He created you.
True Womanhood: At the Center of God's Purpose
Now the question is: What does all that mean for true womanhood? It's not wimpy to say that God created the universe and governs all things to magnify His own grace in the slaughter of His Son for an undeserving people, that those people might become His everlastingly happy bride. It's not wimpy. That's steel. That's granite. There's a place to stand when everything around your soul gives way.
How I love the women in my church who stand when everything around their soul gives way. Oh how the grace and the glory of God shines off of their lives. I've been there 28 years. I've walked through a lot of dark valleys with them, and I've buried a lot of children. It doesn't lead to wimpy womanhood, but it does lead to womanhood, that theology, that ultimate purpose of the world. It does lead to true womanhood. In fact, it leads to a mind-boggling understanding of true womanhood.
What we have seen so far in those three texts (and there are many others that could be used to supplement them), what we have seen so far is this: masculinity and femininity, manhood and womanhood, belong at the center of God's ultimate purpose. Manhood and womanhood are not an afterthought of creation. They're not an afterthought of the cross. They're not peripheral to the design of what is being said when Jesus dies to magnify the grace of God. They're right there at the center at Calvary. It's staggering. Oh how I pray that you women would be done with small thoughts about God's design for womanhood.
We have a curse on human nature called triviality. The big problem with television and movies are not sex and violence. It's banality. It's living every day as though TV mattered. It doesn't matter at all! It's here today and gone tomorrow. Eternity and the things that are unseen matter. I would just like to see 6,000 souls rise into the significance of what matters in the world. You can transform every simple diaper moment or any other moment into massive significance if you realize that your womanhood is here, being brought to the very center of the purposes of God in this universe, which come to a climax when Christ, the husband, bought His bride.
Genesis 1:27, "God created man in His own image. In the image of God, He created him. Male and female, He created them." Now sometimes I think we make a mistake by thinking like this: "Well, God created us that way, then later He sends His Son to die for sinners and created a people for Himself by His own blood, and He thought, ‘Now I want to make this intelligible. I will look for some analogy that might be illuminating and work. Oh look, there's marriage. That might work. I will apply marriage to the meaning of what My Son has achieved.'" That's not the way it happened, and there's a reason why we know that's not the way it happened.
Created to Display Christ's Glory
When God designed in His own eternal mind how He would make a creature called a human in two varieties-male and female, when He thought about that, He had in His mind already the cross. That's why He made us the way He made us. He didn't make us this way and then later think, "Oh that would work. I'll apply that to the cross." That's not the way it happened.
Here's why we know that: Because in Ephesians chapter 5, verse 31, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is reaching back before the fall, all the way to the first marriage. He is quoting Him, then he adds this spectacularly important interpretation. He says, in verse 32, "This mystery is profound"-namely Genesis 2:24-man leaving, cleaving, new flesh. "This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church."
Thousands of years before there was any cross, God said about manhood and womanhood, "This is about the most important event in history. That's why I made them this way. I mean for this manhood and womanhood choreography, in marriage mainly, and in singleness, we will see to be a display of the most important thing in the universe-My Son, displaying My grace in sacrificing His life as a husband for His wife."
So here's my main point: What is the ultimate meaning of true womanhood? It's this: True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of His Son in ways that would not be displayed if there were no womanhood. Say it again. It's a distinctive calling. True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of God, the glory of His Son in ways that would not be displayed if there were no womanhood.
When God described the glorious work of His Son as the sacrifice of a husband for his bride, He was telling us why He made us male and female. He made us this way so that our maleness and femaleness would display more fully the glory of His Son in relationship to His blood-bought bride. This means-this is huge now in our Egalitarian world-this means that if you try to reduce your womanhood to physical features of biological functions and then determine your role in life purely on the basis of competencies, you not only miss the point of womanhood, you diminish the glory of Christ in your own life. Your distinctive female personhood is indispensible in God's purpose to display the fullness of His glory. It's not incidental to your personhood. It exists because it's God's designed relationship to the central event of history-the death of His Son.
So here's my application question: What does that look like for marriage, and what does it look like for singles? I assume you're either in one category or the other, though there are some painful places in-between.
A Word to the Married
First, a word to you married women. Paul says in Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands."
Now, the point here is that marriage, headship, and submission and the dynamic that exists between them in marriage is meant to display the covenant-keeping love between Christ and His church. If a reporter came up to me and said, "All right, what's the main point of marriage?" I wouldn't have the slightest hesitation. Marriage exists to display the covenant-keeping love and grace that exists between Christ and His church. That is the meaning of marriage, ultimately, which means that husband and wife, headship and submission, are no more interchangeable than Christ and the church are interchangeable. They're not interchangeable.
Men take their cues from Christ as the head, and women take their cues from the church, called to admire and stand in allegiance to Christ, and men have the greater burden and the greater responsibility. I do not like to talk about headship in terms of rights. I like to talk about it in terms of weight and responsibility, which thousands of men are too wimpy to pick up, and that's one of my biggest prayers for you.
Some of you God is going to touch so profoundly in these days. You won't want to go home, because he's letting you down so badly. So let's pray for each other. I would like to be speaking to 6,000 men. I would, and I would get in their face big time (a lot harder than I'm getting in your face). I would tell them, "You're the main problem in most of these situations. Your women would rise to this if you would do it like Jesus."
Let me define headship and submission just briefly.
Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.
I could unpack that for an hour, but I won't at all-frustrated as I am. I'll read it again, though. Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.
Here's my definition for submission, and I believe I could show all of these from Ephesians 5.
Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.
I'll say it again. Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.
Now the point here is not to go into detail about how this gets worked out in every marriage, and every marriage looks a little different. The point is that these two, headship and submission, correspond to true manhood and true womanhood in marriage. They're not the same, and these differences are absolutely essential, by God's design, so that marriage will display more fully the glory of the sacrificial love of Christ for His bride and the beauty of the lavished reverence and admiration of the bride for her Husband.
I know that leaves 200-300 questions unanswered. What about unbelieving husbands? What about believing husbands who don't do this leadership, protection, provision? What about wives who resist leadership, don't like the idea of being led, think it's all 50/50 always? What about wives who do receive it but never express any appreciation for it?
There are hundreds of questions that we could take up now, and I apologize that I won't. But here's my comfort: If you could embrace this true, that as married women (and I'm turning to singles in one minute), if you as married women could embrace this magnificent truth, that your true womanhood ultimately means that your distinctive role in marriage is meant to magnify the glory of God's grace supremely expressed in the covenant-keeping love between Christ and His church, you would have a compass with which to navigate hundreds of questions. You have a lifetime to ferret them out.
It's not a small thing to believe that true womanhood is meant to display the glory of God's grace in the sacrifice of the Son of God in the purchase and purification of His bride who then lives her everlasting life in exquisite joy in His presence, standing in awe of Him, and reverencing Him and honoring Him. But what if you're not married?
A Word to Singles
The apostle Paul loved his singleness, really loved his singleness. He loved it because it gave him such radical freedom to get arrested month after month without having a wife at home crying her eyes out, and to be beaten with rods over and over, and be lashed so that his back became jelly five times multiplied by 39, and so he could be shipwrecked at sea. Singleness is a high calling if you take it like that. He celebrated it and called many of you to follow him in it, even though marriage is meant to display the glory of Christ.
So how can that be? Why would He lure some of you out of marriage, that is out of pursuing marriage? Why would He do that if He made marriage as this magnificent portrait of His Son's covenant-keeping love with His bride so that husbands and wives, living out their unique manhood and womanhood, become a magnificent drama of that glory? Why would He lure anybody away from that, which He does? There's a very clear reason why.
In this season of history since the Fall, the natural order that God established at the beginning is not absolute. "It's not good that man should be alone. It's not good that woman should be alone." That's true. It's just not absolutely true because now sin has entered into the world, and there are other things to take into consideration besides the sheer natural order that God set up before there was sin and collapse, and thousands and millions of people to be rescued from perishing. The reason that it is not an assault on God's glory for the apostle Paul to say, "I would that you were single like I am, if you had the gift" (see 1 Corinthians 7:7).
The reason that's not an assault on God's glory is that in this world there are truths about Christ and His kingdom which can be more clearly displayed by womanhood in singleness and manhood in singleness than by womanhood in marriage and manhood in marriage. I'll give you three of them.
These are three things that your womanly singleness can say better to the world than any married woman can say by virtue of her marriage.
1) A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witness that the family of God grows by regeneration through faith not propagation through sexual intercourse. The family of God grows by regeneration not by propagation, by faith, not sexual intercourse. The main thing we're about is growing that family. So if you never marry, and you embrace a lifetime of chastity and biological childlessness, and you receive this from the Lord's hand as a mercy and a gift with contentment, and you gather to yourself the poor and the lonely, and you spend yourself for the gospel without self-pity; you will, in your unique single womanhood, magnify Christ in ways no married woman can.
2) A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witness that relationships in Christ are more permanent and more precious than relationships in families. If a single woman turns without bitterness and regret from the absence of her own family and gives herself to creating God's family in the church, she will find a flowering for her womanhood in ways never dreamed of, and Christ will be uniquely honored.
3) The Christ-exalting singleness of a woman bears witness to the truth that marriage is temporary and finally gives way in the end to the relationship to which it was pointing all along, Christ and the church, the way a picture is no longer needed when you're face to face.
Marriage is a beautiful thing, and I want to bear public witness and gratitude for Noel, who will have been my wife come December 21st forty years. I want to bear public witness that she has been a gift to me that I didn't deserve. We together have labored to raise five children and ten grandchildren and are still, with tears, laboring. As parents you never ever stop being a parent, we have now learned, never stop with tears, never stop with joy.
Nevertheless, she and I would both say, we say it with deep conviction: Marriage is not the main thing. It's momentary. Otherwise Jesus would not have said, "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven because they do not die anymore." My relationship with Noel has a few more years, and then she and I will experience what that was all about, ultimately, with Him.
Therefore, a single woman who lives with that final day in view, and finds Christ to be her all in all here, says something very powerfully and very clearly about her Savior.
As I close, I commend to you this truth: The ultimate purpose of God in history is the display of the glory of the Son in dying for His bride. God created man male and female because there are aspects of Christ's glory which could not be known and displayed any other way than through the dynamic relationship between femininity and masculinity or manhood and womanhood. Those complementary differences are essential to the revelation of the most important event in history.
Therefore, true manhood, true womanhood-true womanhood-is a distinctive calling to display the glory of the Son in ways that would not be displayed if there were no womanhood. Married womanhood has ways to magnify Christ that single womanhood cannot. Single womanhood has ways to magnify Christ that married womanhood cannot. So whether you are married or single, do not settle for wimpy theology. It's beneath you. God is too great. Christ is too glorious. Womanhood is too strategic. Don't waste it. Your womanhood, your true womanhood was made for the glory of Christ.
Father, I pray that You would work a great, deep, deep sense of why these women are women. I pray they wouldn't trivialize it; they wouldn't be small. That it would be great and that it would be supreme in their hearts, as they seek to live out their marriages and their singleness would be the glory of the grace of God expressed in the sacrifice of His Son for the purchase of His bride and her everlasting admiration and joy. I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
Announcer: This message was presented at True Woman '08 in Chicago. Check out all of the messages delivered there and more by visiting http://www.truewoman.com/. There you'll find even more ways to connect, from books and resources you can order for yourself, your friends or your life group, to on-demand multi-media, to on-going conversations you can be a part of, and we're updating it all the time.
True Woman '08 is a ministry of Revive Our Hearts, helping you become God's true woman.