November 2, 2002
Distinct from all other creatures, men and women were created by God in His own image—and it is together that we best reflect that reality. Teaching from Genesis 2, Alistair Begg explores God’s perfect design for men and women, the disastrous consequences of sin, and His merciful plan of redemption. Men and women are different by design, intended not to be rivals but to complement one another.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, it’s nice that some of you are still here. Let’s turn to Genesis. Genesis 2:15. Genesis 2:15:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; … you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’
“The Lord God said, ‘It[’s] not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” So, if you ever wondered why it was called a hippopotamus, the answer is right here in 2:19. “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
“The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Now, we have in the first session essentially done the hard work that is necessary in the building of a house. Long before ever you get even to the ground floor, there has to be the laying in of all of the irrigation, all of the essential supplies, all of the stuff that frankly has no aesthetic appeal to it at all, unless you are a very fixated engineer. But for the average person, they said, “Can we cover that over as quickly as possible? And let’s at least get up into the basement if not into the ground floor.” Of course, without the hard work being done and the care being given to all of those foundational engineering elements, then to proceed too quickly to the basement, the ground floor, and above will only be to create difficulties later on.
And that’s the reason that I have labored—and in some senses, perhaps, belabored—our opening session. Because you, those of you who are mothers, are going to either instill this in your children, or somebody else is going to instill something else in your children. And a generation will grow up—your boys will grow up to be men, your girls will grow up to be women—and they will grow up to model, to display the things that they have taken onboard as the underpinnings for femininity and for masculinity. And remember that they’re growing up in a world where Freudianism and the kind of product of early nineteenth-century thought has now come to great fruition and is just flushing across the structures of education and the involvement of boys and girls in their relationships with one another.
The advertising, for example, of Abercrombie & Fitch, with all of those very strapping young boys in their swimming trunks and what not, is not actually created to appeal to girls. Girls may like that, but they don’t like it in abstraction. They may like that if the fellow happens to be funny as well, if he happens to be considerate as well, if he happens to be engaging as well. But just that is not enough. So who do they make the advertisements for? Boys. That’s exactly right.
This is the world in which our children and our grandchildren are growing. And therefore, it’s good and important to go back to basics, to go back to the very beginning, and to notice how God is described here as putting together humanity, Mr. and Mrs. Adam.
If your Bible is open, in Genesis 5 you will notice the description there: “This is the written account of Adam’s line. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.” Now notice the immediate change to the plural, verse 2: “He created them male and female.” “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they,” plural, male and female, “were created, he called them ‘[adam]’.” So they’re called Mr. and Mrs. Adam, if you like—not because she had taken his name from him, in the way that we do today, but simply because of their essential oneness. They are, in their femininity and masculinity, the unique components, as we said earlier this morning, of a single reality: the unique entity in all of creation, distinct from all of the other creatures over whom they are given jurisdiction. Man is made in the image of God.
Now, I want you to notice just three things, and I’ll try and work through the three things in a way that gives, perhaps, more cohesion than there was in the first hour.
First of all, I want us to notice that we are different—male and female—different by design. Different by design. I’m going to refer frequently to these opening verses of Genesis, and now to Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful … increase in number; fill the earth … subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
Now, for those of you who live in Solon and are at the moment concerned about the great advance in the deer population, I want you to know that Genesis chapter 1 speaks to the issue. It doesn’t give a definitive answer as to how it should be dealt with, but it says very clearly that there is no problem in dealing with it—namely, that it is possible for man as man, male and female, recognizing the dominion that has been given to us over the other creatures—we do not possess the right to abuse them or to misuse them, but there is not a problem actually in euthanizing them, which, of course, is a synonym for putting them down, getting rid of them.
But the reason that you get this phenomenal confusion in the town meetings and Mrs. Jenkins up on her high heels about “Well, I don’t care if the deer want to do this; after all, the lovely little deer in the thing”… Why does she say what she says? Well, because of her view of the world. She regards herself as the product of plankton soup. She is essentially a naked ape. She has no more legitimacy to her backyard than does the deer that are passing through. And therefore, she has no basis whatsoever on which to say, “The deer must go, and we must stay!” So our view of the world actually affects all of our decision making, even at the most apparently trivial level.
Man and woman together are given the responsibility and the privilege of ruling over the rest of creation. It is together—verse 27, you will notice, of chapter 1—that we reflect God’s image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This is very, very, very important. ’Cause the average male chauvinist pig doesn’t understand this verse. And if he doesn’t get a clear understanding of it, then he will be up on his high horse quite routinely, propounding the notion that he was made in the image of God. “I don’t know about you,” he may say to the females under his jurisdiction or within his precinct; “I don’t know about you, but I was made in the image of God.” Well, you just have to say to him, “Listen, cloth-ears, if you’d been paying attention, if you’ve been paying attention at all, you would understand that man—Mr. Adam, Mr. and Mrs. Adam—are male and female in the way in which it unfolds in Genesis 1,” so that although Adam bears the name man, as the head of the race… His creation is first. There is no question about that. We can feel bad about it, do whatever we like with it. But as head of the race, it requires both man and woman to express God’s image. In other words, the only way we can understand what it means to be truly human is by looking both at masculinity and at femininity. In other words, true humanity is expressed in the bisexual nature of humanity.
Now, that’s not to say that the unmarried don’t possess the image of God. Because if what we’re saying here is what the Bible is saying—namely, that it is in the complementary nature of male and female that God’s image is manifested in their interwovenness—then it would be wrong for us, in saying that, to suggest that somehow or another, a single man or a single girl is somehow less than an expression of true humanity. Because the marriage picture is only one of a number of pictures that are used—there is a governmental picture and so on—to express the nature of God’s revelation in this way. So nobody needs to run home and say, “Well, I’m not in the image of God, because I don’t have a husband” or “I don’t have a wife” or whatever else it is. The fact of the matter is that God’s creation of humanity is expressed in the genders that are uniquely fashioned. And that is why you have both.
Now, having said that, there is clearly a distinct truth about the image of God that is represented and expressed and safeguarded in marriage: “The two shall become one.” And in this comingling, in this co-union, there is something that is revealed about God that is mysterious. It is the revealed secret to which Paul refers in Ephesians 5. Remember, he says, “This is a great mystery.” He says, “This is a mysterious thing, this two becoming one. And I’m talking about Christ and the church.” And here, in the comingling of male and female, there is this amazing, mind-boggling notion of God having manifested himself in humanity.
And in the distinctions that exist between male and female there is a diversity that is unified and there is a unity that is diversified. And the distinctions between men and women are in-built human characteristics, programmed in, designed purposefully by God. So in other words, we can say that irrespective of what may be shouted at us across the hallways of our universities, the Bible is clear in affirming that God blessed man and woman by giving different but complementary functions—different but complementary, and different by design. That’s why, in verse 31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”—including the essential differences between men and women.
Now, it is obvious that men and women are clearly not identical. You say, “Well, that’s the most brilliant thing you’ve said so far. That’s incredible. Where did you get that insight?” Well, every small boy suddenly realizes that “I don’t look like my sister. And she doesn’t look like me.” Why? Just because somehow or another I got pushed further along the sliding scale of sexuality? Or because God uniquely fashioned me in terms of masculinity?
Now, you say, “Is that important?” Well, it’s important on far more levels than the purely physical. Men and women are clearly not identical; and therefore, they don’t have to function identically. If men and women are not identical, why do they have to do identical things? Why is it that a man would somehow feel that he couldn’t possibly be truly a man unless he was doing what women do? Or that a lady is not really what she needs to be unless she can do what man does? Where do you think that notion comes from? It doesn’t come from the Bible.
Traveling in Upstate New York this year, I came on roadworks all the time. And sometimes I was stuck at the roadworks, waiting, and sometimes I was in the front of the line, as it happened, going back and forth on a particular journey. And I think on every single occasion, the person that was standing there with a big stop sign and a helmet was a girl. Now, that’s fine if that’s what she wants to do. But I said to myself, “Is this really what the feminist lobby was trying to achieve? So that, you know, my daughter could grow up to hold a stop sign, wear jeans and working boots, and drive around on a giant Caterpillar?” That’s okay. That’s okay! But the presupposition that is built into it is that somehow or another, unless the girl is able to take charge of that situation, somehow or another, there is a precinct to her that, unless she is able to embrace it, it will mean that she is less than she is supposed to be or she has not championed life in the way that she needs to.
No, says the Bible, the difference is clear, and the differences are important. They’re important in life, they’re important in marriage, and they’re important in ministry. And the complementary nature of things comes to the fore in the portion that we just read, didn’t it? “The Lord God said, ‘It’s not good for the man to be alone. I’m going to make a helper suitable for him.’”
Now, the way in which this unfolds is quite incredible, if you look at it. In order to build a woman—and that actually is the verb in Hebrew—in order to build a woman, God has to make man incomplete. He takes something out of man, so man now is incomplete. He is then made complete in receiving back what was taken out from him. The female is built in separation from her true origin or context so that she will only come home, return to where and what she should be, in her understanding of her femininity in light of the reality of masculinity, whether that is living in singleness or whether that is living in marriage. And any view that sidesteps that is deficient in relationship to what the Bible is saying. Physiology alone teaches us this: that we are so unbelievably different, by design.
Second thing we should notice is this: that the difference by design is in order that there might be harmony. The difference by design is in order that there might be harmony—if you like, in order that everything may fit the way God intended it to fit.
Now, I’m not here to give a talk on human physiology or sexuality, you’ll be relieved to know. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that human physiology seems perfectly suited to all that it would mean physically to be comingled in a one-flesh union as an expression of the reality of our masculinity and femininity, and that anything other than that is certainly a deviation from it and, the Bible actually says, is a perversion of it—so that marriage by its very definition is heterosexual, it is monogamous, it is a one-flesh union. And you don’t need a textbook to figure it out.
Now, what you have in the opening two chapters of Genesis, of course, is two complementary expressions of what has happened in creation. Genesis 1:1 up to 2:3 is a kind of comprehensive description that reaches its climax in the creation of man. Verse 27: “So God created man …; male and female he created them.” Then, in 2:4–25, you have this further expression of it where it is impossible to say anything other than the fact that man’s preeminence is established over all of the rest of the creative order. And in that section, in chapter 2, the responsibilities, the functionality of male and female is defined. The duty of man is given there in verse 15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”—so that man is created and is given this responsibility of work. Not that he is the only one who needs to work, but nevertheless, in the divvying up of tasks, God says to him, “Now, Adam, what I want you to do is, I want you to get out there and I want you to look after this garden that I have given to you.” And at the same time, he said, “What I’d like you to do is take all of these creatures that I have fashioned for you, and I would be very, very grateful if you could do the scientific task of looking at them and then of naming them.” A demanding but a delightful privilege! And there he goes, pointing at the creatures and figuring out what they’re all going to be called.
But in this process, it reveals Adam’s need of a mate. Verse 20: “Man gave names to all the livestock, [and] the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But,” notice, “for Adam no suitable helper was found.” He wasn’t content to be the zookeeper in Jungle Book, you know? He wasn’t happy just to hang around with the apes and the monkeys and to watch the dolphin do their thing. There’s no suitable helper for him to be found. Man was lonely. And the woman was created on account of man’s loneliness.
“No suitable helper was found.” Woman is a suitable helper for man. Man, incidentally, is a suitable helper for woman. But the emphasis here is on the need and nature of what it would mean for this feminine creature to now be taken out of this masculine creature in order that she may be a helper suitable for him. She is created, if you like, in order to make him complete.
Now, some ladies immediately have a problem with the idea of a helper suitable. Is the problem with “suitable” or is the problem with “helper”? I’m not sure. “Well, I’m not just here to be your helper.” No, you’re not. You’re here and fashioned in the image of God in order “to glorify God and … enjoy him forever,” and so am I. But having said that, there are certain things that we both need one another for. “Helper,” you see, doesn’t equal subordination. For example, in the Psalms, it’s not uncommon for us to read, for example, in Psalm 33, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help[er] and our shield.” “He[’s] our help[er] and our shield.” Does that mean, then, that God is subordinate to us? Clearly not! But he is prepared to fulfill the role of helping us in our need.
Man was prior to woman in creation, but his priority does not mean superiority. So if you’re writing in that little thing, you can write, “Priority doesn’t equal superiority.” You know the guy: “Hey! I was here first!” Like you’re trying to get your car into a space in a car park: “I was here first; therefore…” But it doesn’t work that way in terms of man and woman. Man can’t get up in the morning and go, “I was here first. Get the breakfast!” To which the lady may reply, “I was here second. Get your own!”
Priority does not mean superiority. “You need a helper, Adam. It’s clear, for a lot of reasons. You’ve done a nice job on the animals; I must admit that. But your flower beds are a complete disgrace. Whoever said that those things would go like that? I tell you, this lady’s going to be a big help to you, Adam. She really is. Frankly, without her, you’re no use. You need her in more ways than you understand.”
So do you think that for him to be given this wonderful helper is for him to get up in the morning and create a list, stick it up on the equivalent of the fridge with her name at the top? “Eve, to-do list for today: help. Let’s get going.” Clearly not. Surely he’s coming to her and saying, “Eve, what am I supposed to do now? Eve, can you help me with this? Eve, where do I put that? Eve, where are my car keys? Eve, you know I can’t do math. Help the kids. Eve, I don’t know what color it should be. Eve, could you get me some trousers? Eve…” “Help, help me, Rhonda, … help, help me, Rhonda.”
So priority doesn’t equal superiority, but God is a God of order; and therefore, if he’s a God of order, there has to be order. And since he’s God and since he’s the Designer, he designed it with Adam first, and then Eve. Problem? Well, for some, yes. But the priority thing does not imply some kind of female inferiority.
In fact, one reason, I think, for the priority of man is made clear in 1 Peter 3—which we may get to in our closing session today—is made clear in his responsibility for loving and caring for the woman. Without the woman, man knows himself to be deficient. Since she’d been taken out of him, he knew himself to be complete only when he lived in harmony with her. In the same way, without the man, the woman is also incomplete; having been taken out of him, she was only complete when she was put back with him. It’s a wonderful picture. It’s a mysterious picture. I’m sure we can’t unpack it.
So they are different, but they’re equal, as being made in the image of God. Together they submit to the purposes of God. Together they enjoy harmony. In the home, in the church, men and women need each other. They need each other! And everything that undermines that reality is ultimately unhelpful and is untrue.
Well, that, of course, is the great issue of homosexuality in our day: “I don’t need a wife. I don’t need a wife. I don’t really need a woman around here. I can live with Rodney, and he and I are equally good at the task of parenting. After all, wouldn’t you much rather have your children in a loving homosexual relationship than an unloving heterosexual relationship?” Sophistry of the best kind. We’re not going to break one clear instruction of Scripture in order to try and uphold another instruction of Scripture.
And so feminism and the fight for equal rights have tended to obscure all of the proper and delightful differences. Haven’t they? Take Vogue magazine and go through it. And how many times do you turn the page and say, “Is that a fellow or a girl in that advertisement? Is that a girl that looks like a chap, or is that a chap that looks like a girl?” Is that by chance? No, it’s by design. It’s by design. Because it is the ultimate rebellion against the Creator. Man is saying, “God, you didn’t make us. And even if you did, you clearly didn’t make us different by design. And we reject your ideas of harmony. We reject your ideas of wholeness. We reject your ideas of family. We reject your ideas of femininity.” And we are expressing this in multiple fashions. And our girls are growing up within our homes, trying to find their footing and trying to find their framework and trying to find their future. And unless you as the mom are clear, we’re in real trouble.
Now, let me just go to my third point, and then I’ll wrap this up, ’cause lunch is sounding very attractive. And I can tell that some of you are already—your minds have already gone there.
When we look at this, we notice that if we’re going to accept what the Bible says, it says we’re different by design; it says that the design is put there in order that we might live in harmony. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Okay? “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” and so on. But any perceptive person says, “This thing is messed up. I mean, if that’s what you’re telling me—that this God made this different by design, and the reason that he made it in this way, for harmony—goodness gracious! Something very badly has gone wrong. There’s a spanner, there’s a…” What do you call a spanner? “There’s a monkey wrench in the system here, somewhere or another,” you’re saying to yourself. “I don’t know where this thing got in here, but the machinery is not doing what it’s supposed to do. Statistics tell me that. Life tells me that. My own feeling as a woman tells me that. The struggle that I have within my marriage, the fearfulness that I have as I look upon my children, all manner of things around me are saying something is dreadfully wrong!”
Well, yes something is dreadfully wrong. But again, if you want to go to the Bible and allow the Bible to answer the question, then you will be able to discover that that which has gone dreadfully wrong has not taken the Designer by surprise and that he has already written into the process the mechanism whereby his design, which is a good and perfect design that has been flawed, may actually be re-created.
So, think with me. What did go wrong? What went wrong? Well, you just need to read what happened here. God gave them instructions. He said, “Now, I want you to do certain things, and there’s only one thing that I don’t want you to do.” And the one thing that he didn’t want them to do was the one thing that they decided to do: “The Lord God took the man,” verse 15, “and put him in the Garden … work it … take care of it. And [he] commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; … you must[n’t] eat from the tree of the knowledge of good [or] evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”
So here is this wonderful, phenomenal environment in which to live, and man turns his back on what God has said—doesn’t want to know. He’s unprepared to do the one thing. And suddenly, what God has made different by design, with all of the harmony and wholeness that is represented in that design, is now marred. It is spoiled. And suddenly, into the story comes guilt, comes alienation, comes suspicion, comes shame. One of the children kills the other kid, and the family becomes a battlefield. All of a sudden, they’re pointing at each other like this: “She said! She told me!” “He didn’t!” “She did!” “Wasn’t my fault!” “What are you looking at me for?” “I’m going to hide behind the trees.” How’d it go so wrong so quickly?
Look at the end of chapter 2: “[And] the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” They were naked and they felt no shame. In other words, they just lived in this fantastic harmony with one another. They didn’t have to have a book on anything—you know, no big thing written up on the wall for them to do or not to do, or “Make sure you do this” or “Make sure you don’t do that.” He said, “Look, just have at it!” I mean, that’s a dreadful thing to say. But, I mean, that’s essentially what he says. He says, “Just do your thing, and have a fabulous time in the garden! Have a fabulous time! But don’t do that.” So rebellion comes in. Embarrassment comes in. In verse 3:7, “the eyes of both of them were opened, … they realized [that] they were naked;” and “so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
“What do you mean? They didn’t know in 2:25 that they were naked, and then they only realized they were naked in chapter 3?” Yeah! ’Cause it never occurred to them to be anything else other than naked. I mean, where would the idea of clothes come from? Eve’s not going around saying, “Do you think we could get a credit card at Nordstrom’s?” Or he’s saying, “Do you think I’d look good in cowboy boots, or, you know, do you think Dockers are better?”
Suddenly, rebellion, sin, shame, awareness, alienation, guilt, hiding are all part and parcel of the experience.
Now, I know that many of you are here today, and frankly, you’re very gracious to stay in your seat, because you disagree vehemently with what’s being said, and you’re opposed to the very notion. And I respect the fact that you’re present, and I want to pay careful attention to who you are and what you have to say. But may I say to you as graciously as I can that it is not… We do not need the Bible to understand that our circumstances today as men and women are marked by personal fragmentation, by social tension, and by spiritual alienation. We know what it is to feel a sense of angst that we’re not really even comfortable within our own skin, that we can’t fully explain who we are or what we are. We don’t understand why it is that we feel the way we do towards other people. Sometimes we feel kindly disposed to them; other times we could kill them. And this idea of a God who has made us and has plans for us—frankly, we don’t have time for it, and then the occasions that we do think about it, we usually think of it in very sentimental terms, as if he was a gigantic Santa Claus waiting for the children to come and sit up on his lap.
But our worldview cannot explain why we are as we are. Whether we accept this explanation of the Bible or not, I think we have to be honest enough to say that the Bible is prepared to give an explanation as to what went dreadfully wrong. God made it, and he said, “This is really, really good.” All of a sudden, it’s not as good as he made it.
The world that you and I know today—the world of sexuality, the world of family, the world as we know it today—is not the world as God made it in all of its pristine beauty but is the world as spoiled by man, who determined to turn his back on God and to try and formulate the plan in his own way, to take the things that God had designed for our good—namely, our sexuality, our masculinity, our femininity—and to turn them to our own selfish ends.
And as a result of that, you see exactly what happens. The woman is created second, and yet she sins first. She’s intended as a helper. What kind of help is this, to lead him into sin? And yet interestingly, Adam, elsewhere in the Scripture, is held absolutely responsible for sin. It doesn’t say, “as in Eve all die”; it says, “as in Adam all die.” Adam, who was supposed to be the leader, supposed to be responsible, is found to be irresponsible, found not to take the lead. The order of events is completely turned upside down, and the consequences are tragic.
In fact, the consequences are judgment. In verse 3:16:
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
[And] to Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat … it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles [and dandelions] …
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
[from] dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
You say, “But wasn’t work one of the gifts? Wasn’t work there, in all of its pristine beauty?” Yes! Work that would never be drudgery. In other words, he could have… Well, I was going to say, “He could have raked leaves till his heart’s content,” but he wouldn’t have had to rake leaves, presumably, unless God fashioned into it the cycle of the seasons. If he did, then he would’ve said, “I’m out raking leaves. Raking leaves, I’m raking leaves, how I love to rake my leaves! Oh-diddaly-doo-dah!” And Eve’s coming and going, “Can I get you a sandwich? I’d love to get you a sandwich!”
Now, all of a sudden, he wakes up, and he goes, “If I see another stinking leaf! If I… Have you seen my hands?” And she’s saying, “You know, when you were raking leaves this afternoon, if you shout on me one more time, ‘Bring me a Coke!’ I will take the rake…” And the children says, “Mommy, don’t you love Daddy?” “Yes, I do.” Hm.
Isn’t it great having babies? It’s great having babies. But not as great as it would have been. Is it great going to work? Some days. But the fact of the matter is that under the sun, work is ultimately drudgery. It’s just the same old, same old, same old. You work to get enough money to buy food, so that you can stay alive, so that you can go to work to get money to buy food to stay alive to work, to get money, food, stay alive, and so on, and make money the old-fashioned way, and make sure you have enough before you finally keel over in your nursing home and hit the hearse. Doesn’t sound great, does it? It’s the judgment of God. It’s the judgment of God.
So the characteristics of life, the elements of distinction, the provision for harmony wasn’t removed. It wasn’t changed in the sense that God had gave out different deals. The same things were present, but now they were spoiled: pain in childbirth, sweat in labor. And Adam in this context now names Eve. Adam names Eve. Now, there’s something in this, I think. We can’t stay on it. But, you know, Adam had named the animals. It was a picture of his domination. And now he names Eve: “Let me tell you who you are. You’re Eve. You’re a living thing. You’re going to produce other living things.”
And so from now on, in place of intelligent understanding, intelligent submission, intelligent leadership, the thing goes south. The wife’s submission then, if you will note clearly what I just read to you, tends to be characterized by one of two experiences, and often the simultaneous experience. One, the desire to reverse the roles and thereby take the lead over her husband. Her desire was “for.” It’s the same verb that is used, incidentally, in chapter 4, where it says that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” In other words, “It desires to control you. It desires to dominate you.”
And as a result of the fall, the principle of harmonious distinction within the marriage bond is now messed up, and the affinity of man and woman in the harmony and wholeness of their nakedness and in all of the bliss that God has intended is now jeopardized as a result of sin. And so the woman’s experience is in part to say, “You know what? I’ll take control of this.” Or her experience of submission is the experience of unjust subjugation as a result of the wrongful domination of her husband. And what happens is that the marriage simply becomes one of struggle and conflict.
As a result of the fall, as a result of sin, man now rules over woman in a way that wasn’t true beforehand. The woman has effectively taken leadership in eating. It was contrary to God’s plan. It had disastrous results. Man has failed in his leadership and shares in the disastrous results. While their relationship with God was intact, there was no need for emphasis upon the principles, the roles, and the submissions. They rejoiced in turning towards one another. There was a wonderful harmony about their lives. Clearly, that’s what the whole picture is in the garden. But as soon as sin enters, then there is the need to articulate, to teach the juxtaposition of what it means to rule and what it means to submit.
Now, I’m almost finished, and I think I should be. I don’t know when it finishes, but about now, I’m sure.
Somebody’s sitting out there saying, “Ah, yes, but tell the people. Tell everybody here that once you become a Christian, that fixes it, you know.” No, I’m not going to tell you that. I’ve spent twenty-seven years in pastoral ministry dealing with people who both follow Christ and those who don’t follow Christ. And frankly, in my experience, I’ve dealt with as many people within the framework of following Christ whose marriages are a royal shambles as I ever have with those who profess no interest in Jesus.
So you see, my dear sisters and friends, that’s why I’m saying to you, you don’t need ten principles about how to do this and how to do that. You need to come to a convinced understanding of what it was supposed to be and what it actually is. Because when you realize what it actually is—because I’m a sinner, and you’re a sinner, and your husband definitely is a sinner, and that your whole marriage is one ugly person married to another ugly person trying to make their way through one ugly journey in life with a bunch of ugly kids—then you can have a far more sane and realistic estimation of what’s going on, rather than the silly nonsense that is held out either in periodicals that are produced in a secular environment or is held out, frankly, in periodicals that are produced from Christian publishing houses, which are not true to life! They’re just not true!
Because regeneration—the new birth, the transformation brought about by Christ—does not eradicate my fleshly instincts, my desire for selfishness, my propensities to go my own way. I am no longer, before God, held to account on the basis of what I have trusted in the work of Christ, but the fact of the matter is that my wife knows that she’s still married to a saved sinner. And the “saved” part may sometimes be lost in the “sinner” part as she tries to make her journey through her days.
So the new birth doesn’t fix it all. If you got problems in communicating with your husband, the answer is not to sit around singing, you know, “I’m so glad that Jesus lifted me.” I mean, you can do that, but the fact of the matter is, either your husband needs to speak up, or he needs to shut up. You need to either speak up or shut up. This isn’t rocket science. It’s so funny: “We don’t talk anymore.” That was Cliff Richard.
In sexual terms, the answer to the erosion of physical intimacy is not found in some strange, esoteric abstraction in relationship to what it means for me to be a Christian. Not that what it means for me to be a Christian is not directly related to all of that. Not that my own perverse human spirit is not wrapped up in all of that. But the idea, for our non-Christian friends, that the answer is Jesus to every question, it’s something that we’ve got to be very, very careful in saying. Yes, ultimately, the answer is that. But the issues that confront us in the living of our lives are real issues, and that our sense as men of priority equaling superiority rather than responsibility erodes confidence and trust. It ends up putting us in a position where men and women are living as rivals rather than different by design, of suggesting that our gifts and our personalities were there so that we could fight with one another rather than that we could complement one another.
And again I say to you that if we just look around us, we can see the evidence of it everywhere. I’ll just finish with a couple of quotes here:
Women are increasingly to be found succeeding in the workplace while their menfolk, who cannot get jobs, stay home and look after the kids. Writer Shirley Conran was not far from the mark with her “ideal” of Superwoman. But they face the agony of tension between career and home. They spend years earning degrees and doing professional training. [And] it seems absurd to stop and give it all up. But it seems just as absurd to have a child and then leave [it] for someone else to raise. Despite the massive advance of the women’s movement in the last half century the haunting question remains, “How am I best to deploy my life? Who on earth am I?”
Currently [says this author], it[’s] even more difficult for men. The Swinging Sixties changed women, but the Nurturing Nineties are changing men. The young men of this generation are the first to be raised on an equal basis with women. They are expected to be sensitive as well as manly, to cook as well as play [sport], to bathe the kids and spend time caring for them, and not leave it all to their [partner]. They are to be strong yet to be totally rid of male aggression and the overbearing arrogance that [has], alas, been so common down countless centuries. And the change is all supposed to happen now, in one generation—a generation, moreover, when the woman may prove to be the better breadwinner as well as [the better] homemaker.
Thus causing the man to say, “Who in the world am I? Where do I fit into this?”
And the answer of lesbianism is “You don’t fit in at all. I do not need you. I don’t want you. And I am free to design my own package.” God says, “No, you’re not.” No more free to design it than is a man to step outside the framework of his marriage and be involved in multiple relationships with other women. He’s no more free to do that than we are to re-create marriage to our own design.
Now, the wonderful thing in the story is that although everything has gone so dreadfully wrong, God in his mercy doesn’t say, “Well, you know, you did what I told you not to do, so therefore, you’re done!” No, he actually comes to seek them out. He comes to seek them out. He judges them in justice, because he must. “This is how it’s going to be,” he says. “There are implications to this. You will surely die.” Death, which was not the design from the beginning, enters into the world. But the fabulous thing is that having now discovered themselves to be shameful, aware of their nakedness, he comes along, and in 3:21 he says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and [he] clothed them.” “And [he] clothed them.”
And that, of course, is the picture of the unfolding story of Jesus: that we turn our back on God, in rebellion against his plan and against his design; God sends his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that he might provide a covering for us, in order that by his death we may be covered over by all of his righteousness, that all of that mercy and all of that grace may become ours—something that we don’t deserve, having turned our back on him.
Oh, the love of God! Oh, the mercy of God! Oh, the goodness of God, to come to our rebellious hearts, to come to our family battlefields, to come to our upside-down lives and say, “Here, I got a covering for you. I’ve got an answer for you. I have a future for you. You’ve been trying it your own way. How about you just try it my way?”
Father, we pray that as we think these issues through, that the Spirit of God will be our teacher. Help us to examine the Bible to see if these things are so. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Genesis 5:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8; Ephesians 5:31 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 5:31–32 (paraphrased).
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.
 Psalm 33:20 (NIV 1984).
 Brian Wilson and Mike Love, “Help Me, Rhonda” (1965).
 Roger Cook, Roger Greenaway, Bill Backer, and Billy Davis, “Buy the World a Coke” (1971).
 See Genesis 4:8.
 1 Corinthians 15:22 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 4:7 (NIV 1984).
 Alan Tarney, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” (1979).
 Michael Green, Follow in His Footprints (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), chap. 2.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.