So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

The very first chapter in the Bible, Genesis 1, states that God created mankind “in his own image” – as male and female. Pretty much from the beginning, we learn some important things:

  • We are created in the image of God – we are in some ways created to be like God;
  • Part of that image means being created male and female – strongly suggesting that men and women image God in different, complementary ways;
  • Being male or female is a gift from God, and fundamental to who we are as human beings.

Complementary

Le’ts spend a bit more time unpacking what it means to be created in God’s image male and female. Genesis 1 involves a whole lot of separating things: God separates the light from darkness (v4), the water from the sky (v7), the earth from the sea (v9). and so on. But the separation involved isn’t completely tearing two things apart – rather, they separate two aspects of the same thing. For example, separating a day into day-time and night-time: can you imagine a day without both? We need them both, they just bring something different out about the day. Day-time is for working, playing, doing stuff – night-time is for resting and sleeping. But day-time and night-time are still, together, ‘the day’.

I think it’s similar with men and women. Male and female both image God – but they image God in different ways. There are different aspects of God which men and women display. I would describe this as being complementary: two things which, when taken together, complete the other.

This leads on to teaching in the rest of the Bible about men and women – for example, Ephesians 5:22-33 talks about the roles of husbands and wives. The important thing to note here is that men and women are addressed separately. Being a woman or a man involves recognising how God has created us, how God intended us to be.

Personally I have found my own life much easier having understood this: when we relate to men and women as men and women – rather than as androgynous ‘people’ – the world starts to make much more sense. This is because we are living in line with how God has made us. When we recognise that men and women are actually different – a claim, by the way, which is backed up by science – then the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place a bit more.

But isn’t marriage fundamental?

Some people say that marriage is the most fundamental thing of all – marriage is the way (perhaps the only way) that men and women are ultimately to come together. But is that really what Genesis teaches?

Genesis 2 gives the creation account in a bit more detail. It tells the well-known story of the woman being made from the rib of the man, before saying: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (verse 24). Marriage is beautiful picture of the two ‘halves’ of humanity being united – complementary, as we described above. But is that all there is to say? Is the only way the sexes are to be united within marriage?

I don’t believe so. Notice that the verse also mentions fathers and mothers. These are also fundamental relationships – as anyone knows! Your parents influence you in ways it’s hard to measure. Being a father or a mother is a primary human relationship (or, you could add, brother or sister, etc.) So within this verse itself, there is already a recognition that there are other important relationships that human beings need to have. In fact, I’d argue that the relationship between men and women is so significant that we are missing out if we don’t cultivate these relationships in any way apart from the marriage relationship! And, of course, it’s important to remember that Jesus wasn’t married – and he lived a fully human life.

Being male and female is fundamental – and yes, marriage is important in uniting them. But that doesn’t mean it is exclusive, or the only way that men and women are meant to display their complementary nature.

Loving Jesus more

Can you think of a single thing that Jesus said positively about the family? I’m not saying that Jesus said anything negative about it – rather, that he relativised it. We already looked on the friendships page about Jesus’ words in Mark 3 (‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother…’) He also said: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)

Our families are important, but the most important thing is Jesus.  God does want us to love and care for our families – but when we come to Christ, we get a whole new family. This isn’t to say that we can ditch our biological family, of course not, but rather they’re not the only ones who matter any more.

The key question is – how do we treat those of the opposite sex who are brothers and sisters in Christ? How should we love them? By keeping them at arms length? Or by embracing them and seeking to walk with them in Spiritual Friendship?

In fact, I’d go even further: given that we live in a world where there is so much wrong between men and women, should we instead be taking increasing steps to help fix what is broken? For the woman who has grown up without a father – could not a man befriend and provide her with some male company and supply something of what was lacking? Similarly for a young man who has grown up without any positive female influence, with a history of bad relationships? There are many such examples.

God wants to use us, the church, the body of Christ, in the lives of each other. We are not called to isolation but community. He uses each other as his instruments as he forgives, heals and restores us. Now that so much is broken in the relationship between men and women, he calls godly men and women to be part of the solution.

But… what about immorality?

The biggest reason keeping people back from embracing friendship with the opposite sex is the fear of sexual immorality. This is, of course, a good and Biblical reason – but, I believe, misguided. Why? Continue reading >