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Male and Female and the image of God

In our church, we have just started a short series on Genesis 1-3. I preached last week on Genesis 1:1-24, and as I was preparing it struck me once again how important it is to understand these foundational texts.

In the sermon last Sunday, we were looking at the next passage, which contained these words:

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

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

28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

Genesis 1:26-28

As I was listening to the sermon, what really hit me is the emphasis on ‘male and female’: it doesn’t simply say that God made people, in the generic sense, but he made them male and female. All throughout Genesis 1 God separates – he separates the land and sea, land and sky, day and night – and male and female. Two complementary things which are designed to work together in harmony.

In the case of male and female, this is all part of mankind’s dominion over creation (v26). And v28 goes on to say that an important part of that is to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ – clearly a reference to procreation (and therefore marriage).

What struck me this time, however, is the universal nature of this division in humanity. Sometimes I think this passage is referred to as if it only applies to marriage: men and women are to come together in marriage, but not in other ways. But I don’t think this does justice to the scope of what is in view here. I don’t think Genesis 1 envisions men and women ruling over creation, only coming together in marriage to procreate. Marriage and procreation is very important, even foundational – but it is not exclusive.

Mankind is designed to rule over creation, to be God’s image bearers over the earth. If men and women are designed to complement one another, then that ‘complementarity’ should be expressed at every level – not simply within marriage, but all over the place.

Let me try to ground this with one or two examples. You often hear of ministries which are run by a husband and wife together. How often do you hear of things which are run by two friends – a man and a woman? I’m sure it happens, but I don’t think it happens much. I am currently helping to run a baby and toddler group with a female friend, and it seems to be working out pretty well so far. Perhaps the idea of running things as friends could be explored further.

It seems to me that our vision of masculinity and femininity, and how we relate as men and women, has been so clouded by sex for so long that it’s hard to think in another way. But the more I think about it, the more I think there is to think about!

Please comment below and let me know if you have any other ideas.

Responding to #MeToo in the church

The other day I watched a video debate between Natalie Collins and Phil Moore – an egalitarian and complementarian respectively. They were talking about the #MeToo movement and how the church should respond to it. I thought it was a really worthwhile video – both engaged well and made some good points (although it should come as no surprise that I’m with Phil Moore and thought him to be more persuasive).

It made me think once again that #MeToo is really a problem with self-control – sexual harassment is giving in to wrong desires. The solution to this is not a simplistic “men need to pull their socks up”, but rather the gospel in its fullness: that is, as the Spirit bears fruit in our lives we can overcome lustful feelings and instead love one another as God intended. This is what Friend Zone is about.

Do have a watch of the video and I hope you enjoy it!

Review: Drew Hunter “Made for Friendship”

I’ve just finished reading Made for Friendship by Drew Hunter. It is subtitled “The relationship that halves our sorrows and doubles our joys”.

I found it a really helpful book about the benefits of friendship – in particular, I appreciated Drew’s assessment that many people today do not really have deep friendships. In fact, the concept of ‘friendship’ itself has been devalued.

His contention is that we need to see friendship as the truly valuable thing that God made it to be – perhaps most significantly, Jesus himself called us his friends (John 15:13-15). Perhaps Christians do not appreciate what it means to be friends with God because the whole concept of friendship has become devalued:

The thought of friendship with God rings hollow today because we’ve already hollowed out the idea of friendship in general. How highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship with God will correlate with how highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship in general – and that is currently at a low point. (Page 26)

It is no small thing to be called a friend of God, and our experience of friendship with him should flow out into our friendship with others. However, because of this ‘hollowing out’ of friendship we do not see it as highly as we ought. Drew goes on:

Most of what we call friendship is little more than acquaintanceship. But acquaintanceship is to friendship what snorkeling is to deep-sea diving. Snorkeling is fine, but skimming along the surface isn’t exploring the deep. We often float on the surface of our conversations, sharing little more than the most general details of our lives. We note our plans for the day, share a few interesting (or uninteresting) details about our week, offer a few sports or political opinions. But we don’t share the climate of our souls. We don’t share our struggles with sin. We don’t share our experiences of spiritual renewal or admit that we’re sitting in a season of darkness. No one knows when our soul feels spiritually chilly. Nor are most of us adept at drawing out others in these ways.

I’m sure I am not alone in finding that these words hit the mark. In the church today, so much of the time it seems that we ‘skim the surface’ of relationships. The church has lost its vocation to be a family – we prefer superficial relationships which don’t demand too much. By contrast, God calls us to deep relationships with each other, not least because that is simply how we are made – made for friendship. We cannot fulfill our purpose as human beings without those kind of relationships!

We are living in a time when loneliness is on the rise, people are being driven apart for all sorts of reasons, and technology encourages a superficial approach to friendship. Now, more than ever, we need to understand the depths of friendship and companionship we are called to.

In the rest of the book Drew makes some helpful comments about friendship – particularly highlights for me were the last sections on cultivating friendship and a Biblical theology of friendship. In particular, I’d never thought about friendship in the way outlined in the final chapter – through the lens of our friendship with God. This is a valuable book about friendship and I would recommend it to anyone.

However, from the perspective of Friend Zone, I would say one thing – there was nothing really about friendship between the sexes (or between members of the same sex where they experience same-sex attraction). This is a good general book about friendship, but I think there is much more to say – and I would recommend reading this book in companion with others to flesh out what friendship means.

Site update: One thing which reading the book did make me realise is that I needed to be a bit more explicit in explaining why Friend Zone is about male-female friendship, rather than simply friendship in general – hence I created this page.

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