‘Don’t take it personally.’ It’s a phrase that screams danger; here comes a criticism, here comes a judgment. Sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. You comment on my carpet? Meh. It was there when I moved in. You comment on my family? Ouch. That cuts deeper.
Some things it’s hard not to take personally. The personal nature of God’s teaching about men and women is one aspect that often makes it hard to digest. It’s not externals but my identity, who am I? This Word impacts my perception of who I am, and who I think I am impacts how I hear this Word. Men and women alike. The last part of Dr Claire Smith’s book captures highs and lows with a personal touch and personal impact.
Claire gives a thoughtful and pastoral response to the great and inexcusable distortion of relationships where one party harms the other. ‘There is no biblical justification for domestic abuse’ (Smith, 186). Amen, sister. It has no place in God’s design for relationships of men and women. Sadly, if you live in our broken world this kind of issue is likely to cross your path in some way. Abused, abuser or concerned person, I pray that this chapter may bring help, grace and truth into the situation.
The last text Claire brings to light is Proverbs 31; the proverbial A to Z of the ideal woman. Claire notes about this portrait, ‘men love it and women don’t’ (Smith, 195). She’s right. It’s hard not to feel self-conscious when standing next to a stunningly beautiful specimen. Knowing that Proverbs 31 is the air-brushed ideal with all the wrinkles of life removed perhaps helps explain the feeling. It doesn’t mention what this woman said when she stubbed her toe getting up in a sleep deprived state to the latest crying child at 2am one night. It’s not trying to say everything. The beauty of Claire’s treatment is that she reminds me not to write this woman off. She’s still got plenty to teach me, even as an ideal. The Proverbs 31 woman is, under everything, a sister in faith. Here’s a woman who fears God. Here’s an industrious, strong, wise, thoughtful, loved and loving woman. Here’s a sister living out her faith. Perhaps, rather than self-consciously skipping the page I need to pause, pray, and consider God’s Word in Proverbs 31 more deeply.
The final section of Claire’s book is also worth pausing over. The power of God’s Word is evident throughout Claire’s work. Here is testimony to God’s power in her own life. The tug-of-war for and against biblical roles for men and women has played out over decades in Claire’s life. I come away feeling thankful that Claire would share so much of herself and her own journey with me. This path has not all been smooth sailing. Yet there has also been much joy along the way.
I can also bear witness. God’s Word personally impacts me as a woman in Christ, sister, daughter, church member, and full-time member of a ministry team. As for Claire, it has been those with deeply held complementarian convictions who have most encouraged, supported and cherished me as a sister in Christ. I have never been at a loss for opportunities to serve Jesus and his people. I work alongside two godly faithful men and their wives. These blokes actively seek to protect and nurture and lay down their lives for their families. These women respect their husbands and help them stand firm and serve in Christ. Their ministries together have highs and lows, as all relationships do. Still they teach me that God knows what he’s talking about. Likewise in our church life, God has blessed us with many godly men and women who serve in a wide variety of ways. There are a particular bunch of blokes, our elders and bible study leaders, who take a fatherly role in our congregation. They teach us, they lead us, they take care of us. As they work in unity, rather than competition, with the women in our midst they’re a great blessing. The women serve Christ in so many, many ways. None of this service is aimed at taking over from the men. I have great respect for our church leaders. I’m thankful for them. We’re on the same team and working for the one Lord.
Of course, it’s never as smooth and ideal as all that all the time. But, for me, working within this pattern has freed me from the ‘battle of the sexes’ and allowed me to get on with serving Jesus. I teach kids about Jesus each week. I regularly teach the kids in church, as their parents look on. In our kids church we learn from the same part of God’s Word as the grown ups week by week. I feel like things are going well when I can support the preacher by teaching the children the same as he’s teaching their parents. I’m not trying to steal the spotlight or get in first or say it my way instead of his. I’m trying to assist God’s work in His family. Perhaps as Dad turns around in the car on the way home and asks what the family learned this morning the kids church lesson can tie in with the preacher’s message. As mum gets another, slightly scrunched up piece of paper with coloured bits and stickers, perhaps she can see how the kids church idea fits in with what she heard from the pulpit and start deciphering it all. Whole families together are hearing God speak. The strength and graciousness of godly men in our church frees me to serve rather than stifling me.
I’m still convinced that God’s design for men and women includes different roles within the one glorious salvation. All are needed to bring in the harvest. The fields are still white. I pray that many men and women might read Claire’s book and live more and more for Jesus.