This the third article in a series of responses to the blog post, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” Over the last couple weeks, I’ve discussed the double standard for Christian men and women and the problem with building an identity around men (or anything other than Christ).
Hours before the sun rose on Erfurt, Germany, Martin Luther would awake on the floor of his spartan room, a table and chair the only furniture in the cell-like space. His monastic life consisted solely of worship, work, and prayer. Upon enclosing themselves behind the stone walls of the monastery, men renounced all earthly pleasures, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. As he dedicated his simple life to the Lord, Luther was taught that monks and nuns had a higher, nobler calling than anyone else.
Then he read the Bible for himself. And he realized that was a lie.
Yet we continue to affirm it.
More than 500 years after the start of the Reformation, we still consider certain work “holier” than others. Specifically, while the secular world often applauds career women more than stay-at-home moms, Christians tend to praise stay-at-home moms over career women – even though favoring either devastates the mission of the church and drains our potential and power as women.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many,” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, comparing Christians’ different gifts to various body parts. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose…As it is, men can act as many parts. Women, on the other hand, were intended to all serve the exact same purpose. Because the God who invented 440 species of sharks and specially designed hummingbirds’ eyes to detect predators’ movements while beating their wings 80 times per second – that God couldn’t think of anything else to do with women, so He gave the body of Christ four billion arms.”
Oh, sorry. I hallucinated there for a second.
Paul opens the chapter, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (I Corinthians 12:4-6).
In other words, God designed each of us to glorify Him in a unique way. As David praised, as God shaped us in our mothers’ wombs, He saw our futures (Psalm 139:13-16) and crafted us – our personalities, our talents, our dreams – with a specific vision for our lives.
We know that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), so all human skill must come from God. Why would we believe He didn’t intend for women to act on the abilities and passions that He gave them? Why, if He gave women the gift of intellect, the capacity for reason, a passion for learning, and placed them in a society and financial position that allows them to attend college, would He forbid them from taking advantage of that opportunity? Or if God gave them talent and ambition, why would He demand they refrain from pursuing a vocation?
The only explanation, if you want to contend that women shouldn’t go to college or pursue careers, is that either everything I just listed is evil (which I don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue) or that, for some inexplicable reason, all women are just supposed to suppress the gifts and passions that God has given them.
Again, that irrational line of thinking is rooted in the idea that certain callings are noble and others are inferior.
The Bible does not imply that women’s role in society is fundamentally different from men. In fact, the much-lauded Proverbs 31 woman is industrious outside the home, buying fields, helping the poor, and even running her own business, making and selling linen garments (#GirlBoss). In the New Testament, Christians actually empowered single women. While Greco-Roman culture dictated that widows remarry within two years, Christians provided widows the financial resources and assistance they needed to live independently.
Some might argue that when we become Christians, we are supposed to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), relinquishing our own desires. But dedicating ourselves to God means striving to be the people He planned us to be before sin twisted the world. It means becoming more like the unique individual He originally intended us to be – not a copy of what well-intentioned legalists say we should be. C.S. Lewis addresses this in The Screwtape Letters: “When [God] talks of [people] losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”
God not only calls us to good works, He designed us for them (Ephesians 2:10). Evangelist and author Jack Taylor once observed, “Our adversary would divide us by leading us to suppose…that the Holy Spirit deplores personal motivation.” When we root our identity in Christ, our drive to excel in our craft or industry is the greatest way we can glorify Him, because in doing so, we reflect His workmanship and character.
The persona of God is complex beyond our comprehension. He is an artist who brushes the sky with a fresh palette of colors every morning, but He is also a scientist who calculated the exact tilt and position of the Earth to sustain and nourish life. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who rode into the city of God on a donkey to negotiate an impossible peace treaty, ending thousands of years of division between sinners and a just God. But He is also a warrior who armored Himself in a feeble human body and struck a fatal blow to all the powers of Hell with the cross they nailed Him to.
As flawed, sinful beings, we cannot encapsulate these paradoxical aspects of God wholly or perfectly. But He still fashioned us to reflect these qualities, so together we can project a picture of our Creator. To suppress our gifts is to censor the image of God. It doesn’t matter if it’s an artistic ability, like dance, drawing, or theater; an intellectual pursuit like chemistry, philosophy, or law; an quality like leadership, organization, or peace-making; an “unskilled” position that lays the foundation for society, such as housekeeping, food service, or child-raising. There is value and dignity in all work, and we need to embrace our responsibilities with exuberance, knowing that we do so “for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
Because all work is God’s work when He has called you to it.
And if all work is God’s work, then, at its essence, no job can be “nobler” than any other.
That was what Martin Luther realized; all jobs are “masks of God.” To borrow his example, God may not send angels to surround the city gates, but He uses guards to protect the citizens. God may not rain down manna from heaven, but He has equipped farmers with the knowledge to produce crops.
That means that a neurosurgeon is no more valuable in God’s eyes than an automechanic. Ultimately, being a stay-at-home mom isn’t any more dignified than scooping monkey poop at the zoo. (And, based on my babysitting experience, some days it doesn’t feel all that different, either.)
This probably seems extremely uninspiring right now. But I would argue that recognizing the inherent equality of all work is both essential for the mission of the church and incredibly empowering.
For one thing, it liberates us from others’ expectations. We haven’t missed some divine calling just because we aren’t living the “traditional Christian life” of being married and raising a family. By the same token, not being part of the workforce does not equal a less significant role in society. It simply means God has called you to something else, at least for now. Knowing this allows us, like Paul, to be content whatever our circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13).
It also allows us perceive and approach all work – career, parenting, or otherwise – as just work. It is a means of survival, a way to glorify God, and/or (hopefully) something that we personally feel joy and a sense of accomplishment in, but it isn’t the essence of our identity or worth.
Finally – and possibly most importantly – recognizing the equal value of work builds unity.
We are the body of Christ, and as Paul points out, all the members serve a vital, irreplaceable purpose. We are a community of equal members, which means that there is no division – male or female, Jew or Gentile, career woman or stay-at-home mom. It abolishes our right to look down on anyone. It decimates our self-righteous hierarchy.
Sisterhood, and especially sisterhood in Christ, is one of the most precious blessings God has given us. The devastating thing about the “career woman vs. stay-at-home mom” mindset is that it pits women against each other, obliterating the power that we find when we come together, sharing in each other’s lives, rejoicing in each other’s accomplishments, sympathizing with each other’s struggles, offering each other advice, encouragement, help, and love.
Belief that God endows only some Christians with a “holy calling” negates the idea that all believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (I Peter 2:9). It creates division, not only between “work life” and “spiritual life,” but between believers. Between women.
It defeats the purpose of a God who came to Earth to bring unity, ripping from top to bottom the veil that obscured His face and welcoming His estranged people back to Him.
God has blessed Christian men and women with a diversity of gifts, passions, dreams, and callings. Let’s stop bickering and ostracizing each other like God only calls us to use them in one specific way.
Let’s just use them.
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“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (I Corinthians 12:17-20)