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item5Men and Women

What's Gone Wrong

by Pastor Douglas Shearer

 

I’m going to be preaching a series of three sermons on men and women – beginning this morning. My first sermon is entitled “Men and Women: What’s Gone Wrong.” The second is: “Women: What Do They Want.” And the last is “Men: What Do They Want.”

I’m sure it doesn’t take any of you by surprise when I tell you that there has been a battle taking place between the sexes for a long time. How do I know? It’s in the very air we breathe; it’s in the books and magazines we read; the television we watch; it’s on the billboards we drive by; it’s part of every high school and college curriculum – it’s everywhere. It’s impossible to miss!

But less anecdotally and more empirically, from the late 1950s through the 1980s, the divorce rate here in America – and throughout the Western World – skyrocketed. By the end of 1989, it had reached about 46%. Then, ostensibly, it plateaued and actually began to edge back downwards – to roughly 43% during the 1990s. Or so we thought. But recently, the National Center for Health Statistics, based on information supplied last year by the Census Bureau, revised the figure upwards once again to just over 50% - and acknowledged that the 43% figure may have been a statistical error.

Imagine – a 50% divorce rate! And if the divorce rate is a good measure of how well men and women get along, then there’s only one conclusion we can draw: it’s true - men and women aren’t getting along.

But that 50% figure doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s more. There are three generations that comprise that 50% figure...

  • young couples in their 20s and 30s;
  • middle aged couples in their 40s and 50s; and
  • older couples – 60 years old and beyond.

divorcemainAnd for each successive generation, the divorce rate worsens. In other words, while the divorce rate among all married couples, taken as a whole, stands at about 50%, the divorce rate among couples married during the late 1940s, the 1950s, and the early 1960s is just 25%, while the divorce rate among couples married since 1990 is 65% - and when cohabitation is factored in, that figure may be even higher. Imagine that! A 65% divorce rate for couples now getting married. That’s a very frightening figure, isn’t it?

Moreover, additional surveys indicate that among the marriages that remain intact, well over 60% are unhappy and plagued with significant on-going tensions – leaving only 40% of the intact marriages truly happy and fulfilling – which translates into a little over 20% of all marriages.

So what do we have here? A young man and a young woman getting married in 2003 stand only about a 20% chance of building a happy and fulfilling life together – and when that figure is adjusted to reflect the more “at risk” generation emerging since 1990, the figure is probably closer to 7% to 10%. A 7% to 10% chance of building a truly happy life together. Not very good odds, is it?

item3It’s not...

  • that men can’t get along with other men, or
  • that women can’t get along with other women,

...it’s that men and women can’t get along – not at least on any on-going, intimate basis.

And what’s surprising is that survey after survey indicates that men and women want to get along – and desperately so. Over the last thirty years...

  • a consistent 96% of Americans questioned have indicated they want to be married. That’s a whopping 96%. In other words, notwithstanding all the bad press, men and women haven’t abandoned the hope of establishing intimate, on-going relationships with one another.
  • And 75% of those same Americans adamantly insist that an intimate relationship should be lifelong – meaning it should be terminated only in cases of extreme betrayal.
  • Moreover, 81% of divorced and separated Americans – Americans whose marriages have failed – continue to insist that divorce is wrong and that marriage should be for life; and they are profoundly disappointed in themselves for not having succeeded at it.

So, while conflict between men and women has clearly reached epic proportions, neither sex wants it. Both sexes want desperately to end the conflict, but neither sex seems up to the task. And, thus far, no one has concocted a solution.

Even among Christians, the war between the sexes rages unabated. George Barna, President of the Barna Research Group, warned recently in a Dr. Dobson Newsletter that the divorce rate among self-professing Christians is no different from the general divorce rate. Here’s what he wrote: “While it may be alarming to discover that (self-professed) born-again Christians are just as likely as anyone else to undergo divorce, such has been the case for quite some time.”

Imagine that! Evidence amassed by America’s foremost Christian demographer indicating that Christians divorce just as frequently as non-Christians! Imagine that! That’s a hard pill to swallow, isn’t it? The war between the sexes is apparently so intractable – so deeply entrenched and so unyielding – that the way we’re living out our Christian faith here in America doesn’t seem to make any difference – at least not according to the data garnered by America’s most respected Christian demographer.

A war between the sexes! It’s pretty much undeniable, then, isn’t it? And it’s getting worse. But the Bible tells us we shouldn’t be surprised. Turn with me to Genesis 3:16.

To the woman (God) said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16

Here we have God pronouncing judgment on Eve for having disobeyed him – succumbing instead to the devil’s temptation in the Garden of Eden. Notice carefully two clauses here in Genesis 3:16...

  • Your desire shall be for your husband; and
  • He shall rule over you.

Do you see that there? It seems very murky and obscure, doesn’t it? But let’s see if we can grasp its meaning. Turn with me to Genesis 4:7

(Be careful, Cain), sin lies at your door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7

Here in Genesis 4:7, we have God warning Cain to control his anger – to not let it dominate him. Notice again the phrase “...it’s desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” It’s exactly the same phrase we found in Genesis 3:16. It’s clear that here in Genesis 4:7, the word “desire” can also be translated “usurp authority” or “seize control” or “dominate” – because that’s the whole point of God’s warning to Cain. So let’s translate Genesis 4:7 accordingly.

“... Be careful, Cain, because sin lies at your door. And it wants to dominate you, but you should dominate it.”

Genesis 4:7

Let’s turn back now to Genesis 3:16 – and translate it likewise.

To the woman (God) said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; you will want to dominate your husband, and he shall want to control you.”

Genesis 3:16

What God is warning Adam and Eve of here in Genesis 3:16 is that a struggle for dominance will now characterize their relationship with each other. That’s what sin has done to their relationship – that’s its result – a struggle for dominance.

There it is: the war between the sexes – extending all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

And here’s the kicker: that war – the on-going, spiteful, damaging struggle for dominance between men and women – is a masterfully clever strategy the devil has concocted to continue his rebellion against God – to actually hold God at bay and resist being defeated. Did you know that? The devil knows that he can continue his rebellion against God only so long as he can keep men and women at each other’s throat. He knows that if the conflict between men and women is finally resolved he will be defeated and cast out of the earth. That’s a brain-stopper, isn’t it?

  • Ladies, do you wonder why it’s so painfully difficult to get along with men? And...
  • men, do you wonder why it’s so terribly hard to get along with women?
  • And especially you husbands and wives: Do you know why it’s so hard to make your marriages work?

It’s not just because men are from Mars and women are from Venus – though there’s some truth to that; it’s because the devil himself is keeping you at odds. That’s why. The devil knows that by keeping men and women in conflict with one another – that by keeping husbands and wives at each other’s throat – he can prolong his rebellion against God.

Let me take you back again to Genesis – but this time back before the Garden of Eden – back to the mind of God in Genesis 1:26 – 28.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it...”

Genesis 1:26-28

Here we have the creation of man – beginning in the mind of God. And there are several items I want you to carefully notice. The first item I want you to take note of is the word “image.” Do you see it there in your Bibles? It’s a word that’s not too well understood by most people. When we hear the phrase “made in the image of God,” we think only of “likeness” – that we bear God’s likeness. And that’s true up to a point. But it misses altogether the meaning of Genesis 1:26 – 28.

In the ancient Middle East, a king would often erect images of himself along the borders of his kingdom. Those images marked the limits of his realm. That’s the truth that forms the backdrop against which the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego is told in the Book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had erected an image of himself to mark the extent of his absolute sovereignty.

An image, then, is a kingdom marker. It delineates the borders of a ruler’s kingdom. So when Genesis 1:26 – 28 tells us that man was created in the image of God, it’s telling us that man is God’s “kingdom marker” – delineating the borders of God’s realm and proclaiming his dominion over it. Therefore, when God made man in his image and put him on earth, he was, in effect, proclaiming his intention to extend the sway of his kingdom to earth – or, more accurately, he was proclaiming his intention to reclaim earth. Does that surprise you?

Have you ever wondered about the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. Turn with me to Luke 11:2

Our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

May Your kingdom come.

May Your will be done,

On earth, as it is in heaven.

Look closely at what’s being said here.

  • May your kingdom come on earth. What the heck is that all about? It clearly implies that at present the earth falls outside the scope of God’s kingdom, doesn’t it?
  • May your will be done on earth. Likewise, what the heck is that all about? It clearly implies that at present God’s will is not being honored on the earth, doesn’t it?

Good grief, that means we’re living in a war zone, doesn’t it? And that’s certainly part of the explanation for the tension that’s so characteristic of the relationship between men and women. We’re living in a war zone. It’s kind of hard to carry on a romance trapped in a war zone, isn’t it?

The next items I want you to take note of in Genesis 1:26-28 are the words “dominion” and “subdue.” In short, mankind is being charged here in Genesis 1:26 – 28 with the responsibility of subjugating the earth and establishing God’s dominion over it. In other words, man is not simply a passive kingdom marker, he’s expected to wage war – he’s being told here that in marking out God’s kingdom – in announcing God’s intention to extend the sway of his kingdom to earth – to expect fierce resistance.

In short, it’s not just that we live in a war zone, which is bad enough, it’s that we’re combatants in that war zone. That’s a further explanation for the tension so characteristic of the relationship between men and women. It’s hard enough trying to carry on a romance in a war zone; but it’s even more difficult if you’re a combatant.

Finally, the last item I want you to take note of is that man is two dimensional. He’s not just male; he’s male and female. Look closely at verse 27:

...so God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female.

Genesis 1:27

Do you see that? Man is male and female.

  • Man is not just male;
  • nor is man just female.

It takes both sexes to comprise man. Neither sex alone is sufficient.

  • Man doesn’t exist in the male alone;
  • nor does man exist in the female alone.

Man exists only in the union of both sexes. In the absence of that union, man, in a sense, doesn’t really exist.

Here we have another explanation for the tension so characteristic of the relationship between men and women. The devil knows that man is God’s agent of conquest – that man is God’s kingdom marker. Furthermore, he knows that man exists only in the union between male and female. So, he has concocted a strategy to destroy man by pitting male against female.

Listen to me carefully here. It wasn’t Adam who threatened the devil in the Garden of Eden; nor was it Eve. It was Adam and Eve. And so it is today. It’s not men who threaten the devil; nor is it women: it’s men and women. Therefore, as long as men and women can be kept at each other’s throat – as long as the conflict between them continues, the devil can postpone his defeat and continue his rebellion against God. There you have it: a third explanation for the tension that’s so characteristic of the relationship between men and women.

So, let me ask you once again:

  • Ladies, do you wonder why it’s so painfully difficult to get along with men – and why it’s actually getting worse? Have you ever wondered what’s really behind your fierce determination to compete with men? Have you ever wondered what’s at the bottom of all the contempt and disdain women today are heaping on men?
  • And men, do you wonder why it’s so terribly hard to get along with women – and why it’s actually getting worse? Why so frequently your anger is aroused against them?

It’s because the devil himself is behind it. His continued survival hinges on keeping you at each other’s throat.

But it’s not just that the devil has pitted men and women against each other; it’s not just that he has stirred up spite, animosity, and competition between them; there’s more to it than just that. He has undermined their differences as well. Let me say that again: it’s not just that the devil has pitted men and women against each other; it’s that he has undermined their differences as well.

And...

  • it’s those very differences that enable men and women to complement each other;
  • it’s those very differences that enable men and women to complete one another.
  • It’s those very differences that fit male and female together to form “man.”

Listen to me now: God made men and women different from one another – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and, yes, even spiritually. And I know when I spit that out at you, it’s quite likely to grate on your nerves – even if you believe it. And why? Because it runs counter to the whole cultural thrust of the last fifty years or so – especially the last thirty years.

To even suggest today that there are meaningful emotional and intellectual differences between men and women is to invite censure and condemnation. To simply hint that men are generally better at certain tasks than women or that women are better at other tasks than men is tantamount to cultural blasphemy. Say that in a college classroom – and you’ll be inundated with scorn and contempt. And not just in a college classroom, but in a high school classroom as well. And it’s not just ridicule you’ll encounter; you might even be slapped with a law suit alleging sexual harassment. That’s how bad it has become.

Think about it. Role distinctions have all but vanished in American society. It used to be that men were police officers, firemen, and carpenters. And women were nurses, teachers, and social workers – if they held down a job away from home at all – because the majority of women were homemakers. And those role distinctions enabled men to assert their masculinity and women their femininity.

  • I’m a man – because I’m a police officer – and that’s what men do.
  • I’m a woman – because I’m a homemaker or a nurse – and that’s what women do.

The very names of the jobs frequently reflected gender distinctions. It wasn’t a policeperson; it was a policeman. It wasn’t a fireperson, it was a fireman.

But all that has changed over the last fifty years – especially the last thirty years. And it has proven catastrophic for American society. Because all that’s left are the obvious physical differences between men and women. That’s why sexual prowess and erotic titillation have assumed such overwhelming prominence in American culture over the last thirty years. The more role distinctions have faded, the more raw physical sexuality has moved to the fore. There’s no other way for men to assert their masculinity or for women to assert their femininity.

So here we have a fourth reason for all the tension that’s so characteristic of the relationship between men and women. The devil has managed to blur the role distinctions between men and women – leaving men and women confused and bewildered in whatever social setting they find themselves sharing – from a job setting to a simple evening out with friends.

  • Shall I hold the door open for her or let her open it for herself?
  • Shall I slap him in the face for holding the door open for me or shall I thank him? And if I thank him, won’t that mean I’m acknowledging my inferior status – won’t that mean I’m authenticating male chauvinism.
  • Shall I walk her to the door – or simply drive away. If I walk her to the door, will she think I want to spend the night with her?
  • Shall I let him walk me to the door; and if I do, will he think I’m asking him to spend the night with me?

It used to be that a man could assert his masculinity by simply holding a door open for a woman or helping her get seated at a table or by helping her with her coat. And it used to be that a woman could assert her femininity by permitting a man to hold a door open for her, helping her get seated at a table, or helping her with her coat. But that’s all vanished – gone the way of carbon paper and typewriters. All that’s left now, tragically, is sleeping with one another. That’s how men and women assert their masculinity and femininity – they sleep with one another – often on the very first date. Often after nothing more than a casual encounter.

No, we’ve paid a terrible price for the elimination of role distinctions. Yes, a good many of those role distinctions were abusive and exploitative – and some were just plain silly. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, their loss has proven to be a disaster. Just about every social setting today is fraught with confusion and bewilderment – and charged with erotic tension. And that’s the plain and simple truth. And it’s all part of the devil’s plan to keep men and women apart – to keep them from working together – each acknowledging the differences between them – and respecting and honoring those differences – knowing that those very differences are what make it possible for them to complement one another.

What does the Bible have to say about role distinctions? Are there any? Turn with me to Genesis 2:18.

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Genesis 2:18

Genesis 2:18 gives the impression, if read alone, that God created Adam – and then realized he’d made a mistake – that Adam was lonely and Eve was needed to assuage that loneliness. But we know from Genesis 1:26 – 28 that’s not true: Eve was not some afterthought meant to rectify God’s oversight and heal Adam’s loneliness. At the very moment Adam was conceived in the mind of God, so was Eve. Adam and Eve complement one another – and together constitute man. Once again, man doesn’t exist in either sex alone, but only in the union of both sexes.

No, the reason Adam was created first – before Eve – is because God wanted Adam to feel his incompleteness – which is the meaning the word “alone” is meant to convey in Genesis 2:18. The better translation of Genesis 2:18 is...

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be incomplete; I will make him a complement to complete him.”

Genesis 2:18

Here in Genesis 2:18, it’s not so much a matter of loneliness as it is a matter of incompletion. It’s not that Adam felt lonely without Eve – though I’m sure he did; it’s that Adam felt incomplete without Eve. In bringing Eve to Adam, God completed Adam and made man.

But there’s more to the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18 than simply the sense of “complement.” It tells us how Eve is meant to complement Adam – how men and women are meant to interact.

In calling Eve Adam’s “helper,” God was telling Adam to take the lead – and telling Eve to follow his lead – not, however, in the sense of casting Eve in the role of a “go-for” – a mere extension of Adam’s will. That runs counter to the meaning of “complement.”

  • If Eve is nothing more than Adam’s servant,
  • if she’s nothing more than a mere extension of Adam’s will,
  • then she’s not Adam’s complement – and there is no “man;” and God has lost his kingdom marker.

What, then, does it mean to “take the lead”? Listen to me carefully here: God’s intentions are formed first in the hearts of men – and then completed in the hearts of women. That’s part of what it means to take the lead. Not all of it, but part of it.

Let me say it again: God’s intentions are formed first in the hearts of men – and then completed in the hearts of women.

Whether it’s a home, a business, a church, a mission, a ministry – God normally forms its design and direction in the hearts and minds of men – and then completes it in the hearts and minds of women – the sensitivity, the compassion, the delicate touch, the beauty, the subtle nuances.

Perhaps the best way of putting it is that men build houses; women make homes. If a woman tries building a house, it won’t turn out quite right; and, likewise, if a man tries making a home, it won’t turn out quite right. Men are better at building houses; women are better at making homes. Once again, God’s intentions are formed first in the minds and hearts of men – and then completed in the minds and hearts of women. That’s how men and women complement one another. That’s how they complete one another – the two working together – each respecting and honoring the other’s different gifts, talents, and insights – with neither attempting to dominate the other – meaning ignore the other’s unique contribution or usurp it.

Men build houses and women make homes. That’s why men feel uneasy and troubled when women take the lead – whether it’s at home, or on the job, or in the church, or in nothing more complex than a casual encounter. It’s a deeply entrenched awareness – put there by God himself – that the order is wrong.

Let me say that again: when women take the lead and men follow, ordinarily – not always, but ordinarily – the order is wrong – and what’s more, it invites the devil’s attack. When the devil assaulted man in the Garden of Eden, it was Eve he sought out, not Adam. And when Eve failed to defer to Adam – when she failed to call for him to take the lead in confronting the serpent, she was deceived and mankind was overthrown. At the bottom of Eve’s sin was her failure to let Adam take the lead. At the bottom of Adam’s failure, as is so frequently the case today, was his refusal to take the lead. What’s so ironic about the relationship today between men and women isn’t so much that women want to lead, it’s that men refuse to take the lead - meaning they refuse to step up to the responsibilities that leadership entails.

But that’s not all. There’s more to “taking the lead” than just that. Men are also expected to bear the brunt of physical, emotional, and spiritual warfare and to sheild the women in their lives from it. That’s also what it means to take the lead.

Men are expected always to take the first hit – and then deliver the first counter blow. That’s not a woman’s job, that’s a man’s job. Men, in short, are born for battle. There’s a warrior’s heart in every man. It’s not merely a culturally determined difference; it’s God’s design – plain and simple. That’s why men can’t be domesticated – not really. That’s why they get stirred up when they smell cordite in the air or hear the sounds of drums and trumpets. They’re warriors – always and forever.

  • Men want to protect women – deep down inside, they know it’s right; they know it’s expected; and they want to do it. That’s why men feel called to be police officers and firemen - why they engage in competitive sports and stay glued to the television set during football season. It’s part of their DNA. And that’s why they feel uneasy and troubled when women compete with them for jobs that reflect physical prowess. It’s not just that role confusion occurs, though that’s true; it’s that they’re convinced those jobs belong to them – and that they’re being robbed – and not just robbed, but that their sexual identity is being stripped from them.
  • Moreover, women want men to protect them – and deep down inside they feel betrayed if they’re forced to take up their own defense. If they’re left to fend for themselves – whether married or unmarried – they feel let down, unwanted, unappreciated. And that leads inevitably to anger and bitterness. If men don’t step between women and danger, women aren’t free to be women. A woman is free to be a woman only when the men in her life afford her a sense of security and protection. Only then can she live out the real meaning of her sexual identity.

We’ve got a mess on our hands, don’t we?

  • Men knowing they should step up to the plate and assume the responsibilities leadership entails; and wanting also to protect women – yet lacking the confidence to do so and stripped of the very roles that once afforded them that opportunity.
  • And women knowing they should honor the leadership of men; and knowing also they need the protection only men can afford; yet competing with men for the very roles and jobs that once enabled men to provide leadership and afford them protection.

It’s a vicious circle, isn’t it? And the anger and confusion it generates only makes it worse.

  • “Hey, she doesn’t want me to take the lead or protect her – then the heck with it; she’s on her own. Let her take care of herself.”
  • And “Hey, he won’t assume leadership or afford me protection. Fine, I’ll assume the responsibilities of leadership and I’ll protect myself. The heck with him. I’ll learn how to be assertive. I’ll work out every day; I’ll learn leadership and self-defense skills. I’m on my own; but I can manage that. I’m big. I’m tough. I’m strong. I’m a woman.”

You chuckle to yourselves; but that’s what it has come down to, right?

I believe the first step in turning this all around is to acknowledge that the devil’s at the bottom of it. We need – both men and women – to stop the blame game. We need to put the blame where it belongs – at the devil’s doorstep.

Blaming one another is only going to play into the devil’s scheme. And that’s how I want to end this morning’s sermon.

  • Let’s give one another a break.
  • Let’s begin to give one another the benefit of the doubt.
  • Let’s begin to take a chance with one another...

...knowing that we’re both confused; that we’re both unsure of ourselves; that there’s going to be a lot of stops and starts along the road to recovery – and that, furthermore, the devil will mount fierce, unremitting resistance.

Let’s begin this morning telling ourselves – men and women – that we’re not going to be fooled by the devil anymore. We’re not going to play his game anymore.

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