Tuesday, June 25, 2024

No One-Size-Fits-All

 By: Rebekah Hargraves

Photo Courtesy of: Omar Lopez

"...that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered." ~Titus 2:4-5

"Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry or fine clothes, but rather what is inside the heart[a]—the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." ~1 Peter 3:3-4

Have you ever felt as if you had to talk, act, sit, and dress in a certain way in order to please God and be a "Biblical woman"? I know I have. As I've shared before, I went through a years-long season of self-inflicted legalism during my teens. 

I believed - contrary to the gospel, I might add! - that in order for God to look down on me from heaven with a smile and not a scowl on His face, I had to follow a whole laundry list of man-made rules about what it meant to be feminine or a "biblical" woman by God's design.

At the time, I could have backed up each and every single one of my beliefs on what a biblical woman was with a boatload of proof texts pulled from Scripture, convinced that I was right. What I didn't understand were things like context, the importance of understanding cultural and historical background, practicing sound hermeneutics, and allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. 

It wasn't until I came to realize (by the grace of God and through a long, gradual journey) that there is no one-size-fits-all cookie cutter image of what a biblical woman looks like that I began to experience the freedom God intended for me. Up until that point I hadn't even realized that my man-made rules were stifling and enslaving me. But they were.

The truth is that biblical womanhood is for all women and able to be lived out in the lives of Christian women everywhere, whether they are young or old, married or single, mothers or childless. There is so much color, diversity, freedom and beauty to be found in biblical womanhood as God actually designed it.

One of the passages which my legalism most messed with and which most made me to feel (as a result of my poor interpretation skills) as if I could never measure up to "biblical womanhood" was 1 Peter 3:3-4 which says, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." 

I didn't keep context in mind when reading this passage. If I had, I would have seen that having what we often refer to as a "meek and quiet spirit" had nothing to do with the decibel level or sound of your voice or your personality and everything to do with the condition of your heart. The context is referring to what Christians wives ought to do when dealing with husbands who are disobedient to God's Word. Rather than be loud, boisterous, naggy, and judgmental, they were to be submissive, respectful, and calm, adorning well the good news of the gospel through the beautiful and gracious way they presented themselves. But, in my self-imposed legalism and resulting failure to truly understand this passage, I thought being meek and quiet meant that I had to speak like Michelle Duggar with a kind, quiet, laid back voice all the time. This didn't mix well with my exuberant, excited, expressive personality. And thus the stifling feeling began. I was not Michelle Duggar, couldn't seem to make myself be her, and felt like a failure at "biblical womanhood" as a result.

Something the Lord has been teaching me in recent months and years is that while the Word does provide us with principles as to how we are to live, the Word is largely silent on how exactly we are to go about implementing those principles. It oftentimes tells us the what, but not often the how. The how is up to us as we are led by the Spirit. This reality has been intentionally designed by our all-wise God to encourage us to walk by faith and not by sight, to be led by the Spirit, and not by man-made expectations, to diligently seek the Lord's leading for exactly how each of us is to implement His commands and His ways into our own unique, individual lives.

Consider Titus 2, for example.Verses 4-5 show that it is God's will that married women love their husbands and children, live righteous lives, prioritize the work of home and family, and be submissive to their husbands, so that the Word of God is not reviled. But does the passage also include specific, one-size-fits-all rules or a ten step program for how exactly to go about doing so? Does it say how to love your husbands and children, what specifically a submissive wife does and does not do, what precisely living a righteous life looks like, or what a woman is and is not allowed to do under the heading of being given to the work of home? No, it doesn't. And that is where we oftentimes make a big mistake.

We see that Titus 2 says to love your children, and we then superimpose our opinion of what that looks like over onto the text. We now start believing that we must read to them for hours on end, get down on the floor with them every single day, provide them with all-organic meals straight from the backyard garden, and make all their clothes. But is that what the passage said? No, it simply said to love your kids. 

We see that Titus 2 says to be a keeper at home (or homemaker, or busy at home, depending on your translation!), and we then superimpose our post-industrial revolution, westernized viewpoint of what that means and begin to believe that it is a sin to ever work outside the home in any capacity and for any reason. Or else we think that, in the case of work-at-home moms, our time given to mothering and homemaking must, at the end of the day, prove to have at least been greater than the amount of time given to other work, or else we are guilty of causing God's Word to be blasphemed.

We see that Titus 2 says wives are to be submissive to their husbands and we think that means they can't ever express their opinion, voice concerns, question decisions, or speak up. We think that wives must always have that super sweet, quiet, meek way of speaking to their husbands or else they aren't "biblical" women. 

But none of these things is true. Loving your children is ultimately about being there for them, showing affection and grace, pointing them to the Lord, and encouraging them. Being a keeper at home is all about the condition of your heart and whether or not you believe the work of home and family to be important, life-changing work not to be ignored or relegated to the back burner for the sake of breaking the glass ceiling or climbing up the corporate ladder as fast as one can. Being a submissive wife is about cooperating with your husband, being gracious, humble, and kind, loving him, being respectful, and wanting what is best for him - which means that sometimes you will have to practice the iron-sharpening-iron side of relationships and question a bad decision or voice a concern in the hopes that your husband will grow ever closer to the Lord.

I hope you can see just how much room for freedom, diversity, personality, gifts and talents, callings, methods, plans, and family dynamics is to be found in the Word for women and what their daily lives can entail. As with so many other things, femininity, too, is a matter of the heart. 

How you dress, present yourself, act, speak, and live all comes down to your heart and whether or not your desire is to live out the callings and responsibilities uniquely given to you as a woman. It's not about the specific dos and don'ts (because there aren't actually very many of those!). It's about walking by faith, asking God to reveal to you His will as to how you live out the commands and blueprints He has given.

And, sister, as you do so - rejoice in your God-given freedom! Because it's there, and it is yours.

Reflection Questions:

1) Have you ever bought into the lies of legalism and man-made rules? What effect did that have on your life?

2) What beliefs have you had about womanhood which might actually not be true biblically?

3) How does it make you feel to realize that God gave you freedom to live out the specific personality He gave you?

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