Sunday, 25 March 2012

Humility (Part III) The humility of a woman

Throughout this series on humility, we have learned that this virtue is a foundational necessity for all God fearing Christians to possess in their everyday walk of life. We are called to follow our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ’s example of humility and must continue to walk in this light if we want to continue to work out our salvation. Everything we have learned about humility so far; can and should be applied to both men and women in the Church. However today, I would like to focus on the importance humility plays in the life of Christian women.

God has uniquely created women to naturally possess a nurturing, maternal character in order to fulfil her God-given duty of pro-creating with her husband (Genesis 1:28), and looking after her household. While man is to work as the ‘bread winner’ (Genesis3:16-19) These roles among many others are important roles to fill in the life of a family as the mother plays a significant and central part to the nurturing, care and general upbringing of the family. Generally speaking, mothers who are faithful, God fearing women in our community especially, also do their utmost to encourage their husbands and children in their faith through their own words and actions (1 Peter 3:1-2).

So where does humility fit in to our lives as women in the church? And how can we be humble? Well as followers and imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2), we are to emulate the relationship we have with Christ our Lord with those around us. Namely, just as we love and serve Christ as our Lord, we are called to share this love, servitude and subjection to others in the way that God has deemed appropriate according to His order of creation.
St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:21 that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Both men and women of the Church must be subject in service to one another in the Lord. And from this, St. Paul further elaborates on God’s order of creation and teaches us that women must be subject to their husbands as to the Lord… For man is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23). Whether you are currently a single woman or married, these verses from God’s word apply to you. For God is teaching us about the order in which He wants us to live, and draws a parallel to the submissive order of relationship between Christ to the Father,  The Church (Christ’s Bride) to Christ (the Bridegroom) and in the same way the wife is to be subject to her husband.

St John Chrysostom explains the cause of woman’s subjection to man; For with us indeed the woman is reasonably subjected to the man: since equality of honour causeth contention. And not for this cause only, but by reason also of the deceit (1Tim. ii. 14.) which happened in the beginning. Wherefore you see, she was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh:” (Gen. ii. 23.) but of rule or subjection he nowhere made mention unto her. But when she made an ill use of her privilege [sinned against God] and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all, then she is justly told for the future, “thy turning shall be to thy husband.” (Gen.iii.16.)1

If you are single with the intent to marry, it is important for you to grow in your faith and humility in the Lord before seeking a husband, so you will be able to accept and follow this command in your future household. If you are already married, it is also important for you to continually grow in your faith and humility, because being subject to your husband can be a bit of a challenge at times (believe me, I know :).

With this being said about the importance of a woman being subject to her husband in faithful humility, we will turn to the writings of St Peter who further teaches women about their Godly role in marriage and their faithful obligations.

Unlike the secular world’s teaching about beauty, St. Peter (who was married) states that women of God should not fixate themselves on outward beauty alone, but on the more important beauty as seen in God’s eyes which is ‘the hidden person of the heart, and a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:3-4) These attributes are precious in the sight of God, and should also be precious in the sight you, a woman of God and for God fearing men who you relate with.

The Humble Characteristics of a Christian Wife or (wife to be to attain now):

1.      Submissive / subject to husbands: In God’s given order (1 Peter 3:5, Ephesians 5:22)
2.     Godly conduct: Husbands will observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (of God) and be encouraged by your faithfulness. (1Peter 3:2)
3.     Gentle and quiet spirit: The true beauty of the heart; which is incorruptible beauty and very precious in the sight of GOD. (1 Peter3:3-5)

We can also learn much about how a humble women is to live her life under Christ’s Lordship in every situation and circumstance when we look to the various women in the Bible and throughout Church history and learn from their examples of living in Godly humility:

Sarah – willingly and without disagreement with her husband, followed Abraham as their household left the security of their known  life in Ur to faithfully act upon God’s command to pack up and go to an unknown country (Genesis 12:4-5), even risking her own life at the hands of the King of Gerar at her husband’s command. (Genesis 20:1-7). St. Peter mentions how Sarah humbly called her husband ‘Lord’.

St Mary the blessed virgin - grew up in humility and faithfulness to God and openly accepted His will and calling for her life no matter how difficult it would be. The mother of our Lord Jesus Christ continued to live a humble life with John the Apostle as her son, even after Christ’s resurrection. (Luke 1:46-48)         

Mary Magdalene – Was a sinful woman who turned to Christ and was humbled by His forgiving love and acceptance, thus leading her to repent from her sinful life and follow Him throughout her days. (Luke 7:37-38)

Lydia – Was a business woman of the day, who believed in God and accepted Christ. She ensured her whole household was baptized and showed loving hospitality toward St. Paul and his companions (Acts 16:14-15). She was a mother who taught her household by upholding humble and God fearing characteristics.

St. Shmooni - Taught her sons to stand up for their faith in God, even in the face of their martyrdom. She accepted the same fete for herself instead of disowning God with her youngest son and living a life in obedience to the pagan authorities. She is a great personification of a humble and God fearing mother. (Refer to St.Shmooni biography in 'Saints' Page)

Today, the big ‘S' word; submission (Aramaic word is mishtah-bdheen, which actually means servitude or subjection) has become a taboo to mention among women in our post-modern culture. For as soon as we mention that woman is to submit to man as her head, we start to see feminist flags being waived in protest… due to fear. Fear of inequality, fear that man will take advantage of our submission and treat us like a living ‘doormat’ and fear that God will not stand up for a woman who is living a submissive life to please Him and live in a way worthy of being called His daughter. Fear, as we have mentioned before, creeps into our lives when we are experiencing a lack of faith.

St. Chrysostom addresses this subject of Christian men taking advantage of woman’s subjection to them in his 26th Homily: For surely it comes of extreme lawlessness when thy partner of life, she who in the most intimate relations and in the highest degree, is united with thee; when she, like a base slave, is dishonoured by thee. Wherefore also such a man, if indeed one must call him a man and not rather a wild beast, I should say, was like a parricide and a murderer of his mother. For if for a wife’s sake we were commanded to leave even our father and mother, not wronging them but fulfilling a divine law; and a law so grateful to our parents themselves that even they, the very persons whom we are leaving, are thankful, and bring it about with great eagerness; what but extreme frenzy can it be to insult her [the wife] for whose sake God bade us leave even our parents? 2

When we read the verses of 1 Peter3:1-6 in their immediate context, and read the verses following 1 Peter 3:7-9; St. Peter is also teaching husbands by the same token to ‘likewise’ or ‘in the same way’ dwell with your wives with understanding, giving honour to the wife as the weaker vessel, and being heirs together (sharing equality in Christ) of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

We see that Christian men are called to an even greater duty and obligation of honouring their wives as their own body (Ephesians 5:25-29), and being understanding towards their needs as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). “Weaker vessel” is not a derogatory way of describing the woman as incompetent, but truly God has created us to be mothers and nurturers with a softer more emotional side (we see satan tempts Eve first, as he would have known she is more vulnerable due to her emotionally influenced rational (Genesis 3:1-7). It is scientifically proven that women are generally more emotionally driven than men, and sometimes this can be a weakness, especially when it comes to relational matters.  Sometimes our emotions can also be hormonally influenced.

In all of these matters and for God’s will to prevail and guide our lives in this sinful age, we are called to attain and improve our “beauty” as women; the true and unfading beauty of a woman in God’s eyes and in the eyes of God’s sons is the beauty that comes from a humble heart, who loves to reflect the example of Christ her Lord, and chooses to clothe herself in Him (Colossians 3:12), glory be to His name. For just as the famous Proverbs 31 wife exemplifies; Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). I remember mentioning this verse to an old friend of mine, who later became my husband. He said this stole his heart, especially when he saw it in action.

Just like our physical beauty, we do have days that we struggle to look our best spiritually, but importantly, our Godly beauty is one that only gets better with time. This is the noble character that God delights to see in His faithful daughters who should be living to please Him as the number one man in her life. 

Let the humility of the Crucified One” (The Sliwa) forever stand as a reminder to us of the humility, love and forgiveness that our Lord unworthily showed us and let us look up to Him in reverence and Godly beauty; which is humility, submissiveness and love, for His sake and for the glory of His Name.

Next week: Why do women cover their head in Church?

This week’s song: Lead me to the Cross – Brooke Fraser

1.        Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians; Homily XXVI, p.p. 233
2.       Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians; Homily XXVI, p.p. 241

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