Men and Women: Equal in Gifting, Romans 12: 6-8

Men and women were designed by Jesus our Creator[1] to be equal in gifting. Imagine the fresh wind in women’s hearts. Imagine the new confidence, sense of worth, and significant value they would feel. Imagine the infusion of fresh grace into your faith community. Imagine Jesus’ pleasure at seeing His grace-gifts being valued and utilized in His Body. But we shouldn’t have to just imagine it. Jesus meant it to be an operative reality.

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The motivational gifts, enablements of grace distributed to each member of Jesus’ church, were graciously given to us without gender limitations or restrictions. Men and women are equal, not only in personal worth, dignity, and as culture makers (Gen 1:26-28), but also in gifting. This is the way the Head of the church meant it to be.

The church is not united in its understanding of the role of women in the church itself, the home, and in society. But the topic is important. The recent uncovering of multiple sexual harassment episodes—predominantly by powerful men—reveals galloping disrespect and entitlement toward women. But women in Jesus’ church have also faced disrespect, ironically, in a setting where mutual respect is a sacred responsibility. It is a dark mark in church history that the call for the equality of women has been shouted down rather than being proclaimed.

One heuristic value of a debated issue is that we are able to see truth in a fresh way. So, I offer this blog post about equal gifting to further our mutual endeavors to glorify God and to understand what God has explicitly said.

The Call: Change Our Attitudes

Rather than being squeezed into the self-gratifying mold of the current age, the apostle Paul exhorts us, men and women, in view of God’s indescribable mercy, instead, to be transfigured, to be transformed,[2] overhauled from within. How? By changing the way we normally think, changing our proud attitudes, demolishing our self-focused ways of thinking, and reconstructing our minds with mercy-driven thoughts (Romans 12:1-2).

First Step: Blast Before We Build

The very first step towards overhauling our faulty minds, Paul argues, is to stop thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, stop entertaining over-inflated views of our importance and under-inflated opinions of others’ importance (Rom 12:3).

“For[3] by the grace given unto me[4] I say to every single one of you not to think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…”

In other words, we are to roll up our sleeves and embrace the difficult task of digging up the roots of pride, our over-inflated opinions of ourselves. Before we can build new behaviors of respect, we must blast away the old thoughts that gave root to those past behaviors. Attitude de-construction before mind re-construction. We must blast before we can build. Blasting internal structures of pride is painful and unsettling; but God’s mercy requires it.

Think Soberly About Ourselves

Once the rubble of our mental pride has been cleared away, we are to think of ourselves with sober judgment, embrace a sober opinion of ourselves. That sober opinion of ourselves humbly accepts that God has sovereignly bestowed grace-gifts on each member of Jesus’ Body, regardless of gender, social status, or race.

“And since we have different grace-gifts[5] according to the grace given unto us.” Rom 12:6

Paul is establishing that each member of the Body has been given a grace-gift and, therefore, has a equally vital and necessary role to fulfill, regardless of gender, race, or social status. Women are not on the second string in Jesus’ church. There is no second string in a body. All parts fulfill a role. We must embrace this doctrine of equality at our attitudinal level. Grace levels the playing field. Grace puts everyone on the starting five. Grace defangs the serpent of pride, destroys discrimination, and crushes feelings of superiority.

Grace-Gifts

The normal Koine[6] Greek word for gift is δορα. But Paul bypasses the normal word and intentionally uses a highly nuanced word for gift that emphasizes grace: χαρίσματα: a grace-gift. Gifts are given on the basis of grace alone. When gifts are utilized, grace flows. We didn’t earn the gifts or try out for Jesus’ gift team. There is no second string. No one sits on the bench as an inferior sub in Jesus’ church. There are no benches for those who ride-the-pine, no bleachers, no fans and no audience except God and the angels.

Women are not viewed as those who set the table for the men. Jesus set the table and gives women an equal place at the table.

All members of Jesus’ Body, young and old, male and female, single or married, and all races, have been given grace-gifts. No one is left gift-less, left out. The gifts were freely given to undeserving people. They’re grace gifts. And grace is a death sentence to pride and entitlement.

No Room for Second Class Members

So, in Jesus’ church, there is no room for pride, over-inflated views of one’s importance or gift or low opinions of others’ gifts, when gifts are given entirely by God’s free grace. Men’s gifts are not more important or vital to the Body than women’s gifts. Women’s gifts are no less valuable or necessary to the Body. Men and women are equal in grace and equal in gifting. Women are just as important to Jesus’ Body as men are to His Body. Women are just as vital and necessary. Embrace this truth. Let it give birth to fresh attitudes.

“Since we (male and female) have differing grace-gifts (χαρίσματα) according to the grace (τὴν χάριν) which has been given unto us…” Romans 12:6

Seven Grace Gifts

Paul then lists the seven grace-gifts,[7] seven enablements, seven functions, sovereignly and graciously bestowed on members of Jesus’ church—male and female. He urges us to utilize our respective gifts (Rom 12:6-8). Each member has a responsibility to consistently deploy these necessary grace-gifts, these ‘functions’ within the Body of Christ. Gifts are not optional but necessary, and they are not all “about me.”

The point, easily missed, is that both men and women are graciously given the grace-gifts, whether the gift of the prophet,[8] the gift of service, the gift of teaching, the gift of encouragement, the gift of giving, the gift of leadership, or the gift of mercy. The grace-gifts are sovereignly bestowed by Jesus, irrespective of gender, social class distinction, or race.[9]

Make Room for Women

This means, practically, that in Jesus’ church, room must be made for women to utilize their enablements, and fulfill their divinely ordained roles in the Body. Women can act as God’s mouthpiece to the church (the role of the prophet or prophetess[10]), can serve, can exhort/encourage, can give generously, can lead, can show mercy, and can teach. Observe:

“Let the word[11] of Christ[12] dwell[13] in you[14] abundantly as you[15] (men and women) teach and admonish one another (men and women) with all wisdom, and as you (men and women) sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”[16] Colossians 3:16

What men can do, women can also do. Gifts are always sovereignly bestowed by Jesus and given without restrictions.[17]

The Handicapped Body

Handicaps occur in the human body when certain body parts fail to function, due either to injury, trauma, or birth defects. The handicapped church is the congregation that refuses to recognize and encourage women to use the gifts Jesus has graciously given to them, whether to lead, to prophesy, to teach, to serve, to encourage, to give, or to show mercy. Churches may have big parking lots, but it is still handicapped parking for a handicapped church when women’s gifts are ignored or stifled.

The Healthy Body

The healthy church, the healthy Body of Christ, is the congregation that recognizes women’s equality and encourages them to discover their grace-gifts, accept them, and use them for the strengthening of the Body of Christ. Grace gifts in operation are necessary for the health of the Body. All body parts must function. All are necessary. All are essential. There are no optional body parts.

The Body of Christ Needs Women’s Gifts

Men and women were designed by God’s grace to be equal in gifting. Men and women are peers by God’s indescribable grace. Let’s advocate for them, encourage them, make room for them, affirm them in their gifting.

Let the message they hear from men be, “We are peers. You are equal to us. We need you. We need what you bring to the Body; the church needs you. You are equal, essential, and necessary to our health and vitality. We cannot do church without you. We affirm you, appreciate you, depend upon you. We trust you.”

We Do Better Together

When a woman speaks for God in the congregation, rather than dismiss what she says because she is a woman, why not pay her special attention. When a woman teaches out of her gifting, why not celebrate the grace she brings to Jesus’ church. We do better together.

Imagine

Imagine what it might do to a woman’s confidence, identity, sense of worth, and effectiveness if this is the affirming atmosphere she breathes in our local faith communities. Imagine the fresh wind in her sails. Imagine new life in the Body. Imagine the infusion of grace the Body of Christ would experience. Imagine the pleasure of Jesus as His Body uses the gifts He has given.

Let us bring the gifts that differ. Jesus meant it to be an operative reality.

Delores Dufner captures the reality in musical poetry:[18]

Summoned by the God who made us,

rich in our diversity;

gathered in the name of Jesus

richer still in unity.

Radiant risen from the water;

robed in holiness and light;

male and female in God's image,

male and female, God's delight.

Trust the goodness of creation;

trust the Spirit strong with-in;

dare to dream the vision promised,

sprung from seed of what has been.

Bring the hopes of every nation,

bring the art of every race;

weave a song of peace and justice,

let it sound through time and space.

Draw together at one table

all the human family;

shape a circle ever wider

and a people ever free.

Refrain:

Let us bring the gifts that differ

And, in splendid varied ways,

sing a new church into being,

one in faith and love and praise.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 


NOTES:

[1] The NT is unambiguous about Jesus as the Creator of the universe. See John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-16, & Hebrews 1:1-4. He is also the Creator of the New Creation, new creatures in Christ.

[2] The word Paul uses is literally, “transfigured,” the same word used to describe Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17:2: μετεμορφώθη, to be changed from within, to be transformed into something new from within. The astonishing change Jesus experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration was from within. The New Testament model for change is always to change how we think before we can experience change in our external behavior. The template for lasting life-change is articulated by Paul in Ephesians 4:17-24.

[3] “For” introduces the reason  Paul uses to support his call to change the way we think.

[4] Even Paul recognizes that his ability to speak to them is due to grace alone: “the grace given unto me…”

[5] Rather than use the normal word for gift, Paul selects a special word that emphasizes God’s grace, a gift given to the undeserving, a special enablement not earned, not merited, but given as a gift. If possession of the gift is by grace, then there is no room for pride or superiority of thinking. Men and women are equal in gifting. See also 1 Peter 4:10-11.

[6] The word “Koine” is used to describe the type of Greek used in writing the New Testament. It means “common.” Koine Greek is common Greek, the language of the common people.

[7] The only person who had all seven gifts in operation was Jesus.

[8] Or “prophetess.” Anna the prophetess is one of Luke’s key witnesses used to verify his claim that Jesus was born Messiah of Israel. Her testimony is placed on par with that of Simeon’s word about Jesus. This is astonishing in a world where a woman’s testimony was inadmissable in court. But, going against the cultural tide, Luke places her testimony as equal to that of a man’s word (Lk 2:38). Paul gives instructions about women who prophesy in worship (1 Cor. 11:5). Luke records that Philip the evangelist had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:9). Paul also commanded that we must not treat prophecies with contempt (1 Thess. 5:20).

[9] Peter makes the same claim about equal gifting in the Body of Christ. “Just as each of you {male and female} has received a gift…whoever speaks, let it be with God’s Word. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies…” 1 Peter 4:10-11. Men and women both receive gifts, whether speaking or serving gifts. Gifts are sovereignly bestowed.

[10] Philip had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy; Acts 21:9. See also the account of Miriam in Exodus 15:20ff or Huldah the prophetess and her role in the reign of King Josiah; 2 Kings 22:3-20.

[11] The idea of “word” here is “message.”

[12] The genitive construction here has the idea of, “the message about Christ”. Whether psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs, the repetoire of our songs is to have Christ as the subject and focus.

[13] The verb “to dwell” means “to live” and is a present imperative, a command we are to follow for life.

[14] The pronoun is plural. “You all” would be correct.

[15] The Greek pronoun “you” is plural. You, men and women, are to teach and admonish one another using the word about Christ.

[16] Observe the parallels in the verse. We teach and admonish one another. But we sing to God, not as a concert performance to an audience of people. God is our only audience. And, what is more, just as we—men and women—sing to one another, we—men and women—also teach and admonish one another. Paul is explicit.

 [18] Sing a New Church, Delores Dufner, OSB, 1993. We sing this hymn to the familiar tune entitled, “Nettleton.” (“Come Thou Fount”)