Elyse Fitzpatrick: Why Gender is More and Less than You Thought
About the Guest
In discussing gender and the Bible, do we lose what matters most? On FamilyLife Today, Dave & Ann Wilson host authors Elyse Fitzpatrick & Eric Schumacher–who untangle what the Bible saysâ€¦and doesn’t.
Eric: Jesus has called us, together, to fulfill this Great Commission; and He has called us in a marriage to do that through our marriage. How do we display the glory of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, together, as partners in this?—I’m going to kill anything in me that gets in the way of that; I’m going to sacrifice any dream/any ambition for the sake of her to be able to be unified with me so that we can flourish together in God’s purposes.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We had this interesting experience happen one night at, like, three in the morning. Ann and I are upstairs in our bedroom asleep.
Ann: I wake up, because the TV was blaring so loud.
Ann: This is at 3 am. None of our kids live in our home anymore. I hear the TV; and I’m thinking, “How did the TV get on?” I shake, Dave, like [whispering], “Dave, do you hear the TV? It is blasting!” I said, “Did you leave the TV on?”
Dave: I’m like, “No; I mean, I turned it off. I have no idea why the TV is on at three in the morning.” So then, tell them what you said.
Ann: I said, “You better go check that out!” [Laughter]
Dave: I’m like, “No, you go down there!” [Laughter]
Ann: You didn’t tell me, “No.” You didn’t tell me to go down.
Dave: When she said that, I’m like, “Somebody’s in our house and turned on the TV.” We literally looked at each other, like, “What are we going to do?” I’m like, “I’m not going.” She’s like, “I’m not going.” We literally dialed 9-1-1.
Ann: —from our bed.
Dave: I’ve never done this in my life. I knew the front shutters were open.
Dave: I literally get the police on there; and I’m like, “Somebody is in our house downstairs. The TV is on; we don’t know what’s going on. Would you come?” They are like, “Yes, we will come.” I said, “You can look through the front window; you’ll probably be able to see.” We lie there in bed, waiting.
Dave: Sure enough. Finally, you could see some lights out in our cul-de-sac. The police call and they go, “Hey, you can come down. There is nobody in there; let us in the front door.” We go, tiptoeing down. To this day, we don’t know what happened. The TV just clicked on, glaring.
Ann: He said/the police said, “This happens all the time.”
Dave: Yes; they told us stories.
Ann: We’re like, “What?” He goes, “Yes, it’s usually a person, who has been drinking too much,”—
Dave: They come in the wrong house.
Ann: —“and they walk in the wrong home and turn on a TV.”
Dave: Yes. So anyway, you’re like, “Why in the world did you just tell us this story?” Because the question is: “Should Dave have gone down? [Laughter] Why is it the man who always has to be the protector?”
It’s just a fun way to get into a question about male and female—protector; follower/leader;—
Ann: —and the roles.
Dave: —headship/submission in marriage and family. We’re a marriage and family ministry.
Dave: We need to talk about: “How do you understand male and female, husband/wife, headship/submission in marriage?”
We brought Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick into the studio, again, today at FamilyLife to help us deal with this question. Welcome back, guys.
Elyse: Thanks. We’re glad to be here.
Eric: It’s great to be here.
Dave: Are you just laughing at our crazy life?
Elyse: Yes, actually.
Dave: You’ve never had that happen in your home?
Eric: We’ve had several times that I’ve had to go downstairs.
Elyse: So why would you go and not Jenny?
Dave: Yes, that’s the question.
Eric: I’m stronger than Jenny. [Laughter] I’m physically stronger than Jenny.
Ann: That is what I tell Dave!
Eric: I’m not saying I didn’t go down with my shotgun, but I went down.
Ann: Would you go down, Elyse?
Elyse: You know, when I watch like scary, suspense things on TV, and the person is going downstairs to see what the noise is, I’m always screaming, “Don’t go! Don’t go! Don’t go down there!” [Laughter] So would I go?—no, probably not.
Ann: Would you want your husband to go?
Elyse: Well, yes. I mean, I don’t want to go; somebody’s got to go. [Laughter]
Yes, that’s interesting. We look at that role of men and women as protectors; but you know, what is interesting to me is—I don’t know if you guys watch superhero movies—
Ann: Yes, of course; —
Elyse: Of course.
Dave: Ann loves them.
Ann: —the Marvel movies.
Elyse: Yes, all the Marvel universe.
Elyse: In Black Panther, you have the Dora Milaje, who are those women who are the protector of the king. I love that picture of the Dora Milaje; they are like warrior women. I think that comes closer to actually what those words, ezer kenegdo, mean—you know, helper suitable for or standing in front of. I think that comes closer to the meaning of what it is to be a woman than the fainting Victorian woman, who passes out at the sight of blood and couldn’t protect at all. You know, I just want to, maybe, throw that in.
Elyse: I think that Eve’s role, the woman’s role, is just as much a role of courage. I mean, women give birth, so—
Dave: There you go; that’s all you’ve got to say.
Ann: That term, ezer or [phonetically] āzer—however you say it—it’s noted as—with God, as being a God of power—and a military word.
Dave: That’s where I want to go with you guys, because you wrote a book called Jesus and Gender: Living as Sisters and Brothers in Christ. Previously, you wrote Worthy. You’ve really/it’s become a passion and, really, something you’ve been able to bring to the church and the community of Christ to help us understand this.
As you think about where we start at—I mean, it’s just a crazy idea to think men should go downstairs—that wasn’t the idea. The idea is: “How do we view men and women?” “How do we view husbands and wives?” and “How do you take what you just said, Elyse—the understanding of what God originally created/the creation mandate, even for marriage—into the perspective in a home? What does that look like?” Help us really/I mean, that is a major question we need to understand.
Eric: Yes; I think I’d just like to add to what we’ve been talking about. All through the Old Testament, we see women who are courageous and strong; and they take risks.
- You think about Tamar, who has a cowardly and selfish father-in-law, who won’t provide a son for this widow to raise up children for her late husband. She dresses up like a prostitute and puts herself at great risk in order to be faithful to her husband.
- Think about Ruth. She goes out into a field—as a Moabite woman in Bethlehem—and she goes to the threshing floor to basically propose marriage. These are strong women, who take big risks with their own lives for the sake of serving others.
In our first episode, we talked about the importance of Philippians 2, and having the mind of Christ in how we treat one another and cooperate with one another as men and women. As we get to Ephesians—take Ephesians 5: this passage on men and women; I’m not going to read it; I’ve got it here open in front of me—but Paul’s instructions to the husbands are: “…love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the Word.”
He goes on to say that Christ works to make the church beautiful—the same way—husbands need to love their wives as their own bodies because they are one flesh; they are unified like Genesis 2 points us to. So really there, the mindset of the husband should be the mindset of Christ: you are willing to take risks. You are willing to sacrifice yourself—your ambitions, your comfort, your safety—for the sake of being one flesh with her and to see her flourish as Christ sacrificed Himself for our flourishing in His kingdom.
And then you look at the instructions to wives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Now, Paul doesn’t define what headship means there. He illustrates it in what we just talked about—how husbands are supposed to live—that’s what headship is. If it is anything, it is sacrificing yourself for her good.
So what is he calling the woman to do here? We get into the book about the meaning of submit. Like Elyse pointed out earlier, there is free agency there. This instruction is given to wives—not to the husbands; it doesn’t say, “Make your wife submit,”—it calls the wife to this. The way a wife submits is as the church is submitting to Christ. There is a whole lot we could say there about how we submit to Christ, because we all know we have a ton of freedom in our submission to Christ. He might tell us to dress modestly, but He doesn’t tell us what shirt to wear and what pants to put on. He gives us general commands, and then we carry them out according to who we are.
But what is the aim of the church submitting to Jesus? The church, like Paul commands in Philippians 2, is to have the mind of Christ. The church is the body of Christ; the church is supposed to look like Jesus. For the wife to submit herself to the husband means, she, like him, is to lay aside her comfort, her ambitions—sacrifice herself—to be unified with him and cooperate with him in this common goal that has been given, which is to glorify God and display His glory and to fulfill the Great Commission.
What Paul is calling both the husband and the wife to is very, very similar. The command, essentially, is to both of them: “Be like Jesus in how you relate to each other.”
Dave: And yet—you know, obviously, in the church and in Christian marriages, we have this picture of headship/submission looking much different than that—like the head is: “I’m in control. I have the power. Submit means you come under my authority and power.” Is that a bad understanding?
Eric: I think so because that/I don’t think that reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. On the night when He dressed Himself like a slave, and washed His disciples’ feet, and then told them to live the same way with each other, He says, “No longer do I call you slaves; I call you friends.” I think, if our relationship, as husbands and wives, takes on this characteristic of the one who gives the command and the one who obeys, that doesn’t picture friendship.
Jesus is our Lord, of course; He is God. That is what is unique about Him, as our Bridegroom. But He said, “I did not come to be served. I came to serve and give My life as a ransom for many.” The first thing He is—and the first thing we are—He is a servant: like to come to Jesus and submit to Him, the first thing it means is we must be willing to be served by Him before we ever start serving Him.
Ann: Elyse, what does that look like in your home? Have you ever done it in an unhealthy way?
Elyse: Oh, yes; Phil and I have been married for 47 years; and yes, I think that there were times when I would say, “I can’t have any kind of opinion about anything that would be different than Phil, because that is what it means to be a submissive wife.” Of course, there have been—because I have, as you know, a voice—there have been lots of times when I would say, “Oh, yes; but I’m the one who needs to be listened to here,” in an ungodly way.
I mean, for as many years as we have been married, there have been sin everywhere—and in my heart, too—
Ann: —as every marriage has.
Elyse: —because we’re two sinners living together.
For me, it’s really come to a place, where I have to say, “What do you think? What do you want?” to Phil. A lot of times, Phil is the sort of really easygoing guy; so he’ll just say, “Whatever you want to do is fine with me.” Then I used to always be frustrated by that. It’s like, “Oh no! You’re supposed to tell me.”
Ann: Did you feel like it was passive?
Elyse: I felt like it was passive; but you know, it’s funny—now, that I’ve really/50 years later, gotten to understand and know Phil—Phil is just an easygoing person.
Ann: That’s Dave. Dave’s just like that; he really doesn’t care.
Dave: We’re just wonderful men; aren’t we?
Elyse: He doesn’t care.
Ann: You are! [Laughter]
Elyse: Yes; just really doesn’t care. I used to think, Well, that’s/I’m supposed to have somebody who tells me.”
Elyse: Then I became very/I’m comfortable with that now. The Lord has given me specific gifts. The Lord has given Phil specific gifts, and his easygoingness has been a gift to me over the years. But then I always/I want to be the sort of person, who is always saying to Phil, “Tell me what you think. What do you think?” because it’s easy for me to have an opinion—and then Phil is very easygoing—he would not necessarily give his opinion unless I said, “I want to hear it.”
But for us, I think that that’s the thing that’s been really helpful for me, personally, as we’ve worked through: “What are the roles of women? What are the roles of men?”—is it’s not cookie-cutter; it’s not like a one-size-fits-all sort of thing. Phil and I have different gifts; Eric and Jenny have different gifts; you guys, obviously, are differently gifted. I don’t need to look like someone else’s perspective of what a Christian marriage should be. We—Phil and I—have lived together in a unity that has come about because we know that we are differently gifted, and we live in light of that.
Dave: It’s interesting—listening to you, today, talk about this—I’ve had visions in my mind of what it looked like before; but I had a new one today from you guys, which was: “Headship and submission is a question of: ‘Who gets to be like Jesus the most?’”
Dave: I don’t know if that is what you are saying. It’s like, “Jesus is the head of the church. What did that look like?” Well, that looked like serving and giving His life away for the church. Jesus has to submit to the Father; what does that look like?—obeying the Father’s will; and putting His own will away, and accepting God’s will. You just gave me a vision—I don’t know—
Ann: —of who can out-serve one another.
Dave: —it’s like: “I want to be like Jesus,” “I want to be like Jesus.” That means I’m going to lay down my life to serve her as my wife; she’s going to lay down her—it becomes this mutual—
Elyse: Yes; right.
Dave: —flourishing together. Yet, you write in there that the husband is the first to die.
Dave: What does that look like?
Eric: I think what that looks like is Peter tells husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way—
Eric: —and calls them the weaker vessel. I think that primarily refers to physical strength. What he is saying is: “Do not exploit your physical strength to benefit you at the cost of your wife.” That, again, is Philippians 2: though He has the fullness of God, He doesn’t exploit that; He becomes a servant.
I think the man is constantly remembering that Jesus has called us together to fulfill this Great Commission; and He has called us, in a marriage, to do that through our marriage. This marriage isn’t about: “I have a vision of me one day being a CEO,” or “…a star athlete,”—or whatever it is; and—“She needs to agree with that, and put herself behind my career, and make that successful.”
No; what we are called to cooperate in is Christ’s purposes of fulfilling this Great Commission. So he’s not thinking about himself; he’s thinking about: “How do we display the glory of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, together as partners, in this?—I’m going to kill anything in me that gets in the way of that; I’m going to sacrifice any dream/any ambition for the sake of her to be able to be unified with me so that we can flourish together in God’s purposes.”
Ann: I love what you guys are saying; and it reminds me of Kristi McLelland, who is a professor at a university. She was talking one time about being in Israel, and she did a lot of Hebrew teaching and cultural learning over there. She talked to a rabbi, who was in his 70s. She said he had this long, grey beard. And she was wrestling with these words that ezer (āzer) kenegdo. She said, “What would you say those words mean in Hebrew: to be a helper suitable?” He said, “Oh, it’s easy.” He said, “The woman was created to contend with Adam.” She said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Because God knew there was an enemy in the garden, and it would take the two of them, together, to defeat the enemy, contending with one another, side by side.”
I think so often we can get lost, and we get into these details—“Well, should he be here?” and “Should I be there?” I think the truth is: “Let’s contend together—
Ann: —“with one another, side by side, in this battle that is warring around us; because we need one another. Instead of fighting one another, let’s battle together.”
Dave: I mean, I love what your definition in Jesus and Gender—I don’t know if you remember writing this—[Laughter]—but you use this beautiful term; I’m guessing it is original to you, christic.
Eric: Yes; well,—
Eric: —it’s not original to us. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, it—
Ann: I haven’t heard it before.
Dave: —it’s a Christ-centered man/woman; and in this case, Christ-centered marriage. I love your definition: “Imitating Christ in voluntary humility”—which you’ve just been discussing—“and mutual flourishing as they recognize one another’s value and pursue unity with one another.”
I mean, it’s this beautiful picture of what we’ve been talking about: there is headship; there is submission; there is imitating Christ; there is mutual humility for flourishing. It’s—and you’ve said it many times—it’s for extending the kingdom of God to the world. That’s the best way God designed it to happen in a marriage; am I right?
Eric: Yes, I think so. I’m just thinking back to our opening, talking about who should go downstairs. [Laughter] I’m reminded of how Christ cooperates with the church, and the church cooperates with Christ. Now, granted—He had this key role, and He is the one who died for our sins and rose from the dead—but then, immediately, He is calling us into cooperation with Him to fulfill the Great Commission and take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Does Jesus ever send His bride down the stairs into a dangerous situation?—absolutely! The church is being persecuted, even today; and it always has been. He sends His bride into dangerous places to do risky things. He doesn’t shelter her in this safe place—He gives her strength; He gives her encouragement; He goes with her—but He sends her into these dangerous and risky things, because she’s a church that is/we’re being conformed into the image of Christ. He is the Lion of Judah who, when you see Him in Revelation, looks like a Lamb that has been slain.
Dave: So you just answered our question.
Elyse: “Go together!”
Dave: Ann should have gone down with me.
Ann: “Go together!”
Elyse: “Go together.”
Dave: That’s the answer: “Go together.”
Ann: We’re stronger together.
Shelby: One of the things I’ve learned in my walk with God is that God doesn’t promise a life of comfort and ease. In fact, He promises a life of trials; but He also promises that He will be with me in those trials/that He will be alongside of me in the difficult circumstances. What a great reminder from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher about the fact that Jesus’s bride is not going to live a life without danger, but it is going to live a life present with the risen Messiah.
Elyse and Eric have written a book called Jesus and Gender: Living as Sisters and Brothers in Christ. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to order a copy of Jesus and Gender; or you can pick up the phone and call us at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to request your copy.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how you find God and His purposes and His glory in the midst of the mundane/the ordinary stuff of life. How can you have that kind of God-centered focus on all that’s happening in your marriage and your family? Courtney Reissig is going to join Dave and Ann to talk about just that. We hope you can join us as well.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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