As I continue to think through a third way on gender, I am burdened for the voice of the helper that God gave to the man. Was Eve designed only to help with her hands or her body? Or was there something in her words that God designed to be helpful to Adam?
The great passage that is used to squelch female voices is I Peter 3, on winning a disobedient husband over without a word. Paul talks of women keeping silent in the church as well, but the context there is the authoritative teaching in the position of elder. I think Peter and Paul’s instructions are good, true and to be obeyed today. But remember that these are not the only Scriptures on women speaking.
While some verses on women instruct keeping silence, others affirm the use of words as a sign of wisdom and virtue, notably in the classic wisdom chapter on Image-bearing womanhood, Proverbs 31.
“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the teaching of kindness” (Prov. 31:26).
There are many more verses on women speaking in the Bible, but I am not going to give a survey of them right now. The issue isn’t whether a woman is or is not to speak. The issue is what she should speak and how she should speak. We are as constrained by James 3:10 as the men in our churches are.
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be.
Going forward, I offer this encouragement first to women, and then to men.
Women: I encourage you to cultivate the voice that God intended for you to use when He created you as a strong helper for the man. This means recognizing what tears down and putting that off as the old man. The Bible has strong words for negative speech for men and women, along with a few choice words for women alone. Because of our particular gifting to come alongside a man in aid, the negative words we say in a moment can deeply wound a man, like the nurse you expect to administer pain medicine who instead injects you with poison. Gossip, slander, malice … these are antithetical to the role of ezer, and we must deliberately push into who we are in Christ that we may recognize these words and put them away.
But a big mistake we make as women in conservative churches is that we put off without also putting on, especially in terms of the voice of the helper. The put off/put on process for women and their words is not to put off gossip and put on silence. It is to put off words that tear down and put on words of life that God intended you to use. The end result of transformation in Christ is that we put on words that aid our churches, aid our families and aid our friends.