The Ideal Christian Man or Woman
I go on a lot about what’s wrong with gender stereotyping, but now I’ll try to focus on the scriptural– not cultural– definition of what the standard is, so everyone knows what to aim for.
First of all we have the ultimate Role Model, Jesus. And what was He like? Rather than a one-dimensional Hollywood “bad boy” on one extreme or a hyper-passive Mr. Rogers* on the other, Jesus had a wide range of emotions and actions. He overturned the merchant tables in the temple, but also wept over the people who were soon to scream for His crucifixion. He called Peter “Satan” at one point but also likened him to a rock upon which His ekklesia** would be built. He ranted against the religious elite but allowed a foreign woman to talk Him into making a healing exception for her. He worked in a common trade but healed a little girl. He taught about both mercy and justice, compassion and judgment. He never excluded the downcast, not even women, nor favored the strong.
Then there is Paul, another who can’t be stuffed into a tiny box. He often waxed eloquent on the love of God, but got crude and nasty with fake believers. He worked with his hands but was also a first-rate scholar. He travelled over land and sea to win converts but wished curses upon those who oppose God. He humbled himself to bring the gospel to the Gentiles yet opposed Peter to his face in public for compromise.
Women such as the Marys, the Samaritan woman at the well, Phoebe, Priscilla, and others are never seen in a negative light, nor reprimanded for stepping out of society’s boxes. They are shown to be brave and faithful, independent and trustworthy– qualities their society thought were only possessed by men.
Is any man in the NT commended for violence, crudity, bossing, or any of the long list of characteristics demanded by today’s Christianity? Is any woman in the NT commended for volunteering to be a slave or for looking to man instead of God? No. While there is a time and place for physical strength, confrontation, and other things we just saw in our examples above, these are not the primary qualities of the believer. Love and gentleness are stressed above all, and for all; it is not the exclusive domain of women.
Which brings us to another point: the ideals for Christian men are indistinguishable from the ideals for Christian women. Spiritual fruit is spiritual fruit, not a role to play or cage to keep people in. All of us must follow Jesus’ model of service and humility, of laying privilege aside to lift others up. Let’s just all follow Jesus and stop being obsessed with ordering others to play the roles we assign to them.
So the ideal Christian is not identified by gender but by character. The ideal Christian couple is one where each serves and builds up the other, where each leads in their areas of strength and follows in their areas of weakness, where the load is shared and the “Golden Rule” is practiced. And the ideal Christian community is one where each believer shares their spiritual gifts with the others, building them up and “esteeming them better” than themselves.
This is all very basic, very “Christianity 101″, yet so few seem to have learned it. Our celebrities are exactly that, and the character traits they espouse are neither Biblical nor ideal. They want to homogenize people into pink and blue boxes, and also stack those boxes by a contrived ranking system. But we are not parts on a conveyor belt; we are precious souls for whom Jesus died. Neither are we actors playing roles but kings and priests of God.
Just strive for the ideal Christian qualities we see in scripture, and you will find that this silly obsession with putting people in their places evaporates. With the writer of Hebrews say, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).
* Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Rogers grasped a lot more of the ideal Christian man more than most today. Nevertheless, I think he took passivity too far. He was who he was, and that’s fine, but we’re looking for ideals here, not trying to homogenize everyone.
** ekklesia is the Greek word typically translated “church”, but it is also used in the NT for any gathering, including those for pagan gods.