Friday, August 10, 2012

3 Ways to Ruin Gentlemanliness

The treatment of women is a very important issue to me. I firmly believe that our families, churches and cultures need a resurgence of godly gentlemanliness. As men we need to have an attitude of servant leadership that takes initiative and carries the burdens of others. I would like to hereby dub this concept biblical chivalry. However, that term needs a little clarification. By chivalry I don’t mean a list of rules related to ballroom dancing. I’m a sucker for old words with long histories and so I’m simply using this word to describe an attitude which assumes that men and women ought to behave in consistency with their role in every circumstance. This in turn assumes that the man ought to treat the woman in an initiatory, benevolent and sacrificial manner.

The modifier biblical distinguishes this idea from some casual understanding that men and women should treat each other with respect. The right sort of chivalry needs to be grounded in the Bible. Now, this is not to say that the Scriptures lay out some nice, neat list about the dos and don’ts for male-female interaction. If it did we’d all become instant legalists. Rather I’m saying that our interactions with women ought to be governed by a firm understanding of biblical principles, like Complementarianism, the Gospel of grace, loving your neighbor and Trinitarianism.

Though I’ll be using examples like opening doors and carrying luggage, I would encourage you not to get hung up on the actions themselves. I believe that these actions should be done in a natural manner and if you can’t do that then don’t worry about it. Find another means of displaying honoring and appreciation toward ladies. But we must be careful because this is really easy to get wrong.

I distinctly remember the day when I discovered (shockingly) that I would never be a world famous chef. I was a preteen and the rest of my family had gone to run some errands. Being the responsible eldest child that I am, I agreed to make supper for the family. Pancakes were on the menu and thus I proceeded to follow the directions written out for me. With great zeal and anticipation of completing my first coronary masterpiece, I eager mixed the ingredients, poured the batter on the skillet, flipped the cakes (which was the of course the most fun part) and set and the table.

With eager anticipation and I prepared to present my family with the most incredible mealtime experience of their lives. However, as my family began to partake of the pancakes, it became clear that my plan hadn’t quite worked out. My first clue that something was wrong was when my siblings began to make gagging noises. My mom polity declined a second helping and even my dad, whose been known to eat just about anything, couldn’t clean his plate.

Come to find out there’s a difference between baking powder and baking soda. Who knew? Pancakes are good, but not if you do it wrong. Biblical chivalry is the same way. It’s a very good thing but also easy to mess up. That’s why I want to take this time to point to three ways to ruin these (to quote Elisabeth Elliot) “ceremonial acts of sacrifice.”

1. Be partial

In preparing to write this post I posed a question to the gals on Facebook (because that’s just the way we do things these days). I asked them what they thought about this whole issue. I got a lot of good feedback. One of my friends stated that the service of guys made her feel “like I'm the most cherished girl to ever walk the face of the earth. Plus, my respect for one who does so shoots through the roof.” But she was also quick to add, “Especially (note this) if you do so for every girl, no matter how young or old... not just a girl you like. A man who treats all women with Christ-like brotherly love is a man who is highly respected.”

Some guys have the tendency to give special treatment to the girls they like or think are pretty. We tend to be less quick to open the door for the woman we don’t find attractive in either appearance or in personality. However, this is in direct contradiction to our reasons for practicing these acts.

We aren’t to treat women gentlemanly in order to get something from them or impress a hottie. Rather, chivalry is to be an act of sacrifice – of giving something up, whether it be little or big. To be motivated by selfish impulse defeats the entire purpose. Our goal is to make women feel honored. They can tell if you’re showing favoritism and this can do more to degrade them than just standing by and doing nothing.

“But what if a certain woman doesn’t deserve to be honored in that way?” you may ask. It’s a fair question. Certainly many women don’t deserve to be honored. But remember what we’re trying to point to. We deserve absolutely no honor and get Jesus bled and died that we might be His joint-heirs. He honored us despite our gross unworthiness. Thus, you are most chivalrous and gentlemanly when reverencing someone who has absolutely no right to it. Undeserving recipients aren’t a hindrance to biblical chivalry; they’re an opportunity to bring further glory to Christ.

2. Be condescending

In my little informal Internet survey, one of the issues that kept coming up was that women didn’t want to feel as if they were being treated like children. While many expressed appreciation for guys who served them, they continually reiterated that they could do those things.

None of our actions should be motivated contempt for women. We shouldn’t make them feel that we’re looking down on them. Rather, we should make them feel honored and valued. This starts with having a high view of women. As men we must hold the fairer sex in high regard. A biblical view of women will give us that. It will teach us to dismiss the horrific popular portray of women and to see women as our Master Jesus did.

However, it’s not enough to simply know that women are to be honored. They have to know it. Even if our intentions are as pure as the driven snow, we may still be misunderstood. To counter this predicament our actions, countenance and speech must all portray a spirit of appreciation for womanhood and a respect for the individual woman.

3. Be pushy

A relative of mine once recounted an experience he had in college. It happened to be storming that day, and all the students were busy scurrying about the campus trying to get to their next class without getting soaked to the skin. As he rushed into a building, my relative noticed a female college student close behind him, sprinting through the slushy sidewalk with a pile of books in her hands. Naturally, he opened to the door to let her into the building. However, the woman simply stopped in front of the doorway (rain drenching her all the while), frowned and insisted that she was quite capable of opening the door by herself.

What was the man to do? What would be the gentlemanly thing to do? Frankly, I think it was what my relative did. He let her stand in the rain. Now how is this gentlemanly? you may ask. A true gentleman does not force chivalry upon a lady. He doesn’t make her take his seat. He doesn’t make her walk through a door. This is not honoring or respectful of the woman.
You would not feel honored if someone forced you to use their service. We’ve all heard of the annoying great aunt who comes over to “help out” by rearranging all the cupboards, making everyone dress up and just being a general nuisance. Chivalry is to be voluntary gift and the acceptance of that gift must be voluntary as well.

This is a principle that will govern all your interactions with women, including marriage. To my knowledge, marriage is the only God-ordained authority structure that does not include an “enforcement mechanism”. In other words, God does not grant the husband any means of imposing his authority. The state has the sword (Romans 13:4), parents have the rod (Proverbs 13:24) and the church has ecclesial discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) but no such implement is given in marriage. In contrast, the wife is told to “submit yourself unto your own husband” (Ephesians 5:22, emphasis mine). Submission is something that she must place upon herself, not something you are to lord over her. Forced submission is not biblical submission.

This same principle is applicable to premarital interaction as well. No action, no matter how well intended, should be forced upon a woman. Rather, we should humbly offer our services and let them do what they will with it.

But most importantly, we as men must develop the selfless character of Christ that carries the burdens of others and seek to serve those around them. This is the high and humble calling of the Christian and the essence of biblical chivalry.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. If men notice when women dress modestly, women notice if men treat women honorably. Some male co-workers or friends have walked me out to my car if I was alone or they regularly ask what they can do to help me set up for something. These are secular men of my father's generation; I am ashamed when young men of my generation often do so much less.

    Women notice particularly how men treat their mothers and sisters; it is easy to be especially thoughtful of women outside one's family, but what about the women inside, on a daily basis? A great deal of my respect for my father comes from watching him change Baby's diapers, clean the house, cook, or wash dishes for Mom. Luckily for us, he knows the difference between baking soda and baking powder! ;-) Now we are training my younger brother to be a gentleman ("How to Treat Women 101" on my blog portrays a humorous example).

    I find your thoughts on a husband's lack of authority to enforce interesting. I had never noticed that before and it certainly puts the onus on the woman to be equally vigilant in HER God-ordained role! I'm new to your blog, but I enjoy your posts. Keep encouraging your brothers, Josh. Your sisters notice.

  3. Thanks for commenting. That's a very good point about the need to treat the women in our families properly. It seems that the people closest to us are often the most neglected. It's so neat that you have a good example of this in your father.

    I hope you continue to enjoy your stay here :-).

  4. Many good points. Not even God forces people to do things. He gives them a choice -- that's the nature of love.

  5. Thanks, Garrett. That's a good point. It really does all go back to our understanding of God.