The world is heading toward the day when it will again be a beautiful, curse-free garden (Revelation 22)—just like it was before Adam gave heed to the slithering, God-defying serpent. God’s means towards this end is His church, His Garden.
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden in Eden. Adam’s duty, his God-assigned vocation, was “to tend and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The words “to tend” mean “to till” or “to bestow labour.” The words “to keep” mean “to watch” in the sense of “to keep an eye on for the purpose of guarding” (see Genesis 30:31; 1 Samuel 17:20; Ecclesiastes 12:3). It sometimes carries the meaning of “to keep safe” or “to preserve” (Proverbs 13:3, etc.).
Adam was called by God to “guard the garden.” There were dangers lurking of which he was not aware. But because he failed to guard the garden, the world became a wilderness filled with woe.
The Garden as a metaphor for God’s people is found throughout Scripture. Israel as a vineyard is a common picture in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 5:1–7) and this is carried through into the New Testament (Matthew 21:33ff; cf. John 15:1–16). The church itself is likened to a field in which seeds are sown and watered and grow (1 Corinthians 3:5–17). The New Testament ends with an Eden-like picture in the eternal state (Revelation 22:1–5). For these reasons, and others, we should not be surprised that God expects the Garden of His church to be guarded as He intended for the first one. It is for this reason that the appeal to God’s creation order, and the failure of Adam (and Eve) to heed that order, is the basis of Paul’s appeal for male headship in the local church (1 Timothy 2:11–14). In a word, “adams,” who are appointed by God, are to guard the Garden of His church. We need to flesh this out.
We have recently spent a couple of weeks as a congregation studying what the Scriptures say concerning gender issues, particularly what God expects of women in the church. This is an issue that is unnecessarily sometimes controversial. After all, the Scriptures are clear that God equips male Christians, not female Christians, to lead His church. The God-ordained principle of male headship is to be honoured both in principle and in practice.
Again, this is not an obscure teaching. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes it clear for all who have eyes to see that men are called to provide authoritative leadership to and in the local church. This is particularly the case when it comes to the ministry of Word. In teaching and preaching, in giving authoritative leadership to the direction of the church, men (read: qualified males) are called to this task. Not the females in the church. Like Adam, the guarding of the Garden of God, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, is the responsibility of appointed men.
A few observations are in order.
First, the new covenant Garden of God must be guarded, and it is to be guarded by men.
The serpent is alive (though not well) on planet earth and his target is the church. He slithers into God’s Garden with a view to mess things up. He seeks to sow false gospel seeds to infest the church with spiritual weeds in order to choke out healthy growth. The New Testament is replete with warnings about temptations, and it clearly warns us of Satanic assaults. The church is in the midst of enemies (Ephesians 6:10–18).
God expects His appointed male leadership to be careful about whose voice the church hears. Further, God’s guardians are to be careful, as much as is possible, to keep serpents (and wolves, to change the metaphor) out of the Garden. They must at times do the difficult thing of taking a stand against those who try to enter God’s Garden in any way but by Jesus, the Door. Guarding the Garden is not for the faint of heart.
Second, God has assigned particular men to guard His Garden.
As in Eden, Adam alone was not responsible to obey God. His bride was also required to honour the Lord by complete submission to His Word. God held Eve to account for her sin (Genesis 3:16). But this does not mitigate the reality that Adam was the one who was ultimately to blame. Romans 5:12 makes this crystal clear: “Therefore just as through one MAN sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” There is every reason to conclude that Adam was with Eve in the Garden when Satan tempted her. And yet obviously he did nothing constructive. Rather than chopping off the serpent’s head, he apparently allowed his wife to engage in dialogue with the enemy of God. And the rest is history—a sad, Garden-defiling history. The world became a wilderness of wickedness as the venom of sin worked its way into every culture through the sin-tainted lives of humanity. Adam and Eve took a bite of forbidden fruit, not realising that in doing so the evil one was biting deep into Paradise. The full blessings of the Garden would be forfeited as unbreachable “Do Not Enter” signs, emblazoned in flaming swords, barred the way. Adam failed, literally, to “keep the garden.” The unguarded paradise was lost.
God expects those whom He has appointed as guardians of the Garden to do just that. God expects the men whom He calls and equips to guard the local church, and as a result, to guard the church at large. As godly elders guard the portions of the Garden assigned to them, the larger worldwide Garden of God’s people are guarded as well.
Thankfully, the Last Adam has crushed the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20). The Lord Jesus Christ has defeated the devil. Yet Satan still roars like a threatening lion; he continues to attack the church (see Revelation 12). God’s guardians must know the difference from God’s authoritative scripture and the serpent’s false seductions.
Third, the church should only recognise particular qualified men to guard God’s Garden. In other words, not just any man will do. This is a very important principle. It is Scripturally clear that a woman is disqualified simply because she is a woman; but a man is not qualified simply because he is a man. He must be a scripturally qualified man. Interestingly, immediately after forbidding women to lead the church (1 Timothy 2:11–14) Paul then forbids men to lead the church unless they are clearly qualified (1 Timothy 3:1–17). The ability to grow a beard does not a leader make. Being male is not the only qualification required.
Perhaps some struggle with the teaching of male headship in the church as explained in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15 because we have not emphasised the qualified aspect of such leadership. Again, the issue is not merely male leadership, rather it is qualified male leadership.
It must be awfully hard for strong women to submit to male leaders in the church who merely thump on their chest, “Me, leader.” For women to sit under the teaching and shepherding leadership of men who are either not serious about the Scriptures, or who are not gifted to teach them is actually to tempt women to sinful usurpation of authority. In such a case, the Garden is not being guarded.
However, when the church takes seriously the mandate for qualified male leadership, then both the eves and the adams of the church will be secure in God’s well-guarded Garden.