I was riding in the car with Tim the other day when our conversation turned to chivalry. Chivalry’s origins are traced back to the Middle Ages and knighthood. Initially a code of conduct of honor for knights in times of war, chivalry evolved to mean a code of conduct for men, particularly how men act toward women and, finally, as a challenge to the independence of women. I’m not sure how chivalry evolved to the latter, but it somehow came to be the antithesis of the independent woman. In my opinion, chivalry should not be discounted as an affront to women. The appropriate definition of chivalry, with a biblical concept, is the right definition for society as a whole.
Now I am an independent woman, college educated, and a believer in equality. Still, when my husband opens the car door for me I like it. For me, it is an act that embodies his respect for me. If that makes him chivalrous, fantastic! I don’t see this as a gendered action or an affront to my independence. I’ve seen him open the door for his father too. I’ve opened doors for men and women too. It is not a statement on one’s ability to open a door on their own, nor is it any type of judgement about them. To me it as an act of kindness and respect. I expect these things of myself and of Tim. Why? Because, as Christians, this is what God calls us to do; to exhibit kindness and respect for each other. Do I have high expectations of Tim? Yes, I do! I have the highest of expectations, as he should of me.
There is a great scene in the movie War Room where a woman prays for her husband “to be the man God made him to be.” Our “expectations” should be to become as God intends us to be. We ought to have the utmost expectation of each other based on God’s instruction that we strive to be more like Jesus. That doesn’t mean we won’t fail or that we will always live up to those expectations. It means that we recognize in each other the effort to become the person that God expects us to be. I do not think it an unrealistic that non-Christians also strive for a higher level of respect for others. Unfortunately, the daily news is full of examples of people who need to have higher expectations.
I think the idea of chivalry being something that we must reject, or as an affront to women, has been an injustice and a Biblical concept of chivalry, a concept that our society is in desperate need of, is essential. I feel we need to revisit the idea of chivalry and define it more accurately. An independent woman needn’t give up her independence on the actions of a chivalrous man. In fact, I’m not sure that chivalry should be classified in such a way as to define actions and expectations between the sexes at all. It’s time for a new definition of chivalry, or rather a return to its original concept, a definition that fits well into a code of conduct for all people today, a definition that fits both men and women, a definition that can be applied to society as whole.
Definitions of chivalry include: nobility, virtue, strength, loyalty, kindness, honor, righteousness and praiseworthiness. These definitions embody the idea of integrity. The Bible has a multitude of Scriptures which illustrate the true concept of chivalry: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing, fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) This is an excellent example of chivalry defined. Notice here it says “brothers and sisters,” these aren’t directed toward men, nor are they directed specifically toward men and how they act toward women. They instruct all of us in the way in which we should think and act.
Biblical teaching doesn’t differentiate the call to be people of integrity between the sexes. There are Scriptures for women that embody the definition of chivalry, too, so it isn’t just a term defined toward men in Scripture. Proverbs 31 talks of a woman who “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (kindness); Titus 2 says “be reverent in behavior (respect) and teach what is good” (righteousness); and Proverbs 11 tells us “a kind hearted woman gains respect.” These are all illustrative of chivalry.
So chivalry isn’t something to be rejected; it isn’t a concept to be shunned as an archaic idea or a means for men to keep women oppressed. A quick glance at the news at any given moment makes it abundantly clear that we have moved too far away from the principles of chivalry – to our own detriment. So it’s time for chivalry to once again be embraced, demonstrated, and expected by everyone, Christian or not. We need to return to the values that create a better world we can all live in!
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