I’ve had a difficult time writing this post. You may have noticed that our last post was in August. In the world of blogging, a two-month gap is similar to putting an “Out of Business” sign on a storefront. My difficulty comes with wanting to share my heart, not sound “preachy,” and squelch the assumption that I am taking a side. I also wanted to do due diligence with my research. Therefore, to carry on, I’m envisioning you and me sitting down with a cup of coffee, talking, and trusting that my words convey that very scenario.
Motherhood is amazing. It would be easier to count the grains of sand under the shadow of a beach umbrella than to explain the bond between mother and child. Yet, in spite of this bond, it seems that mothers are frequently put into two categories—those that work outside the home and those that don’t. The moment we move into motherhood, we also move into one of these two classifications. Sad to say, this classification is often presented as a “line in the sand” that can make Christian mothers feel they must choose between right and wrong–sin and not sin. So where does the believer go to determine right from wrong? God’s Word. So, for the matter of work outside the home, I did some research into the three primary passages that distinctly discuss the role of the woman in the household—I Timothy 5, Titus 2, and Proverbs 31.
I Timothy 5:14 contains the phrase “keep house.” The phrase comes from the Greek word oikourgos meaning “to rule or care for a household.” Note that Paul is addressing the topic of young widows, most likely without children, and urges them to remarry and set up a home. Culturally in this time, the identity and primary place for a woman to occupy was the home with few other options. With no home to oversee and no one to care for, the young widows were idle, wasting their time, gossiping, and being non-productive. Paul admonishes that idleness can open the door to slander and give Satan a foothold in life.
Moving to Titus 2 we notice a similar phrase “busy at home” applied to women. Contextually, Paul is instructing Timothy on how to admonish the people of Crete—to straighten them out. Some of the women of Crete felt that once they became a follower of Christ, they were to leave their homes and households and “be on the road,” so to speak. The premise was used as an excuse to release them from home responsibilities. Paul wanted that thinking challenged and corrected.
Do either of the contextual explanations nullify the phrases “keep house” and
“workers at home?” No. However, neither do they clearly state that this is the only responsibility or role a mother should have. So, can a woman work outside the home and meet the responsibilities of keeping house? For that answer, let’s look at another passage often used in this discussion, Proverbs 31.
There is debate on whether the Proverbs 31 woman is a real woman or a figurative example. Either way, there is no definitive answer as to whether the woman completed all these tasks routinely throughout her entire life or if they are a depiction of various accomplishments she had throughout her life. Real or figurative, routinely or independently, this woman in Proverbs 31 can be overwhelming to women. Take a breath.
Contextually, this passage is written to men. It is advice from a mother to her son, and we cannot overlook the fact that it follows the advice in verses 1-9. To sum it up, this mom is telling her son to make good choices, including looking for the right kind of woman to marry. He should marry a virtuous woman. Proverbs 31 is not a report card to grade women. It is a depiction of the traits of a virtuous woman.
The word virtuous comes from eshet chayil, meaning “woman of valor” and “strength.” This woman guards her family, fights for them, and is capable, strong, and self-assured in doing so. The word was also used to describe Ruth (Ruth 3:11) It denotes character, and not a performance list. Indeed, a woman can complete a performance list and be uncaring, ruthless, lazy, or any other number of poor qualities.
A close look at the Proverbs 31 example shows us the woman took care of the physical needs of her family. She valued her husband and children. She was also a woman of business. She invested. She shopped for real estate. Because her husband sat at the gates, he may have been nobility. This could imply that the woman did not need to work to meet financial needs. She did business because she had the expertise to do it. Perhaps her children were with her when she did business; perhaps they were not. She prepared ahead and assigned tasks to her servants, etc. (She had household help.) The bottom line is—the Proverbs 31 woman is industrious, organized, and oversaw her household. However, rather than looking at the tasks she performed, concentrate on the qualities we see in her that made her virtuous. She was not idle; she contributed with her talents; she was responsible to oversee the household need; she partnered with her husband; she treated her family with value (I doubt no husband or child would praise a woman who devalued them). She was prudent, compassionate, and loving. She used discretion. These qualities existed while she worked both inside and outside the home.
Is there a right and wrong—sin, not sin—to mothers working outside the home? Yes, but in my opinion, it is not what you think. The distinction is not in motherhood. It is in obedience. What God lays out for one mother may not be what He lays out for another. God does place callings on women that take them outside the home for hours, maybe even seasons of time. God does know that some mothers are the financial stability of a household. God does know that some mothers are to be stay-at-home mothers, for a lifetime or for a season.
Whether a mother works outside the home or not, her motherly responsibilities do not change. She is to manage her household, use her talents, guide and train her children, be the friend, lover, respecter, and supporter of her husband, and have a growing relationship with God. Both a mom who works inside the home and one who works outside the home are capable of nourishing or neglecting what is apportioned to them.
The subtle part of this debate is the judgement that often accompanies it. A working Mom shouldn’t dismiss the challenges of a stay-at-home Mom. Likewise, a stay-at-home mom shouldn’t feel superior to a working mother.
Am I advocating that women should work outside the home? No. Am I advocating that a woman should stay at home once she becomes a mother? No. Am I advocating that women should not respect a husband’s wishes in this matter? No. I am advocating that God’s plans for each person are as varied as humankind and that each person should follow God’s plan for their life.
Any mother who is honest with herself knows that emotions pull on them as they seek to balance all their roles. Relating the pull to the topic of this post, a stay-at-home mom may be holding her child close and simultaneously feel pulled to establish her identity outside of her role as mother. A working mom can be accomplishing an important task at work and at the same time miss her child. Emotional pulls are a part of life and relationships. We pray over the pulls in our life and ask God to assure us of His plans for us.
I can relate to this issue and the pull it can have on a mother. I lived with the pull. I ministered with the pull. However, I lived and ministered confidently because I knew that God had not only called me to be a mother, but He had also called me to serve Him in a vocational role. He was not conflicted over those two callings. I chose to trust Him with the matter.
Matthew Henry commentary: Titus 2:5, Proverbs 31