My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

01 September 2006

A Woman's Place

Here are some notes from last Sunday's sermon on Proverbs 31. This part of the sermon wasn't so much exposition as it was trying to be as clear as possible about "a woman's place."

We need to be clear on what the Bible teaches about a woman's place in the kingdom.

First is the truth that all of us, men and women, boys and girls, have as our top aim and motive the kingdom of Jesus Christ. So, rather than saying a woman's place is in the home, it's much more clear and Biblical to say that a wife's mission is serving the kingdom by caring first and foremost for her family. The Bible nowhere says that a woman's only place is in the home (in fact, Proverbs 31 and the book of Ruth and Lydia show the opposite), but it does clearly teach that women, especially married women, are to have their hearts, minds, and energies focused first on the home - not to the exclusion of everything outside the doors of your house, but rather, what you do outside of those doors needs to serve this one mission.

This passage doesn't so much teach this as it assumes it. The frame around this painting is the assumption that the wonderful mission of wives is the constructing and managing of a spiritual and earthly haven. Just as the church, her calling is no less than to build a miniature version of heaven on earth.

There are also times when it's appropriate and vital for women to have ministry outside of their families and homes - in Titus we're given the model of women discipling younger women. Not only is this necessary, but it fits into godly women's main drive, which is serving the kingdom of Christ. This not only helps us round out our idea of womanhood and ministry, but will keep the family in perspective of the kingdom, not vice versa. On one side of the evangelical aisle, there's a temptation to dismiss or disrupt the family as much as possible in the name of the church or individual growth. On the other side, there's a temptation to think that the family is the end-all and be-all of the church and society. Neither are correct: not only do we, as individuals, exist for the kingdom of Christ, so do families.

A wife's calling is different from husbands' in that, while husbands participate in and are ultimately responsible for the building of a home, their kingdom calling is both outward and homeward. If a wife's main mission is "the kingdom through the home", a husband's two missions are (1) being the federal head of the home and (2) bringing the world into submission to Christ in whatever field he's called to. When women do good and appropriate work outside of the home, they too are engaging in taking dominion. But it's still not their main mission while there are kids to raise. Even after the kids are gone, Scripture would have wives be committed to their husbands and their husband's "dominion-taking" before their own jobs. This is why it's unbiblical for men to seek financial freedom in order to be with their kids all day. We're called to take dominion of this world for Jesus' glory - and the work wives do in managing the home must be seen as a vital, integral part of their husband's outward calling.


Ellen Olivetti said...

Very well said. It took me years to understand this. I struggled with submission and a woman's place (still dislike that term)and with a woman feeling inferior in the kingdom of God.

Here's how I view this now, and I think biblically: The woman's main mission is the home and family and, if she helps with the "dominion submission" in terms of helping financially by working some, that's great. But that's not her main calling. Just like a man needs to provide for his family but, if he helps with the dishes and housework, too, that's great also. In this way, there is a little blurring of lines, I admit, with the woman helping the man complete his calling and the man helping the woman complete hers, but I think that is what marriage is all about.

Also, it is SO important for both the man and the woman to view themselves as equal but different in the eyes of the Lord. Women are not called to rule the church, but that does not make them inferior, less smart, less useful, less needed. Men are called to rule the church, but that does not make them more important or smarter than their wives. I think this is an area that can easily be distorted from what God has ordainedl it is so easy for the church to make women feel like second-class citizens.

Anyway, that's my two cents' worth.

Different but equal - that's what I finally came up with after all my struggles in this area.

Alicia said...

Thanks for the post. I heartily agree (and rejoice) with what you've said and appreciate your emphasis on the difference between place and mission. It's sad how this is an alien thought to many people, even many Christians. And it's so incredibly distrorted in our world. From the outside, people view this position as being one of control, boredom, 1950s mentality, sexist, and more. But to us, it's a liberating position, one that gives great freedom to engage in our God-given pursuits with joy, knowing our efforts are blessed (and possible) by Christ. How sweet that is to us...and how sour it is to those whose hearts are hard.

MarkPele said...

I think I can't help but stir up debate. Oh well. I think I agree with you practically, but I wouldn't say that it is a Biblical rule. Husbands are the federal head of the family. That means that all familial authority is vested in the husband. The husband can then delegate that authority to his wife and children. Practically, it is not so authoritarian. My wife and I share accounts and credit cards and we establish budget guidelines that we try to stay in. She has "authority" to spend within those guidelines. (The heart of her husband trusts in her!)
Also, she loves to stay at home, spending time with our daughter and keeping house. I think that is best for our family, so that's pretty much where I've split our roles. I think that most women would choose a similar role, and many who wouldn't are more succumbing to feminist peer pressure.
So where is the difference? First of all, it is my authority to delegate. If I think it better for the family (and I might if my wife were a Ph.D. chemist who really liked her job) that she work, or that we both work, I think that is within my rights as the federal head. Of course, I would have to be very careful because I am federally responsible for the care and upbringing of my children. Too many parents today are sacrificing their children's upbringing so that they can maintain a high standard of living.
I think the church oversteps its bounds when it starts interfering with the operation of the family, for example, in dictating how family worship should be run.
That said, I go off to work every day, my wife stays home with our daughter, and we are planning on homeschooling in future.
(can you tell I'm bored?)

Karen said...

I like the truth of the 'mission' focus. How do you think it applies to women who are not actively involved in building a home at this time? (unmarried/ divorced/etc) Or do you feel this passage only applies to wives solely?

Tamara said...

Karen- actually I think it does apply to WIVES solely!!!
I say this because the passage is very clear. It starts out by saying:
A WIFE of noble character who can find? The whole passage is referring to this noble wife. I am very firm about this because I don't plan on marrying. My mission is outside of the home, so I choose not to weigh myself down with the trials of marriage. (For me the trials are basically everything on the list in Proverbs 31) Though I admit these qualities are sacrificial and worthy of praise I do not strive to have most of them. I think a lot of the qualities only lend to temporal luxaries for a family. Now if my calling was marriage I would value these traits and do my best to attain them. So for unmarried women who wish to marry they need to apply themselves and learn to sow and so forth. Divorce people I think should not remarry so they are in the same boat as people who wish to stay single. Unless they return to thier ex husband. Then they will need to gain these attributes as well.

Shannon Koons said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jared. The phrase "a woman's place" has become so demeaning, I appreciate the tone you take with the idea of "mission." Would you make a dinstinction between "mission" as mission field and "mission" as James Bond style mission, as in a task to accomplish? In both senses, I think there is a primary and a secondary level of obligation. The primary is as you said to the family, but both a woman's task and a woman's mission field can extend beyond the home without crossing any boundaries of biblical gender roles.

The single issue. I'm single and I don't know if there's a home for me someday. But I believe that these "traits" are essential to biblical womanhood, regardless of marriage. My home may not include a husband and children, but as long as I'm not an orphan, I still have family to care for and need someplace to live. No, unmarried women shouldn't pine for the fantasy and should apply themselves to useful work, but I don't think that means we should separate ourselves from the homeward calling. To neglect our calling as women is to miss out on incredible ways God can use us to minister.

lynardlynard said...

Thanks for this, Jared. Years ago, I argued with a famous conservative author and homeschooling guru that my home was not the four walls of my house. The argument ended in a stalemate.

She thought it was OK for her to work 30-50 hours a week (on a for-profit making venture) in her house, but it was not OK for me to work 16 hours a week in an office where I jobshared with my hubby—an arrangement he preferred.

I've never much liked that phrase "a woman's place" either, but have never had a problem with the phrase "a woman's role," or the word "submission" for that matter. "A woman's mission" is meaningful, too. Hmm, mission is part of wifely submission. Sounds like the title of a book...

—Lynne Gordon

Kurt said...


May I ask who is your "boss" (has authority over you) at the office? Is it your husband or someone else?

Jared said...

Thanks for the great comments. A couple thoughts by way of response:

Mark, I agree that we need to tread carefully when dealing with different spheres of authority. But I'm not sure I agree that you have the right before God to take your kids' mother away from them. To put it another way, I believe moms, especially mothers of young kids, need to be with their kids. The proof of this may be merely physiological, that mothers are designed to be the sole food source for their babies - who need to eat every few hours or so.

Tamara, I do think this passage applies to single women. Note that this is King Lemuel's mother teaching him what kind of woman to look for - surely he wasn't supposed to go find an already-married woman! So, while this picture is set in the context of family life, it's really about "what kind of woman would be able to do these things once she gets married?" I.e., it's about single women!

Shannon, I'm thinking of mission more in the broad, kingdom-minded way. What is our chief end, our telos? The kingdom of Christ! How each of us are called to that chief end varies based on our gifts & callings & perhaps even gender.

Kurt, I think I know where you're going with that question. We talked about this a while back...maybe I can head you off at the pass. A wife working outside the home is not in rebellion to her husband just because she has a boss. Even though a boss is a real authority, Scripture nowhere says that a wife's *only* authority is her husband. Of course, her relationship to her husband supercedes all other relationships (other than her walk with Christ) - but it is completely possible for wives to be absolutely faithful to their wifely calling in a workplace environment. I would again point to this woman in Proverbs 31 and to Ruth and to Lydia.

Tamara said...

Jared- I agree. :)
That is why I wrote

So for unmarried women who wish to marry they need to apply themselves and learn to sow and so forth.

I am talking about singles who want to remain single for their whole life span. I don't think this passage applies to them. Most assuredly it is talking about women who have a future with a family as referenced in a noble wife who can FIND? There place is the home. I was refering to woman who want to stay out of marriage. Do you think single woman still have to apply themselves to family even if they want to REMAIN single. IE: Serve in the nursery or babysit?

Mark- I agree with Jared. Just because the husband and the wife feel it is okay to have the woman work outside of the home doesn't make it healthy. The man does have authority, but not to the point that it over steps biblical mandate. Children are sacrificed because we have an illusion of keeping up with the Jones. I know from experience that money does not win the admiration and love of a child. But if you look at the qualities of this Proverb's woman there are some traits that give her the ability to buy and purchase. Land, clothing, and so forth. So she must have some ability to raise funds. Giving some leway to work.

Shannon Koons said...

More thoughts...

"He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children" Psalm 113:9 (NKJV)

Even if God has called a woman to a life of singlehood, she can never be without family. I believe God works within the context of family, single or not (although the definition of family can differ for someone, like church, close friends, etc). I don't think that means single woman should spend time reading parenting books, but should use her talents to serve the family God has placed her in, whoever that "family" is. On a basic level as women, I think we're called to embrace biblical feminity, as described in Proverbs 31.

I probably make myself unpopular by saying this, but I also think that there's an innate nurturing quality to every woman, and each one needs an outlet to fulfill that, single or not. Men define themselves by their work, and women find their identity in their home. Even single, I still find reward in the keeping of my surroundings and believe that every bit of Proverbs 31 can apply to me. (For instance, I think there's a special call to women to serve in hospitality that men don't have and quite frankly can't do it as well. Singlehood shouldn't stop me from pursuing that aspect of ministry.)

lynardlynard said...

Kurt, I am in a unique situation where my husband is virtually my boss. We jobshare, but because of our marriage, he is my ultimate authority at work. There is no other supervisor on site. :-) We have jobshared since 1986, and it has been a blessing to my children who were homeschooled most of that time. When you think of the older agrarian societies, often the women helped their husbands to run the shop under their home or till the fields and husbands were able to eat lunch with their families and teach the children their areas of expertise. Our modern society has taken many of these opportunities away.

I agree, Sharon, that women have an innate nurturing quality, and, thankfully, God wires men a bit differently so that they can do the things that we admire so: defend the homestead, investigate scary noises, make tough decisions, get stuff off the top shelf, and kill spiders. (OK, the list is a bit personalized...LOL)

Kurt said...

God bless you Lynne! You understand history and how our present work world is turned upside down.

MarkPele said...

I didn't get a chance to respond until now. There's a difference between having a right and that being the best thing. For example, our president has the right to deploy our troops anywhere he sees fit as the Commander in Chief. He can use that right to do some extremely stupid and evil things, and that is sin, but that doesn't mean that the right itself doesn't exist.

So, the point is that it is almost always going to be sinful for a father to send the mother off to work when there are young children, but it is still the father's right, even if it is sinful for him to do. It might easily be a matter for church discipline, but that doesn't disqualify it as a right. That makes the father's federal role all the more serious - the father has the right to make and enforce sinful decisions, which have lasting consequences. Depriving children of being raised by their mother is just one of these decisions that are forced upon many children today.