When I was young, to suggest that there was such a thing as women’s work was considered backward, oppressive, and dumb. Now the noise-makers of the culture have moved on to trying to say that you can’t even say what a woman is with certainty, much less women’s work.
So can we abandon their skepticism now that they have proven their aims and trajectory? As Christians, we know women are created by God, in his image, with certain biological distinctives that separate and distinguish them from men.
God not only created humans, male and female, He created work for them. God gave them both a job, a responsibility, a duty as a part of their created order. Before sin entered the world, there was work. In the perfect garden, mankind had a job.
So if God made women, and God made work, and both are good, did He make any distinctions or specifications for women’s work? Let us search the Scripture and not cultural expectations – not from the 2020s or 1920s or 1820s – for the answer to the question.
After all, many women, especially Christian women, struggle with home management, with motherhood, with figuring out what they ought to be doing. There is a shocking lack of direction and instruction in the Christian world today for women who want to be faithful to Christ above all else.
The gospel touches and transforms our whole lives. When we are justified, God also begins sanctifying us – which means bringing us into greater conformity with His revealed will. Therefore, we must know and love God’s revealed will (Scripture), and we must seek to live it out day by day.
Both women and men have the duty to love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength. Both men and women have the call and ability to know God more and more deeply and personally through prayer and Scripture and corporate worship.
The fruit of the Spirit applies equally to men and to women, but the opportunities and expression of that fruit will be different. God made men and women different by nature, fundamentally, and gives them different roles so that, together, we better image the glory and complexity of God Himself, who is triune. Thus, ultimate reality – God Himself – is both a unity and a diversity, not monotony nor chaos, but harmony.
God’s Word to Women
It turns out the Bible also has a thing or two to say about the duties of women. There are multiple places we could turn and many additional implications we could draw, but one passage alone gives us as wives and mothers a comprehensive glimpse of our job description: Titus 2:3-5.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Obviously, those things that will characterize us when we are old must be practiced when we are young and middle-aged. We don’t wake up as old women and automatically, overnight, suddenly have the capacity to be reverent and self-controlled.
This admonition to older women is paralleled in the qualifications for widows to receive church support:
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.
And the caution against enrolling younger women also echoes Titus:
Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
In these passages, God makes it clear what honors him. We often assume the seats and positions of honor bestow honor, but that is thinking with worldly wisdom and ignoring what Scripture plainly says about honor and the way God works.
But God lets us in on his plan and makes plain to those eyes open to His Word. The public, visible work is in a way a decoy from the real place where the kingdom grows: individual families in homes, a collection of individual seeds that don’t look like much but have the potential to burst forth into fruit when planted, tended, and cultivated.
The real work of the kingdom is done by parents with their children, by fathers providing for their wives and children, by mothers nurturing and raising up the next generation, by children honoring their parents and growing up themselves to follow suit more and more.
God tells women that our duty is the home not to keep us small or to minimize us. It’s not the case that God realized that someone had to do the menial upkeep, so He made women. God tells women to cultivate a fruitful life from their own home base because they are the cultivators of beauty and glory. God made women to beautify and glorify and multiply whatever resources they are given.
Women are propagators
One of the most obvious characteristics of women is that they have the capacity to bear children. Of course some women’s bodies are frail, broken, or break in or after childbirth, but that does not erase the biological reality: Women’s bodies are set up to have babies.
In women’s unique capacity to bear children, we find a larger analogy or metaphor for women’s work: Women grow things. Women cultivate. Women propagate.
The woman having people over for dinner is cultivating gospel community. Women making meals for the elderly and the ill are fostering gospel community. Women caring for children not their own, women hosting celebrations of marriage and babies, women cleaning and beautifying the church facilities – without these activities, there is no community. Such is women’s work.
Without women, there would be no humanity – in more ways than one. As G.K. Chesterton said: “The business done in the home is nothing less than the shaping of the body and soul of humanity.” Of course that’s happening when mothers are caring for small children, but it’s also happening when older women focus on their callings also.
Older women, Titus tells us, are still to consider the home their primary work, through which they teach younger women, care for the afflicted, show hospitality, and devote themselves to every good work. What starts in the microcosm of a nuclear family, expands later in life into being an involved grandmother for the whole church body. The provision for widows by the church implies that even when no longer active, they are devoting themselves to prayer for the church, still spiritual mothers, nurturers, caregivers.
Mothers get promoted; they do not retire. What we learn on the training ground of a home full of small people, we use to bless the house of the Lord, full of people of all sorts.
Families and the church need the distinctive work of both fathers and mothers, biological and spiritual. Neither families nor churches flourish under androgynous, uniform work that ignores the difference in form and call between men and women.
Women are to teach
Women are not called to lead the church as elders or pastors. God tells us that he doesn’t do that. But that doesn’t mean women aren’t teachers. God calls some men – not all – to be elders and deacons and pastors, but God calls all women to teach younger women, to instruct sons and daughters at home, to speak with wisdom in order to build rather than tear down their houses.
Women’s words are powerful. Just because they don’t come from a pulpit does not mean they are not necessary or wise or valuable.
Notice how clearly the passages above speak to women’s words. Women are to keep silent in the spotlight of the worship service, but they are not to keep silent in all times and places. Women are not to stay out of the pulpit because they’re not able or equipped to teach, but because they are to receive instruction in worship rather than give it. Women take the instruction home and embody it, beautify it in expression, apply it to the children (literal or metaphorical) in her care, multiply it in manifest and manifold ways. What we receive with quiet hearts, we then work out in bustling, fruitful ways.
Women’s work is gospel work
Notice that Titus says that when women follow their callings, they stop the mouths of those who slander Christ.
Are you appalled at the news? Angry at the evil-doers controlling so much of the world today? Indignant at those who mock Christianity?
Rightly so. God says, double-down in your home to stop their mouths. This is how God chooses to work in the world, in cultures, in societies. He works through the fruit of everyday faithfulness, and the work in the home is so important, half of humanity is dedicated to it.
In Ephesians, God tells us that a husband and wife are a picture of Christ and His Church. Men image Christ when they sacrifice themselves in love for their wives and children. Women image the Church when they take what they’ve been given and glorify it in fruitful obedience. Together, they proclaim the gospel like a light on a hill.
If we want a strong church, we need strong women dedicating themselves to fruitful homes. The state of women reflects the state of the church. Are we doing our duty or are we making up our own way in the world?
To influence the state of the church, women don’t need to get into pulpits, they need to get into the kitchen, into the laundry room, into the grocery stores, into their children’s business, and show the world what glory really looks like.
Right now, the world thinks this is an image that glorifies women:
This just shows they have no idea what either glory or women are.
Let’s show them.