Avoiding Legalism, Standing On Scripture And Discussing Working Women

I don’t want to write this article. People on both sides of the argument are going to be unhappy with my position, so I believe I’m putting a big target on my back and inviting everyone to shoot. But I’ve been taking you through Titus 2:3-5 for quite some time now, and I have decided against abandoning the series simply because I’ve reached the uncomfortable clause about women being workers at home. As an older woman, I have a responsibility to follow the text even when it takes me places I’d rather avoid.

Let us look again at our passage, shall we?

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. ~~Titus 2:3-5 (NASB95)

I’d like to first address the minority that believes this passage prohibits women from ever working outside the home. Yes, this group has very valid concerns regarding feminism and its influence on Christian women. and I will deal with those concerns later in this article. But even legitimate concerns mustn’t devolve into legalism.

I could ask ladies who advocate strict patriarchy if they prefer male nurses when they’re in the hospital. I’m guessing they wouldn’t. Yet if they insist that a woman shouldn’t work outside the home under any circumstances (and I’ve encountered those who don’t even recommend that young women attend college), they would have to accept male nurses as the only viable alternative. So even from a practical standpoint, it’s sometimes necessary for women to work outside the home.

As the daughter of a woman who was widowed while her children were still young, I also sympathize with single moms. And as a woman who had no God-honoring opportunity for marriage until age 48, I knew that single women have to work, particularly if they don’t have fathers willing to support them. And what about a married woman whose husband becomes disabled, or one living in an expensive part of the country? I can think of many scenarios that might require a woman to work outside the home.

That said, I don’t want to base my opinion on experience or circumstances. In even the matter of women working outside the home, we have to go back to Scripture. And, contrary to the assumptions of those who embrace extreme forms of patriarchy, the Bible praises women who find outside work that actually augments serving their families. Specifically, Proverbs 31:10-31 (the famous passage describing the type of woman a man should seek to marry) depicts a wife who cares for her family both with domestic skills and through her business enterprises. Please read that passage either by clicking the link I created or by grabbing your own copy of the Bible before going further in this article — I need you to see the full context before I highlight specific verses.

As you can see, the Proverbs 31 woman on the whole devotes herself first to the Lord, and then to her household. Within this context, she has liberty to pursue business opportunities. Look, for example, at this part of the passage:

13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard. ~~Proverbs 31:13-16 (NASB95)

This lady apparently earns an income from working with wool and flax to have a substantial income. She uses this income to acquire food for both her family and her maidservants (I’ll resist the temptation to speculate on whether she or her husband has the means to hire those maidservants). Additionally, she earns enough to buy a field independently of her husband and to plant a vineyard. In an agrarian society like Old Testament Israel, buying fields and planting vineyards were comparable to managing a business today.

Furthermore, the writer of Proverbs 31 tells us exactly how she earns her income.

She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen. ~~Proverbs 31:24 (NASB95)

How is she selling her wares without going to the marketplace? This is thousands of years before EBay, Craiglist and Etsy, so she clearly can’t just wait for customers to beat a path to her door. No, this lady gets herself out there with other sellers, making her products available to the public. And Scripture commends her for doing so.

But don’t mistake her business endeavors for a Biblical sanction of feminism. If we examine Proverbs 31:10-31 carefully, we will notice that this woman engages in her business dealings solely for the purpose of caring for her husband and children. That motive is lightyears away from today’s common notion that a woman shouldn’t settle for being “just” a housewife and mother — that she needs a career in order to feel fulfilled and validated.

I know of a Christian woman with several small children who recently decided to get a job. Her husband makes a good income, so she really could afford to be a stay-at-home mom. And since going back to work, she’s had to depend on others to watch her children for her. The little ones are particularly confused and unhappy, wanting their mommy with them. But the woman felt like she was wasting her education by not working, rejecting godly counsel to postpone working until her children were old enough to care for themselves.

The Proverbs 31 woman had no such selfish motives. In contrast to the woman I just described, the lady in Proverbs 31 focuses squarely on serving her household and giving to the poor. The writer of this passage introduces her in reference to her role of ministry to her husband.

10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life. ~~Proverbs 31:10-12 (NASB95)

As the passage proceeds by describing her industrious activities, it continually brings us back to her singular dedication to her household. Yes, she does some amazing things that feminists like to construe as Biblical support for their agenda, but Scripture maintains that her first priority is her husband and children.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.” ~~Proverbs 31:27-29 (NASB95)

Proverbs 31:10-31 only elaborates on the command in Titus 2:5 that older women encourage younger women to be workers at home. If a wife does serve her family by outside employment, she should make certain that she does so only to benefit them. Self-fulfillment is a worldly idea that no Christian should embrace, especially at the expense of helpless children who need motherly attention. The Lord has blessed women with a wonderful ministry of serving their families. Let’s honor that ministry.

For further reading, check out Elizabeth Prata’s essay, But the Proverbs 31 woman had a career!

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