Note: Some initial thoughts on a controversial topic. These thoughts originated after reading about the attack on Ann Romney (the wife of Mitt Romney) who was accused of never having worked a day in her life, because she chose to raise her children at home.
What is the role of the wife in the home? In our own culture, women have abandoned their central calling for careers. They have not prioritized the home. But this has never been the apostolic model. Paul, in writing to Titus, establishes a standard for women. He counsels older women to instruct younger women on the following things:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:4-5).
The word working (οἰκουρούς ) has the connotation of guardian, protector, and caring for the affairs of the home. This is to be distinguished from the man’s role as protector and defender. The woman guards differently than the man. The man uses his strength as guardian. He is Peter with a sword in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The woman possesses bow and arrows like Lucy, but she also uses her skills as hostess, lover, and beautifier. But by doing so, she is establishing and defending her home and children from impurity.
This has severe implications for the family. The wife has a primary responsibility to care for her home. She is the beautifier of the home. Furthermore, she guards her home. As the husband provides for the family, so the wife has a protective role in the home. The idea takes us back to the role of the angel after the sin of Adam and Eve. The angel guarded the garden from the possible re-entrance of our first father and mother. Allowing Adam and Eve to re-enter would have been an act of direct disobedience to the divine expulsion in Genesis 3. Likewise, the mother is like an angel protecting her children by loving them, nurturing them, and teaching them the consequences of sinful behavior. She protects her garden/home from intruders by fulfilling her central role.
Unfortunately, the Church lacks mature older mothers to impart such wisdom to our younger mothers. Yet, it is the church’s responsibility to train young mothers, so that later in life they may impart this wisdom to a new generation of mothers. The Church would be undoubtedly healthier if we followed this model more attentively.
As an additional note, it is important to note that Paul does not say that they must work only in the home. Though there is a centrality to the role of the woman as mother and wife (Titus 2) in the home, there is also a certain flexibility grounded in biblical, Proverbian wisdom. Though there is a far greater agrarian context to Proverbs 31, we are clearly to bring those principles into a robust understanding of what workers in the home mean.
But Proverbs 31 is not a call to be the central provider of the home; the telos of her labors are to provide for the needs of her household (Prov. 31:27). This includes not only financial stability, but also–and fundamentally– the stability that comes with good reputation (Prov. 31:28).
I would suggest then that wives who make their careers central, while making caring for the affairs of the home (loving husband and children) secondary, are allowing outsiders to sneak back into the garden despite the divine command.
Naturally, some will inquire about exceptions to this Pauline rule. There aren’t any. Can mothers work outside the home and still maintain this priority? Certainly–though at times it will be prove to be immensely difficult; but it can be done, and it has been done effectively by some.
What about mothers who simply cannot afford to stop working at this stage? There is no easy answer to this question. Mothers who attempt to work full-time and mother full-time often lose the battle in one of those two categories. Some may accomplish a remarkable equilibrium, but we must acknowledge it is a difficult and undesirable task. This scenario assumes a mother with great health and great biblical wisdom to manage both. Is it doable to maintain that priority? Yes. Is it recommended? It shouldn’t be consistently. Husbands need to maintain the goal of providing a favorable environment where the wife can exercise this role (especially if little ones are involved).
The question gets even more complicated when you add to the picture divorced and widowed mothers. In this case–again following Paul–the Church ought to play a very important role in coming alongside and offering special financial gifts, and assistance (whether in meals or in babysitting). Evidently, this would serve as a great ministry and preparation for the non-married young ladies in our churches.
In my own congregation, though several mothers work at home raising their kids, others are teachers or carry on other roles at a local Christian school. Naturally, this provides mothers a constant awareness of their children’s needs, who also attend the school.
There are ways to harmonize Paul’s words, even in a fast-paced culture. But what we must keep in mind is that Christians are the ones who must set the pace of culture. We cannot allow our cultural settings to determine the agenda of the Church, simply because it is easier or more comfortable. Paul’s advice to the younger women stems from his concern that if we do not follow these principles the Word of God may be reviled. May it never be.