“Women are not allowed to become clergy in many conservative religious groups. Is it hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation?”
In answer to that question, I noted that the Bible specifically enjoins believers to order their homes and their churches in light of a principle of male headship. There is no complementarian consensus, however, on how these matters apply outside of the home and the church.
One other item is related to this issueâ€”whether wives and/or mothers should work outside the home at all, much less in a leadership position. I want to discuss this latter point in light of two biblical texts: Titus 2:3-5 and Proverbs 31.
In what is probably one of the most politically incorrect passages of the Bible, the apostle Paul spells it out this way:
“3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored” (Titus 2:3-5).
Some have read this verse and wondered whether it is ever appropriate for a Christian wife and mother to work outside the home. Consider, however, the description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:
“16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. . . 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant” (Proverbs 31:16-24).
So is it ever appropriate for a wife and mother to work outside the home? I will answer that question with five observations on these texts.
First, though many people regard Titus 2:3-5 as an irrelevant historical artifact, it’s hard to escape the apostle’s implication. The Bible does set forth an ideal for a wife and mother that includes a primary responsibility to her home, husband, and children. Wives and mothers have a special role and duty to domestic life that is an essential component of their Christian discipleship. In fact, Paul says that to fall short on this obligation “dishonors” the word of God. This is a non-negotiable for any wife and mother who is also a follower of Christ.
Second, the woman who “fears the Lord” in Proverbs 31 also has “work” outside of her home. This woman buys and sells; she produces and makes a profit. Clearly, the text describes an entrepreneurial womanâ€”a business woman, if you will. But it would be wrong to think that this woman goes away to work in the same way that the modern working woman might go away to an office for her job. It’s likely that the entrepreneurship of this woman grew right out of her regular domestic dutiesâ€”duties which would have been expansive in the agrarian lifestyle of ancient Israel.
Third, it would be wrong, however, to construe Proverbs 31 as a contradiction to the domestic exhortation in Titus 2. The text itself confirms that her entrepreneurship does not diminish the energies that she directs towards her family and home, because . . .
“[She] provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. . . 27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:15, 27-28).
In other words, this woman’s business outside the home does not interfere with her primary duty to her home. She excels at both. Her God-ordained role at home is not compromised by her entrepreneurship or career. In fact, her business appears to be growing out of her work at home.
Fourth, Christians will need wisdom to apply these biblical truths with integrity. The fact of the matter is that the ambient feminist culture seeks to undermine the truth of Titus 2. And we can see erosion of biblical conviction on this point even among evangelical believers. The “you can have it all” mantra of feminism has made significant inroads into the church to the detriment of children and families. It would seem that certain seasons in a mother’s life may be more conducive to working outside the home than others. When there are children (especially small ones) in the picture, domestic duties tend to be more time-intensive and would preclude any activity that would distract from that focus. Every Christian wife and mother will have to weigh these factors prayerfully with her husband as she seeks to be faithful to God’s calling on her life.
Fifth, we need to recognize that not all women have the choice to be stay-at-home moms. There are single mothers, widows, and other women who find themselves in a situation in which they have to work in order to provide for their home. These women need our support and encouragement as they labor to raise the next generation and to bring home a paycheck every month. We should pray the Lord’s mercy and provision for them (see Psalm 146:9; James 1:27). Churches in particular have a responsibility to these women not just to tell them to “be warm and be filled” (James 2:16), but to direct resources towards mothers who are carrying heavy burdens.
This is far from everything that needs to be said about this issue. What is important for Christians to consider, however, is how God’s word comes to bear upon our own families and churches. We are not without direction on these matters. The Bible speaks to them, and anyone who really desires to “have it all” will give heed (Matthew 16:25).