The word I printed above this editorial has a negative taste in today's world. To be domestic, to be a homemaker: it conjures up images of changing nappies, wearing an apron, having one's hands in the suds. How much more exciting and rewarding it is to be out there, have a job, pursue a career!
In the world around us that perception is quite real. But the Bible would have us know that the Lord our God has commanded “the young women” to be “homemakers”, domestic. I intend to use this slot in our family journal today to draw out what the Lord means when He tells the women of His churches to be homemakers.
The term appears in the instruction the Holy Spirit moved Paul to give to Titus. Titus must bid “the older women” to “admonish the young women … to be … homemakers” (Titus 2:40. This instruction does not come out of the blue. Obviously, there was a problem on this score with the younger sisters of the churches of Crete (where Titus was minister) – else Paul would not have given this command. That is, these “younger women” were out and about, away from home. Were they in the work force? Or enjoying coffee socials with friends? Or simply sick and tired of the limitations of the four walls of their homes? Or fed up with the baby's crying and the toddlers fighting? Whatever the motive, they were out and about, away from home. This was not according to sound doctrine, and therefore the Holy Spirit moved Paul to instruct Titus how things are to be.
The “younger women” need to be “homemakers,” says the apostle. What does the term mean? The word literally means to be a home-worker. Yet that doesn't help us much further in understanding the term. We get farther when we compare Scripture with Scripture. For the Holy Spirit's instruction through Paul is rooted in His instruction in the Old Testament.
In Psalm 128 the Lord declares blessed “every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways” (vs. 1), and then proceeds to explain the nature of the blessings those fearing Him get to taste. Amongst the blessings listed is also this:
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house (vs. 3).
We understand that the first part of the verse describes the wife in her role as child-bearer; she's a “fruitful vine.” The last part describes her role within the house itself. She has a place, says our translation, “in the very heart of your house.” But what does that mean? The word translated here as 'heart' is used to describe where Jonah slept; he'd “gone down into the lowest parts of the ship” (Jonah 1:5). Similarly, it is used to describe where David and his men hid from Saul; they “were staying in the recesses of the cave.” Again, in Genesis 49 the term is used to describe the “border” of Zebulun's inheritance, that is, the farthest extremity of his possession. In Ps 128, then, the term pictures the woman not at the door of her house, ever going in and out; the term instead pictures her deep inside her house – of course, busy doing the things that make up running a household. Psalm 128 declares blessed the man who fears the Lord, and one of the ways in which he tastes the blessings of the Lord is that he sees his wife managing the house, deeply engaged in all that needs to be done to operate a godly home. He finds her “in the very heart of [his] house,” that is, she's busy day by day in the running of the family, doing all that needs to be done to supply the needs of the family. She's not been outside the home in the sense that she's occupied her day with activities not centred on the family.
The Holy Spirit provides a similar picture in Proverbs 31. The “virtuous wife” has been busy from dawn till dusk – doing what? – doing whatever needs doing according to the dictates of the family needs – including even business dealings. That is why “her children rise up and call her blessed” (vs. 28). For they see that her activities are focused on their own good. Let's make no mistake: the woman of Proverbs 31 is not the super Mom who runs a family and also holds down a job outside the home.
Rather, the woman of Proverbs 31 is she “who sees that the needs of her husband and children are met.”
Central to her thinking and actions are the needs of the home, and so her existence revolves around the family; her husband will find her “in the heart of [his] house.”1
This Old Testament material is what the apostle Paul, under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, laid before Titus. Younger women must, says Paul, be “homemakers.” Whatever they do outside the house must be geared to the wellbeing of the family. The husband, the children (regardless of age): these must be central to the thinking and activity of the woman redeemed by Jesus' blood. She is not her own but was bought with a price (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19), and now must submit to the instructions of her Lord in heaven. That instruction is that she be domestic, a “homemaker” as the word is loaded from the Old Testament.
I accept immediately that this instruction does not sit well with fallen people. That is no surprise; since our fall into sin, we prefer to do our own thing. The temptation to satisfy that desire is increased by the fact that our society encourages self-expression – including pursuing a career. But that pursuit flies in the face of Paul's inspired instruction that mothers be domestic – and that's to say that her place is “in the very heart of her house.” As long as her actions all revolve around her family, the mother has no opportunity left to pursue a career. The same, of course, applies for going out to socialise with this address and that – be it over the fence or over the phone, for a coffee or on the internet (cf. 1 Timothy 5:13). To be a homemaker, to know one's place in the very heart of the home, is a full time commitment.
It is interesting to observe that Paul does not instruct Titus that he must himself go to the younger mothers of his congregation with this message. Rather, Paul tells Titus to mobilise the “older women that they admonish the young women to … be homemakers.” That is to say that the empty nesters continue to have a task in their families. Specifically, they are to “admonish” their daughters to be at home, “in the very heart of [their] house.” Of course, the instruction applies not only to daughters as such; all the younger women of the congregation need the encouragement to stay at home, and it's for the older women to give this admonition. In fact, the way the Greek is put together makes clear that Paul would have the older women to keep on giving this admonition to the younger women. The reason is clear. When the children keep crying and the laundry drives you silly, it's so tempting to get out, to flee the restrictions the home brings with it; this temptation keeps on arising time and again. That is why older women need to keep encouraging the younger to stay at home, to finish the tasks involved in making the house into a home for husband and children alike, also to spend time – much time, if possible – directly with God's covenant children. These children need the peace of the home, the stability of their own environment, the challenges of crayons and card making, of play dough and dollhouses, of tadpoles and Tonka trucks. Mother needs to make the house into a home where the children love to be – and love to be themselves, creatively busy.
Finally, why is Paul so adamant on the point?
Why must “younger women … be … homemakers”?
The reason Paul gives in Titus 2 is this: “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” One wonders: how God's word blasphemed when the mothers are out and about? Simple: then God's ordinance is not obeyed. That is: then God's people are belittling God's word.
We are a mobile society, and opportunities abound for mothers to be up and about, be it with their little ones before they go to school, be it without their little ones once they've gone to school. But the principle of the thing is that mothers are to be homemakers, carrying out their God-given task deep inside the walls of the family. Mother and children at home together, with the Christian mother fully engaged in making the home a desirable place for the children-of-the-covenant to be: see there how God has ordained it.
Self-denial in it? Certainly. But if the Father-of-our-children has so ordained it, should I question it? Does He not know best what is good for His little ones?
I fear that this is an instruction from God we need to learn again. So (as the whole text has it):
older women, …admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.