God's Order for the Christian Home by J. Dods
In the beginning God not only created the world, but He established an order by which it would run smoothly. Each part or entity was distinctly defined and each given its own unique rule. This is true in each domain - the physical, the plant, the animal, and the human. it is with the latter that this booklet is concerned.
The Scriptures teach that God in His wisdom chose to divide the human domain, as He did some of the others, into male and female segments. Likewise the Scriptures set forth the order: namely, that man was created first and the woman was then created to be his helper. God's order never changes. James, an early servant of God, was inspired to write, "The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James 1: 17. Here we have divine authority for maintaining an order exactly as God set it up.
The writer does not expect the contents of this pamphlet to win the approval of non-Christians. One of the earliest recorded characteristics of the human nature is the tendency to corruption (see Genesis 6:11,12). It is, therefore, consistent with the nature of unregenerate men and women that the order which God established should be corrupted. Not to our surprise, men and women are denying the distinctions that God has made between them and are simultaneously defining roles for themselves which God never gave to them.
The writer does pray that this booklet may be used in blessing to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. For though we have new birth, a nature that responds to God's order, we have within us the old nature that still has all the tendencies it had before our conversion. In addition, we live in a non-Christian atmosphere. The corrupted practices of this environment defile us and influence our thinking. For this reason Paul warned us, "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." Romans 12:2. If we wish for anything less than "that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" in the matter of male-female order, surely we are being conformed to the world. If we continue to ignore God's direction and order, this will lead us to be part of the corrupted order that this world is establishing. In the beginning God established an order that He could bless: "Male and female created He them; and blessed them." Genesis 5:2. How sad to deny ourselves and our families this blessing.
The subject is approached with considerable trepidation. It is not so much the fear of going against the current of modern thought that gives apprehension, but rather the dread of polarizing and dividing Christians by the mention of the subject. Our fellowship and basis for worshiping together are founded on simple but marvelous truths relative to the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it is only too often that division occurs and true fellowship is broken by disagreement on much less fundamental issues. Surely if our wish is simply to comply with His will rather than to support our own traditions or current lifestyles, we can benefit from an examination of what the Scriptures say concerning the role of the man and the woman in God's order for the Christian family.
The Man's Role in God's Order
The woman's role has been the focus of much writing and speaking on the subject of divine order in the family. Not so much has been said about the place God has given to man. Surely the man has been no more faithful than the woman to God's order. Scripture contains much on the role of the man.
First, in the family, the man is to be an example of what Christ is to the Church. That is, he is to be head (Ephesians 5:23). In addition he is to provide for his own (1 Timothy 5:8); he is to love his wife as his own body (Ephesians 5:28,33); he is to give his wife honor (1 Peter 3:7); he is to render to his wife due benevolence (1 Corinthians 7:3). On the negative side, he is not to be bitter against his wife (Colossians 3: 19), and he is not to provoke his children to anger, thereby discouraging them (Colossians 3:21).
The failure of husbands to accept and fulfill their God-given responsibilities has contributed to the rise of feminist movements which are not according to God's order. As husbands we ought to realize that when we deny our true role in the family, our wives may be tempted to forsake the role God has given them and to rebel against submission to the men. This is not only happening in the world but also among Christians today.
The Man as Head
Headship suggests responsibility as well as authority before the Lord. It is not a position of dictatorial power. The Scriptures categorically claim that the husband is the head of the wife. But he is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23). Every successful institution has a head. The manner in which the head carries out his responsibilities determines the atmosphere of the institution, whatever it be. The Lord is careful to show the man the manner in which his headship responsibility is to be administered; it is to be done with the same kind of sacrificial love that Christ as its head shows to His Church. There is no thought of the husband assuming arbitrary powers of decision and action simply because he is head. He must remember he has been given a helper. His wife is not a slave nor an employee but a helper, given to him by God. She is the one with whom he is to share everything that arises in connection with his responsibilities. They pray as being heirs together of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). For the Christian family, the husband commands respect as head by his manner of life, not by insistence on his position as head.
When differences of opinion do arise between husband and wife, as they surely will, due to different backgrounds, different personalities, etc., this can become a real blessing if there is waiting upon the Lord and deep exercise as to whose opinion is really consistent with the Lord's will, rather than the husband arbitrarily issuing a declaration. The helper may be more spiritual than he in spiritual matters and more practical than he in other matters.
In the Church the elders are told not to act as lords over God's heritage, but to be examples (1 Peter 5:3). The same principle would seem good for the family. It would seem from this Scripture that in the assembly the elders ought to have by their examples such spiritual impact that they would command respect and not need to force decisions or behavior. Similarly, when there is a difference of opinion in the family, and the husband is unable to persuade his wife of the wisdom of his opinion, should he not be concerned about his daily walk? Perhaps in his day-to-day dealings he is not generating the spiritual respect that he should as a Christian husband. In any case, if he has to act as a dictator in order to have what he believes to be the Lord's will carried out in his home, there is something seriously out of order in the home. This is sure cause for deep soul-searching.
It is well to remember that the husband is head of the wife and that he will be held accountable for what happens in his home. In order to avoid disagreement, because of natural weakness or because his testimony carries little spiritual weight, the husband sometimes shirks this responsibility and, thereby, forces his helper to take it over. In such a case neither will be carrying out his role according to the order that God has designed for them. As a result, a great spiritual blessing may be denied the family.
Genesis 18 gives us an example of a well-ordered home that received God's blessing. Of this home the Lord says, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him." v. 19. Notice in this chapter how nicely Abraham and Sarah worked together as one.
It seems appropriate at this stage to caution the young Christian man about the danger of choosing a wrong helper. The qualities he should seek in a wife are these that would make her a strong helper in spiritual and other matters. At the same time the young Christian lady should be able to respect her husband-to-be as the head of the home. For this so-called "age of enlightenment" when Christian young people are falling prey to the corrupted thinking of the world, it is wise for those planning to marry to know where each other stands on this important question of headship and all that it entails.
The Man as Provider
God has given some specific responsibilities to the husband as head.
He is to provide for the family's financial needs, just as Christ, the head of the Church, provides for it. Current economic conditions, such as inflation and high unemployment, have added to the social pressure to maintain high standards of living, and have made it difficult for one person to support a family. This does not alter the fact that the Apostle Paul lays the responsibility of providing for the family on the shoulders of the husband (1 Timothy 5:8). As a scriptural principle, if the husband has diligently prepared himself, the family budget is prayerfully organized, and the desire to be faithful to God's order is present, we can count on the Lord to make the income of the Christian husband meet the expenses of his household.
As to the question of whether the wife should work to supplement the income of her husband we can only recognize the principles of Scripture as having authority on the subject. There may be exceptions, but we cannot ignore the general thrust of the Word on this significant issue of today. What seems practical to us or what is being done by the majority does not really enter
into the answer to this question. Wherever the specific duties of the wife are listed in the Scriptures, the wife is seen in the home environment (1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:4,5; Proverbs 31). Indeed, the married woman is exhorted to be diligent in home work (Titus 2:5 JND). Are such scriptures to be ignored just because they do not endorse the common practice of the wife leaving the home environment, and even her children, to work in the world? Surely not! In the case of the Christian Church which has so often ignored the provisions that its Head has made and has tried to supply for its own needs, departure from God's Word has occurred. The same results can be expected in the Christian family, if God's order is neglected.
For many Christians it may not be a question of ignoring the Word of God, but a concern about properly applying the Word in our modern world. We can be thankful for those who have this concern rather than rigidly accepting certain beliefs, but let us not forget that the principles of God's Word do not change with time. It becomes each of us to search the Scriptures for these principles and to be in the Lord's presence as to their application in our lives. If we do this we will know what His will is for us (John 7:17). We should simply practice and affirm the principles of God's order as we find them in the Scriptures. If we do this out of unfeigned love for Christ, we will not develop rigid views or an intolerance for those who do not totally agree with us.
Two dangerous extremes are noted among Christian husbands, relative to their role as wage earner and bread-and-butter provider. First, there is often a lack of preparation for the role, and, second, the role itself becomes an idol. In the first situation, the husband may not be able to provide, thereby forcing his wife to take on a role that is not properly hers, and one that will cause her to neglect those functions that the Lord has intended her to fulfill. In the second case, the husband will be so busy that he will be unnecessarily absent from the home, thereby neglecting some of his God-given duties there and forcing his wife to assume these.
Preparation for the role of provider begins long before marriage. Solomon says in one of his proverbs, "Prepare thy work without, and put thy field in order, and afterwards build thy house." Proverbs 24:27 JND. There is an important principle here. The young Christian man is instructed to prepare himself for the day when the responsibilities of a home will be his. This introduces very relevant issues, such as the amount of schooling required, the type of occupation to be chosen, the saving of money, etc. These are matters for individual exercise and faith, but ministry related to them is badly needed in Christian assemblies today.
The public school system is training young men to take a "co-operative role," one in which his marriage partner will contribute to providing for the family. Society encourages the young man to satisfy his lusts before marriage, to drive expensive cars, travel and generally indulge himself with every luxury. On the other hand, it is an age of social welfare benefits, accompanied by the tendency of young people to "drop out" and to "do their own thing." None of these forces develops incentives for the young man to prepare himself for the day when he will be the responsible supporter of a family.
The Christian who desires to be faithful to God's order in his home life requires a preparation that this world does not encourage or understand. Young Christian men need to be instructed to diligently learn a trade or other occupation and learn to save so that when they have families they may be able to provide for them in proper Christian order. We trust that men of God will provide such instruction in their ministry, even though the topic and the substance is not popular among Christians.
At the opposite pole are the young Christian men who enter marriage well prepared to make a living, with talent for economic success and a love of the challenge of the modern business world. Often earning money is a game they thoroughly enjoy. The danger is that they become so swept away with the goal of making money that their families are neglected. Spiritual guidance and teaching in the home are missing. The wife spends long hours at home without the companionship of her husband. She must bear the total responsibility and pressure of coping with young children from early morning until late in the evening, while her husband literally enjoys himself at the office. He soothes his own conscience by telling himself that he must do it to be a good provider. When he is honest with himself he admits it is really his own ego he is feeding. The Scriptures warn, "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house." Proverbs 15:27.
A beautiful example for any who find themselves turning the function of wage-earner into an idol is found in the slave who had earned his freedom. (See Exodus 21:1-6.) He represents the young husband who has prepared himself for the future. He stands on the threshold of freedom and success, but he turns back. The slave, who had worked so hard for this moment when he could show what he was worth, now forfeits forever his freedom and chance for competition because he loves his master, his wife, and his children. How many happier Christian families there would be today if every young Christian husband and father were restrained by the same devotion to the Lord Jesus, to his wife, and to his children.
Our consideration of the scriptural principles relevant to interaction in the Christian family has focused on the man as head of the family and on man as the family supporter. We would now like to consider the aspect of a man loving and honoring his wife.
The number of verses in the Holy Scriptures which enjoin the Christian husband to love, honor and act kindly toward his wife surely is indicative of the importance of this responsibility. The Scriptures would not repeatedly exhort us to do something if there were no danger of our not doing it. Is it not true that as Christian husbands we may be careful to maintain our position as head of the family and as family provider but are much less careful to love and honor our wives? Is it also not true that the failure to do so has lowered the image of the role that God has given to the wife, in the eyes of the world. Instead of being seen in a position of honor and respect she has often been portrayed in a degrading position of slave to the family head.
It is not uncommon to hear feminists argue that the woman has been degraded and held down by Judeo-Christian teaching. Such false statements even occur in the literature of many evangelical periodicals. Paul the Apostle, who received his teachings by special revelation from the Lord Himself, is often the special target of accusations because he supposedly degrades women in his writings. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He answered this type of argument with the simple but true statement, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures." Undoubtedly, the feminists' arguments can be met with the same rebuttal, but it is sad that our failure to properly love and honor our wives gives substance to the arguments of those who oppose the Scriptures. This it surely does if we carry out our position as head of the family without the love and honor that is due our wives.
When Paul exhorts the husband to love his wife as Christ also loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25), he sets before the husband an example of absolute devotion. The fact that the Church is not perfect does not in the least diminish His love and care but rather makes it all the more an object of His devotion and service. There are in the wife that God has given to the husband, as there are in all of us, imperfections and things that offend. But these things permit the husband to show the nature of Christ and to love his wife even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it.
Paul had to tell the Colossian husbands to love their wives and not to be bitter against them (Colossians 3:19). This indicates the husband's tendency to blame his wife for the little daily problems that appear in the household. The husband is likely to ask why this is so or not so. Criticism comes easily from our ungracious lips and hearts. The husband needs to be reminded that we all, not just the wife, offend. (James 3:2.) He also needs to remember that his wife is given to him as a favor granted by God (Proverbs 18:22). A spirit of thankfulness and appreciation ought to be seen in the husband rather than one of criticism and fault-finding. A fundamental principle to guide any type of Christian interaction and one which can be useful to the husband to help him avoid bitterness towards his wife is found in Philippians 2:3. "Let each esteem other better than themselves." Family interaction like assembly interaction could be much more enjoyable and consistent with our Christian profession if there were a greater sense of our own complete unworthiness in the sight of God.
The Apostle Paul goes further than giving the husband an example of the depth and degree of love that should be manifest towards his wife. He gets down to the practical carrying out of this love. Men ought "to love their wives as their own bodies." Ephesians 5:28. How often the husband displays the attitude that he is number one. His work can easily be judged more important than the work of his wife in the home. It is so easy for the husband to be so absorbed with the problems at the office that the things that are disturbing the wife at home are considered insignificant or perhaps not considered at all. He may even carry this spirit so far as to spend money on things that he wants or things he needs without consideration for those things that would lighten his wife's daily tasks at home or things that would simply brighten her life a little.
With respect to loving our wives as our own bodies, there is a practice in the world and one which is becoming noticeable in Christian families, which ought to be avoided. This is the practice of the husband following hobbies, sports or other interests which involve large amounts of time away from his family and his wife. There must be moderation in all things, but anything which separates us from our wives and families, especially when it is for pleasure only, does not seem to exemplify loving our wives as our own bodies. Perhaps minding the children and giving our wives a little time for their hobbies, or for needful tasks such as going shopping, is more in keeping with this exhortation. In marriage the husband and wife are one flesh (Ephesians 5:31). The husband is not only responsible for the financial burden of maintaining his wife, but he is responsible to "nourish and cherish" the partner that God has joined him to just as he feeds and cares for his own body (Ephesians 5:29).
The fifth chapter of Ephesians just cannot be closed until the husband is exhorted that he as an individual, as opposed to husbands in general, love his wife as his own self (Ephesians 5:33). If my wife were asked, would she say she feels that she is the object of such attention? It does not seem consistent with the thrust of the scriptures already referred to that the wife should simply know that her husband loves her. Should there not be daily expressions of it, daily sacrifices on the part of the husband and daily enjoyment of love together? There is all of this in Christ's love for His Church, the perfect example for the husband's love for his wife.
The husband's attitude to his wife is also the subject of the Apostle Peter's writings. Peter tells the husband very forcefully that he is to give honor to his wife. This exhortation seems to come in order to contrast the interaction of the Christian husband and wife with that of the unbeliever, in particular the heathen. These latter had no knowledge of the true meaning of marriage. They had no understanding of the love which it was to be molded after. Hence the wife did not expect much respect or honor. She might even have been in a lower social order than the husband. She might have been only one of several wives kept by the husband for the satisfaction of the passions of his fallen nature. It is not surprising that some of these ideas and habits would cling to new believers. Indeed they are still seen on display today in countries that have been under the influence of Christianity for centuries. Peter wished to clear up the matter for these new believers, and we all benefit from these scriptures (1 Peter 3:1-7).
The husband is exhorted to dwell with the wife according to knowledge (verse 7). The Christian husband is given knowledge of the true meaning of love and marriage and of the example of Christ and His Church. This knowledge immediately puts the wife in a place of honor, a person to be nourished and loved. No longer are there different social levels. She is an heir together with him, though a weaker vessel, of the grace of life. Marriage is now honorable and the expression of physical love is subjected to divine instruction, with the pleasure of both husband and wife equally considered (Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). All of this brings new dimensions to the meaning of marriage, and it also bestows new responsibilities on the Christian husband, that are to continue for a lifetime (Proverbs 5:15-21).
In closing this section on the responsibilities of the husband to love and honor his wife, a plea is made for more demonstration of this in an open way in the Christian home. Again, moderation is needed, but sometimes the attitude found in Christian homes implies that marriage is a necessary burden or trial. Surely marriage based on God's order is an institution of joy. Perhaps Victorian modesty, not scriptural modesty, has caused the love relationship between husband and wife to be so veiled that even the children must sometimes wonder if it exists. Even unbelieving psychologists tell us that the display of love in the home provides a security for the children that is not found elsewhere. In addition, a watching world, where the breakdown of the home is no longer an exception, must be impressed to see God-given love and respect displayed and acted on in the lives of human beings in a way that is otherwise unknown. Perhaps if the husband's love and his giving honor to the wife had been more visible in the past, the modern wife would not feel so degraded and confined.
Let us remember Isaac. "Rebekah. .. became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted." Genesis 24:67.
The Woman's Role in God's Order
The role that God has given to the husband in His order for the Christian family has been considered generally. The subject is far from exhausted and more specific topics come to mind, but for the present it seems logical to turn to the general responsibilities of the wife.
Let it be stated at the outset that the role of the wife in God's order is not inferior to that of the man. Nor is the woman regarded as inferior to the man, though she is a weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). But God has given her a role that is different than that of the husband and one that requires submission to the husband for its proper fulfillment.
The significance of the man's role and the woman's role can be judged solely by the opportunity they afford for spiritual blessing and the subsequent effect in our lives. In this sense there is neither "male nor female. . . in Christ." Galatians 3:28. In the resurrection day, when the blessings are enjoyed in their fullness, there will be neither male nor female (Matthew 22:30). But for the present let us remember that God's blessing is not determined by the role but by the fulfillment of it
in a way that is pleasing to Him. To argue that either equal opportunity for blessing now or the elimination of roles in a coming day is reason to cancel God's order in its present application is not logical or justifiable according to the Scriptures.
The Wife as Helper
The wife is pictured in the Scriptures as the object of the husband's love. Her role relative to her husband is exemplified in the role of the Bride of Christ relative to Christ (Ephesians 5). The sleep of Adam in order that he might have a helper and not be alone (Genesis 2:18-25) is a type of our Saviour going into death so that He would have a bride and not be alone. (See John 12:24.) From this we see that the husband sacrifices himself for his Lord and for his wife and children.
The wife for her part is to respond in reverence and submission to the one who gives himself for her. Where could a more harmonious relationship be found than in this model of family interaction?
The feminists react with horror to the idea that the wife, as an object of the husband's love, is to be obedient to him. This effect is undoubtedly due to the concept the world has of the act of submission. In the world it is a sign of personal weakness, of lack of self esteem, or the admission of inferiority to submit to someone. For the Christian who enjoys blessings beyond measure because of the submission of Christ to God's will at the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53:7), the act of submission has a totally different connotation. Throughout the Scriptures submission is seen as the way of fulfillment, happiness and peace. "Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:29. Christ's subjection in life and submission in death are to be our example, whether male or female, if we wish the enjoyment of God's blessings in our lives.
It is only in the degree that the wife is subject to her husband that she can fill her role as helper which was given to her by God (Genesis 2:18). The Scriptures unequivocally teach the importance of subjection and obedience of the wife to the husband. (See Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1.) The failure of the husband to accept his responsibilities of headship does, without question, make it more difficult for the wife to be in subjection. (It was for this reason that in this pamphlet the responsibilities of the husband were considered before those of the wife.) Nevertheless, the wife is not able to excuse her lack of reverence or subjection on these grounds. Peter makes it clear that even if the husband were an unbeliever, the wife was to be in subjection (1 Peter 3:1). Opposition to this principle is so strong that we find even believers, rather than yielding to it, are denying the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, God's Word for us in this age as in all times. May we be kept from the denial of the Scriptures either by our words or our deeds.
The principle of subjection by the wife to the husband is sometimes applied wrongfully. It is, perhaps, the opposite to the extreme of denying the principle, when the wife takes the attitude that since the husband is head of the house and to be obeyed, that there is little need for her to be exercised before the Lord about matters, but simply to submit to the husband's exercise. Even in the discernment of God's will for the family, the wife is to be the husband's helper. For this role she will need to be diligent in searching the Scriptures and in prayer so that their joint prayers will not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). In this connection it is noteworthy that Moses's life was spared because of the faith of his parents, not the faith of his father only (Hebrews 11:23). Also noteworthy is the fact that in Exodus 2:2,3 the mother is the only one mentioned in the narrative. Every Christian husband needs the support, initiative and faith of a spiritual wife.
The wife can be spiritually stronger than the husband and yet be in complete submission to him. A comparison of the Exodus 2 account of Moses's life with Hebrews 11 would lead us to believe that in this family the wife, in particular, was a woman of faith, but she acted with her husband. The result was a great blessing not only to the family but to God's people. Some might say that Moses's mother was a woman of unusual faith. This may be true, but consider Sarah who from scriptural accounts was very much in the shadow of her husband and who had to be rebuked for her lack of faith (Genesis 18:13-15). This same "unbelieving woman" is recorded as a woman of faith. "By faith also Sarah herself received strength for the conception of seed, and that beyond a seasonable age; since she counted Him faithful." Hebrews 11:11 JND. It is, from this account, evident that even one who is spiritually weak and perhaps lacking in faith can, through God's sovereign grace, be used in blessing to the husband, family and God's people, by desiring God's will for the family. What an encouragement and help it must have been to Abraham to find that his wife who once laughed in unbelief later "counted Him faithful who promised."
In most cases, when the faith of a woman is referred to in the Scriptures, it is in connection with children. See 2 Timothy 1:5; Hebrews 11; 1 Samuel 1 and 2. These scriptures reveal that the role of the wife involves the spiritual and physical welfare of the children. What a challenge God's order for the Christian family presents to the wife! Particularly today, when most men work away from the home in an atmosphere of tension and competition, the husband will be absent a great deal and even when present may be mentally and physically exhausted. This puts a great burden of responsibility on the wife and is an important reason why if possible she should be in the home and not at outside employment. Her role as helper to the husband may be compromised if she is too tired and exhausted from duties not directly connected with caring for their children. The family does not need two persons playing the same roles, but what it does need is a father and mother who supplement each other by acting in the roles God has set out in His Word.
The Christian wife has been portrayed as a spiritual helper in the family. This responsibility belongs to every Christian wife. Abraham was told to listen to Sarah's advice (see Genesis 21:12). Undoubtedly, the husband will benefit from heeding the advice of a godly wife. May our wives ask the Lord for wisdom to fulfill this role.
The Wife as Mother
God may, in divine wisdom, withhold children. If He does, this brings special exercise and reliance on Himself. In general, the family, in the Scriptures, includes children. The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children." 1 Timothy 5:14. This scripture alone makes it clear that the Christian couple should plan to have children. There will have to be a family in order for the young women to "love their children." Titus 2:4. The failure to be obedient to these scriptures will rob the home of the pure joy that children can bring. Also missing will be the exercises and spiritual lessons that accompany each individual child and which can draw the parents closer to each other and to the Lord. In addition, the delight and pleasure that grandchildren bring cannot be possible if the couple chooses to remain childless.
The consequences of the selfish refusal to accept the responsibility of children will be felt among Christians in other ways than simply in the absence of children from the daily routine of the couple. The Scriptures designate two institutions as those with obligation to care for the aged. One of these is the family (1 Timothy 5:4) and the other is the assembly (1 Timothy 5:9-11). If a family does not exist, no help from one designated institution is available. The assembly, for its part, has the right to look for certain prerequisites. One of these, which the assembly is to consider with respect to its obligation for the care of a widow, is "if she have brought up children." 1 Timothy 5:10. If the Lord leaves us here, there will be many childless, lonely, and needy old people who will have no family and may not qualify for assembly aid. This need, in part at least, is presently being assumed by the public through social welfare programs. As the number of childless families increases simultaneously with the aging of the post World War II baby-boom population, the age pyramid of North America will become top heavy. Economists are already warning governments of danger that such programs will bankrupt the public treasury. The failure to follow God's order can only harvest personal deprivation and economic chaos for society.
In another sphere, the result of childless Christian couples will be to deprive the Church and local assembly of bishops and deacons. In order to qualify for these positions, a man must have had the experience of bringing up children in subjection and of ruling his house well (1 Timothy 3). Certainly if a couple has intentionally failed to have children, the husband would be unable to occupy the position of a bishop or deacon. These are offices to be desired; preparation for them must not be shirked or neglected.
Since there are to be children, the Christian wife, in addition to being the husband's spiritual helper, is to be a mother. The story of Hannah provides instruction for wives who seek scriptural principles to guide them in this role. A careful reading of her history (1 Samuel 1 and 2) reveals several different aspects of Hannah's care.
Hannah prayed a great deal! Her prayers consisted of petitions and praise. Whether in bitterness of soul (1 Samuel 1) or in times of rejoicing (1 Samuel 2), she turned to the Lord in prayer. Surely for a mother saddled with the responsibility of the daily care of children, there will be times of both. The sorrows and joys come into correct perspective when they are brought into the presence of the Lord.
The nursing and weaning of Samuel also played a significant part in Samuel's early history, as did the clothing of Samuel. Setting aside for the moment the spiritual lessons to be drawn from these two considerations, it ought to be noted that in them we have two prominent responsibilities of any mother - the feeding and clothing of the children. The two are also forcefully conspicuous in the life of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31.
In this age of so-called women's liberation, the suggestion that the chief occupation of a wife should be directed toward child care and toward activities related to food and clothing invites scorn and ridicule. At the risk of doing so, it is our contention that such is the thrust of God's Word. These are not limiting fields, nor are they less demanding or challenging than the other areas in which women work today. In spite of this, many women, including Christians, enter marriage with very little preparation for these home care and child care activities. Fortunately for some, they have had mothers who were in the home and who had time to teach their daughters. Such situations are not so common today as they used to be. In addition, the school systems put less emphasis on this type of training for girls. The young Christian lady, who is more and more pressed into training beyond the high school level and into public careers before marriage, should give some thought as to what areas of study might be pertinent and a help in her role as a mother and wife.
Turning now to the spiritual significance of the feeding and clothing of Samuel, the role of the wife is again observed. Hannah would not go up to the Lord until she had weaned the child. The weaning would seem to speak of cutting the child off from natural attitudes and habits which are characteristic of the old nature.
Surely it is the home where the foundation for this is laid. It is true that only new birth can accomplish this, but a responsibility falls on the mother to be in the home and daily to carry out the task of providing instruction from the Holy Scriptures which are able to make a child wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14,15). No one is able to influence the young child like his mother. This is, undoubtedly, what Paul refers to in his reminder to Timothy of the unfeigned faith that was in him but which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). This weaning of a child from the attitudes and habits of the unbelieving world takes place at a young age - perhaps long before the child confesses Christ as Saviour. The Word of God reminds us that when Hannah weaned Samuel, the child was young (1 Samuel 1:24) and that he did not yet know the Lord (1 Samuel 3:7). How important the first few years of the child's life are and how needful for the constant influence of the Scriptures to be brought to bear on the child as he develops in these tender years. Baby-sitters and day care centers are not likely to do this. Only a mother who is regularly in the home is in a position to take over this responsibility and privilege.
After Samuel was weaned, we read that his mother made him a little coat and brought it to him from year to year. Perhaps on the spiritual level, this might teach the mother to be constantly aware of spiritual growth in her children. How often mothers are concerned when physical development does not seem to be progressing as it ought. Surely the spiritual growth of the children demands the attention that only a mother will note and can give. In I Corinthians 13:11, we read, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." This would be a gradual development, and the different stages of the development in a child's spiritual growth surely require recognition and attention that only an observant mother can give. For example, the child at a certain young age may be able to sit only a short time to listen to the Word of God or to memorize it, but as it grows both physically and spiritually, such instruction can take on more time and depth. The husband is, perhaps, not so likely to note these things as the mother who has that keen eye and tender heart. Perhaps more examples could be used, but it seems sufficient to say that the mother who seeks the Lord's blessing will be looking for growth in her children - both physical and spiritual, and that when growth is noted, there will be new instruction to sustain it - little coats from year to year!
The Christian wife has been viewed as the husband's spiritual helper and as the mother of children. In this final section she is considered, not so much in a specific role, but from the viewpoint of certain things that should characterize the wife, according to the Scriptures.
Without trying to define modest apparel in practical terms, it can be stated, nevertheless, that the Christian wife is to be characterized by it. In the early days of the Church, the Apostle Peter, who had a wife himself, commented that the adorning of the Christian wives should "not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel." I Peter 3:3. There appears, from this exhortation, that there was a tendency for the wives then, as there is today, to be overly concerned with outward apparel. This suggestion is strengthened by the fact that the Apostle Paul, though not having a wife of his own, was compelled by the Holy Spirit to exhort "the women in decent deportment and dress" to "adorn themselves with modesty and discretion, not with plaited (hair) and gold, or pearls, or costly clothing." 1 Timothy 2:9,10 JND.
In an age of affluence and departure from the Word of God, the believer can easily lose sight of divine motives for dress and deportment. If the fashions of this world are imitated without serious scrutiny, the Christian wife can easily fall into the tendency that the early apostles warned against. We are not to be conformed to this world in dress or in any other aspect, and the fact that the apostles, inspired by God, made these comments, indicates that there is a great danger of the Christian wife's conforming to the indecent dress and deportment of this age. It is significant that this happened with the daughters of Zion in a day of spiritual decline (Isaiah 3:16-26). It is also instructive from the family aspect to note that when this happened, their men fell by the sword. Worldly deportment can only weaken the family spiritually.
As a matter of scriptural principle, it must be noted that modesty and discretion imply no extremes. Surely in the matter of dress, as in all other matters, the Lord's mind must be sought. The motive should be to please the Lord without attracting attention. The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 wore fine clothing (see verse 22), but she was not characterized by this outward apparel. The Scriptures record that "strength and dignity are her clothing" (verse 25 JND). Surely it can be taken from this example that the Christian wife can be appropriately and reasonably dressed without letting her clothing take away from the Lord's glory.
A Meek and Quiet Spirit
Peter not only told the early Christian wives what they should not wear, but stressed that they were to be adorned with "a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price." I Peter 3:4. It is sad to meet Christian women who heed the dress aspect of this exhortation without giving due emphasis to the positive part of it. It is not enough to be moderately dressed. Is it by dress alone that the Christian wife is known in the neighborhood to be a Christian? In the home do the husband and children recognize this spirit? How about in the assembly? The dress and deportment may be suitable to the Christian testimony, but is there the practical manifestation of that which in the sight of God is of great price? The woman of Proverbs 31 spoke with wisdom and kindness (verse 26). Perhaps she was able to do this because she was adorned with a meek and quiet spirit.
Paul, like Peter, did not simply state that women should be modestly dressed. Whereas Peter added that they should be adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, Paul insisted that modest dress must be accompanied by good works. Once again, there is a danger of Christians putting undue emphasis on the dress aspect and failing to consider the positive part of the exhortation.
Some might be inclined to argue that all Christians, not only the women, should be characterized by good works. This is true and the Scriptures certainly do exhort us all in this area. There is, however, a certain line of responsibilities connected with being a Christian wife that can be classified as good works. The widow of I Timothy 5:10 is not a specific woman but rather representative of those who take on the role of being a wife. Good works are to witness to her right to assembly care in her old age. While she had followed every good work, specific ones are mentioned. This woman of God exercised hospitality. This goes with the role of being a Christian wife just as providing for the family goes with the role of being a husband. It is one which must be carried out in order for the husband to be an overseer among the Lord's people (1 Timothy 3:2).
In other areas, it appears that the widow had been, in addition to exercising hospitality, a helpful servant to all the Lord's people (washing their feet). Perhaps this speaks of the little things done that require personal sacrifice and a lowly spirit: things that did not bring much notice but things that were said and done for the welfare of His people. Furthermore, she was to impart relief where it was needed. How many believers and unbelievers need relief of some kind today!
Perhaps Phoebe (Romans 16:1,2) is a specific scriptural example of what is suggested in 1 Timothy 5:10. Paul said that this sister had been a helper of many. The word "helper" (JND) here is a strong one implying that she had been a patron of many. A patron is one who makes our total welfare his responsibility: one who supports us through failures and victories. There is a great need of such helpers in our assemblies - among young and old. I suppose Phoebe never had to wonder what to do when her housework was done. The wife who is characterized by good works has a full-time position!
Faithful in All Things
This character ought to be true of all believers, but it too is particularly associated with wives. In order to qualify for the position of deacon, a man must have a wife who is faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11). This is a large order and surely covers many aspects of the wife's life that are too numerous to name. It seems to imply, among many things, special thought to avoid in any way bringing dishonor to the Lord: special care in bringing her children up for the Lord, special energy in serving the Lord, special concern only to speak truthfully of the Lord's people, special efforts to live soberly, gravely and discreetly before the eyes of a watching world.
The wife of Proverbs 31 seems to be one who was faithful in all things. Again she is not a specific person but personifies a wife who knows her place in the family which is functioning according to Scripture. She is faithful in all things: to her husband (verses 11,12,23,28), to her children (verses 15,21,27,28), to her maidens (verse 15), to the poor and needy (verse 20), in her work concerning her household (verses 13-24,27), and in her manner of dress and talk (verses 25,26).
In this age when men are failing to play their role in the family as they should, and women attempting to "liberate" themselves from their proper role, wives are heard to complain that they are only known by who their husbands are and by what they achieve. How different it is in the family where the wife plays her proper role. Because of his wife "the husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land." Proverbs 31:23. Because of his wife's virtues, he praises and honors her, and her children, instead of rebelling as is so often the case today, arise up and bless her. What harmony and happiness exist in the family where there is the desire to maintain order in the family according to the Word of God.