Thursday, November 27, 2008

biblical womanhood (7) being kind and doing good

Our houses ... should be pleasant havens for our husbands and children, sanctuaries where we offer care and hospitality to other Christians, and gateways from which we extend the gospel to family, friends, and neighbours ... We should be renowned for good works at home, in our churches, and extending into our communities. (Carolyn Mahaney Feminine Appeal pp.114, 128)

This week and next week, I'd like to reflect on how to balance ministry inside and outside the home (yes, I know it's a massive issue, so share your thoughts with me! - and yes, my friend, I'm addressing your question at last).

I thought I'd start by telling you how the word kind in Titus 2:3-5 opened this particular can of worms for me.

It seems to me that teaching on homemaking can sometimes put home and family on a pedestal, to the neglect of the wider church and world. I felt this occasionally with Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal (I liked Nicole's comments here) although I love how she interweaves good works inside and outside the home in the quote above.

This concentrated focus on home and family concerns me particularly as we come to the word kind.

You see, the word kind in Titus 2:3-5 is from the Greek word agathos. In 89 out of the 102 times it appears in the New Testament, it's translated good. In 2 of these examples, it's describing the good deeds women do, for people outside as well as inside the home (Ac. 11:24; 1 Tim. 5:10). Over and over again, including in Titus, Christians are encouraged to abound in good deeds (Tit 1:16; 2:12-14 and e.g. 2 Cor. 9:8; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10; 2 Thess 2:17; 2 Tim 2:21; 2 Tim 3:17; 3 Jn 1:11).

It would surprise me, given all this, if the word kind or good in Titus 2:5 doesn't have a wider focus than the home.

But maybe this wider focus is only for older women. Young women are told to "to marry, to have children," and "to manage their homes" (1 Tim. 5:14). A woman over 60, on the other hand, should be "well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good (agathos) deeds" (1 Tim. 5:10), like Dorcas, who's "always doing good (agathos) and helping the poor" (9:36).

Are young women to be devoted solely to home duties, then as their children become independent, to devote themselves to good works outside the home?

The Proverbs 31 woman, however, famously does it all: she helps her husband, cares for her children, dispenses wise counsel, manages an extended household, makes clothes and linens, oversees servants, runs a thriving home business, speculates in land, plants vineyards, and cares for the poor. But this is an idealised picture, and I assume a woman won't do all of these at once during every season of life (or ever!).

And what about Jesus' statement that "anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me", and "anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me"? Of course, this doesn't negate our responsibility to care for home and family (1 Tim. 5:8), which is the main way we serve Christ if we're wives and mothers. But the radical demands of the gospel will still have an impact on us and our families.

So I'm left with some questions. It's clear that the first priority of a godly wife and mother is to love her husband and children, and manage her home. But it seems that a godly woman will also be known for her good deeds outside the home. I assume that the balance between ministry inside and outside the home will differ according to the season of life a woman finds herself in, but that "kindness" or "good deeds" will always reach out as well as in.

What do you think? How do you prioritise homemaking, and still reach out to people with the gospel, serve in your church, and care for the needy in your community? Should you be expected to do any of these things while you've got young children? Or should you wait until they're all grown up and you have time on your hands? Do you think ministry should only be done when it "blesses" your family? Or will ministry always involve cost for your husband and children? Have you seen any good, or bad, examples of balancing ministry and homemaking in practice? How do you balance ministry inside and outside the home? How are you planning to do this next year?

Perhaps you could give me your ideas today, and I'll give you mine next week.

images are from stock.xchng


mattnbec said...

A post on 168 Hours ( reminded me that hospitality and having people in your home lots can help you balance home-ministry and outside-ministry. By having an open home, you often minister to your kids and husband while you also serve people outside. Of course, you do need to work out the balance here too in terms of what your husband, kids and you can cope with.


Jean said...

Thanks, Bec.

Anyone who's looking for further discussion of the balance between homemaking and ministry, look at Friday's online meanderings and the comments, also the comments on Saturday's quote from Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Let's keep the discussion going!

Jean said...

A comment emailed to me by Tracey (thankyou, Tracey!) -

"Thanks for discussing this issue - really helpful. I am a mum of 2 and my hubby is in full-time ministry so juggling priorities is always challenging. I once spoke to an older Christian lady who I respect and she smiled and said to me that as a Christian woman the best thing I can be is 'flexible' (thankfully, not in a double back flip kinda way!!). We went on chatting and she explained that all the things we desire to do as Christian women will be done in different combinations at different stages of life. As long as we keep our role as godly women in our hearts and minds and exercise godly wisdom in how we organise life - it will be right for that time.

I think you are right about needing to have a desire to serve and reach our local communities. How we do it and to what extent is a big thing to think about but in our culture it is easy to absorb the 'me and mine' culture. Whilst my husband and children are my priority, am I serving them by also training them in a willingness to be hospitable, kind and sacrificial in seeking to share Christ with those around us? I am challenged by the thought that maybe sometimes I justify my inactivity to those 'outside the home' with a complete emphasis on the fact that as a Christian mum my priority is with my family. Something I am pondering!"

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post but I couldn't help noticing that the words 'homemaking' and 'ministry' seem to be discussed as a kind of dichotomy - as if they are two separate things! I just wonder how, as Christian women, we don't think of homemaking AS ministry! I think we sometimes see ministry as something we 'do' in addition to being simply Christians. But whatever we are doing - whether it is shoemaking, cleaning, chatting to friends, teaching the Bible, caring for children - this IS ministry! Washing dishes is ministry! We somehow have come to think that only when we are praying/reading the Bible/or something directly involving the Word is 'ministry' and I think it is a false dichotomy. Of course these things are important and we need to give them due priority and prominence in our lives. But I don't think that 'ministry' can or should be separated out of our regular lives and seen as a separate area. Fleur

Jean said...

I totally agree Fleur. I'd probably be more careful about that these days. Just think of it as a convenient (but unhelpfully misleading) shorthand for "ministry outside the home and/or family".