By David Feddes
Picture an auditorium filled with women in their late teens and early twenties. They are there for advice on how to live as liberated women. They want to know what will bring them fulfillment, what will bring out the best in them. They are counting on a world-famous expert on womanhood to tell them. And here’s the message they get: “I counsel young women to get married, have children, and manage the house” (1 Timothy 5:14).
How would an audience of college-age women react to that? Some might storm out. Others might stay but wonder if they had heard right. Shouldn’t girls have fun, pursue dreams, develop a career, and let their personality flower? Wouldn’t marriage, childbearing, and home life ruin all that? But this expert says not that women will be ruined but that “women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15).
The speaker makes it clear that marriage and children are not for everybody, that singleness is for some (1 Cor. 7:8,34) and that not everybody has to fit the same mold. But in general, it would be best for most young women to get married and have a family without too much delay. Why? One practical reason is sex. Most young women want a man, and most young men want a woman, and that’s good. Sexual desire is healthy and normal. But the most satisfying sex—and the only moral sex—is in marriage. If young people stay single too long, they tend to sleep around, and that’s wrong. “Because there is so much immorality,” says the speaker, “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Sex for marriage only? That doesn’t sound like Hollywood or like feminist Naomi Wolf’s advice for women embrace “the slut within.”
Now imagine the speaker going on to urge women to “be subject to their husbands.” Those words might cause an explosion. Feminist older women tell younger women to stand up for themselves, not to get to too tangled in babies and home, and never, ever to follow any man’s lead or depend on any man. But this speaker says that older women should “train the younger women to love their husbands and children… to be busy at home… and to be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:4-5). Is this just a one-time slip of the tongue? No, over and over wives are told to “be subject” or “submit” to husbands (Ephesians 5:22,24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1).
Would any self-respecting young woman follow such advice? And would any expert dare to say such things in the first place? Well, the number one expert on womanhood is the Lord who created women, and God’s Book, the Bible, says exactly these things.
We need to understand these biblical words to women in context, of course, and not misapply them; but we must still take the statements seriously and not dismiss them as old-fashioned or wrong. The Bible makes it clear that there’s more to a woman than being a wife and mother; but it also teaches the paramount importance of family life for most women. The Bible commands husbands to be considerate of their wives (1 Peter 3:7) to love their wives enough to sacrifice anything and even die for them (Ephesians 5:25), and never to be harsh with them (Colossians 3:19); but that doesn’t cancel out the call for wives to submit to their husbands. When a husband sacrifices for his wife and a wife submits to her husband, they’ll be a lot happier than if they’re each looking out for themselves.
Women who love God and believe the Bible will take his words to heart. The Lord who designed you and loved you enough to die for you will guide you in what’s best for you. The Bible gives realistic guidance for women and shows how to be joyful wives and mothers.
What Women Want
The Bible statements I’ve been quoting sound outrageous and offensive to people influenced by the feminist movement. Few politicians or professors dare to talk this way, and even many preachers are ashamed that the Bible says such things. These words for women are not in tune with feminist dogma, but they are still in tune with the core desires of most women.
What do women want? Different women have different goals, of course. Each has her own personal desires and goals, and these differ from woman to woman, depending on her particular talent, taste, and personality. But whatever the individual differences, the vast majority of women have a desire in common: they want a family. Danielle Crittenden writes:
We want to marry husbands who will love and respect us; we want to have children; we want to be good mothers… The women who don’t desire these things—those who like living alone or who find perfectly fulfilling the companionship of their friends and cats or whose work eclipses their need for family—may be sincerely happy, but they should not be confused with the average woman.
In her book What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us, Danielle Crittenden discusses “why happiness eludes the modern woman.” She sees some good things in the women’s movement but says that after decades of feminist ideology, women are less happy than ever.
We are more likely to be divorced or never married at all than women of previous generations. We are more likely to bear children out of wedlock. We are more likely to be junkies or drunks or to die in poverty. We are more likely to have an abortion or catch a sexually transmitted disease. If we are mothers, even of infants and very small children, we are more likely to work at full-time jobs and still shoulder the bulk of the housework as well.”
If feminism was supposed to bring women freedom and happiness, what went wrong? Well, did the feminist movement did some things right: standing up for battered women, standing against pornography, insisting that there’s more to a woman than pleasing a husband and raising children, that each woman is a valuable person with her own personality and interests.
But feminism went wrong by trying to make women like men—not just equal to men, but like men, and competitive with men. Earlier generations may have stressed a woman’s family role too much, but feminism went to the opposite extreme, urging women to put herself before her family. If a woman happened to have a personal preference for adding a man and maybe a child or two to her life, she could make that choice. But a less-than-perfect marriage could be terminated by divorce. A less-than-desirable pregnancy could be terminated by abortion.
This ideology may appeal to some who hate being women and have bad experiences with men, but the average woman is not a man-hater; she’d like to have a faithful man to love her for life. The average woman does not hate her amazing power to get pregnant and nurse a baby; she wants children. The average woman is not eager to be more involved with her job than her home. Even among working women, a majority say they’d rather stay home than go to work if they didn’t need the money. Not every woman has to fit some preconceived notion of a wife and mother, but it’s fair to say that most women want marriage and children, and most women’s hearts are more with their home than their job. So it’s also fair to say that the Bible’s words for women, though out of tune with feminism, are more in tune with most women’s hearts than modern feminism has been.
Some women will remain single, either by choice or because the right man didn’t come along. Some women will remain childless, either by choice or because of infertility. Some grieve if they can’t have the family they wanted, and I don’t want this program to add to their pain. God loves unmarried women and childless women as much as he loves anybody, and they can accomplish great things for God. Not every woman is a wife and mother, and not every woman wants to be.
But most do. So we should listen to God’s liberating wisdom for the majority of women who are meant to have a family. Let’s talk about the Bible’s direction for most women to “get married, have children, and manage the home.”
Let’s begin with the advice to “get married.” A vital key for the liberation of most women is to avoid the wrong men, find the right man, and marry him. Don’t get involved with a man if he does not follow Jesus; don’t get involved with a man if he’s not good marriage material for you; and never get sexually involved with a man unless he marries you first.
Over the past few decades, more and more young women have been waiting longer and longer to get married. The average age for marriage keeps getting higher. The number of sexual partners before marriage keeps getting higher. This is a recipe for misery. If you give your body to a man or move in with him, you don’t make a marriage more likely but less likely to happen, and even if you do get married, it’s less likely to last.
In relationships that involve sex without marriage, women usually get hurt the most. If you get pregnant and have a baby, you have no guarantee that the uncommitted man will be there for you or your baby. And even if you don’t get pregnant, every night you spend with a man who won’t marry you makes it less likely that you’ll ever meet a man who will marry you.
You may go from one relationship to another during your late teens and twenties, able to attract plenty of men, thinking that after you’ve played the field and established your career, you’ll get married and have children. Until then you’ll enjoy various relationships and sexual experiences. Then one morning you wake up in your mid-thirties “only to realize belatedly,” says Danielle Crittenden, “that very few thirty-five-year-old women have the sexual power over men that they had at twenty-five… We squander our youth and sexual passion upon men who are not worth it, and only when we are older and less sexually powerful do we try and find a man who is worth it.”
The Bible tells men to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18) and commands men, “Do not break faith with the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). The phrase “wife of your youth” assumes that most people get married while they are still youthful and at their peak in attractiveness and fertility. It would be foolish to set artificial deadlines or to insist that everybody must be married by a certain age—some people marry in their thirties or forties or even later and have great marriages. But the exception is not the rule. Don’t assume that you can simply squander your youthful years and remain as desirable and as likely to attract a superb spouse later on.
Time magazine recently ran a cover story on twixsters, young adults in their twenties and early thirties who don’t want to get married or start a family until later. They don’t want to limit their options. But of course they are limiting their options. They won’t have the option of enjoying the wife of their youth or the husband of their youth. They won’t have the option of entering marriage free of baggage and bruises from previous relationships. Young men and young women with desires for the opposite sex should “get married” and find satisfaction in each other, not in shallow, short-term romances.
Some people, however, are right to avoid marriage. They stay single not because they fear commitment but because of total commitment to Christ. A single who is totally devoted to Jesus can do great things for him and find fulfillment in him. “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:34). If you have a special mission or live in especially risky times and want to serve God without obligations to spouse or family, it is good not to marry. For most, however, marriage and children are part of God’s plan for you.
If you do get married, you give your body and yourself to another person. You are not your own. Of course, if you belong to Jesus, you’re never your own; you’re his. But when you get married, you belong to your spouse as well. You belong to each other and become one in flesh and spirit, and you belong to the Lord in flesh and spirit (Malachi 2:15). A liberated marriage is not where a man and wife each look out for themselves, but where a man takes the lead in sacrificing for his wife as Jesus died for his church and where a wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Jesus.
A good marriage is not a matter of sticking up for your rights but of a loving husband willing to anything that would be good for his wife, and a respectful wife submitting herself to him. Think less of what you want to get from your spouse and more what you want to give. The mutual giving of a Christ-centered marriage is a huge joy.
After getting married, a second step for most liberated women is to have children. Some feminists seem almost outraged that men can’t get pregnant and don’t bear the same burden as women. Despite all attempts to make women and men identical, the stubborn fact remains that the body of a woman is designed to do some things that men can’t do. Women have wombs to carry babies and breasts to nurse them; men don’t. Pregnancy and childbearing are glories of womanhood, but a Canadian feminist snarled, “Artificial wombs could not be invented quickly enough.” Such extremists not only battle the Bible but battle biology.
Now, almost any woman who has been through a pregnancy has probably had days when an artificial womb would sound appealing. Suffering morning sickness in the early months, feeling heavy and uncomfortable in the later months, agonizing through fierce labor pains—these things are no picnic. Pregnancy can be a huge burden. But it can also be one of the great joys of a woman’s life, an experience no man can have. The mystery of a tiny life growing and moving inside you, the bond that forms between you and your baby already before birth—this is precious beyond price. It’s worth the trouble. You might feel rotten on your down days, but even so you may never feel more like a woman than during pregnancy.
After a baby is born, the experience of nursing is also a mixed blessing for a woman—but a blessing it is. A breastfeeding mom is her baby’s food source, and that drains her in more ways than one. One day a nursing mom complains that she feels more like a milk cow than a person. But the next day the same woman can hold her baby to her breast, smile tenderly, and say, “Isn’t this baby beautiful? I love nursing. There’s nothing better.” If she’s asked, “But didn’t you say it made you feel like a cow?” she answers, “Well, yes, that too, but nursing is wonderful.”
A growing number of women have not only been delaying marriage but have also been delaying children for years after they are married. In some cases there may be good reason, but in other cases the reasons aren’t good, and the cost can be high. When a women does decide to have children, she may not have enough fertile years left to have as many as she had hoped, and she may even discover to her sorrow that she can’t have any.
Children are a divine blessing, and wise is the woman who welcomes them. Her body may never feel greater pain than when she gives them birth, and her spirit may never feel greater pain than when her children do things that are hurtful and wrong. But she will feel unspeakable joy in her children, especially when they are love her and walk with God.
“Manage the Home”
The woman who gets married and has children is also called to manage the home. Many mothers already have their hearts at home, and it’s liberating to hear the Bible say that this is good.
Our society is making it harder and harder for young mothers to stay home with children. As girls grow up, their training may send a signal that home life doesn’t matter much. A girl can go from pre-school through college and learn next to nothing about how to relate to a husband, bring up children, or manage a household. She may spend eighteen or more years of training in academic and career skills to equip her for the workplace, but may enter adulthood ill-prepared for family life.
How can young women train to manage a home? Do we need to start a University of Marriage and Motherhood? No, the Bible says that older women with good marriages and godly children should mentor younger women on how to do it. Feminism emphasizes a “sisterhood” which encourages women to compete with men, to match and surpass male achievement in the workplace. But the Bible emphasizes a sisterhood in which older women “train the younger women to love their husbands and children [and] be busy at home” (Titus 2:4-5).
Does this mean women should just ignore education or skills for working outside the home? Not at all. My wife’s university degrees include six years of education and professional training beyond high school. My two oldest daughters are on track to have four-year college degrees before they turn twenty. I encourage girls and women to pursue education and become as knowledgeable and skilled as possible, but not at the cost of forgetting family goals. A degree is important; a family is more important.
When children are actually born, those children need a home and a loving mother to manage it. Children need both mother and father, but mothers in particular are vital for young children. The most comprehensive study of day care ever conducted found that the more hours a child spent in day care away from a mother, the more likely the child was to have behavior problems. Danielle Crittenden writes, “The local Humane Society will not let you adopt a puppy if you work full-time. Why should our standards for children be any less?” She adds,
The people we should be listening to are not scientists at all but our own children. So far as I know, there has never been a poll done on three- and four-year-olds, but if there were, I doubt the majority would say that they are ‘happier’ and ‘better off’ with their mothers away all day… for thousands of children who are placed into full-time care before they have learned to express their first smile, that is the inexplicable loss of the person whom they love most in the world.
Some feminists dream of a future where no woman is a homemaker. A feminist said, “The home of the future is one in which not one stroke of work shall be done except by professional people who are paid by the hour.” A home where paid professionals replace the work of moms and dads? No thanks. That’s not a home at all.
The Bible encourages mothers to “be busy at home,” and that is what most women desire. They would rather be home with their children than working. Of those women who do work, most prefer flexible hours and family-friendly arrangements. That’s not always the way to get promotions and high pay, but their goal is to supplement their family income, not be the main provider.
If you have to work outside the home more than you’d like, you can still treasure your children and manage the home for their benefit. If some cases, if Mom has to be gone, Dad can be there, and that’s great. Or when both parents are at work, the children may spend time with a grandma, another close relative, a dear friend, or a kind day care provider. If you’re heart is at home, you’ll find ways to do what’s best for your children in your unique circumstances. Be home as much as possible, and when you are home, make the most of it. Don’t just part your children in front of a television or computer. Spend time with them. Talk with them. Play with them. Love them.
What a blessing godly mothers are to their children and husbands! And what a blessing it is to be a godly mother. May each mother feel deep satisfaction as you follow Jesus and as you “get married, have children, and manage the home.”
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.