Motherhood for the Sake of the World

This is the first of three posts considering biblical motherhood in a modern context. See also post 2 and post 3

… train the young women to love their husbands and children … (Titus 2:4)

I am a Christian, woman, married, and the mother of three young children. I have felt very confused about what to expect of myself (and what God expects of me) in my role as a mother. I don’t think I’m the only one.

I like to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. When I became a Christian as a teenager, a regular part of the preaching diet I was fed involved clear and helpful teaching on the roles for men and women in the church. When I got married, I felt confident about what God expected of me as a wife; that in a marriage, there is a complementary partnership between a husband and a wife and they have different roles. There’s not much material in the New Testament about it, but I had already spent a lot of time mulling over the meaning of the few significant passages that are there. I had reflected on how these texts speak into our culture’s view of marriage, and felt I had a clear picture of what God expected of me as a wife.

As I’ve become a mother, I have often felt like I have no idea why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I have not had this confidence as I’ve become a mother. I have often felt like I have no idea why I’m doing what I’m doing. The task of raising children is a difficult one, and I have often wondered how much of myself God expects me to pour into it. How do I make decisions about how to spend my time? Becoming a wife—though it involved some changes to how I spent my time—didn’t require so much of it. Becoming a mother has demanded a lot more. How do I make sense of the work of motherhood? Should this responsibility be all-consuming? What about all the other opportunities God has given me to serve others? Is there a distinction in roles between fathers and mothers, or are we interchangeable—just two parents raising children together, such that my husband and I can simply divide the time required to look after our children and household as we see fit? According to the Australian National University, we’re both just parents, not mother and father.[1] Do the Scriptures teach the same?

Many others I have spoken to also lack confidence in the decisions they have made as mothers, and this lack of confidence leaves them feeling confused and guilty. Others, when I’ve asked how they have made decisions about their responsibilities as mothers, say they have done ‘what everyone else was doing,’ with little reflection about what principles ought to drive their decisions. So as I’ve been looking to God’s word for clarity, I’ve found reflecting on Titus 2:3-5 helpful, and have particularly sought to understand why younger women are to be trained by the older women to (1) love their children and (2) be busy at home, as these two instructions provide insight into the time-consuming responsibilities given to mothers.

My desire is that these reflections raise our awareness of the cultural narratives implicit in our world, so we understand where we’re being pulled by our culture, and how that might differ from God’s good purposes as they’re revealed to us in His word. My hope is that these reflections help equip us to use the freedom we have in Christ to love the people our Father has put in our lives.

Trained to Love Children

The first thing I want to explore is the command to love children. Note that these verses are not directed to mothers in particular, but to older women, and younger women. There is an assumption that women will be married, and so have husbands and children. We know from other parts of the New Testament that this is not everyone’s situation, and in fact, Paul says that those who are unmarried or widows should remain as they are so they are free to be concerned about the Lord’s affairs (1 Corinthians 7:8, 32, 34). However, many women will marry and find themselves with children to love.

We live in a society that no longer assumes those who marry will have children. In the wake of the Sexual Revolution and the advent of the contraceptive pill, having children is seen as the individual choice of each person and each marriage. It is possible for a child to be borne by two women. It is possible for two men to nurture a child without a woman.

The Bible teaches that the bearing of children by a husband and wife is part of God’s good order in creation

Yet the Bible teaches that the bearing of children by a husband and wife is part of God’s good order in creation, established as a blessing from the beginning of the creation of the world. In Genesis 1 we read, ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ Here, the fruitful offspring of a man and woman together are a sign of God’s blessing—not a choice made between the man and the woman.  God’s design is for the union between a man and a woman to bear fruit, in order that they might complete their God-given task of filling the earth and subduing it. Christopher Ash traces the pattern of God’s people being fruitful in the Old Testament, and notes that ‘Blessing is now linked with the multiplication of God’s people so that they can rule over their enemies and bring God’s righteous rule to this world.’ The Old Testament has a distinct pro-life orientation: ‘It is a blessing to contribute to the multiplication of the people, a sadness to be deprived of such participation’.[2]

Our culture’s tendency towards childlessness is a product of our individualism, but it can also be a surrender to hopelessness. The bearing of children is a sign of hope for the future. In the summer of 2020, Australia experienced a horrific bushfire season. One women who was pregnant at the time wondered how she could bear children when she had no hope for the future. As friends hoped their children would change the world, she humbly acknowledged ‘“Thinking your child will be part of the solution, not the problem, is hubris.” We are the collapse. Our children are the collapse.’[3]

Even children themselves are a mixed blessing after the devastating effects of the fall. In Genesis 6, we read that the procreation of children results in the earth being ‘full of violence’ (Genesis 6:11), rather than filled as God intended. As Christopher Ash observes:

… it is not procreation per se which is a ‘good’ of sexual union, but procreation of godly offspring (Mal. 2:15), who will be in God’s world what Adam and Eve ought to have been. Procreation of sinful men and women can only approximately and ambiguously be the good that it was originally meant to be.[4]

Yet we who belong to Jesus Christ—our second Adam—can look to the future for us and our children with hope instead of fear. The children God has given him (Heb 2:13) are the godly offspring the world needs to be ruled for its flourishing.

It follows, then, that mere procreation is not enough.

This, of course, expands our task beyond mere procreation. Christ’s family expands by evangelism and conversion, now, not just by having babies.  But it also places an extra duty on Christians who do have babies. If it is godly offspring that God desires; we must strive to nurture children who fit into God’s plan. Ash writes:

It is not enough simply to bring new human beings into the world; it is not enough even to care for their physical protection in infancy and their material needs for food and shelter as they grow. […] it is also necessary for them to grow into relationship of glad response to the call of God.[5]

We continue to bear children as a sign of hope: that there is a future and it is one worth bringing children into.

So we continue to bear children as a sign of hope: that there is a future and it is one worth bringing children into. Christ will return and bring a new creation, and until that happens, there needs to be another generation to look after the world, and another generation to proclaim Christ until he comes.

In Genesis 1, the procreation of children is a means to the end of the task of subduing and ruling the earth: both the tasks of procreation and work are necessary to contribute to the task of ruling God’s world.[6] In our upside-down world dominated by capitalism, careerism, and materialism, I have trouble believing this. It does not come naturally to me, to regard the task of bearing and nurturing my children as important and necessary as work outside the home. It does not come naturally to me, to consider these two tasks as complementary, as needing one another, for the good order of the world in which we live.

But God’s word teaches me this is a good use of my time, my skills and mind. Perhaps you are a mother who has felt confused about whether being at home with your kids is worthwhile, whether you are making a valuable contribution to society. God has made the world so that the tasks of work and nurturing children are complementary.

Perhaps you are a mother who does some work outside the home, not to the neglect of your family, but to provide for the needs of your family: in a world where children are optional extras, God’s word teaches us that it is right to love our children; to work and not be lazy to provide for the needs of those who are vulnerable.

Children demand a lot. And they are not particularly impressive or attractive a lot of the time. They need our help and they get in the way of our ambitions. But as Jesus’ disciples are arguing about who is the greatest, Jesus brings them back to reality by pointing to a little child: ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me’.

Welcoming children seems upside-down to the world. But it’s another way to welcome Jesus—the upside-down king who came as a servant, dying on a sinner’s cross to save us.

[1] https://murraycampbell.net/2021/02/17/its-not-gestational-parent-shes-a-mother/

[2] Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (England: IVP, 2012), 160-161.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/26/if-i-have-no-hope-for-the-planet- why-am-i-so-determined-to-have-this-baby

[4] Christopher Ash, Marriage, 159.

[5] Christopher Ash, Marriage, 163

[6] Christopher Ash, Marriage, 162