Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Should Women Work Outside the Home?

Okay, here's the question everyone loves to answer. You can't win no matter what you say, because someone will be offended either way. But if your church is interested in living for God's glory, then this question will come up because I believe husbands and wives want to know that the choices they make are right.

I must admit off the bat that I've been all over the map on this issue and have even written new maps to continue my journey. I went through a time as a young pastor where I thought women should stay home. This was not an attempt to keep my wife down, but a real attempt to live in a biblical manner. This didn't come without cost, because at the time I arrived at this conclusion, my wife had a partnership in a pizza restaurant, and we had high hopes. But she gave it up out of a shared conviction that we should stop sending our two toddlers (at the time) to the babysitter's. While my views have evolved since that time, my wife hasn't worked outside the home since then, even though we struggle to live even a simple lifestyle. Our five young children are more important to us than the money my wife could earn or any battle for for supremacy of the home.

Having said that, the Bible doesn't command women not to work outside the home, and truth be told, we see examples of women doing work besides housework (Priscilla seemed to make tents, and Lydia was a business woman). We also see Paul's high regard for all the women who were fellow laborers in spreading the gospel. So I think anyone who makes the dogmatic claim that it is unbiblical for women to work outside the home has overstated.

But I don't think the Bible leaves the whole matter up for grabs either. There are texts and themes that guide our thoughts without making dogmatic claims. We're unwise to throw them away without considering their force. Titus 2 is an example.

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled" (Titus 2:3-5). I don't think this text is that hard to understand, even if it is difficult to hear. Older women are to train the younger women. What did Paul think it was important for younger women to be trained in? Love for family, self-control, purity, housework, kindness and submission to their husbands. While work outside the home isn't mentioned in this text, one kind of work specifically is mentioned - housework. So I can argue from silence that a woman's place is in the factory or on the front lines of battle, since the Bible doesn't seem to forbid it; or I can argue from what is clearly written.

It's important to see that the women Paul is referring to in Titus 2 seem to be married. I think that makes a huge difference. Here's why. By becoming a pastor, I've cut myself off from other options. At one time, I had a guaranteed commission as an Army officer and I tossed the opportunity. That door is closed now because of choices I made. I don't see why it is hard to understand that in terms of marriage and career. If a woman wants a career, more power to her. If she wants to go be a missionary, better still. But if she chooses marriage, why is it hard to imagine she is "boxing herself in" a specific role? I'm not offended that I boxed myself in the pastorate. I don't feel oppressed by that decision.

I think we must be very careful in forbidding what Scripture doesn't and in allowing what Scripture doesn't. In the case of women working outside the home, I think there are those who want to live what the Bible says. Some of them are women who work outside the home, and some are women who don't. I think each should be convinced in her own mind. I also think there are men who want to make the Bible say that women have to stay at home because it gives them a form of control they wouldn't otherwise have. That's the wrong motivation. I also think there are women who want to say the Bible has nothing to say about this because they find it repugnant that God might have gender roles. This is also wrong motivation. The motivation for everything we do should be the glory of God.

So what do you do if you're wondering if you should work? I realize I haven't helped much. That's because there's not as clear a line as some try to say there is (on both sides of the issue). I think single women should try to advance in education and opportunity to the best of their ability for the glory of God. This just makes sense for wherever life leads.

As for married women, that's a decision to be made by her and her husband together. If a couple decides that rather than raising children, they want to work strong in the marketplace for opportunities to share Christ, then they should go for it. But if they are wanting to glorify God through raising children to hope in God, then she should seriously consider how she's going to do that if other people have her kids more than she does. I see this all the time, and it doesn't work out as well as we pretend it does. The default position for mothers is with their children. Are there times of exception? I think so. Is a couple going through a tough time, and legitimately needs the extra money? Is the husband's ability to earn somehow hindered temporarily? Then maybe she should work for awhile, especially if he can take care of the kids. Or maybe there's a way for her to work on an ongoing basis without sacrificing anything of her household or family. But I find that these are exceptions rather than the rule.

The guiding principle in deciding this issue should be the glory of God. Not the exaltation of individual rights. Not the fighting of oppression in its many forms. Not the assumption of gender equality. Not the desire for liberation. The glory of God is the guiding principle. Will God get more glory from a woman's work outside the home, or in it? Let each be convinced in her own mind - humbly.


Nan said...


Excellent post!

I think that so many times, we do try to put words in God's mouth and impose our own restrictive beliefs on others!

We do it with whether women should work outside the home or not;
whether a woman's greatest calling in life to be married and have children,and what we as Christians can and can't do in the marriage bed.

Those seem to be the three most common topics I hear as to what Scripture says (or doesn't).

I've had to rethink these three topics myself and have come to these conclusions;

As for a woman working outside the home...I agree with you! You've answered it very well!

As for a woman's highest calling in life, the fact is...some women never marry and some women who are married are forever barren! Should a woman then feel like she's lacking? No..there are other callings for a woman just as noble!
Nancy Leigh DeMoss comes to mind!

As for the marriage bed...( am I out on a limb here? ) based on the fact Scripyure says it's undefiled, anything goes! Even doing an exotic dance (don't laugh...Solomon's wife did!)

Anonymous said...

Pastor Darby,

What would you say to widows with young children regarding working vs. staying home?


DL said...

Several things:

First, let me say that I feel sympathy for anyone caught in that position. Life in a fallen world can be messy and heartbreaking, but God is good and provides new mercies every morning, even in the midst of pain. God knows what it is to lose a loved one, in that he lost his Son out of love for us. But he also knows how to bring beauty from ashes.

Second, I would recommend being near other family members if at all possible. The apostle Paul seems to suggest this in 1 Timothy 5. Family has a responsibility to care for each other.

Third, whether there is family nearby or not, if the widow is a Christian, then I would recommend finding a church that believes the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hopefully the widow is already a part of such a loving community. The Christian life is a community project, and people need support structures and help in life's struggles. This is especially important for a young widow with young children who might need practical gaps filled that used to be filled by her husband and the children's father.

Fourth, I would hope that whatever church a widow is a part of would do whatever it takes to help support her - financially, childcare, practical needs, hospitality, etc. - and if not, then I would find a church more in tune with Scripture. Any church that doesn't understand their calling in this area is not worth calling a church of Jesus Christ.

Fifth, at the risk of sounding harsh, but with the apostle Paul having my back, I would recommend being open to remarriage. I know this can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if not much time has passed, but it does show our pilgrim mindset and provides all the things that God intended marriage to provide. Many godly people have been remarried and productive after the passing of a loved one. Paul definitely talks specifically about young widows with children getting remarried for the good of the Kingdom in 1 Timothy 5.

Sixth, I don't think a widow with young children working outside the home is an ideal situation. Can it work? Yes. Is it the best situation? Probably not. Might it be necessary for a time? Yes.

Seventh, if it is found necessary for a widow to work outside the home, then I think the church should do everything they can to help her bear the burden of keeping a house, providing loving interaction with her children, and making up any deficiencies in income in the process. I also think that all involved should be open to more ideal circumstances. Again, Paul suggests remarriage.

Finally, God is bigger than all this. I don't think God will allow irreparable harm to come to the children of a widow who is faced with working outside the home or starving her family. He is, after all, husband to the widow and father to the orphan. He cares deeply for his children. I would hate to think that a young widow who feels it's wisest to work outside the home would be faced with the additional burden of unnecessary guilt for trying her best to love her family under the conditions that life has handed her. Look up, redemption is near.

I hope this helps.