The good father: older women and younger women...

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A friend and I were talking on the phone one day when my friend told me he didn't allow his wife to attend his church's women's Bible study. I knew his pastor was good and his church was good, so I was shocked. "Why not," I asked?

He told me Scripture says wives should ask their husbands at home. He was referring to 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35:

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

Knowing he hadn't been a Christian long, I probed to see if there was some harm the women of the church may have done to his wife; some emotional slight or alienation that might explain his decision...

to keep his wife from participating? But as we talked, nothing negative about his church came out. It became clear he had decided on his own that women's Bible studies subverted the husband-as-teacher, wife-as-learner relationship. As he saw it, because Scripture commanded women to "ask their own husbands at home," it was wrong for a wife to be taught by another woman of the church. 

This conversation occurred back around 1985, so now for a little background.

Two years earlier, in October of 1983, I was ordained and began to serve a yoked parish of two congregations in the rural dairyland of Wisconsin. Immediately I was concerned over the young women of our congregations who worked full time and had their children in daycare. So on my first Mother's Day, I chose Titus 2:3-5 as my sermon text:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Acknowledging that these commands of Scripture were about as counter-cultural as commands to women could be, I exhorted the mothers in our yoked parish to be "workers at home" (NASB). Or, as the Revised Standard Version puts it, "be domestic."

A few years before this Mother's Day sermon, back when Mary Lee and I were still in seminary, we had lived up a floor and across the hall from a couple who were the full-time babysitters of a young mother and her husband who were both physicians. This doctor-couple were in the envious position of being able to afford having their children in one household where one woman would mother them each day while they worked. It was a Christian couple caring for these docs' children, so they did as good a job as any father and mother could hope for children they put in daycare. Still, watching our friends and their care for these docs' kids, Mary Lee and I only became more convinced that we had made the right decision for me to work hard to support Mary Lee giving her life to being a stay-at-home mother. I remember us looking at each other and saying about the docs' children, "that's as good as it gets, but it's still no substitute for the children's own mother."

Now, a year or two later, after preaching Titus 2:3-5, I hit the first crisis in my work preaching. Monday, the phone started ringing and Mary Lee was told there were women who were angry at my Mother's Day preaching. One woman in particular was the center of the concern, so I went out to visit her and her husband in their farmhouse. The husband said little, but his wife was angry and said a lot. She told me she was offended for the mother that lived down the road a bit from them. This woman she was offended for attended church with her two children, but without her husband. Her husband made no claim to Christian faith, so he never came and this made it embarrassing for his wife. She had to come alone, but she also had the difficulty of getting her children ready without his help or encouragement. She was a sweet woman who was competent in her motherhood—that was obvious.

Here then was a sympathetic character who was a good representative of the hurt my preaching had caused. The farm wife told me I had hurt this poor woman by saying she shouldn't work, and I needed to go to her and apologize.

Of course, I had not said this woman "shouldn't work." But I won't bother repeating what I had said because it was entirely understandable that people sitting under my preaching that day came away with the feeling that I was opposed to young mothers working full-time, having other women the full-time caregivers to their children. I had, after all, proclaimed Scripture's command that wives and mothers make their home their first priority.

On the other hand, I had neither wanted nor intended to condemn this young mother for working full-time. I didn't know the circumstances of her life, nor the reasons she worked, and any judgment of the rightness or wrongness of her particular life needed a lot more consideration in the application of Titus 2 to her, personally.

Wanting to help, I asked this young mother if we could talk and she kindly agreed. When we met, I said I was sorry for hurting her feelings with what I had said. She asked why I was sorry, and we were off and running. It didn't take long to learn that the person who had been offended was the young farmer's wife—not this young working mother. The young working mother said the sermon hadn't offended her. Rather, it had made her sad. She very much wanted to be home with her children. She'd love to be a full-time mother, but her husband wouldn't let her. He wanted her to earn money and required her to work full-time, she said.

You'll understand one pastoral lesson I took away from that crisis was not to put any blind trust in people reporting other people's offense. So now, when someone warns me that "people are saying" this or that, or they complain and try to shore up their complaint with the declaration, "I'm not the only one," I ask them to please just talk about themselves. Others can speak for themselves, I say. Meanwhile, I certainly do want to hear from them what they think and feel, as well as to correct and apologize for the ways that I have hurt or offended them.

There was another pastoral lesson I learned, though, and this one wasn't any less important.

Where were the older women who should be teaching the younger women of the church? Why weren't they helping me? Why weren't they obeying the Bible's commands?

So I came away from our conversation seeing that I needed to preach, not only that wives and mothers should love their children, be domestic, and obey their husbands, but also that it was the God-given responsibility of the "older women" of the church to teach these things to the young wives and mothers.

Did you notice that?

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Couldn't be clearer, could it? If the godly older women of our church had been teaching the younger wives and mothers to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, to be pure, to be workers at home, to be kind, to be being subject to their husbands; if the godly older women of our church had been teaching the young wives and mothers that their obedience of these Biblical commands would protect Christ's church from being the cause of the Word of God being dishonored in the community; think how much easier my job would have been!

In the particular case of the young working mother I met with, if the godly older women of our church had been obeying Scripture by teaching her the Titus 2 curriculum, it's doubtful she would have been able to quit her job and become a stay-at-home mom. Another part of the Titus 2 curriculum is wives being subject to their husbands, and her husband was the one commanding her to work full-time outside the home. Likely then that particular heartbreak of her life wouldn't have changed. But other things might have—we don't know, but not knowing, we don't dismiss God's clear command to older women of the church to teach the younger women of the church.

Had the older women of that church been teaching the younger women, there would have been much sin and heartache that would have been avoided. I'm certain of it. For that matter, my wife and I would have avoided much sin and heartache ourselves caring for those young mothers in their sin and heartache.

Back, then, to my friend who decided he would not allow his wife to attend the women's Bible studies provided by his church; that she would stay at home and ask him her questions. What insecurity. What faithlessness. What disobedience. What disrespect for the Church! What rebellion against the Church's authority!

When God commands older women of the church to teach our wives, it is rebellion against God and the authority He has placed in those older women for us to obstruct and repudiate their authority. Over our wives.

Another way to say this is to point out that the family is not over, but under the church. Fathers are not over, but under the elders. Husbands are not over, but under the...

Law enforcement officer.

Got you with that one, didn't I? There are spheres of authority, and each sphere has its proper domain and its proper submission. 

The godly young husband will never obstruct or subvert the authority of the godly older women God has given them to teach and encoruage his young wife to...

  • love her husband
  • love their children
  • be sensible
  • be pure 
  • be a worker at home
  • be kind
  • being subject to her own husband


So that the word of God will not be dishonored. Pretty heavy reason given us by the Holy Spirit, isn't it?

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!