by Lynn Pyles Bruce
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3-4
Here, and in many other passages, the scriptures reveal the Lord's priority for the home in His kingdom, and the importance of a woman's role in the home. A woman who aspires to follow God's design for her role as a "keeper at home" finds herself on an enriching, yet challenging pilgrimage. Now more than ever, young women need the older women to come alongside, disciple and encourage, in the spirit of Titus 2. Thankfully, the Lord has blessed us with many such "Mothers in Israel" who ease our journeys and faithfully point us to the basis of their wisdom, the only infallible rule of human conduct: the Divinely inspired word of God. And there we must turn, for in the absence of the anchor of Biblical convictions, we will be carried about by the winds of culture.
Never before have women, Godly mothers in particular, been besieged with so many conflicting expectations. In confusion we cry, "I wish God would tell me what He wants me to do!" In the counsel of scripture, we find that this is precisely what He did for the first woman - He directly instructed her in His will for her life. We would do well to consider His counsel to Eve. We usually think first of what God instructed Eve not to do, and there is surely a lesson for us in that. But first, let's look at what He designed her and instructed her to do: To be a helpmeet to her husband in fulfillment of God's command to "...be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28) God desired for His magnificent creation to be brought to order, and designed for His purposes to be brought to fruition, through the family. God's perfect design still applies to us today. Still, a woman glorifies God best when she serves Him through her family, as a keeper at home.
How important is a woman's ministry in her home? It is so crucial that Satan's first line of attack was to turn Eve's heart away from trusting God's word - to deceive "the mother of all living" into doubting God's boundaries for her. This ancient ruse is still among the adversary's most effective deceits! What was the very first lie? That somewhere out there, beyond God's express will for us, is something more desirable and fulfilling. When Eve reached for that beguiling "something", she began a turn of events which brought about the destruction of all her heritage. So potent was this lie that the fallen culture that resulted yet prevails, still beckoning Eve's daughters with the same delusion of greater fulfillment outside our calling as "keepers at home." But whenever we grasp beyond God's designs for us, we will ultimately come away with flawed fruit and a fallen heritage.
Perhaps Solomon was mindful of Eve reaching into the forbidden tree when he penned Proverbs 14:1: "Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands." Just as Eve jeopardized her heritage by plucking down forbidden fruit, and thus overstepping God's boundaries, so all her daughters to the present day are vulnerable to the same foolish temptation. Mercifully, this Proverb also points us to the wiser alternative. The Hebrew word for "house" in this verse carries the ideas of a house, a home, a temple, and a heritage. Building these things is at the heart of God's purpose for a woman's life.
Surely God has given us His best design, and boundaries within which we will bear our best fruit. If a woman is wise, she will build her house into a home, a temple for her family, and establish a strong family heritage for God's glory. And only in that labor of love will she give her best service to the Lord. Let's explore some of the ways a woman can glorify God through "building her house."
'Building a house' suggests the need to bring structure to the place where family life is centered. God commanded the first homesteaders to subdue their environment - to bring order to it. We may therefore infer that in the absence of their diligence to His command, the Divinely intended state of order would not naturally occur. Thus it is with our homes! I'll be the first to confess a bit of a weak spot here - a peek under my unfolded laundry will usually reveal a stash of books and papers that beg for my mental priority. And after years of homemaking, I still often feel curiously surprised by the five o'clock shock that I must make yet another meal materialize!
But despite such natures, we are called to reflect our Creator, who is a God of order. Consider how He built the great house of the universe: in the first three days, He created 1) light, 2) sea and sky, and 3) dry land and vegetation. Then, in the second three days, He cycled back to the beginning and created 1) heavenly bodies for the light to inhabit, 2) creatures to inhabit the sea and sky, and 3) creatures to inhabit the dry land and eat the vegetation. Herein is a valuable lesson in bringing order to our own homes from the example of the Creator: we are most efficient when we plan our tasks, and cycle through them with reasoned and predictable repetition. When we are orderly and efficient, we may even have time to take a day of rest!
God is the consummate and original artist. He furnished the first home with exquisite beauty, surrounding Adam and Eve with the glorious abundance of His own garden. This suggests that our homes should not only encourage in our spirits the peace that comes from orderliness, but feed the souls of those we love with the inspiration of beauty as well. Beautiful things in our homes elevate our spirits, and bring to remembrance the Creator of all beauty.
The further we look into even the most microscopic realms of God's creation, the more order and beauty we find. God knew His children would thrive best in a world of order and beauty, and so we should provide for our loved ones a predictable and lovely home where they may thrive.
But a home is not just the sum of its order and beauty. Even on those days when chaos reigns, a home is truly defined by the spirit that reigns within it. In Bible times, a woman was responsible for keeping the hearth fire burning at all times, as it was vital for food, warmth, and light. It was, in a sense, imperative to life itself. To "keep the home fires burning," so to speak, she had to be a keeper at home in the purest sense! Letting her hearth fires die brought embarrassment upon her home, for she would then have to walk through her village balancing a fireless brazier atop her head for all to see, and beg for another woman to have mercy and "heap coals of fire on (her) head." (Romans 12:20) Indeed, the phrase "keeper at home" in Titus describes a most crucial role in the preservation of the family, more extreme in import than a modern reader might assume. Yet it remains true even today that when a woman turns away from her hearth fires, the choicest venue of her service to the Lord lies cold and dark. But when she diligently tends her hearth, she blesses Him by creating the most appealing and treasured spot on His earth - a home away from our true home in Heaven; a warm, magnetic center of life for those He places in her care. Light shines forth from it, and all within are nurtured and content. If we are wise, we will build such a joyous haven!
Although our fallen culture may not esteem this as the choice role of a wise woman, Christ Himself now honors our role, for He said: "In my Father's house are many mansions... I go to prepare a place for you." (John 14:2) Let us find great encouragement in this thought, that as we endeavor to make pleasant temporal homes for our loved ones, He makes a perfect eternal home for us, a home where joys shall never end.
Keeping the temple of the home is a service to the Lord which our forefathers in faith cherished, but which has fallen into decline in recent generations. It is encouraging to see the present generation of young parents zealously aim to revive it. Primitive Baptist Elders from eras past exhort us through their writings with examples of how our forebears ministered through the home. The Hassells, the Thompsons, Walter Cash, Lemuel Potter, James Oliphant and others all testify well of the family devotions, hearthside catechizing of children, and hospitality common in Old Baptist homes in centuries past. Their wise helpmeets opened up the way for such family ministry by tending the temple in the home! These "aged women" exhort us to follow their fine examples.
Although men are called to be the spiritual leaders of their households, women have great bearing on the spiritual health of their homes. Paul instructs women to "guide the house, and give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully." (I Timothy 5:14) This is our spiritual duty toward our homes - to help keep and guard our temples, for they are dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. The savor that rises from the temple of the home largely derives from the temple of a mother's heart, and the savor of the home wafts forth into the temple of the church.
When we build a temple in the home for our family, we make an honorable home for Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in our bodily temples (I Cor 6:19, II Cor 6:16), and so He dwells with us in our homes. Does He find your home an honoring and pleasant temple to abide in? Does He stroll with your family in the cool of the evening, and delight in the chatter of children 'round your table? Does He linger in your midst as you gather your family to share prayers, praises, hymns, and the reading of His word? Do you allow the world's idols to profane the temple of your home through your choice of diversions? Are you giving your children your best reflection of Christ in your daily walk? Our adversary is pleased to have us lulled into giving the Lord something merely "good" if it keeps us from giving Him what is best.
It will not matter to your children what you say your priorities are; they will discern your priorities from what you do, how you spend your time as a family. Other than the scourge of television, nothing has contributed more to decline in home worship and Biblical hospitality than families being drawn away from home as the center of life. The Lord designed the home to be the wellspring of discipleship, a center where hearts are bound together for His glory. His adversary must therefore seek to distract our hearts and our time away from home! A quiet season of drawing apart from outside distractions, and committing to reclaim the Lord's priority of the home in His kingdom, would contribute to revival, healing and peace within the body of Christ.
We have lived in a fallen, rebellious culture for so long that we must be ever more diligent to shake the dust of Egypt from our feet, and rediscover what it means to walk in the paths of our God-ordained roles in everyday family life. In Deuteronomy 6, God offers His model for family life (as well as child training). A short excerpt:"...and these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up..." Here is God's picture of a day in the life of a family, from sunup to sundown! This is family worship, the heartbeat of discipleship, a necessity for revival. Worshipping in the church assembly is our blessed feast, and when we carry home the overflow for family worship, we have a continual feast of sweet daily bread.
If we dismiss this duty/privilege with the false notion that "training up a child in the way he should go" merely requires carting him to church, we not only miss the immeasurable joys the Lord desires to grant us in obedience, but our slothfulness will likely be betrayed by the withered vines we failed to tend. "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction." (Proverbs 24:30-32) Let us not forfeit the fruit of our vineyards to nettles and thorns! - nor have occasion to lament "they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept." (Songs 1:6) Unless we teach our children to serve and praise the Lord in the course of every day, we merely train their hearts to have "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." We must not merely disciple them in church attendance, but in daily spiritual discipline and honor to God. Here is a mother's best service to her Lord and the church - to build and nurture the temples of her children's hearts through her own ever-present and most influential example.
The Hebrew word for "buildeth" in this Proverb suggests the thought of establishing a family, of having children. "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward." (Psalm 127:3) The definition of "heritage" in Webster's 1828 Dictionary says, "the saints or people of God are called his heritage, as being claimed by him, and the objects of his special care. See 1 Peter 5." Although the reference cited in I Peter 5 is clearly written to elders, it also brings to mind the heritage of children being nurtured by their mothers: "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." Here the Lord reveals a principle of shepherding for elders that also suggests the proper course for mothers: that we oversee our heritage best through our own example, through coming alongside our children in discipleship.
In Deuteronomy 6, God reveals His design for teaching children His word and the laws of life - by their mothers and fathers diligently training them within the context of life at home, keeping the children close at hand to observe their parents' daily example. A mother is a child's first and most important teacher; as the old saying goes, "A mother's heart is the child's classroom." God chose your children just for you and your particular strengths and weaknesses - would He give you a calling He would not equip you to fulfill? When we have those days of feeling inadequate in the task, we must remember that the will of God will never take us where the grace of God cannot keep us. The Lord is faithful to more than match our offering in this endeavor.
A mother at home is blessed with an exceptional opportunity to serve the Lord. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40) We serve the Lord whenever we bathe, feed or clothe a child, wipe a nose, tuck them into a warm bed, or nurse their little wounds! Do it all as unto the Lord! Serve Him with gladness, and your children will learn to serve joyfully!
A mother at home is also blessed with precious time to build her heritage by establishing her children in the word of God. Pay no heed to nagging fears of being inadequate for this task - don't let the enemy discourage you! You should feel inadequate to teach your children the meaning of the scriptures - that's the work of the Holy Spirit. But a mother's duty/privilege is to help her husband give their children ample exposure to the word, to train them early in good habits of studying, revering, memorizing, and turning to God's word for wisdom in daily life. If you've fallen below the mark in this, reset your aim and begin anew!
The Lord is faithful to our efforts to train His little ones on His behalf. They are His children first and foremost! A mother's primary relationship with her children is as their sister in Christ. He has entrusted them to us for an almost invisible dot on the infinite timeline of eternity. Beyond that dot, we are eternally brothers and sisters in Christ. This brings fresh perspective to our role! He has entrusted us with His treasures. What is the best we can offer up to Him through them? It is our children, prepared to "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; fully equipped in the armor of righteousness, through His word." (Ephesians 6:14)
First and foremost, a mother must feed herself a steady diet of His words, for in them we are "throughly furnished unto every good work," and, yes, that includes the good work of motherhood! When we arrange our day so that we arise before our children to have quiet time with the Lord, He will meet us in that moment of solitude in a more tangible way. Why? Because thus we offer Him the firstfruits of our day. How often we feel there are no spare moments for such! But the Lord rewards our efforts, and adds the time back into the course of our day: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33) All too often, my Bible and prayer time is delayed until after the children are tucked into bed, when I struggle to meet Him in my weary flesh. This is good, but I owe Him my best. And children need to see their parents reading the Bible! When I arise early to meet Him in the quiet of the morning, the children will come snuggle beside me as they awake, often asking what I've read. Through this example they have learned to enjoy beginning their mornings by reading their Bibles, too - the most powerful habit I can ever teach them. This is the extra blessing that comes from giving Him the firstfruits of our labors. Commit to building your heritage, and the Divine wisdom in God's word will steadily supply you in the task: "Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established" (Proverbs 24:3).
The Lord honors our efforts to honor His Divinely inspired word. Do children really need Bible storybooks and study aids to make sense of it all? Did the prophets of old? Truly, they just need the word of God, blessed by the Holy Spirit. The best is always better than the good. Perhaps you can't imagine daily readings of the King James gospels to a toddler, or for that matter, beginning late with a restless teenager. Never underestimate God's ability to speak to your child through His inspired word! God will bring the increase: "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11) Even if the child absorbs nothing more from these daily readings than a sense of your reverence and priority for God's word, that in itself is a major victory. Reverence for God's word is the key to everything else in your child's life! "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10)
Our children also need our example in the habit of Bible memory. We are to hide God's word in our hearts, that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). A mother can build this habit very naturally into the routine of family life, even as early as the toddler years. The younger we memorize, the better we retain. Often in the course of the day, I will begin to recite our current passage, and by the second or third word, the children are racing to quote along! As we run errands, dig in the garden or wash dishes, we recite to one another. We post a month's worth of passages on the bathroom mirror, and the children read them as they brush their teeth at night, thus reviewing the verse just memorized, memorizing the current one, and becoming familiar with next week's verse all at the same time. Then, as they come to bed for prayers, we recite together. They copy their verses into a keepsake book for a record of their work. I memorize with them to set the example that this is a lifelong habit (and because I need it!). I make myself accountable to them for scripture memory, just as they are accountable to me. Discipling our children thus, by coming alongside in the task, brings cheer to all rather than a sense of drudgery. When we set the example before our children of doing all "heartily as unto the Lord," they learn true happiness, and to enjoy their duties rather as privileges.
The simplicity of the Biblical model for worship, which Primitive Baptists have preserved, gives a woman great liberty to fulfill her Biblical role in serving the Lord through her family. The trend in denominational churches is to offer programs to meet every family need. This usurps a woman's God-given privilege to serve Him through ministering to her own family at home. God created us to serve, and created roles for us to serve within, and when we are busy serving within His will, our lives are graced with His joy and peace. When a woman's role in her family is taken away, even by those who mean well, she is robbed of the joy of living in God's will for her. Further, if she is constantly shuttling each of her children to a roster of activities, there are not enough quiet evenings at home for her to inhabit any role! This leaves her feeling spiritually useless and discouraged.
What is the fruit of reaching beyond God's design for simple worship? In recent years, many mothers from other faiths have lamented meeting with great pressure and resistance when they expressed a desire to keep their families together for worship, rather than use their church nurseries, Sunday schools and youth programs. Further, they often receive criticism and rebuke for choosing to focus their personal ministry on their own children according to scripture, rather than taking active roles in church activities and programs. This is the flawed fruit of straying from God's designs. Most modern Christians have never witnessed a mother truly discipling her children at home according to the scriptural pattern. Is it any wonder that they rebuke such a woman for neglecting their programs, and choosing home as the center for family worship? They simply can't imagine what such a family claims to be doing, and fail to see that even when activities and programs are good, they divide the family, and pre-empt their time from what is best.
Of all 'institutions' on earth, the church should set the standard for bonding families together, rather than splitting them apart through age-segregated worship and programs. Segregating families for the purpose of worship is a relatively new idea in the sweep of church history. While Christ was preaching the Sermon on the Mount, He summoned a child who was within reach! Primitive Baptist churches perpetuate this example of age-integrated worship, as we believe the Lord had benevolent purpose in His designs. We may take the family-filled pew for granted, but it is a radical and predominantly unwelcome idea in the general context of modern Christianity. However, it is an essential element of God's brilliant design for undergirding bonds of family fellowship. Children learn to worship by observing their elders in worship.
Churches that want children conveniently corralled somewhere down the hall during worship throughout childhood often reap in dismay when, as teenagers, they fail to manifest spiritual maturity and bonds of kinship with their church brethren. There's an old saying, "If you pray for rain, you'd better be prepared to deal with a little mud." If we desire to bring forth Godly young people in our churches, we must be prepared to "suffer" little children in our midst!
Children who are unaware of any other option (nurseries, Sunday school or children's church) soon take it for granted that they are to do as others do in worship. Yes, this takes some effort in the early years! A mother of little ones may rarely hear a whole sermon. Often she will feel spiritually unfed, and physically spent from wrestling tots into submission all morning! But on those wearying days the Lord sweetly reassured me that it was but for a short season, and that my duty in attending church in that season was to set a standard of worship before my little ones, and train them to attend respectfully, more than to get my own cup filled. Older mothers were an encouraging witness to me that the day would come when I would not only hear the sermon, but my children would, too. And that day does come to pass! We are so blessed that other parents in our congregations have trod that same path, so that support and grace are shown to parents and children in our midst. When churches choose such simple paths, it is a blessing to all. God's designs are perfect! It's man's meddling with those designs, man's "improvements" on the profound simplicity of Biblical worship, that bring difficulty to our roles!
We have all beheld the sweet fruit simple worship bears in our churches, but we also need to regard and treasure the fruit God purposed simple worship to bear in our everyday family life. God had specific purpose in designing a church where families worship together, where children learn to praise God and revere His word through the example of their kinsman. Worshipping in a family-filled pew is but for a short, precious season of life; a joy not to be missed.
Mothers, consider well the bondage we are spared in keeping the old paths! Sometimes we have a tendency to define the Primitive Baptist church by all the things we don't have - no musical instruments, choirs, youth programs, nurseries, Sunday Schools, etc. But involvement in any of these additions draws the family apart. What we have not is the key to what we have! The family-filled pew, and the freedom for a woman to serve the Lord through her home without guilt or disdain (or pressure to take precious time away from the family to support these programs) - these are among the most timely and rare gifts that Primitive Baptists have to offer today's burned-out believer. In simplicity there is peace, and liberty.
Many mothers in denominational churches also express feeling pressure and guilt for not giving enough time to witnessing to the world. Mothers, your family IS your witness to the world! When so much focus is given to witnessing to the world, we often disregard the importance of being a witness against the world - to be a living, breathing example of the fact that living out Christ's teaching within the context of family is the only way in this world to harmony, happiness, joy, perseverance... everything worthy in life! - to be a witness that all other ways of life are deceptions and distortions of His designs and will therefore ultimately fail to satisfy, for beside Him there is no other! How can Christianity be defensible against all other worldviews and ways of life without families victoriously proving the righteousness, the right-ness, the absolute truth of walking in belief in Christ, and obeying His commandments?
Herein lies the heart of God's design for a woman's calling: to create and keep homes that witness the righteousness of God's designs for the family, and witness against the lure of the adversary's path away from the home. We must lovingly, gently provide an alternative picture of a home so beckoning, so warm with Christ, so fruitful, so right, that others may desire to have that picture hanging over their own hearth rather than the one they have chosen. This takes time. And sometimes it takes the Lord revealing the fruit of building such a home in the fullness of His time. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:9) Just as Paul told the Corinthians "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of men," likewise our children, our families, and our homes are our letters to the church, to the world, to the Lord, to the future.
May we be wise women, building our houses into homes, temples, and strong and abiding heritages for our families, for the Lord's honor and glory.
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