The Work of a Woman
THE WORK OF A WOMAN
The purpose of this reflection is to consider the sphere of work that God has assigned to women. What is written here should be regarded as an important supplement to our study of God’s design for women in the April 3 sermon (“God’s Design for Manhood and Womanhood–Part 3”). It would have been fitting and helpful to say these things in that sermon, but one cannot address every relevant matter in every sermon. So I want to take this opportunity to reflect on a woman’s work. If you’re wrestling with how biblical womanhood ought to be lived out in practice, or if you’d like confirmation that you’re on the right track or correction if you’re not, then I encourage you to slowly pour over this article. It might pay rich dividends – especially if you read it in conjunction with the forthcoming reflection on the household.
Framework and Freedom
Now if you think that what follows is going to be a comprehensive rulebook that covers every conceivable circumstance, you would be wrong. It is actually quite refreshing that God has given us relatively few directives. The directives (commands, rules, patterns) that He has given us are absolutely key and foundational, and must get implemented by us in everyday obedience. But within the framework of these foundational directives (which I unpacked in the three manhood and womanhood sermons), there is quite a bit of freedom for a husband and wife to work out dozens of practical details. What we need is transformed hearts, Scripture-saturated wisdom, and genuine alignment with God’s overarching purpose.
When it comes to work, one of the immediate problems we face in our culture is the tendency to equate work with wage-earning. But work involves far more than just salaried employment. The truth is that every human being is designed to work diligently and productively (whether or not a paycheck is involved).
The first man (Adam) was specifically designed “to work the ground” (Genesis 2:7) and was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Although Adam was subsequently expelled from the garden, he would continue to work the earth, albeit with much frustration, sweat, and pain (Genesis 3:17-19).
The woman, for her part, is also designed to work. Scripture shows us that: 1) the woman is to be a diligent worker and, at the same time, 2) the focus of her activity is not identical to the man’s. Let’s take these two concepts one at a time.
The Woman is to be a Diligent Worker
First, the woman along with the man is commissioned into the Great Dominion Mandate: “And God said to them [the male and the female], “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Genesis 1:28) The Great Dominion Mandate requires ‘all hands on deck’. Whoever you are, expect to work!
Second, the woman is called to be the man’s helper (Genesis 2:18, 20). When Person B is called to help Person A, you can expect that Person B is going to be involved in Person A’s work. The President’s Cabinet is involved in the President’s work; the Offensive Coordinator is involved in the Head Coach’s work. In marriage, which of course is the context of Genesis 2:4-25, the wife is going to be involved in her husband’s work – not necessarily in every aspect of his work, but certainly in his overall work of building a household for the glory of God. Some of the wife’s/helper’s work will significantly overlap with the husband’s/leader’s work, and some of it will not – but all of it will be most definitely help-full and integral to the life of the household!
Third, the “excellent wife” (Proverbs 31:10) is an industrious woman: she “works with willing hands” (Proverbs 31:13), “considers a field and buys it” (Proverbs 31:16), “makes linen garments and sells them” and “delivers sashes to the merchant” (Proverbs 31:24), among many other activities. The practical and economic value of her work is extensive.
Fourth, women are to adorn themselves with all kinds of “good works” (1 Timothy 2:10). Women, as much as men, are called to utilize their gifts in order to build up the church family (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11)
The Focus of a Woman’s Work
Even as both men and women are called to be diligent workers, so Scripture communicates a particular sphere of focused activity for a woman. Consider these four inter-related teachings:
First, Genesis 2:4-25 reveals God’s intent for there to be a pattern of male leadership in the home, in the church, and in the world. The other side of this coin is that in the home, in the church, and in the world, God intends for there to be a pattern of female helper-ship.
Second, and building off of the first point, in the pattern of male leadership in the wider world (in terms of the Old Testament, consider kings and priests and prophets and elders and soldiers, as well as the responsibility of males to appear before the Lord for the three annual feasts), we can discern that, generally speaking, it is right and necessary for men to spend more time away from home than their wives do. This doesn’t mean that it is okay for men to be inattentive to their households. Far from it! But it does reveal that in God’s design, the man must often assume responsibilities that take him away from the home. The corollary to this design feature is that it is the privilege and responsibility of the wife to more regularly attend to the pressing needs of the household. This design is evident in Proverbs 31:10-31. This “excellent wife” (v. 10) is faithfully devoted “to the ways of her household” (v. 27), which involves her in a wide and impressive range of profitable activities. The husband has complete confidence in her (v. 11) and he is the primary beneficiary of his wife’s diligent household management (v. 11-12). From time to time, the husband will be “[sitting] among the elders of the land” (v. 23). Among these elders, this blessed husband is known and respected. Why? Well, the context of Proverbs 31:10-31 is that the husband is known and respected because his wife’s faithful labor is making their household a bright-beaming light in the community. This blessed husband doesn’t get a big ego, but humbly and gladly praises his virtuous wife (v. 28-29). Proverbs 31:10-31 illustrates the truth of Proverbs 12:4 – “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband”.
Third, the woman’s work in pregnancy and childbearing (Genesis 3:16) and in nursing infants, in conjunction with the instruction for her to have children (1 Timothy 5:14; see also 1 Timothy 2:15) and the praiseworthiness of her caring for her children (1 Timothy 5:9-10; Proverbs 31:10-31), indicates a special role in this area. The younger the child, the more paramount is the mother’s focused attention.
Fourth, the husband’s headship over his household and the corresponding call upon the wife to be in submission to her husband “in everything” (Ephesians 5:24), along with the instruction for a wife to manage her household (1 Timothy 5:14) and work at home (Titus 2:5) as well as the household-focus of the praiseworthy wife (Proverbs 31:12, 15, 21, 23, 27, 28) indicates that the wife-and-mother ought to be especially focused on her household in a labor-intensive way. Further, the biblical vision for household management is that the household be a blessing to the wider community. Therefore, the managerial wife is at the hub of a home that overflows in blessing to the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:20), to fellow believers (1 Timothy 5:10), to the afflicted (1 Timothy 5:10), and to vulnerable extended family members (1 Timothy 5:16).
As you consider these four inter-related pieces of instruction, remember that everything God does and everything God designs, is done and designed carefully, deliberately, intentionally. Genesis 1 bears strong testimony to the fittingness of every aspect of creation. So, when it comes to temperament, competence, and bodily constitution, you should understand that you are ‘wired’ to do what God commands you to do. In other words, God has designed the nature of men for the duties of manhood. Likewise, God has designed the nature of women for the duties of womanhood. That terrible thing called sin muddies the waters, of course, but in sanctification the Holy Spirit restores us to the goodness of God’s design.
Real Work, Special Role
We should all understand that a woman’s work of helping her husband, caring for her children, and managing a thriving household is nothing less than real work. In fact, it is often very demanding and exhausting work. And it is very important work – the kind of work that deserves her very best attention, effort, and skill. A prudent wife will make sure that any ‘outside the household’ responsibilities that she takes on: a) are co-extensive with her household responsibilities, and b) don’t undermine her primary calling as a wife, mother, and homemaker.
Ladies, your work is essential to carrying out the Great Dominion Mandate, and it brings priceless blessings to other people. While the world is chasing after success that is measured in terms of money and fame, you are bringing warmth and care to precious hearts.
Be assured that in God’s kingdom, ‘climbing the ladder’ and ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ and ‘proving yourself’ aren’t high on the list. But love and hospitality and practical care and tender mercy and warm soup and fresh bread, and strengthening the bonds of fellowship among family and extended family and church family, is the stuff that God watches over with delight. And you, my sisters, have a special role in this. Don’t turn away from it!
SPECIAL NOTE: If you’ve read this far, keep going! The forthcoming reflection is on the household, and understanding the household is key to the biblical picture of godly womanhood.
 Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.