The Work of Homemaking
Written by Erica Golden
The term “homemaker” is not often used today and only appears once in the Bible. What does this word mean, and what does it signify for godly women today?
I recently came across a quotation in a well-known commentary that asserted, “The tortoise, which carries its house upon its back, and very rarely shows its head, or looks out of it, was, with the ancients, an emblem of a good housewife” (Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible, notes on Titus 2:5).
Apparently, among the ancient Jews, women who often traveled outside the home were said to be “gadders abroad,” and it was considered shameful for “a woman to go out daily; now she is without, now she is in the streets; and a husband ought to restrain his wife from it, and not suffer her to go abroad but about once a month, or twice a month, upon necessity; for there is nothing more beautiful for a woman, than to abide in the corner of her house” (Gill’s).
I’ve recently left my out-of-the-house job to become a full-time homemaker and mother, and I’ll continue working part-time from home. Our family has been blessed with the ability to choose, but I recognize that many families do not have the option of having one parent stay at home. It’s what my husband and I have always wanted, and now that we have a daughter, we feel blessed to be able to make it a reality.
Even so, reading quotations like the one above makes me bristle.
I’ve worked outside the home for the past seven years of my married life and truly enjoyed it. I’m passionate about my field of nutrition, and I’ve liked having coworkers and interacting with patients. I know many married women, both with and without kids, who are successful in their careers and enjoy their work. Working outside the home is very “untortoiselike,” but does it preclude one from being a good homemaker?
As I make this transition, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a “homemaker” and how the role of homemaking fits into the biblical picture of a Christian family.
Titus 2:5—“training” homemakers
The book of Titus is one of Paul’s three pastoral epistles, written to Titus when he was pastoring on the island of Crete. In this short letter, Paul focuses on division and false teaching. He instructs Titus to counter these false teachers by establishing godly leaders and instructing the members in godly living.
In contrast to the way that these false teachers “profess to know God, but in works . . . deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16), the members in Crete were instructed in living so that “the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:5), so that the “opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (verse 8).
In this context, Paul instructs older women first on their own behavior and then on the education they can provide to younger women. Paul saw these women as vital in supporting a congregation with healthy, godly families.
Paul tells Titus to instruct “the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (verses 3-5, emphasis added throughout).
The Greek word translated “homemakers” is oikouros (or oikourgos). It’s a compound word built on oikos, the Greek word for family, house or home. The second part of the compound word may be ouros (watch, keep, guard) or ergon (work).
The King James Version translates this word as “keepers at home,” while others, such as the English Standard Version, translate it as “working at home.”
Teaching to love
The rest of the instructions to young married women are also important to Paul’s overall intent. To love is the first thing older women are to encourage the younger women to do. The rest of the list is predicated on this first command. As wives and mothers, we should do everything we do out of love for our families. That might look different in different cultures, financial situations, family dynamics, health conditions and developmental stages.
But, regardless of the circumstances, that love is self-sacrificing for the good of the family. It is self-controlled and takes the long view. It is pure, kind and cheerfully yields to the leadership of her husband as he yields to Christ.
These qualities of a godly wife and mother are worth deep thought and study and are qualities that transcend time and culture.
The concept of homemaking, then, also must transcend time and culture and must not conflict with the other portrayals of godly women in the Bible—women like:
- Ruth, a widow who supported her mother-in-law by gleaning grain in the field.
- Abigail, a wife who saved her entire household by interceding with a gift for David and his men.
- Deborah, a married woman who was both a prophetess and a judge of the fledgling nation of Israel.
- Phoebe, a deaconess serving the churches in Cenchrea.
- Priscilla, who worked alongside her husband in serving the Church.
Even beyond these vignettes of godly women praised in the Bible, whatever it means to watch, keep or work at home must not contradict the characteristics of the woman of valor in Proverbs 31, who certainly does not “abide in the corner of her house.”
The homemaker in Proverbs 31
So many beautiful words have been written about this “excellent” woman (Proverbs 31:30, ESV). We can come to a deeper understanding of a godly woman by reading Proverbs 31:10-31 and Titus 2:3-5 together.
The work of a wife and mother takes many forms in Proverbs 31.
- She works to maintain her husband’s trust and to do him good (verses 11-12).
- She works physically to support her family with income and physical goods (verses 13-14, 16, 18-19, 22, 24).
- She works to give to those in need (verse 20).
- She works to teach her family and pass on moral characteristics to them: strength, dignity, wisdom, kindness, godly confidence and the fear of the Lord. As much as she works to provide for their physical needs, she stays focused on the spiritual (verses 17, 21, 26, 30).
- She works at understanding the people in her home—knowing them intimately and what is happening in their lives (verse 27, ESV).
Just as in Titus 2, the Proverbs 31 homemaker’s tasks are built on the foundation of love for her husband and children.
Whether working outside or inside the home, she does what she does out of love for them. God’s love in her drives her to do everything she does as a wife and mother. It’s not because of worry, stress about getting everything done or anxiety about measuring up to the moms on Instagram.
No matter where she spends her day, she (along with her husband, ideally) focuses on her family’s spiritual and emotional needs first. She watches over and works at loving her family and the people of God.
To learn more about the gifts of service God has given women, read “The Role of Women.”