Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Is motherhood the highest calling for women?

Our Highest Calling

I have heard many Christians state that motherhood is the highest calling for women.  Some even say that motherhood is the holiest calling for women.  The people who say this are typically the Christians who believe that men and women, simply on the basis of gender, have different roles and functions in society, in the church, and in the home.  (It intrigues me that many of these same Christians do not assert that fatherhood is the highest calling for men.)

Is motherhood the highest calling for women?Jesus did not think that motherhood was necessarily the highest calling for women.  One day Jesus was teaching a crowd of people when a woman[1] enthusiastically called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Luke 11:27.

Jesus’ mother was blessed.  She was not only blessed because of her remarkable role as the mother of the Messiah, but  she was blessed because she had faith in the word of God.  The Bible says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Luke 1:45.

Jesus did not accept or affirm the blessing that the woman in the crowd had shouted out. Instead he replied, “Blessed rather are those who are hearing the word of God and obeying it.” Luke 11:28.

Previously, in Luke 6:47, Jesus had taught that a wise person is someone,“. . . who comes to me and hears my words and does them.”  Jesus wants both men and women to be continually coming to him in close relationship; he wants us to be continually hearing his words; and he wants us to be continually putting those words into obedient practice.[2]  This kind of radical discipleship is our highest calling!

The Priority of Parenthood

Caring for our families needs to be one of our highest priorities.  One of our main avenues of ministry should be to our families.  They should be among the first beneficiaries of our prayers, and our spiritual and practical help.  If everyone loved and looked after their own families the world would be in much better shape.

Parenthood may well be the main ministry of some men and women, and this needs to be encouraged.  However many men and women also have other expressions of their calling as Jesus’ disciples.  They have been given other ministry gifts, roles, and functions to use outside of their immediate or extended families.  These other ministries should also be encouraged.

What about those people who do not have a family?  When churches make marriage and motherhood the pinnacle and priority of Christian womanhood, women who remain unmarried or childless may view themselves as lonely failures.  Churches need to make efforts to ensure that single or childess men and women feel welcome, included and valued in church communities.

Furthermore, some Christians choose to be single and celibate so that they can serve God better, with greater devotion (1 Cor 7:32-35).  The Apostle Paul chose to be single and he recommended it (1 Cor 7:7).  Singleness and celibacy were long considered to be virtuous vocations by the church.  It has only been since the Reformation that marriage and motherhood has been persistently promoted as the Christian ideal for women.[3]

Dissuading Women from Ministry

It seems to me that many of the Christians who claim that motherhood is the highest calling for women, say this merely in an attempt to placate housewives and dissuade them from fulfilling God’s call outside the home.  (No one argues that fatherhood and ministry are incompatible.)  As important as good parenting is for our children and for our society, some women may in fact have a calling in ministry that is even “higher”, more important and more necessary, than the ministry of motherhood.

We need to be wary about discouraging gifted and godly women from ministering outside the home. We need to be wary about restricting capable and called women from leading in the home, in the church, or in society.  We need to be wary that we do not confuse traditional or cultural stereotypes of gender roles with biblical precepts which show that both men and women believers are empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit for ministry (Acts 2:18; Romans 12:6-8).  Both Christian men and Christian women need loving encouragement and gracious support from fellow believers to help them fulfill God’s purposes in their lives.  Rigid restrictions, based on gender alone, limit and hinder the work of God.


Endnotes

[1] Jesus had just been teaching about evil spirits.  Was this woman troubled by evil spirits?  Was this woman’s outburst demonic?

[2] “Coming”, “hearing” and “doing” are present active participles.  This means that we need to keep coming to Jesus, keep hearing his words, and keep doing what he says.

[3] The Reformation, with the resulting backlash against Roman Catholicism, brought about an antagonism against monasticism as well as a general discouragement against voluntary (or involuntary) singleness from Protestants.  Martin Luther was outspoken in his attempts to promote the value and virtue of motherhood.

Additional Reading: Since writing this article I’ve seen another one on the net by Emily Hunter McGowan which covers some of the same ground as mine.  I recommend reading it:  The “highest calling” of a woman.


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Posted March 9th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

22 comments on “Is motherhood the highest calling for women?

  1. Don J says:

    Great post.

    One of the strange things is that the woman spoke truth, but still was corrected. Sometimes we categorize things into true and false categories and leave it at that. In this case, the woman spoke a true statement and Jesus still “trumped” her with a truer statement.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Don. You make a good point.

    I do wonder whether the women who shouted out was troubled by a demonic influence. (Did you see footnote 1?)

    It intrigues me that the New Testament mentions several people who spoke the truth about God even when under a demonic influence. These people were silenced however, because they were a distraction.

  3. Lenora says:

    Interesting take on the call of women in the ministry. I had to answer this question as well and I heard a former employer ask about how the bible depicts women about being in the back of the church and staying quiet. He didn’t ask me and while the answer of that was back in biblical times satisfied him, I sort of wondered about that myself. What I believe is that men back then (and still some today) blame the woman for the fall of man. She was the one that spoke to the serpent and adhered to what he said. My answer, and Adam was right there saying nothing and being the head of her.

    This is a thoughtful read and I pray you have more viewers then you know what to do with. 🙂

  4. Marg says:

    Lenora, Thank you for your prayer! It has really made my day!

    I actually think that some people have a mistaken view of church meetings in early church times. Most churches met in homes for the first couple of centuries. Some of these house churches were hosted and led by women. http://newlife.id.au/tag/women-in-the-early-church/

    There is no archeological or historical evidence that churches (or synagogoes) were segregated at that time. Segregation happened in some churches later. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

    Thanks for leaving a comment. It’s always nice to meet a reader! 🙂

  5. […] Is motherhood the highest calling for women? […]

  6. […] As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”  He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:27-28.  ]

  7. […] Luke 11:27-28: As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”  He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  […]

  8. […] Parenthood is an important role that should not be underestimated; however, we do not confine men to the role of parent, similarly we should not confine women to the role of being a parent.  The New Testament writers did not view New Covenant women primarily as wives and mothers. […]

  9. […] In 1 Timothy 5:14 there are instructions to young widows to remarry and keep house.  These instructions were designed to stop the problem of unruly women in Ephesus from spreading nonsense door to door.  In Titus 2:4-5 there are very basic instructions for young women to marry and be good wives and mothers.  These instructions were designed to stop the problem of irresponsible, idle women in Crete from being bad wives and mothers.  Neither of the instructions in these passages were aimed at older women, or to women who were already behaving responsibly. […]

  10. […] Is motherhood the highest calling for women? […]

  11. […] Is Motherhood the highest calling for women? […]

  12. […] On one occasion Jesus had the opportunity to affirm the “virtue” of motherhood.  A woman in the crowd cried out and said to him, ““Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”  Jesus replied and said, “Blessed rather are those who are hearing the word of God and obeying it.” (Luke 11:26-27 NIV )  In no way did Jesus indicate that being a mother was the only, necessary way women can hear God’s word and obey it. […]

  13. […] Is motherhood the highest calling for women? […]

  14. Laura says:

    Thanks for re-posting this on your facebook page Marg. As a woman married for almost 22 years and with no children (and content that way) I truly appreciate this inclusive message. You have no idea how very alienated women without kids can be made to feel in church settings!

  15. Marg says:

    Laura, my very best friend is married and childless by mutual decision. What she and her husband have done for the kingdom, each in their own way, as well as together, is amazing. I admire my friend greatly.

  16. Renee says:

    Is it possible that this can be associated with men who are fathers spending more time away from the family? ie. by giving “highest calling” responsibility to the mother/woman. If people believe this, then men are allowed to pursue anything they want outside of the home. Including but not limited to career, a second job to make extra money, volunteering at church or other well meaning social events. In my opinion and experience, this cannot be a woman’s highest calling because it is temporary. Mothering children ( motherhood ) is temporary. When the children become adults, a mother’s role changes dramatically. What then? Is the highest calling over and everything subsequent in life less meaningful or a secondary calling? Motherhood is not a woman’s highest calling.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Renee,

      I agree. It is temporary. My children are grown and sometimes all my house needs to stay in order is that I load and unload the dishwasher and wipe a few surfaces; this takes less than half an hour. Am I supposed to stay home all day for this?

      The Galilean women who followed Jesus weren’t busy at home. Neither were Priscilla, Phoebe or Junia or several other women who were active in ministry.

      The instructions about keeping house are given to young women. But more than that, they are given to young women that had houses to keep, “Roman matrons”. Some young women, however, were slaves, so they may have been involved in industries other than keeping house.

      It does seem that some Christians teach that we are to restrict the “sphere” of women to the home, but that the men are free to pursue careers, hobbies, ministries, and social events outside the home in the “public” sphere. This is exactly what Aristotle, an influential pagan Greek philosopher taught.

  17. […] Is Motherhood the highest calling for women?  […]

  18. Tracey says:

    As a divorced woman, I hesitate to go to church because of the misconception that I’m just going to church to ‘find a man.’ Based on this blog post, I can start to go boldly to church and say that the man I’m most interested in finding is Jesus! Thank you for this revelation Marg!

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