One of the challenges that comes with getting married is that, barring any high crimes, it is a vocation that comes with tenure. This is why it is so important for courting couples to prioritize issues of character, as distinct from issues of flash and personality—to think more about the steak and less about the sizzle. Given the set-up, a husband and a wife both need to be self-motivated people when it comes to doing what God has called them to do.
But unfortunately, because it is a calling that comes with lifetime tenure, some individuals, once they are married, lapse into behaviors that would get them fired from any other job. This certainly happens with both sexes, but the challenges are particularly hard when the disorderly one is the wife.
The earth is disquieted, and cannot really handle four things—and one of them is “an odious woman when she is married” (Prov. 30:23)
The Second Paragraph Rule
Now a number of years ago I wrote a piece in Credenda that subsequently raised some ire in various quarters, which is par for the course, but when I returned and read that piece years later, it seemed to me that the blows I was receiving around my head and shoulders were largely deserved. This is not because the point I was making was a bad one—it was very similar to the point I want to make with this post—but rather because I made the point hamhandedly. I was not arguing that if a wife fails on one occasion to load the dishwasher properly as she ought to have done that the husband should call in the elders, but it certainly could have been taken that way. Hence, this correction.
So let’s not do that again, right guys?
This time we will make it clear that I am talking about situations that are both serious and troubling. We live in a generation that has largely abandoned sex roles in the home, which means that many young women have not been taught how to be homemakers at all, and when you combine this with the widespread societal reluctance to be critical of any women about anything womanly, and the ordinary bell curve issues that dictate that some women will be lazy, manipulative, and impossible to deal with, you have quite a toxic brew.
The meme I have included here is over-stated, but not by much, and is closer to what Scripture teaches than what many well-intentioned and warm-hearted disaster-enablers think they should be doing.
In addition, we should remind everyone that to say that there is such a category as disorderly wives is not to say that all wives are disorderly. Nor is it to say that most wives are disorderly. It is simply to say that some are, and that it happens in sufficient numbers to make teaching on it necessary.
A Problem Nonetheless
Scripture teaches us that Scripture is sufficient for “training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), and that would include training that leans against this particular form of unrighteousness. The problem we are addressing is not a unique one. Some facets of it are new in our time, like hours wiled away on Facebook, but the central problem—wives who are tempted to fail at their duties in homemaking—is not a new problem.
“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 2:3–5 (KJV)
First, the older women who are to be doing the teaching should be models in their lives. The two lifestyle things that are specifically mentioned are that they should not be given to much wine, and they should not be slanderers. Put another way, the older women in the church should not start drinking before lunch, and they shouldn’t be running a discernment blog.
This puts them in a position to teach the younger women what young women need to know—to be diligent, to be domestic, to be competent in their work at home, and to be subservient to their husbands. All of this is so that the Word of God might not be blasphemed. Our modern interpreters have gone Paul one better—they insist that we blaspheme the Word of God so that a misogynistic secular culture not accuse us of being misogynistic.
Not content with advising this spate of illegalities, the apostle Paul gives similar instructions elsewhere.
“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”
1 Timothy 5:14 (KJV)
The verb that lies underneath “guide the house” is oikodespotein, which is a compound word that combines house and despot. She is therefore to be diligent in the management of the household. Her husband can trust her to do a competent job with it. He doesn’t have to take up any of her tasks to keep the place from falling apart.
And the famous Proverbs 31 woman is one who avoids a particular temptation. She does not eat the bread of idleness. She is not a lazy woman.
“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”
Proverbs 31:27 (KJV)
The reason Scriptures includes such instructions is that it is a very real possibility that a number of young women, if left to their own devices, would not do a good job. Not to put too fine a point on it, they might fail in their calling of domesticity. Just as boys need to be instructed on how to be a man, so also girls need instruction on how to be a wife and mother. When they did not receive that instruction growing up, then the older women in the church should help them out with teaching on the subject.
A Separate Temptation
But at a certain point, there is one thing that those helping need to be careful not to do themselves. They must be careful not to step in to carry too much of the burden. We can and should help one another with our duties (Gal. 6:3), but must not step in in such a way as to subsidize an ongoing disobedience.
“For every [woman] shall bear [her] own burden.”
Gal. 6:5 (KJV)
So all of this is quite unfortunate when it happens, and it really is a difficult thing to address. That is why one of the temptations that comes to observers of this kind of thing is the temptation to subsidize it. One of the ways that manipulation works is that the slothful person engages in a game of chicken. If the lazy person doesn’t do it, then either it will not get done, or, as is more frequently the case, somebody else steps in to pick up the slack.
The latter scenario is more common. Of course, occasionally you will have everything go all to pieces, and the closet at the crazy cat lady’s house looks the way it does for a reason. But that really is comparatively unusual. What is far more common is for others to fill the vacuum that has been created, not to mention running the vacuum that has been abandoned. The husband picks up the shopping duties, for example. The mother-in-law comes over and cleans. Friends pick up way too much child care.
The thing that is interesting here is that these industrious folks are disregarding the teaching of Scripture as much as the lazy wife is.
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us . . . For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies . . . And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”
2 Thess. 3:6,11, 14 (KJV)
If the person who is neglecting her assigned duties can do so with everything staggering on in ways that she is accustomed to, then there is no reason to change. Scripture teaches that when a person is disorderly, whether man or woman, others should step clear back and let them eat their own cooking. The message here would be simple and straightforward. Pray for this person. Teach them. Encourage them. Remind them. Pick up one end—but if they don’t pick up their end, then before God you must put your end down.
Two Bucket Women
Allow me to conclude by returning to my second qualification section above. This problem is one that Scripture addresses, and so it is necessary for pastors to address it also. That is the reason for writing this. I have also seen this kind of thing wreck marriages, and this is yet another reminder to us that Scripture speaks wisdom. Scripture speaks wisdom that we need to hear.
But I do need to head off a particular slander. I do not write these things because I have been in any way unfortunate in the women God has placed in my life. My mother was an industrious woman, a missionary to post-war Japan, where she was the principal of a Bible school for women. And after marriage, she labored alongside my father for many years, doing so in great wisdom. My younger sister, who went to be with the Lord unexpectedly last year, was a diligent wife and fully engaged mother. But after she died, my brother-in-law discovered that, unbeknownst to everyone, she had written a commentary on the entire Bible, a process she had begun as a teenager. My daughter-in-law is hard-working, diligent, intelligent, and engaged. My two daughters are amazing, and do an unbelievable amount of kingdom work, laughing the entire time. And all my grand-daughters are taking after the examples that have been set for them. I could tell stories on them . . . and maybe someday I will.
And of course, my wife is the kind of woman who can teach younger women what the Scriptures instruct women to do, and she can teach them with authority because she has done it all, cheerfully and wisely and thousands of times.
In Scripture, in the early chapters of Proverbs, wisdom is presented to us in the form of a woman. But then again, folly does the same. The contrast between the two is clear in Scripture, and it is stark in real life.