by Bari Nichols
Pastors should treat women in the congregation like family. That seems to be the lesson of 1 Timothy 5:2: “Treat…older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters.” But does God say how they should preach to women?
In fact, he does. Three passages of Scripture in particular stand out for their instruction on how to preach to women, especially regarding their work in the home. They encourage pastors to remember at least three things when they are preaching to their mothers and sisters in Christ: remember their curse, remember their context, and remember their culture.
In considering these three points, which I offer as observations from a sister, my goal is not to provide you with every available application. Though I do offer some practical suggestions, even more than that, I hope to give you three windows into the lives and hearts of women working in the home so that you can preach any passage to us “in an understanding way” (1 Pet. 3:7).
REMEMBER OUR CURSE
First, remember your sisters’ curse. In the garden, God placed a curse on Eve’s calling: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).
These relationships are at the heart of the woman’s work in the home. Women today still struggle with the desire to usurp their husband’s leadership, and they still suffer pain and trouble in childbearing. Consider how Peter takes this curse into account by speaking to women directly about their relationship with their husbands:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands…your beauty should not come from outward adornment…instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful…you are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Pet. 3:1-6)
Here Peter exhorts women to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, not a domineering, manipulative one, as they live under their husband’s leadership. And he encourages women not to give way to fear, but to trust God as they follow their husband. In so doing, women display the gospel. How can you follow Peter’s example? A few suggestions for preaching from different portions of Scripture:
First, when preaching from the Old Testament, consider spotlighting the “holy women of the past” as you preach through the story of Israel. How were the women good examples (or not) of putting their hope in God as they submitted to their husbands? Did they help their husbands follow God, or did they lead them away from him, like the Canaanite women and Solomon’s wives? Encourage your women to bring all their troubles to God, whether it’s fear over their children’s health or future, or anxiety about the financial security of their home, or anything else.
Second, when you are in the wisdom literature, help your women consider if their attitude draws their husbands’ praise (Prov. 31:28) or drives their husbands to want to live on the roof (Prov. 21:9). Are they loving their children by faithfully disciplining them (Prov. 29:15; 31:26)?
Third, when you are preaching in the New Testament, urge your women to go to Jesus with their weariness and struggles, and not try to flee the curse by escaping into novels, exercise, or shopping. Encourage them to consider how their daily lives are being transformed by the gospel. For example, if you are preaching in James, how is their speech? Are they using it faithfully to build up and help their husbands and to gently, patiently instruct their children, or do they use their speech sinfully to express criticism or anger?
REMEMBER OUR CONTEXT
Next, remember our context—the household. Consider how Paul provides instruction about teaching women:
So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. (1 Tim. 5:14)
Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Tit. 2:3-5)
From these texts, we can see it is important to consider whether you are preaching to older women or younger women. Not all women are in the same season of life—and, thus, their households will not all look the same. It is also important to remember that the primary responsibility God has given us is to our husbands and children, and the primary entity that should receive the focus of our labors and where we work out our salvation is our household. This is our context.
Consider whether your sermon applications build up your younger women in their context—or preach them out of it. For example, if you present Christian faithfulness as going on mission trips, discipling eight people, and engaging in weekly street evangelism, you may be preaching younger women out of their context. The mother of four young children usually does not have the flexibility to undertake those excellent activities. An older woman, however, may. Instead, talk to the younger women about how they can be building God’s Kingdom in the context God has given them. How? Again, I’d offer a few suggestions for preaching from different parts of the Bible.
From the Old Testament: Consider pointing out how God is Israel’s helper, and that he has given your women the same role in their husband’s life. How can they grow in that role? Help them consider what they can learn about their mothering as they consider God’s faithfulness towards his regularly disobedient son, the people of Israel. Your moms can relate to Moses when he said to God, “What am I to do with these people?” (Ex. 17:5).
From the New Testament: Encourage your women to consider how they can use their homes to reach the nations, maybe by hosting a visiting missionary or international students for a meal. As they consider their evangelism, urge your women to think through the opportunities they have with neighbors, soccer team parents, and retail workers. Also: Are they doing all they can to make disciples of their own children, even as they remember that only God saves?
Ask them, “How is the gospel transforming your work in the home?” And help them consider that question in light of your Scriptural text. For example, if you are in 1 Peter, encourage your women to pursue holiness in their own lives and manage their households towards holiness. What kinds of books and media are the children taking in? What is the tone of conversation in the home? Is the family living a “good life” among the pagans so that “they may see their good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:12)? Generally, urge the women to be “well known for [their] good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting [themselves] to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Tim. 5:10).
Also, preach to our context in the household by exhorting us to embrace it. Urge your younger women to obey Paul’s counsel to marry, have children, and manage their homes, which is countercultural to many women in their twenties. Urge your older women to obey Paul’s counsel in Titus 2 to instruct the younger women in these jobs. Urge them all to work with excellence, remembering that it is the Lord Christ they are serving (Col. 3:24).
REMEMBER OUR CULTURE
Finally, remember our culture. Keep in mind the cultural air your women are breathing and how it can pollute their hearts.
That air is full of ideas like those presented in Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, the point of which is largely captured in the title. Our culture tells women to find value, identity, usefulness, and reward in career. It says that we are wasting our gifts and our lives by applying them primarily to family life. And even Christian women are buying into this message, especially younger women.
In writing to Timothy, Paul well understood female culture in Ephesus. Though his comments are not regarding the household, we can still take a lesson from how he addresses women’s hearts. He speaks directly to the Ephesian fashion culture and how it tempted women:
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (1 Tim. 2:9-10)
Paul saw that this culture encouraged women to dress to exercise power over men by alluring them. Our culture does the same—and it pushes women to take on the very roles of men.
Remind your married women of what is at stake in the work they choose: the gospel! Christ and the church are not interchangeable. Encourage them that when they embrace their helper role, they are imaging the church’s relationship to Christ (Eph. 5:22-24). Encourage your women that when they lay down worldly ambition to serve their family, they are surrendering their lives in a very tangible way to follow Christ and display his humility (Phil. 2). Encourage them that they are working for the eternal reward Christ has for them (Col. 3:24).
So, brothers, as you preach to and shepherd your women who are working in the home, remember our curse, our context, and our culture. In so doing, you will bring the gospel to bear on the good work God has given us, for his glory.
Bari Nichols is a wife, mother of four children, and, as she and her husband Andrew affectionately say, Chief Operating Officer of Nichols, Inc. (their household). She is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.