The Beautiful Power of Motherhood
The Bible teaches that every woman is created for motherhood, and this is not because every woman marries and bears biological children. Rather, there is something intrinsic about being made female in the image of God that gifts a woman with the beautiful power of motherhood that is deeper and broader than physical pregnancy and birth. Conception and birth are the central signs of this reality, but they do not exhaust it. We live in a world that is at war with God, and unsurprisingly, it has declared war on this most precious gift – surely because it is so potent.
Saved Through Childbearing
“Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:15). It’s striking that in an apparently liturgical context, Paul points to the unique calling of women to be child-bearers (1 Tim. 2:15). It might also seem a bit odd since Paul is speaking about men and women, not explicitly about husbands and wives. But this actually makes sense given the creational context. The garden was the original sanctuary, and that is where the first sin occurred. The solution to sin is promised through the “seed of the woman,” and Adam named his wife “Eve” in faith and repentance believing that she would become the “mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20). Paul does not mean a woman will be saved through childbearing in a crass materialistic way, but he says rather that together with faith, love, holiness, and self-control, the maternal calling is central to God’s plan of salvation for every woman and for the world (e.g. Ps. 8, 127). To put it another way, there is a feminine-shaped faith, love, holiness, and self-control that is uniquely maternal and domestic and used by God to bring His salvation to the world.
The Power of Motherhood
In 1 Peter 3, Peter gives encouragement to women who have disobedient husbands, and he goes straight to a woman’s calling to be beautiful (1 Pet. 3:1-4). Woman was created to be the glory of man (Gen. 2:23), which is why Paul says it is a disgrace for men to have long hair and a disgrace for women to have short hair: longer hair is a sign of a woman’s glory (1 Cor. 11:7, 14-15). Given the close association between glory and power in Scripture (e.g. Ps. 63:2, 78:61, 145:11, 1 Cor. 15:43), it is not too much of a stretch to say that a woman’s beauty and glory is her power. And this fits with what Peter is talking about. When a man is being disobedient, a woman should use her God-given power to win him to obedience (1 Pet. 3:1-2). Peter reminds women that their power is not primarily in their words or external adorning, but flows out of “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:4). And here’s where motherhood comes in. Peter says that this is how the holy women of old have always adorned themselves, in submission to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, whose daughters you are, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Pet. 3:6). Peter says that Sarah’s embrace of her duty of submissive adornment before God and toward her husband is simultaneously an act of motherhood to all who follow her example. What’s striking is that for most of Sarah’s life she was barren and childless, and not to put too fine a point on it, she had no biological daughters. But Peter holds her up as a supreme example of motherhood. This is because she embraced her calling to be the glory of man, specifically for her husband. We see a similar pattern emerge as we survey the rest of Scripture: Deborah was a mother in Israel through her political and prophetic ministry (Jdgs. 5:7). King Lemuel’s mother is enshrined in Proverbs as a mother of all young men seeking wisdom and an excellent wife (Prov. 31:1ff). Paul asks the Romans to greet a man named Rufus and specifically his mother, who had been a mother to him as well (Rom. 16:13).
What Does This Powerful Motherhood Look Like?
Industry: Paul warns Timothy about the temptation, particularly for younger women, to be idle, going about house to house, gossips, busybodies, and saying what they should not (1 Tim. 5:13, cf. Prov. 31). Paul says that these younger widows should be encouraged to marry, bear children, and manage their households, and “give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Tim. 5:14).
Instruction: Paul exhorts Titus that the older women are to be reverent and teach what is good, “and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and obedient to their husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Tit. 2:3-5).
Comfort: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass” (Is. 66:13).
Sharing a Sincere Faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Tim. 1:5). This is related to that precious inward beauty that isn’t afraid of anything frightening (1 Pet. 3:6).
Freedom to be Fruitful: “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband’… So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:26-27, 31). Freedom is not found in doing whatever you want; freedom is doing what you were made for, and every woman is made for motherhood. One way we can demonstrate this is to ask: when does motherhood begin? Within a couple of days of conception all the genetic material is there for a fertilized egg to become a mature woman, and her uterus begins developing during the 9th week of gestation. In other words, every woman is created with this central sign, that she was made to be fruitful, to welcome strangers, to make a home. And this is fundamentally because you are a home.
In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warns Timothy of a particular stripe of corruption that sometimes infiltrates the church, “having a form of godliness, but denying its power… for among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened by sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:5-7). Here, Paul calls the entire church to be watchful, but there is a particular warning for women and the only solution to the threat is gospel grace. Fundamentally, guilt is what makes women weak and vulnerable and restless, but a forgiven woman is strong, secure, fearless, fruitful, and altogether lovely.