A Woman’s Identity in Christ

August 20, 2012

Last week I shared a guest post from my friend Lisa, who has been struggling with her identity as a Christian wife and mother. I mentioned in my summary that some of us hold a misconception about wife/mother/homemaker being the role God most wants for women.

This picture of a women’s “place” seems to be based primarily on some statements in Paul’s New Testament writings, such as I Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2:4-5. 

These statements certainly describe some responsibilities for women (specifically, “younger” ones), but read out of context and alone they present an incomplete picture. A fuller image comes into focus when we consider what the Gospels say on the subject. In the Gospels we learn about what Jesus said to and about women. If we believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and the perfect representation of His being, then we must believe that Jesus’ attitudes toward women reflect those of His Father. 

Here are some interesting facts to consider: 

  • Jesus called women to serve him, not only to serve their families as proxies for him. He didn’t call all women disciples to leave their homes, but he did call some women to do that. Women both traveled with him in his ministry and helped support him financially (Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 27:55-56). Some of these women were identified as being married while others were mothers (probably of grown children) and others were neither wives nor mothers. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t send any of the married women home to focus on their families nor did he advise the single women to try to find husbands. 
  • Jesus valued discipleship even above motherhood and family. Jesus talked to a few women who were mothers (Matthew 15:21-28) and acknowledged that women bore children (Matthew 24:19, Luke 23:29). He blessed children and referred to them as precious to God and model members of his kingdom. He never taught anything specifically about how to be a mother or about the significance of a mother’s role. When one woman offered her opinion that his own mother deserved to be blessed, Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:27-29). Likewise, when his listeners once noted that Jesus’ family had arrived to see him, he pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).  
  • Jesus saw women as individuals, independent of their families. In the Gospels, Jesus never spoke to a woman whose husband was present, unless you count his mother (and possibly the wife of synagogue ruler Jairus). Jesus taught women directly (Luke 10:38-42), included women as examples in his teachings, and engaged women in lengthy spiritual conversations (John 4, John 11). He was concerned about the depth of their faith (Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 15:21-28) and devotion (John 12:1-7) and the accuracy of their beliefs about his identity and their understandings of God. 

These stories in the Gospels occurred before the establishment of the church, and they were recorded by the Gospel writers during the time Paul was writing his letters and possible even a decade or two after. Clearly, what we have from Paul is not the whole story.

The more complete story of God and women is this: Jesus calls women first and foremost to be his disciples. We are to follow him in every part of our lives. Sometimes that means that we follow him in our closest family relationships—including with our spouse, children, even parents and siblings. Yet, family is not his top priority. Sometimes Jesus actually calls us to leave family in pursuit of him (Matthew 10:37-38). And the prime time to “leave” family is when they have become an idol—the primary focus of our passion, people we love more than Jesus. 

My dear sisters, Jesus didn’t come to earth to call women only to be wives and mothers. He calls us to be his disciples as we live out all of our social and cultural roles. He calls us to serve, teach, evangelize, listen, encourage, counsel, labor, give, sacrifice, and love. Yes, we do these things for the people in our home, but not for them alone. The world Jesus loves and died for is much too big for that limitation.

So if you ever feel unfulfilled by an exclusive focus on your family, consider that God may indeed be calling you to broader service. Nothing about that should make you feel guilty. 

If you have experience with spiritually healthy ways this has played out in your life, please share it with us in the comments box below.

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