Mailbag

The Mailbag: Christian Women Working, Using Birth Control, and Limiting Family Size

 

I have a question [as] to what your convictions are about a woman working at all in the first place, in reference to your answer to the question “Is it ok for a woman to make more than her husband?

What also is your position on birth control or having a planned family size? You are very openly pro life, and amen to that, but it seems you also are supportive of a woman working outside of her home, and with that I can only generalize and forgive me if I am wrong, that you also support a woman limiting her family size because a mother of many children, which is usually the natural order of things when no contraceptives are used, would very difficultly work and also be able to look well to the ways of her household. Can you clear your position up for us wondering? Thank you Michelle! God bless you!

Thank you so much for your questions and kind remarks. These are important issues that women and their husbands need to prayerfully consider in order to arrive at a biblical conclusion for their family.

One thing it’s imperative to remember is that situations differ vastly from family to family. We can easily slip into a pattern of thinking that “every family is just like mine so every family ought to make the same decisions we’ve made,” and even to consider our family’s decisions as the biblical standard for every family. That’s not the case, and that’s not a biblical way of regarding others. It’s important to broaden our view to realize there are scads of family difficulties, logistics, and situations that we’ve never had to face before and that two families can make different decisions on these issues – due to the unique circumstances God has placed them in – and still both be in obedience to God.

The reason it’s possible for two families to make different decisions on these issues is because the Bible doesn’t give any clear cut commands that women should never “work at all in the first place,” or that family size should never be limited, or that no form of birth control should ever be used. We may have strong convictions about these things, but God does not specifically prohibit them in His Word, and that’s what we have to go by, not only when making decisions about our own families, but also when considering the decisions other families have made.

I took a closer look at what God’s Word says (and doesn’t say) about women working in my Mailbag article Stay at Home Dads? I would encourage you to read that article and look up the Scriptures I referenced, but, long story short, the Bible does not make an across the board prohibition that no woman may ever work to earn income. In fact, we see several examples of women in Scripture working, and God does not condemn these women for doing so. In some circumstances, it is perfectly biblical for women to work.

I think the confusion you may be experiencing stems from the fact that you’re assuming several “facts not in evidence” when it comes to women working outside the home. Your questions seem to be predicated on the idea that “working woman” necessarily means a married woman who has small children and who doesn’t want children to get in the way of her career. That may be the case for some women who work but it’s not the case for every woman. Not every woman is married. God has not blessed every woman with children. Some women have children who are grown and on their own. Some women are single mothers and have no choice but to work. Some women have disabled husbands who can’t work. Some women can work part time from home (or outside the home) and their jobs don’t interfere with raising their children and managing their households. Occasionally, when a couple marries, the wife is already well established in a lucrative career, while the husband hasn’t had the same educational/career opportunities, and regardless of how hard he works, and considering all other circumstances, the wife and husband agree that it just makes more financial sense for a particular season of their family’s life for her to work and for the husband to stay home with the kids. We cannot make a blanket statement that godly women in these circumstances, working outside the home (or from home), are necessarily violating Scripture. As I said, we need to be aware of the vast array of circumstances taking place in various families, and not judge those families by our own.

Your next question was about birth control and limiting family size. Again, we must look to Scripture to see what it says.

Since the Bible was written in a time before birth control pills and surgical sterilization were invented, naturally it does not address those specific types of birth control, or, really, any type of birth control. People have tried to make the case that a couple of passages address the issue of what we might call “natural family planning”:

The story of Onan describes Onan engaging in coitus interruptus (withdrawal) and God subsequently putting Him to death. This passage is sometimes offered as evidence that God is against even “natural” birth control. However, all you have to do is read the passage in context, and it’s clear that it wasn’t that particular sexual act itself that cost Onan his life, but his selfishness in refusing to obey what would later become the law of levirate marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:5 permits husbands and wives to engage in mutually agreed upon periods of abstinence which could be stretched like Silly Putty into a biblical endorsement of the rhythm method (natural family planning), but again, the context of the verse makes it clear that the abstinence mentioned in this verse is not for the purposes of birth control, it’s for the purposes of concentrated prayer, sort of a “fasting from sex” idea.

So birth control, even natural forms of it, is not really addressed in Scripture. It’s neither prohibited nor endorsed. And as a consequence, limiting the size of one’s family isn’t addressed either because that wasn’t normally, biologically-speaking, a realistic option.

The Bible does, however, speak to the issue of abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human being, so all the biblical passages prohibiting murder also prohibit abortion. This includes any form of birth control that kills an already conceived baby.

Another biblical principle I think it’s important to take into consideration is that the Bible seems to assume that procreation is one of the main goals of both sex and marriage. While God created sex to be pleasurable, gratifying our desire for physical ecstasy is dessert, not the main course of sex, as our libidinous 21st century sexual ethic would have us believe. God created marriage as the boundary lines for sexual activity, and the foundation for creating families. The Bible knows nothing of a man and woman getting married and proactively deciding for fleshly or selfish reasons (career, travel, freedom, spending habits, etc.) not to have children. The Bible takes for granted that married couples who are physically able will form families by having children. That is His plan for propagating human life.

The Bible also views children as a blessing to families and views motherhood as an honor, a vocation worthy of respect and value. I’m very disturbed at the increasing attitude in our society, and even among some Christians, that children are an annoying inconvenience and a hindrance to women pursuing their own personal goals. I remember seeing a billboard ad for condoms a few years ago that featured a picture of a screaming toddler emblazoned with the caption, “You should have used X Brand condoms.” Recently I saw a TV commercial for an IUD that said something along the lines of, “It’s easier to make an appointment with your doctor to get this IUD than to deal with a thee year old.”

And just last night, I saw part of a sitcom in which a stay at home mom comes home from a night out with friends (all career women) and complains to her husband that ever since the kids were born she’s been stuck at home, that her friends are doing exciting things and all she’s doing is raising kids, that she needs to get out of the house and do something. So she decides to get a job. As if being a mother is an unexciting burden and she’s not really doing anything worthwhile.

Children are a precious gift of God and deserve to be treated with love and dignity, to feel like they’re wanted and valued by the person they love most in the world – Mom.

So taking all of these things into consideration, where does that leave us when it comes to making godly decisions about these three issues of women working, birth control, and limiting the size of one’s family?

Here are some biblical conclusions we can draw:

•Christians should not have abortions or use any type of abortifacient birth control. Barrier methods, true contraceptives (birth control that prevents conception), surgical sterilization (tubal ligation/vasectomy), and natural family planning are not sinful in and of themselves, but we need to prayerfully consider whether or not we have sinful or selfish reasons for wanting to use them.

•As with any decision, Christians should examine their motives for wanting to use birth control, limit their family size, and for wanting Mom to work outside the home. Are these motives sinful, fleshly, selfish, based on a lack of trust in God? If so, that’s the root issue that needs to be dealt with, because Christians should have biblical and godly motives for their decisions, not sinful ones. Godly decisions spring from godly motives.

•Generally speaking, in families with children at home, God’s pattern is for Mom to stay home, manage the household and raise the children, and for Dad to support the family financially. For many couples today, that will necessitate limiting the size of their family at least to a degree. The Duggars might be able to support 20 children on Jim Bob’s salary alone, but that is not the case for most families. Most couples will, at some point, have to make a decision as to whether or not they are physically and financially able to care for additional children, or if having additional children will force Mom to get a job, leaving a day care or someone else to raise the children.

•Because God’s general pattern for families is for Mom to stay home and Dad to work, husbands and wives should try to follow this pattern if at all possible. Explore all possibilities of reducing expenses, bringing in extra income, and keeping Mom at home:

  • Cut your expenses- Move to a cheaper area or into cheaper, possibly smaller, housing. Get a cheaper vehicle. Cut extraneous expenses like cable, going out to eat, recreational shopping, buying name brands, mani-pedis, gym memberships, organizations that require dues, lawn and housekeeping services, etc.
  • Think outside the box when it comes to employment. Bringing in income doesn’t have to mean working outside the home 9 to 5 as someone else’s employee. What about working online or starting your own business? Creating/crafting things and selling them online? Taking in laundry, ironing, or sewing? Babysitting? Homeschooling other people’s children? Working a late night or early morning shift while the kids are sleeping?
  • I highly recommend the late Larry Burkett’s book Women Leaving the Workplace: How to Make the Transition from Work to Home. It came out in 1995, before the internet was really a thing, so it doesn’t have much information on working online, websites you can go to, etc., but most of the practical advice he gives is timeless, and it’s easy to think of online alternatives to some of the “analog” things he mentions.

•Christian wives need to remember to obey Scripture’s instruction to submit to their husbands. If your husband does not want you to work outside the home or has made another decision (that does not violate clear Scripture) about one of these three issues, you are to lovingly and graciously submit to that decision. Remember, there isn’t an explicit biblical command (outside of the prohibition of abortifacients) one way or the other about any of these three issues, but there is an explicit command that you’re to submit to your husband.

•Pray. Making wise and godly decisions about things that aren’t prohibited or endorsed by Scripture can be tough, but this is one of the ways God grows us in dependence on Him. Ask Him for guidance and wisdom. He delights to answer such prayers.

•Get counsel. Set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling or contact a biblical counselor. It can be very helpful to get objective biblical advice when you’re working through these issues.

In some seasons of life and family circumstances it can be perfectly biblical for a woman to work, as long as her home and family remain her first priority and do not suffer because of her working. Abortifacients should never be used by Christians, and Christians should carefully and prayerfully consider whether or not they have godly motives for wanting to limit their family size or use non-abortifacient types of birth control. Christian couples need to make certain they aren’t violating any explicit commands of Scripture, seek to align themselves with biblical principles, and prayerfully make the wisest and most godly decisions for their families that they can about each of these issues.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Female missionaries, quantum physics, book recommendations…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourrri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar can be a helpful tool!


In the last Potpourri edition of The Mailbaga reader asked if I could enlarge the font of my articles. I played around with several different fonts and sizes, and what you’re currently seeing is the best I can do to enlarge the font without throwing the layout of the whole page out of whack. Personally, I think it’s still too small, but I hope it has helped at least a little.


I am wanting to start a Bible study for my coworkers after work maybe once a week or every two weeks but I don’t know where to start. Many of them are young women in their early twenties and either new in the faith or no faith at all. I want to start slowly so I don’t overwhelm them but I have no idea the first step I should take. Do you have any resources for sound Bible studies for new believers or young women? 

Yes, I recommend you choose a book of the Bible, maybe a shorter one to start with, start at the beginning, and work your way through it with your ladies, teaching and discussing as you go. If you need some help in the beginning knowing what kinds of questions to ask or which issues in the text to focus on, you are more than welcome to use any of the studies I’ve written free of charge (see the “Bible Studies” tab at the top of this page), and even print them out if you like. Once you get a feel for teaching this way, I’m sure you’ll do fine on your own coming up with questions and pointing out important points in the passage.

You might want to start out with my study on Colossians since it’s fairly short and will give your group a good grounding in biblical Christology (who Jesus is, what He did, and why).

Another option might be for the group to choose a Bible reading plan (again, maybe one of the shorter ones to start off with), do the reading at home, and come together weekly to discuss the readings.

I don’t recommend “canned” book or DVD studies anymore. First of all, the overwhelming majority of them contain false doctrine. Studying the Bible itself sidesteps that problem altogether. Second, Christian women need to learn and practice the skill of picking up God’s Word and studying it for themselves. You have the unique opportunity with new Christians and non-Christians to start them off on the right foot of studying the Bible itself rather than getting them hooked on other people’s books. Below are a few more resources that might be helpful. Let me know how it goes!

Bible Study resource articles

The Mailbag: We Want Bible Study Answers

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

10 Bookmarkable Biblical Resources for Christian Women

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Bible Book Backgrounds: Why you need them and where to find them


What is your take on quantum physics and God?

Oh my! My take is that I really don’t know enough about quantum physics to speak intelligently on this. You might want to check out Answers in Genesis or the Biblical Science Institute. The founder of BSI, Dr. Jason Lisle, is a doctrinally sound Christian who has a double-major bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy with a minor in mathematics, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in astrophysics. He would be the one to ask.


Book Recommendations
I need some help from you readers on these!

Readers have written in requesting doctrinally sound recommendations of books on the following topics:

Theology books for teenagers
Neither of these are written specifically for teenagers, but they’re both written simply enough that teenagers shouldn’t have any trouble with them:
None Other by John MacArthur
Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul

A whole Bible commentary
Here
are some you can try out for free. MacArthur’s commentaries are excellent, as are Boice’s.

Explaining sex/where babies come from (8 year old level)
Clueless. My husband and I just explained it to our children verbally.

If you have a recommendation for a doctrinally sound book on any of these topics, please comment below with the title, and the author’s name and a link if possible. Thank you!


I read your blog regularly and haven’t seen you write about a particular topic: Christian wives, especially mothers, working outside the home. 

The reader went on to answer her own question quite beautifully, I thought. I couldn’t say it any better, so here’s the rest of her e-mail:

As I have read and studied Titus 2:3-5 lately, as an older woman (62 this year), I was struck by this phrase, workers at home:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (emphasis mine)

Interestingly, our pastor is doing a series on evangelism. He has started out in a different place, sort of laying the groundwork. He is showing us particular passages in the Scriptures regarding practical things that Scripture says Christians can do to perhaps provide openings and help to overcome some of the unsaved person’s natural enmity to the gospel. He preached on this passage because it says that women are to do/not do these things “so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” This has made this issue seem even more compelling to me. I know of Christian wives that are working outside the home, some against the counsel of godly people in their lives and even the wishes of their own husbands.

Lest you misunderstand me, I am not saying that a Christian woman should never work outside the home. Every Christian couple must decide together before the Lord how this looks in their own family. Obviously, a woman who has children in school all day, or grown children, or no children, has more leeway. If a husband is absolutely unable to work because of ill health, or whatever, I am sure there are some exceptions. But still the Scriptures teach that the Christian wife’s primary focus and attention is to be in her home, that the word of God will not be dishonored. I agree with what Grace to You wrote here.


Should women be missionaries?

Yes. Absolutely. In fact, we need more women – single and married – to serve as missionaries (more men, too). The only caveat is that women who serve as missionaries need to do so in a way that is in keeping with Scriptural principles of women’s roles in the church. (For example, female missionaries should not be pastoring churches on the mission field. A missionary’s job is to share the gospel with people and then disciple them in sound doctrine, and you don’t want to be teaching false doctrine through the act of preaching to men.) But there are oodles of mission opportunities that fit the bill.

It is my understanding that there is a great need for women missionaries to minister to women in countries whose cultures discourage or prohibit their women from interacting with men. A male missionary could not reach out to women in those countries, but a female missionary could be very effective.

My denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a rich history of female missionaries and mission work, starting with our Women’s Missionary Union, celebrating its 130th anniversary this year. Our yearly offering for international missions is named after female missionary, Lottie Moon. Likewise, our annual North American missions offering is the Annie Armstrong offering, and my state convention collects the Georgia Barnette missions offering every year. You might enjoy reading about these female missionaries and others such as Amy Carmichael and Amy Medina.

There are many reputable missions organizations out there, but the two I’m most familiar with are the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, which, even if you’re not Southern Baptist could give you some ideas of the types of mission work out there and the countries needing missionaries.

If you’re thinking about becoming a missionary, set up an appointment with your pastor to talk it over. He can probably give you some great pointers and put you in touch with people and organizations that can help you.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.