May 8, 2019

More than Mothers

Gary Thomas — 

My goal in this week’s blog is simple: I want to help us guys (me first) to celebrate our wives and moms on Mother’s Day without being narcissistic. If we’re not careful, we can value our moms primarily for what they gave us and our wives for what they give us, but this pegs their worth to how they impact us, which is basically the very definition of narcissism (not in the clinical sense, but in the popular usage of the word).

I wrote in A Lifelong Love that if I love my wife because she’s kind, I don’t necessarily love my wife; I love kindness. If I love her because she’s a willing participant in sexual relations, I may not love her as much as I love having sex with her.

Biblical love is the love of God that loves because it loves, a unilateral commitment that proclaims the worth and excellence of its beloved because it has chosen to. God loved us while we were yet sinners—not because we deserved or deserve it.

The reason it’s necessary to point this out and pursue this kind of love is because there will be times in any marriage where the wife or mother may not act in a “lovable” manner. She may not be kind and she may even be a chronic or bitter complainer. The Bible promises you that your spouse will mess up regularly and creatively (James 3:2). If your love is pegged to how your spouse treats you, it’s being held up by thrice-used tape.

 

A Better Way

A better way to celebrate our wives and moms is to remember how the Bible affirms women for who they are, not what they do for us. Just as we need to meditate on the goodness and wonder of God to maintain a worshipful heart, so we need to meditate on the wonder of women in general to cherish our spouse in particular.

Without attacking or even diminishing motherhood, the Bible brilliantly portrays women as much more than mothers. Women are God’s daughters, God’s servants, and leaders in their own right apart from their ability to give birth.

This proclamation begins at the beginning. It’s quite astonishing how even the book of Genesis steps outside its cultural milieu to insist that women mirror God’s own character and image just as fully as do their male counterparts: “So God created man in his own image, he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Our original creation proclaims that women and men together mirror the image of God. Since God is above gender, males alone (or females alone) fail to adequately represent his character and image.

Just as shocking, the admonition to shape this world and even to rule over this world is given to women just as much as it is to men: “God blessed them [the man and the woman] and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth’ ” (Genesis 1:28).

Women are not told to sit passively on the sidelines and cheer for their husbands as the men run the show. On the contrary, from the very beginning, women share God’s command for humans to rule, subdue, and manage this earth. They are co-regents.

This strong, affirming view of women continues into the first book of the New Testament, with the inclusion of women in the genealogy of the Messiah (a literary act that breaks with the tradition of the first century). Yes, there is Abraham and David and Joseph — but there is also Rahab, whose courageous stand against her own country earned her citizenship into God’s people; Ruth, who broke with the idolatry of her homeland to enter the faith and “salvation history” of the Jewish Messiah; Mary, given news that could have seemed like a death sentence, whose response implies consent (“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled”) and whom God used to bring our Lord and Savior into this world. There’s also Bathsheba, a woman whose consent didn’t matter when she was “summoned” by the king. Though once a victim, she is remembered for playing a crucial part in a story that leads to the birth of Christ. Rather than being forever tainted by what was done to her, she is beloved for what God did through her.

Just as significantly for Christians, Jesus came into this world through a woman. Not a single male had anything to do with the immediate conception or birth of our Lord. Instead, a woman is the only human who contributed to Jesus’ DNA.

Jesus also elevated women in his teaching. In Mark 10:11, Jesus astonishes his disciples when he tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” Why was this astonishing? According to rabbinic law, a man could commit adultery against another married man by sleeping with that man’s wife, and a wife could commit adultery against her husband by sleeping with another man; but no provision stipulated how a husband could commit adultery against his wife. Jesus was telling those first-century men, “Your wife has equal value in God’s sight. It is possible for you to sin against her every bit as much as it is possible for her to sin against you.”

When a woman called out to Jesus in praise of Mary, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you,” Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:27–28). Back then, a woman was valued primarily for what her children accomplished; Jesus directly refutes this as a woman’s only value, saying he also exalts women who embrace his truth and go to work on behalf of his kingdom.

And let’s look at Jesus’ death. While one male disciple betrayed our Lord and ten others cowered behind locked doors, some very courageous women dared to watch Jesus’ final minutes on this earth. Mark goes out of his way to emphasize the scene at the foot of the cross: “There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40 – 41).

In Jesus’ most trying moments, he was supported by many women. Modern readers might read right over this narrative fact — but in the first century, this was a startling truth and a challenge to any false view of male superiority.

But perhaps the boldest statement came after Jesus died and was raised from the dead. According to ancient Pharisaical law, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a tribunal as too untrustworthy. Only men could give witness. So when Jesus rose from the dead — the most important event that has ever occurred or ever will occur — who was present to give witness and testimony? Women! Jesus pointedly uses women, whose testimony could not then be heard in contemporary courts of law, to proclaim his glorious resurrection.

Though the apostle Paul is often called a misogynist because he seems to suggest that there is a difference between the genders, and that gender may impact the relationship and even leadership within a marriage (Col. 3:18, 1 Cor. 11:3, and Eph. 5:22, among several others), he still “got” the transformation Jesus imparted when it comes to gender when he urges some widows in 1 Corinthians 7 to seriously consider staying unmarried so they can more fully devote themselves to kingdom work. This underscores Paul’s belief that a woman’s highest call isn’t to find a husband to help but rather a Savior to serve.

This elevation of women at all points in theological pronouncements, historical accounts, and practical teaching should astonish us, given the male-oriented culture in which the Bible took shape. It should form the way we respect our wives as women and teach our children to honor their moms with the respect given them by God.  

 

What this Means for Husbands and Sons

The best marriages will be shaped by husbands who live in the truth proclaimed by both Jesus and Paul: before your wife is a wife, before she is your kids’ mom, she is God’s daughter and God’s servant. She wasn’t put here on earth to make us happy and our kids comfortable; she was created to be the woman of influence God created her to be.

I can’t love my wife well if I have a faulty, narcissistic view of women in general. If we love our wives primarily as our wives and as our kids’ moms, we’re defining them in a very selfish, even narcissistic fashion. Jesus tells all of us to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).

The key for me is remembering that Lisa’s first role and her first identity is being God’s daughter and God’s servant. I can’t respect her if I don’t respect (and release her for) that. From this foundation, making a big deal out of Mother’s Day with loads of dark chocolate (for Lisa, “dark” starts at 85%) and hipster indie coffee is a great idea. We can and should celebrate their service to us.

Let’s just not stop there.

 

 

Note: a large portion of this post is adapted from my book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband

 

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17 responses to More than Mothers

  1. Lindsey Pennella May 10, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    You never cease to amaze me with your perspective and sound wisdom. Thanks for always sharing a heart that is so real and practical.

  2. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers. I’m always looking forward to your post Gary as I like how biblical you are and how you explain and make us understand things are life-changing. In relation to this post, I wrote a Mother’s Day poem on my blog. Please check it out.

    https://lifequotesandpoem.com/mothers-day-poem/

  3. It’s Mother’s Day. Yes, of course women are more than mothers. They are image bearers of Almighty God. On Mother’s Day though we celebrate the Design of God and the unique role many women play as moms. Don’t forget to take a break from writing and pick up a gift and a card.

    • Brian, read the last paragraph. I do far more than a card. But when you say “of course women are more than mothers” it makes me happy that you get that, but I’m telling you as a pastor who has worked with many, many couples, there are a ton of guys who don’t. Just as you urged me to take a break from writing, I might urge you to spend a little more time with hurting couples before you write “of course…”

    • Lindsey Pennella May 10, 2019 at 2:53 pm

      Trust me! He will!!!

    • Lindsey Pennella May 10, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      I have ZERO doubt Gary will take care of Lisa. They are a precious couple. They “walk the talk!”

  4. Gary, I love your words and perspective on women in the Scriptures. Thank you for speaking truth.

  5. Gary, I’m so thankful for your voice. I’ve cried a lot this week over the fact that there is even a fight in the church about the value of women. I’m continually reminded that in order for things to change, those with the power have to fight for the powerless. Thank you for continuing to use your voice.

  6. Thank you for extending to us, mothers, so much grace Pastor Gary! Beautiful article!

  7. Lisa Boyl Davis May 8, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    …”she is God’s daughter and God’s servant.” Thank you so much for this article. I, a Mom needed it. So much guilt this time of year. So much pain. I can honestly say I loath Mother’s Day. I adore my kids and adore my Mom and then there is the pain. A son who has cut us off – no communication for 9 months now – people ask me how my grandson is and I am stabbed in the heart but must smile and keep the conversation light. We can’t fix the problems because we are blocked, no way to call, text, email, and we don’t have their address. This article reminds me God is who celebrates me. God knows. He loves Marty, too. He sees it all and celebrates my hours of trying to be a good mom while groggy as worked swing shift in the ER. God sees all the books I read to them, even when I was so tired. Saw the meals I tried to make and sometimes burned. Knows about the marriage struggles. Knows about the ADHD and Aspergers between all our kids, my husband and I. It was a kind article and encouraged me. Thank you.

    • Yes! Parenting can give parents their highest highs and their lowest lows. You’re so wise in finding refuge in God in the midst of the current disappointments. He sees all and He receives our imperfect love and efforts….

    • A first time reader May 9, 2019 at 10:36 am

      Lisa, I share your parental pain and your subsequent loathing of Mother’s Day. It can be devastating to believe you have failed at one of your most important identities and purposes in life, being an excellent mother. I had to go back and re-read Gary’s words several times…”Back then, a woman was valued primarily for what her children accomplished; Jesus directly refutes this as a woman’s only value, saying he also exalts women who embrace his truth and go to work on behalf of his kingdom.”