She will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:15)
Paul knew that in mentioning Adam, Eve, and childbearing in the context of this verse, he would call to mind that very real curse from Genesis 3. Yet here he isn’t condemning us by that curse, but is telling us that the very area of the woman’s curse is now one of the most powerful tools in our sanctification.
It is there that the image of Christ in us is nurtured, and our sins are put to death. It’s there that the elementary teachings of Christ are applied as his words become our truth. Our relationships with our husbands become our theater to replay Christ’s humble submission. Our children are our first students, and the constancy of their need is our pervasive teacher. Their cries and wants bring to life the battle of dying to ourselves that another might live. As our children grow up, so do their mothers.
But women are better served when they can admit, and when the men who love and shepherd them acknowledge, how difficult these much loved relationships and places are — and because of that, how hard God’s commands toward these relationships can be for us to obey.
Our Thorns and Thistles
Not only does it sometimes feel like we are being pushed to the “lesser” work, with no voice in the church (much less the world), but being faithful mothers means that we must turn toward the area of our lives that is often the hardest for us to face. Come to find out, we’re right about how painful it is. The curse of Genesis 3 is felt not only in the breadth of the pain in childbearing, but in the depth of the risk known as mothering. From prolonged singleness to struggling marriages, infertility to unplanned pregnancy, the death of a child to the waywardness of our young adult children, women face one grief after the other.
Then there are the innumerable ways within it all that cause us to grow weary and seek escape. We chafe against ungodly authority from our husbands, cringe at the demands of our children, and grow so weary of the constant cleaning. We fight against our kids’ sinful hearts and fight our own tendency to raise their concerns above our husband’s, to replace devotion to Jesus with our children’s exaltation, comfort, and success. And I didn’t even mention the sins that creep within our own hearts, not the least of which is my cursed desire to rule over my husband at points all along the way. Being a life-giver and a most suitable helper is wearying work.
Being a life-giver and a most suitable helper is wearying work.
This is our thorny field where the cursed ground is hard, and it seems only thistles grow despite all our weed-pulling. This is precisely why women are distinctly tempted to turn away from their homes to seek out seemingly more fruitful fields. Outside our homes, our teaching elicits more than yawns and complaints. Outside our homes, our ideas are greeted by people who work hard to see our vision made reality. Outside our homes, people think twice before whining about their meal. Whether you serve your friends, your community, or your church, it’s far easier to gain the appreciation there that we sometimes miss at home. It’s easy to see why we’d often rather be anywhere else.
Even as I write this, I imagine reading it twenty years ago when being a Christian was new and threatening to me. I cringed every time I read Paul, and to me, it was Paul I was reading. It had to be because I couldn’t stand to think that this was what my newly seen Jesus was telling me to do. I felt like every word written about women just aimed at pushing me back into my little home, with my little world because he must think I had a little brain, and couldn’t contribute much of anything except childcare and recipes. It seemed like I was being told to ignore the world’s needs and injustices about which I was so passionate. What I heard from Paul was, “Just rock your baby.”
Trace the Stories of God’s Women
But that’s not the truth of what God is really saying. Once again, I have to turn to the Bible to trace out the stories of the women of God who come before us. There we find ourselves amazed at all of the ways God uses women who embraced their roles to change the course of history and strengthen his people. We learn from them what happens when we believe God’s words to us are for our good, to bring us joy, and conversely what happens when we decide we know better than God does how our world should be.
I can see Sarah’s doubt-filled push of her servant toward her husband which led to conflict we still endure today. But I can also see her faith as she holds her laughter in her hands and nurses him at her elderly breast. By seeing her in both, I know better my own lines and directions for that same display of confidence in our all-powerful God.
If I know how to weave a basket, then the prince of Egypt can be floated down a river. If I teach my daughter to speak well to those in authority, I might even have my baby boy back with me so I can teach him about his God before others teach him about theirs. I can turn my household from idolatry if I receive the warning from Rachel’s life not to hedge my bets and carry around my idols as I go. I can understand pleading with my Father if I weep with Hannah. And if I know the sacred writings as well as she did, I can write a song for God’s people to sing for eternity.
I can see Barak come to Deborah and know that I don’t have to seek out men to counsel. I just need to be wise enough to do so well when they come to me. I don’t need to join an army to crush an enemy commander. All I need to do is practice hammering up my own tent so I’m ready with a peg in hand when my time comes. And I can thwart enemies of my people with a few well-timed words and well-prepared meals for my husband and those enemies.
When I read of the women who came before me, I learn that if I serve like Martha, kneel like Mary, acquiesce like our Lord’s mother, serve like Phoebe, and teach like Priscilla, then I can know that forever men will be taught by my life. I don’t need to take on their roles to be effective in Christ’s church.
Die to Self
And as those women show, it also doesn’t mean that I can’t give to anyone else but my own household. We can work outside the home, write words that are read by thousands, organize others to meet needs in our communities, and travel far to bring light to darkness. There are no limits to how far-reaching our lives can be. There is only a limit on where its foundations are set. I can give, rescue, help, work, provide, establish, and teach — from the overflow of what I am already doing at home for those I’m given to start with today. I can do it because my God is giving, rescuing, helping, working, and providing for people all over the world who aren’t his — from the overflow of what he gives to his people.
It’s only in the gospel that we can face the hard places of our homes and relationships — and then believe, as the women of God did before us, in a land we can only see from afar for now. We can join the other women of faith who died, not receiving what was promised, because God is still providing something better — and apart from all of the men and women who come after us, we will not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:40).We fight for faith not only because of those who fought before us, but also for those women who will come after us, trained up by us to believe in a God who is still faithful to give what he promised.
Fight to believe that God who loves us knows best how to transform us into the image of his Son. Turn your heart back to your family, back to childrearing, back to the place of our sanctification. Don’t grow weary in doing good there. We will reap a harvest if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). God isn’t condemning us in 1 Timothy 2:15. He’s offering us hope. He is pointing us to our “way out” so we can stand up under temptation, not wavering from the hope we have as we “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
As we embrace our calling to face our curse-ravaged homes with hope, we will find ourselves overflowing that same faith and love for a world desperately in need of it.