Reformed Articles

Wisdom vs. Law for moms

This post was originally published on this site

Last week I wrote a post urging pastors to do more teaching on God’s design for families, and in particular, to proclaim what the Bible has to say about God’s high calling of motherhood. Several readers asked me to do a follow-up post explaining what I mean when I say that God has called mothers and fathers differently inside of marriage. I hope to do that tomorrow. But before I do that, I feel that one other post would be helpful.

Here is my thesis for tomorrow: I’m going to argue that generally speaking, God calls dads to provide/protect/lead the family, and God calls moms to be primarily devoted to their homes and in particular their young children. This is a principle revealed in Scripture, and it produces a blessing when applied.

But before I get to that, I need to address a wrong assumption people often bring to this conversation. People can miss the larger point of what the Bible teaches on this issue because they lack a distinction between wisdom and law. For the New Testament believer, most of our instruction is in the form of wisdom, and not law. Understanding the difference between the two is crucially important in terms of sanctification and the application of the Bible to daily living (Proverbs 1:2-6).

Wisdom is the deliverance of biblical principles that should be applied to daily life (Proverbs 2:6-15). The Bible does not contain exact commands for every situation that comes up in life. God has made the world too interesting for that. Instead, the Bible gives principles that can be applied in order to navigate every situation of life. Those are biblical principles of wisdom.  

To help you understand the difference between law and wisdom, here is an example: “Do not get drunk” (Ephesians 5:18). That is in the form of a command, and is received as a law. There is never a time in life when it is appropriate to get drunk. God will never put you in a situation where drunkenness is the right response. It is against the law of God.

On the other hand, consider Proverbs 20:1: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” This is a wisdom principle, admonishing you not to be “led astray” by alcohol. So it is possible to obey the law in Ephesians 5:18, and yet still live foolishly if you are led astray by drinking. If the Bible said, “No more than two drinks at any time,” that would be law. But it doesn’t. Instead it says, “No drunkenness, and also pay close attention to how you interact with drinking.”

Now, pair this with 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” That is another wisdom principle. It is not a black/white scenario, but requires individual believers to examine their friendships and relationships to ensure that they are applying this principle. In light of Proverbs 20:1, it is right to read 1 Corinthians 15:33 as a warning against hanging out with drunkards. But again, this is a wisdom principle. It doesn’t say, “Never spend time with a drunkard,” or “only spend time with a drunkard if you are witnessing to him.” Those kind of commands go beyond what is written.

Instead, Scripture gives a prohibition—drunkenness—and then principles about alcohol and friendship. So, does the Bible give a 2 drink maximum? Does the Bible say “you can be friends with drunkard, but not close friends?” To ask the questions that way is to miss the purpose of biblical wisdom.

What does this have to do with moms working?

The biggest obstacle I’ve encountered on this topic is from those who respond to me laying out biblical principles for the family with: “Well, what Bible verse says moms shouldn’t work out of the home?” Such a question reveals that the person is approaching this issue from the perspective of law.

Is this you? Test yourself here: Do you see a difference between these two sentences:  “God’s primary calling to moms is in the home” and “It is a sin for moms to work outside of the home?” If you do not see the difference between those two, it’s possible you are bringing in the assumption that any teaching on wisdom principles is law.

It is true that the Bible does not say, “It is a sin for a mom to work outside of the home” (3 Timothy 2:2). If it did, then this wouldn’t be an issue of principles, but of law, and any failure to keep that command would be rightly called sin. On the one hand, law is easy because it is clear. Wisdom on the other hand is hard, because it requires you to seek the Lord’s will and constantly subject your own desires and decisions to the overarching principles in the Bible.

To say it differently, law produces uniformity (every marriage should look the same). Meanwhile, wisdom produces maturity. Law can lead to safety, as people avoid what is prohibited. But it can also lead to legalism, as people go beyond what is written. The danger in God’s revelation of wisdom principles is laziness and foolishness, as people often decide that discovering them is just too much work. But for the person who pursues wisdom by applying biblical principles with humility and diligence, that person will find a blessing greater than external obedience to law.

So: am I saying that it is a “sin” for moms to work? No. But at the same time, don’t believe the lie that the Bible is silent on this issue, and that it is every mom for his or her self out there. Not all marriages will look the same, because not everyone applies wisdom principles the same way, and not all situations are identical. That’s the nature of living in a fallen world with a living Word.

As to the principles themselves? Tune in tomorrow J