Our Highest Calling

I have heard many Christians state that motherhood is the highest calling for women.  Some even say that motherhood is the holiest calling for women.  The people who say this are typically the Christians who believe that men and women, simply on the basis of gender, have different roles and functions in society, in the church, and in the home.  (It intrigues me that many of these same Christians do not assert that fatherhood is the highest calling for men.)

Is motherhood the highest calling for women?Jesus did not think that motherhood was necessarily the highest calling for women.  One day Jesus was teaching a crowd of people when a woman[1] enthusiastically called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Luke 11:27.

Jesus’ mother was blessed.  She was not only blessed because of her remarkable role as the mother of the Messiah, but  she was blessed because she had faith in the word of God.  The Bible says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Luke 1:45.

Jesus did not accept or affirm the blessing that the woman in the crowd had shouted out. Instead he replied, “Blessed rather are those who are hearing the word of God and obeying it.” Luke 11:28.

Previously, in Luke 6:47, Jesus had taught that a wise person is someone,“. . . who comes to me and hears my words and does them.”  Jesus wants both men and women to be continually coming to him in close relationship; he wants us to be continually hearing his words; and he wants us to be continually putting those words into obedient practice.[2]  This kind of radical discipleship is our highest calling!

The Priority of Parenthood

Caring for our families needs to be one of our highest priorities.  One of our main avenues of ministry should be to our families.  They should be among the first beneficiaries of our prayers, and our spiritual and practical help.  If everyone loved and looked after their own families the world would be in much better shape.

Parenthood may well be the main ministry of some men and women, and this needs to be encouraged.  However many men and women also have other expressions of their calling as Jesus’ disciples.  They have been given other ministry gifts, roles, and functions to use outside of their immediate or extended families.  These other ministries should also be encouraged.

What about those people who do not have a family?  When churches make marriage and motherhood the pinnacle and priority of Christian womanhood, women who remain unmarried or childless may view themselves as lonely failures.  Churches need to make efforts to ensure that single or childless men and women feel welcome, included and valued in church communities.

Furthermore, some Christians choose to be single and celibate so that they can serve God better, with greater devotion (1 Cor 7:32-35).  The Apostle Paul chose to be single and he recommended it (1 Cor 7:7).  Singleness and celibacy were long considered to be virtuous vocations by the church. It has only been since the Reformation that marriage and motherhood has been persistently promoted as the Christian ideal for women.[3]

Dissuading Women from Ministry

It seems to me that many of the Christians who claim that motherhood is the highest calling for women, say this merely in an attempt to placate housewives and dissuade them from fulfilling God’s call outside the home.  (No one argues that fatherhood and ministry are incompatible.) As important as good parenting is for our children and for our society, some women may in fact have a calling in ministry that is even “higher”, more important and more necessary, than the ministry of motherhood.

We need to be wary about discouraging gifted and godly women from ministering outside the home. We need to be wary about restricting capable and called women from leading in the home, in the church, or in society.  We need to be wary that we do not confuse traditional or cultural stereotypes of gender roles with biblical precepts which show that both men and women believers are empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit for ministry (Acts 2:18; Romans 12:6-8). Both Christian men and Christian women need loving encouragement and gracious support from fellow believers to help them fulfil God’s purposes in their lives. Rigid restrictions, based on gender alone, limit and hinder the work of God.


Endnotes

[1] Jesus had just been teaching about evil spirits. Was this woman troubled by evil spirits? Was this woman’s outburst demonic?

[2] “Coming”, “hearing” and “doing” are present active participles. This means that we need to keep coming to Jesus, keep hearing his words, and keep doing what he says.

[3] The Reformation, with the resulting backlash against Roman Catholicism, brought about an antagonism against monasticism as well as a general discouragement against voluntary (or involuntary) singleness from Protestants. Martin Luther was outspoken in his attempts to promote the value and virtue of motherhood.

Image Credit

Stained glass window in the Kilianskirche of Heilbronn © Joachim Köhler (Wikimedia)

Additional Reading 

Since writing this article I’ve found another one on the net by Emily Hunter McGowan which covers some of the same ground as mine: The “highest calling” of a woman.


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