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By Mark Chen

Preached at / Published Life BPC Weekly, 2005-05-08

Text: Proverbs 31

Mothers of Fame and Infamy 

In the course of human existence, there have been many mothers of ill-repute. In history, there was Agrippina, the mother of Nero the wicked Roman Emperor, whose ascension to the Roman throne was plotted by her; she died after instructing an assassin, sent by her son, to stab her in the womb that had carried him. Then there was Lucretia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who personified the concept of the Black Widow, poisoning her husbands after bearing them children. In classical literature, Euripides wrote of the jealous and vengeful Medea, who having been abandoned by her husband, killed her children. From young, many of us have had a diet of Cinderella and Snow White, wherein we are introduced to the archetypical villainous mother figure. 

So where are the mothers of good report? The Bible has many examples of such women. Sarah, the mother of Isaac, was said to have received strength by her faith to conceive him. Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, wisely instructed her to glean the fields of Boaz. Mrs. Zebedee, the mother of James and John, raised her sons who would eventually follow our Lord and serve Him until their death. However, they were not perfect. Sarah, using her own fleshly wisdom, gave Hagar unto Abraham, and when Ishmael waxed strong, convinced Abraham to send them out of the camp. Naomi, having lost her husband and her two sons, changed her name to Bitterness to express her heart condition. Mrs. Zebedee, asked Jesus to make her sons the greatest in His kingdom even after He told them of His impending death.

The State of Things

There will never be perfect mothers - for all are sinners. But only on account of their faith and obedience, Christian mothers can be near perfect. Of course, the model mother is seen in Proverbs 31, whose faith and obedient living causes her husband and children to give her a standing ovation as the greatest of women (vv 28-29). That is the magnificence of motherhood.

But the Christian mother today hardly feels magnificent - at the end of the day, with dishes piled up at the sink, dust in every corner of the home, and laundry waiting to be hung - she is tired, irritable, and unappreciated. Like Naomi, she may be bitter. Like Sarah, she may do things in her own strength. Like Mrs. Zebedee, she may have lost perspective. Resentment, self-pity, and guilt may characterize her after a while. 

To embody the characteristics of Proverbs 31, there must be knowledge of her duty and a fear of God. However, there is much more to a successful household and motherhood. To manage a household, raise children well, and submit to a husband (who may be a difficult man to submit to) takes much intelligence and drive - she is a teacher, politician, servant, manager, director, chemist, etc. Great is the foolishness and insensitivity of the one who is oblivious to this fact. And judging from this writer's observation, which is hopefully but wistfully accurate, insensitivity abounds, no doubt disappointing the fine mothers in the midst of our congregation.

Her task is a mammoth one - normally, her contact with the children will undoubtedly be more frequent than the father's; the number of hours she spends with them will no doubt shape them, and hopefully shape them for the Lord. Indeed, she has an unenviable but noble responsibility. And to do so in the midst of disappointment, the lack of appreciation, and the fear of failure, cannot be easy.

Comfort for Our Magnificent Mothers

Christian Mothers Receive Motherly Care from God

But there is comfort and instruction for all mothers. Just as the Lord calls each mother to this responsibility, her help comes from him! Psalm 121:2 says, "My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth." And the Lord understands the task of the mother, for he himself is like a mother. In Isaiah 66:13 God says to his chosen people, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." God comforts his people like a mother and hence has an intimate understanding of what motherhood is. The mother who places her trust in God will never be discomfited - though there will be times of disappointment, trial, uncertainty, and tremendous emotional trysts - the reminder that help comes from the Lord will be great assurance to her. 

And why ought there not to be assurance? As the mother is a mother to her children, so too is God like a mother to her. In John 14:26, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit which would comfort all believers and will not leave them comfortless, meaning, as orphans (John 14:18). And hence, the mother, who is in Christ, will never be alone, because the Holy Spirit will be as a parent to her, teaching her to fulfill her roles.

The Spirit Teaches Comfort

The very nature of the Spirit is to comfort - to exhort. The word "Comforter" is from the Greek parakletos - para, which means "beside" and kaleo, which means "to call." The Holy Spirit is one who is called to be beside another. The Holy Spirit helps us, encourages us, and soothes our spiritual wounds. And this is the very role of the mother - to be with her children, helping them, encouraging them and soothing their knocks and bruises. 

1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 says, "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." Paul the Apostle ministered to the Thessalonian church just as a mother cares for her child. The word "cherisheth" literally means "to warm" and hence he ministered to them as a mother who keeps her children near to her bosom, keeping them from all harm and gently blowing cool vapor on their scrapes. 

Just as the Spirit gives her comfort, so the mother comforts her children. But unfortunately, despite this desire that the mother has for her children; due to a long day, anxiety, irritability (contributed by the unhelpful husband, the rude children, loud neighbors, demanding boss, small-hearted colleagues, slow traffic, the inefficient waitress, and the barking dog?), she doesn't feel much like giving comfort. Often times, the level on her thermometer becomes the thermostat for the weather at home. And for the husband and children skilled in such meteorology who can read the barometer, wisdom and safety is with them. But alas, how many know how to comfort our mothers with the comfort wherewith they comfort us?

But many of us thank God that, despite the occasional and sometimes very occasional tiredness, our Christian mothers give of themselves to comfort us. But it is difficult to comfort when oneself needs comfort. Therein is self-denial.

The Spirit Teaches Happy Submission

The Spirit, who understands submission, teaches the Christian mother submission. The Holy Spirit does not promote himself, nor minister to the saints for his glory, but does so to the glory of Christ. John 16:13-14 tells us, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." The Spirit submits to God and Christ, ministering to us on their behalf. Hence, the Spirit teaches the mother to submit graciously to her husband and to represent his authority to the kids on his behalf.

There is much self-denial here. John Angell James, a 19th century English Congregationalist, wrote of the self-denial of the mother "How much of ease, comfort, enjoyment, must she surrender, who has to consult her husband's comfort and will, before her own -whose happiness is to consist, in a great measure, in making others happy - who has first to endure all that is connected with giving birth to her children, and then all that is involved in nursing, watching, comforting, and training them! One of the most striking instances in our world of endurance and self-denial, both as to the extent and the cheerfulness with which it is borne, is the busy, tender, and contented mother of a rising family. God has given the power, yet I sometimes wonder how she can exercise it."

Indeed, to do so much and to submit as much as she does, the magnificent mother needs that power of God. There is much to be said about the selflessness of the mothers in our midst - how they do it, is as beyond me, as it was for the Revd James.

The Magnificent Mothers' Equal and Exalted Role

The Christian Mother's role is not one of subservience. It is one of great equality. James Angell James says, "I now remark that not only does Christianity thus tend, by its own nature and provisions, to exalt the female character, but it has accomplished this wherever it has prevailed. If we consult the pages of history, whether ancient or modern, whether eastern or western, we shall find that wherever the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ has been successful, there it has achieved the emancipation of woman from her thralldom, and rescued her from degradation. I refer to modern Europe and America in proof of this. What a contrast in this respect do those countries present to all Pagan and Mohammedan nations! Is it not a triumph and a trophy of Christianity to be able to point to the most polished nations of the globe as being, at any rate, professedly Christian; and at the same time to say, "Look at the improved condition of the female sex?" And may I not affirm that woman's emancipation and elevation are in proportion to the purity of that Christianity which has thus been diffused?"

Despite her happy submission, she is an equal - that is what Christianity does. We see this not only today in the work force, but also in Biblical times. Proverbs 31:13, 16-18, 24 say, "She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands; She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night - She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant." Women contributed to the family finances, even though the husband was the primary bread winner. 

But on top of this, she is the home maker. 1 Timothy 5:14 tells us, "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully." The word "guide the house," literally oikodespotes, means "house despot!" The word "despot," both in English and Greek means exactly the same - one who has absolute ownership and uncontrolled power, an absolute and arbitrary ruler, from whom there is no appeal. In other words, the ruler of the house and the entire household in domestic affairs is the mother. It is a common misconception that the master of the house is the man - it is the woman! Her domain is the upkeep and running of the home. Not only is she an equal, but she is exalted. So gentlemen and children, we need to pick up our socks, do our homework, change the light bulbs, fix the plumbing, etc.

Call Her Blessed

Our magnificent mothers are only truly perfectly magnificent when they learn to be comforted by God and to comfort others; and when they learn to submit to the will of God and the spiritual authority of their husbands as the Spirit submits to the Father and Son. But the onus is not just on her. When husbands and children learn to appreciate her prowess and obey her in her primary domain, only then will they see her in her glory, calling her blessed and rising up to praise her. 

To all the Moms, Mommies, and Mamas in Life Church, we wish you a Blessed Mother's Day. May the Lord make you more magnificent and may you diligently endeavor to be so. And remember, you are in charge at home.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25