What should a Christian mother be like according to the Bible?
The first mother mentioned in the Bible is, of course, Eve. Genesis 3:20 says, "The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living." "Eve" means life or living; "mother" is the Hebrew 'em. In the Old Testament, 'em is translated "mother" 218 times. But it also carries with it the hint of "point of departure or division" (see parting in Ezekiel 21:21). It represents a nurturing source from whence those of similar character disseminate. In English, this is seen in such terms as "motherland," "mother-ship," and even "mother board."
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In the biblical worldview, the mission of parents is to raise children to follow God. To that end, God designed the family as the primary unit by which children are cared for, loved, trained, and empowered. This requires both kindness and discipline. Being a Christian mother encompasses a great degree of tension. She must be kind but still uphold biblical expectations, and she must know when to let go of the children she nurtured.
As most Christian mothers can attest, it is difficult to balance the natural instinct to protect one's child from harm with the necessity to equip the child for life as an adult. Mothers are reminded to love their children (Titus 2:4)—to feel affection for them, to approve of, like, and to have a kind attitude toward them. At the same time, a mother is to train her children to live godly lives (Psalm 78:5-6) and discover how they, personally, can contribute to God's kingdom (Proverbs 22:6).
Children don't always make this task easy. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 gives the law that if an Israelite child was completely rebellious toward his parents, to the point where he endangered them and those around them, the parents were responsible to turn the son in to the authorities. If the crimes were serious enough, the governing body could then have the son executed. This law must have been incredibly difficult for mothers whose first instinct was to protect their child, and, indeed, there is no record that the law was ever used. Jesus expressed a motherly heartbreak in Luke 13:34 when He said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" Part of a Christian mother's responsibility in equipping and training her children is to explain and embody the character and holiness of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-7), even if the child rejects everything to do with God. It's comforting to know that Jesus also struggled with rebellious children.
Another serious tension in Christian motherhood is that of being a life-giver as well as a place of departure. Genesis 3:20 describes Eve, the first mother, as the source of life. In Genesis 17:16, God promised Abraham that his wife Sarah would become the mother, or source, of many nations and kings. But God also told Eve's children to "fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28), which would require them to leave her. And Sarah's children include everyone who follows Christ—certainly a diverse and widespread group. Similarly, mothers need to remember that the purpose of mothering is to develop a strong, independent adult (Genesis 2:24). Even if that adult child resides geographically close, she must allow him the freedom to live as an adult, taking his mother's wisdom into account (Proverbs 31:2) but still making his own decisions—even decisions she doesn't understand or agree with (Mark 3:20-21, 31).
In order to hold the tension of motherhood, God expects Christian mothers to have two specific characteristics. The first is inferred in Proverbs 1:8-9: "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck." In order for a child to trust his mother's wisdom, the mother must actually be wise. Mothers need to follow God and rely on the promises in 2 Peter 1:3, which says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." But Christian mothers should also keep in mind Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Discipline and training are greatly undermined when they are given without respect or affection. Add the two together, and you get Ephesians 4:15—speak the truth in love.
The Bible does not reserve motherhood only for women with biological children. Judges 5:7 identifies the prophet and judge Deborah as "a mother in Israel," but she was also a mother to Israel. She provided wisdom (Judges 4:5) and, under God's leading, showed Israel the way they were to go (verse 6). She even tried to encourage her "grown child" to follow God on his own, without her constant presence (verses 8-9). Because of Deborah's wisdom and guidance, Israel enjoyed a rare period of peace (Judges 5:31). All women can follow Deborah's example to encourage, nurture, and train those around them to live mature, effective, and God-honoring lives.
Motherhood is not the sum total of a Christian woman's responsibilities. She is also a child of God (Romans 8:14), possibly a respectful wife (Ephesians 5:33), and an essential part of her local church (1 Corinthians 12:4-31). In all of these relationships, a woman can exhibit Christian motherhood by supporting, training, and empowering others so they can make their own contribution to God's kingdom.
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