When it comes to sermon preparation, my aim on Tuesdays is to read and pray over the text I’ll be preaching on several times in order to wrap my mind around its meaning and logic. Many weeks that’s as far as I’ll get. Occasionally, however, if nothing unexpected pops up and I’m really cooking with gas, I’ll also be able to put together the sermon outline. On Tuesday this week, I was able to do both, and I was really excited about it. It was another harsh passage in Hosea, addressing Israel’s persistent whoredom, God’s warning to them to keep it away from Judah, and a particular rebuke to the priests and leaders. It was a hard message, but Hosea is a hard book. We’re fairly used to it by now.
Then I went to DG that night and was reminded that Sunday is dedication Sunday and Mother’s Day. I tried really hard to figure out a way to make the passage fit with the joy of new babies and our collective appreciation for the mothers of Grace. I thought about tying 4:15-19 (what would have been our text for this morning) back to 4:5 (“and I will destroy your mother”) or 4:6 (“I also will forget your children”), or even 4:10 (“they shall play the whore but not multiply”), but none of that seemed to capture the spirit of Dedication and Mother’s Day. So then I tried figuring out how the hyper-contagious nature of whoring, the stubborn heifer, Ephraim’s idolatry, and the wind’s wing wrapping spoke to our love for mothers and motherhood, but I couldn’t do so with exegetical integrity.
And so… no Hosea this morning. We’re going in a different direction. You’ll have to wait until next week to hear about Hosea 4:15-19.
This morning, then, I mean to highlight God’s good design in/for motherhood. To do so, I’m going to start by briefly sharing four facts about Mother’s Day and then finish with seven biblical thoughts on motherhood. Happy Mother’s Day. Let’s pray that God would help us to see his glorious plans and purposes for mothering, and that he would help us order our lives accordingly.
FOUR FACTS ABOUT MOTHER’S DAY
So, where did Mother’s Day come from? How significant is it in the U.S.? And what other fun facts can you tell me about Mother’s Day? I’m glad you asked. Very quickly, then, here are a few facts about Mother’s Day:
- In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation that officially established the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers. Many individual states celebrated Mother’s Day before then, but it was not until Wilson lobbied Congress in 1914 that Mother’s Day was officially set on the second Sunday of every May.
- President Wilson established Mother’s Day after years of lobbying by Anna Marie Jarvis and the World’s Sunday School Association. Before that, though, Anna Jarvis’ mother, Ann Jarvis, had attempted to establish a version of Mother’s Day during the Civil War as a time for remembrance.
- Mother’s Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar. According to Joe Pistone, an FBI undercover agent, the mafia often closed for business when Mother’s Day arrived each May.
- Mother’s Day is the third-largest card-sending holiday in the United States, with 141 million cards exchanged annually. It is also the largest card-sending holiday for the Latino community. Interestingly, Ann Jarvis is quoted as saying, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”
The point of this section is not to wow you with my ability to use the Google. Rather, it is to demonstrate that Mother’s Day, as we celebrate it in the US, is not a distinctly Christian holiday. Celebrating Mother’s Day, therefore, must not be raised to the level of spiritual necessity.
On the other hand, however, esteeming all that God esteems is a necessary part of the Christian life. And since God highly esteems motherhood, honoring God’s good design and image in it is a spiritual necessity—not just one day of the year but continually. If setting aside one particular day each year helps us to remember that, then all is good. If it takes the place of rightly honoring those through whom God gives life, then all is not good.
To help us to this end—and to help mothers in particular to understand their high calling—I mean to follow up the four facts about Mother’s Day with seven biblical thoughts on motherhood.
SEVEN BIBLICAL THOUGHTS ON MOTHERHOOD
The bible has a great deal to say about motherhood and to mothers. What follows is not exhaustive, but it is plainly taught in God’s word and, in my opinion, particularly relevant for our current culture. With that, ladies:
You do not define motherhood, God does. I’m not sure I would have needed to make this point 20 years ago. Today, however, it seems entirely necessary to draw your attention to the facts that motherhood is part of God’s design for the world and that, as its designer, God is also its definer. How, then, has God defined motherhood?
While most people think of motherhood exclusively in terms of bearing and raising children, by God’s design motherhood is both a life-giving and nurturing physical reality (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8) and a life-giving and nurturing spiritual reality (Titus 2:3-5). That is, it is right to think of mothering as related to physical children, but it is just as appropriate (and in some ways more) to think of it in terms of spiritual children.
Concerning the physical side of motherhood, in Genesis 3:20 we read that Adam “called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” Just a few verses later (4:1), she gave birth (the first ever) to Cain. In addition to the unique ability to give birth, God gives mothers the unique ability to nurse and nurture their children (1 Thessalonians 2:7), and a particular charge to tend to their physical needs (Proverbs 31:15).
But that’s not all that motherhood is. That’s not even mainly what motherhood is. The goal of physical mothering is to allow for spiritual mothering. Ladies, if God has granted you kids (biologically or through adoption), you are charged to be a physical and spiritual mother to them. That is, you are called by God to mother them by bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the LORD (Ephesians 6:4) and to training them in godliness (Proverbs 22:6). Giving your kids the gospel is your highest calling. If you provide for them in every possible way, except spiritually, you are missing the point entirely. This is a part of God’s design and definition of motherhood that isn’t often thought of as motherhood.
But there’s more to mothering still. Again, by God’s design and definition spiritual motherhood isn’t even limited to one’s children (or children at all for that matter). In Titus 2:3-5 God calls older women to “…to teach what is good, and so train the younger women…” [in what it means to be godly women]. That is, God calls older women to be spiritual mother’s to younger women.
Grace, women of Grace, do not discount or dismiss or minimize the divinely infused significance of spiritual mothering. In fact, in some ways at least, the bible describes spiritual mothering as even more significant than physical mothering. Jesus himself, referring to his biological family said, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).
This means, then, that every women in this room who is a follower of Jesus is a mother in the highest sense of the term. That is, every woman in this room who has given herself to the things of God, has given herself to life-giving and nurturing others in the gospel and is in that sense (the highest sense) truly engaged in mothering. It is for that reason that we gave every women who came in this morning, a Mother’s Day card.
Motherhood doesn’t define you, Christ does. You don’t define motherhood and motherhood doesn’t define you. It can be tempting to define ourselves by all kinds of things…our career, our education, our hobbies, our health conditions, our addictions, etc. Many women have even fallen into the trap of defining themselves by their kids or their ministry (their physical or spiritual motherhood). These are remarkable callings (more on that later), but they are not at the core of your being. By making them so you are at best flirting with idolatry, and at worst truly making idols out of otherwise good things.
Motherhood doesn’t define you, Christ does. As a Christian, before you are ever a mother, and always above the fact that you are a mother, you are an image bearer of God, you are a child of God, you are a new creation, you are brothers and sisters of Jesus, you are saved, sanctified, and free. That is, you are always first and most defined by your relationship with God; not anything or anyone else.
Ladies, this means that if you are a Christian, your true significance is found in something that never changes, that does not fluctuate depending on the day, and that can never be tarnished or taken from you. It is only once you’ve found rest and strength in that knowledge that you are able to be the kind of mother God has created and called you to be.
You don’t define motherhood, motherhood doesn’t define you, and …
Motherhood is not mainly about you, your kids, or your ministry, it’s about God. In most churches in the U.S. today the primary message you’ll hear is that because God loves you so much he sent Jesus to die for you. Because God couldn’t imagine eternity without you he was determined to find a way to bring you into his presence. Because you are so important to God he saved you. Because you are special beyond what you’re willing to accept, God couldn’t not have rescued you from your sin.
Now don’t misunderstand me, God does love you, you are important to God, and as God’s children, you are special in very real ways. However, none of those things are the ultimate reason for Jesus’ sacrificial death. The primary reason that Jesus died—the primary reason God does all that he does—is for his glory (Isaiah 43:6, 48:9-11; John 12:27-28, 17:1; Ephesians 1:4-6).
Ephesians 1:4-6 …[God] chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace…
In the same way, your motherhood is not mainly about you, your kids, or your ministry. Your kids and your ministry don’t point to how special you are (they point to how special God is). Your kids and your ministry don’t primarily exist to give you as sense of significance or purpose (God alone can grant those things). Ladies, your kids and your ministry aren’t even yours!!! (they, along with all things, belong to God).
Your motherhood isn’t ultimately about anything on earth. Your motherhood, like all things, is ultimately about putting on display the wisdom and goodness and power and beauty and mercy and grace and love and caring—the glory—of God! Ladies, moms, never forget that.
Again, it is not until you are truly able to wrap your minds and hearts around this reality that you’ll be able to fully appreciate yourself, your kids, and your ministry. You are best for all three when God is first for you.
All of that, then, makes it easy to see the significance and truthfulness of the next point.
Motherhood is an immeasurably high calling, because God made it so. It seems to me that the world around us is increasingly confused about the meaning and importance of motherhood. Everything seems to be blurred and bent. It should be of no surprise, then, that women who truly give themselves to physical and spiritual mothering are often at best looked upon with a type of condescending pity, and at worst derided for their selfishness and scorned for holding women back from the liberation they deserve.
Education, financial independence, self-empowerment, career, and many other things are trumpeted as the highest aspirations for women in the world today. While all of those things may have a place in the life of a godly woman, none of them receive the type of esteem in the bible that motherhood does.
Positively, we see God’s the high valuing of motherhood in passages like Proverbs 31:28-29. There we read, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” This is high praise indeed. This is one of the most esteeming passages in the entire bible for any person or group of people.
But we must ask, why do her children bless this woman and why does her husband praise her? What has she done excellently and in what does she surpass all other women? The answer is that she has served faithfully as a wife and mother. She has cared well for her family and the vulnerable around her and is, therefore, worthy of highest earthly praise and esteem.
Likewise, positively, consider the fact that honoring one’s mother (and father) is the first commandment with a promise attached to it (Ephesians 6:1-3). When children honor their mothers it is well pleasing to God and he will, therefore, cause it to go well for them. God blesses the things that he esteems and here we see that he esteems motherhood.
Negatively, consider the penalty for dishonoring one’s mother (Matthew 15:4-6). In the OT times, the penalty prescribed by God for children who dishonored their parents was death. Again, this type of penalty was reserved for the most serious offenses. That dishonoring one’s mother is considered among them is a clear statement of how highly God esteems motherhood.
Again, mothers, do not let anyone or anything lie to you about the definition or value of motherhood. God is the only one who is able to assign either (definition and value) and he has said your role and work is one of the highest callings there is. Walk with confidence, then, not because you excel at something the world esteems, but because you’ve been called and given yourself to something God so highly esteems!
You are not ultimate in your child’s (physical, emotional, or spiritual) health, Christ is. It is true that the way in which you parent will have a significant effect on your children. Proverbs 22:6 does say to mothers, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Your conformity to God’s character and calling on your lives as mothers is extremely important. Likewise, your obedience to God’s Word in your mothering is not in any way insignificant. You are able to effect great and terrible things on your children. You are, however, never the ultimate determiner of your child’s life or health or growth. God alone holds that authority.
Throughout the entire bible both physically and spiritually, ungodly parents produced godly children. Godly parents produced ungodly children (Job 1). Ungodly parents produced ungodly children (John 8:44). And godly parents produced godly children (2 Timothy 3:14). Again, that is not to say that your mothering is irrelevant. It is only to say that God, not you, is sovereign over your children.
Practically, that means that even your best efforts and truly righteous parenting don’t guarantee that your child will follow God or turn out well. On the flip side, it means that God can overcome any genetic, behavioral, informational, or moral defect in your parenting. He can rescue your kids in spite of you.
What’s the point, moms? The point is that you ought to work hard at parenting well and then rest in God’s grace and mercy and reign. Pray and teach and train and model righteousness and then rest well at night. Be the best mom you can be in the light of the gospel, run to Jesus when you fall short, and rest easy. God is sovereign and you are not.
Motherhood is often really, really hard, because of sin. Women, many of you have experienced tremendous suffering and loss in parenting and ministering. There are some among us who have always been estranged from their biological mothers, some who have not been able to have children, some who have lost children, and some who have spiritually invested years of their lives in others only to have them turn their back on you and your faith.
In very real ways, all of these things began in the Garden of Eden. On account of her sin, God cursed Eve and all her daughters saying, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). Childbearing and bringing forth children isn’t limited to the delivery process. It encompasses all of motherhood. And, therefore, the curse encompasses all aspects of motherhood.
The following quote from the Gospel Coalition captures the reason behind this very well.
God’s first recorded words to Adam and Eve implied motherhood: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Motherhood was part of Eden, and it should have been an experience of pure joy.
But after the couple sinned, God pronounced the consequences of their rebellion. To Eve he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). This pain goes beyond the physical pain of childbirth—it includes everything painful about childbearing and motherhood: miscarriage, infertility, SIDS, abortion, rebellious children… the list could go on and on.
Ladies, Jesus’ own mother experienced the result of this curse even as her Son took the curse upon himself. “…standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother…” (John 19:25).
Why is motherhood hard? Why does it, at times, seem so fruitless and thankless and inefficient? Why is it so often associated with so much pain? The answer to all of these questions is sin. Sin will not let you forget your curse. That’s why the Mother’s Day card we gave you has the verse on it that it does. It can be easy to focus on the cursed aspects of your parenting and ministry, but God calls you to focus on something different… because the curse is not the end of the story! And that leads to my final point.
Motherhood is often really, really rewarding, because of grace. Courtney Doctor continues,
But we don’t stop reading at Genesis 3:16—the story continues… In spite of the curse, life would come, and redemption would come through life. The first thing that happens after Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden is a birth—God’s mercy in the midst of his curse.
Eventually, Christ himself would come, “born of woman,” to bring salvation to his people and break the curse (Gal. 4:4; cf. Gen. 3:15). Until the final redemption of all things, however, the effects of the curse are still with us. Motherhood continues to be a mixture of great joy and tremendous pain. We live in a time that requires us to mourn over all that is broken and, at the same time, rejoice over what is good and right.
Just as motherhood (physical and spiritual) can bring inexpressible pain, so too can it bring unspeakable joy. The look and love and trust and laughter of a child, the conversion of a spiritual child, and the launching of new adults and new Christians into the world to be fruitful and multiply themselves is almost overwhelming in glory.
We don’t deserve any of that. Like every other good thing that comes to us, reward in mothering is entirely the result of the grace of God. So praise, God, moms. Praise him in the pain and delight. Praise him in the seasons of obvious fruitfulness and in the seasons of morning as well. Praise God from whom all mothering blessing flow.
And so, once again, happy Mother’s day. Give yourself to honoring your mothers (physical and spiritual) today. But let’s make sure, Grace Church, that we are thinking biblically rather than culturally about mothers and motherhood. Let’s make sure, then, that we are showing honor to mothers and motherhood according to God’s Word rather than Hallmark’s. And let’s make sure, therefore, that in all our Mother’s Day celebrations our highest praise is for the one who spoke mothers and motherhood into existence, sustains and rules over mothers and motherhood, and makes mother’s and motherhood fruitful according to his sovereign mercy and grace.