A housewife has the odd experience of being admired and scorned at the same time. In admiration, many are careful not to come across as degrading in their use of the term ‘housewife’, yet scornfully they resist any hint of themselves adopting the work of a housewife or enabling their wives to do so. Others again, though in wholehearted admiration of the role of a housewife, are unable to separate themselves from the financial and social expectations of their lives, and often are tempted with subtle resentment against those who are free to be a housewife. Then again—as there always is on the spectrum of life—there are those who are housewives, yet, for various reasons, wish they weren’t. All these mixed feelings about being a housewife makes this a sure way to spark controversy, false guilt, self-vindication, self-pity, segregation, or offence. Yet, Scripture speaks on the matter, and therefore offers us wisdom on the makings of a good housewife.

Often what is lacking in one’s admiration, or scorn, of a housewife, is a recognition of the heart of a housewife. Being a housewife is not defined primarily by being “a worker at home”, or by “raising the children”, or by “not pursuing a career”, or any such visible standards. Instead, throughout the Scriptures, it is a heart quality that defines a housewife. This one heart quality distinguishes the good housewives from the bad who bear the same title, but it also distinguishes the godly women who for various reasons are not able to devote themselves fully to being a housewife, from those who can but do not want to.

A woman’s heart was made to support, love, and nurture her family.

Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, Designing a Lifestyle that Pleases God, Moody, 2004, p. 137.

This one heart quality is best described be the two words of “persons first”.

I do not say “people first” but “persons first” for the heart of a housewife is not a general people-more-than-things orientation, but rather a heart that is set on specific individuals in a specific order. The obvious item on the top of a housewife’s persons-first heart is her husband and children (Titus 2:4) and others in her household (Proverbs 31:15, 21, 27). For an older lady who might no longer have a husband and children, the list is younger women (Titus 2:3), and the other saints at her church (1 Timothy 5:10). Further down, but still near the top of the list for both young women and widows, is the care for the needy (Proverbs 31:20, 1 Timothy 5:10). What is significant in both these applications of the same heart, is that self is not on the list. As all the best of mothers have proven throughout the ages, self is the last consideration in every motherly gesture. That is true of a godly housewife at a heart level. She loves, and builds up, and submits to her husband over any other man, and she loves and cares for her children over any other person in need. It is the obvious wisdom of prospering her own home more than a career, submitting to her own husband more than to a boss, shaping her own children more than any of her other dreams. She is content to say ‘No’ to the social, financial, and career stability for the sake of her very specific persons list.

But in the heart quality of “persons first”, the word first is also significant. I say “persons first” and not “persons only” for two reasons. First, a godly housewife does not neglect the other more tangible matters of life; she is able to manage an entire house for the benefit of the persons present. Surely that is evident in Proverbs 31 where the excellent lady is distinguished not only for here family and household focus, but also for her general life skills and expertise. Secondly, just because someone is not a housewife does not imply that she is indifferent to her family. What distinguishes a good housewife from an otherwise good wife and mother is that among all the duties of life, she has found a way to put the persons on her God-given list in front of everything else. A housewife’s heart invests in the right persons more than in any other pursuit. She is always on site just in case there might be an opportunity to add another gift of love to the treasure trove of her marriage, home, household, and church. There is a clear order to her daily agenda.

The woman was uniquely designed and equipped—physiologically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—by her Creator to be a bearer and nurtured of life. In a multitude of ways, she was endowed with the ability to add life, beauty, richness, fullness, grace, and joy to the family unit. There is no greater measure of her worth or success as a woman than the extent to which she serves as the heart of her home.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Lies Women Believe, Moody, 2001, p. 127

A housewife might well be able to keep the world running for another hundred years, but instead her heart is consumed with inventing ways to put her list of persons first.