Pt 3 of The Proverbs 31 Wife: Fact or Fiction?
How does the Proverbs 31 woman’s fear of the Lord make her different from other accomplished homemakers?
1) Her focus is on God
Fear the LORD your God, serve him only. . . (Deut. 6:13)
First of all, her primary focus is on God — not on her husband and not on her children. She fulfills the duties of her calling in life as a wife and mother while looking to the Lord for his strength and his direction. Some well-meaning writers and teachers have missed this important distinction. Marcia Ramsland, for example, writing for the Christian women’s magazine P31 Woman (January 2004), encourages her readers to remember that the woman’s “inspiration is to emulate the end goal in Proverbs 31:28 ‘her children arise and call her blessed'”
Hoping for children — or a husband — to “arise and call her blessed” destines even godly women to discouragement and failure. Why? Because it falsely assumes that children who are raised in godly homes will choose to follow the path of wisdom and thereby recognize the value of their mother’s commitment to God’s righteousness. Its falseness is manifested in the first nine chapters of Proverbs, which show a wise father repeatedly begging his son to give everything he has in order to obtain wisdom. Why does he have to beg? Because the son has a choice. He can elect to heed his father’s wisdom, or he can choose to close his ears and go the way of folly.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Prov. 1:8)
My son, if you accept my words. . . turning your ear to wisdom. . . , and if you call out for insight. . . , and if you look for it as for silver. . . , then you will understand the fear of the LORD. . . (Prov. 2:1-5)
Even the wisest of mothers have children who refuse to listen. If they choose to follow the path of folly, they reap the consequences of that choice. The devastated mother watches these children, to whom she has devoted her life, deliberately and stupidly choosing to walk in sin’s way, heedless of the destruction about which they have been warned. If her goal has been for her children to appreciate her instruction and call her blessed, she can only conclude that she is a failure. Even if she holds out hope for eventual repentance, she has no guarantee that her child will utter such words before dying.
A wife can never make the praise of human beings her end goal. As blessed as a woman might be to have appreciative children and a grateful husband, the greater blessing will come from God himself, who in the Day of Judgment will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Those who work with hope of praise from others in this life have no promise of reward in the next. The wise woman runs the race of life, as all faithful Christians do, with her eyes on Jesus Christ, the “author and perfecter of our faith,” and waits for his words of commendation.
2) She hates evil
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. (Prov. 8:13)
A wife who fears the Lord also hates evil, for “The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). The wise woman not only abounds in good works but deliberately avoids anything that can be construed as sin.
In a fully God-centered household, shunning evil may be comparatively easy. But what about the wife who must exercise godliness and wisdom when everyone else in her household has no such interest? Wickedness can be an everyday reality, provoking inescapable confrontation between good and evil, between a devout wife and an ungodly husband. How does a wife in such an environment become a Proverbs 31 woman?
Often such women are referred to 1 Peter 3 and advised to submit to their husbands, living out the Christian life in humility and gentleness. These are good principles, but they are not the only ones to be considered. The wife cannot be submissive to evil and at the same time be a Proverbs 31 woman because the woman who fears the Lord does not participate in evil. Any application of Proverbs 31 must take into consideration women whose husbands are not qualified to be respected leaders of society, sitting in the gate or in the courthouse.
3) She is compassionate and fair to all
She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. (Prov. 31:15)
She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. (Prov. 31:20)
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Prov. 14:31)
A kindhearted woman gains respect. . . (Prov. 11:16)
A wife who fears the Lord treats all with compassion and fairness. God warns, “I will be quick to testify against. . .those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me” (Mal. 3:5). Because she fears the Lord, the Proverbs 31 woman dispenses what is fair to those who work for her, and she gives generously of what she has to the needy.
4) She delights in the Lord’s commands
Scripture affirms that those who fear the Lord not only obey his commands but take pleasure in doing so. The psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands” (Ps. 112:1). Psalm 119 extols God’s commands with numerous metaphors that portray how delightful God’s words are: they are wondrous (18), good (39), like songs (54), more valuable than gold (72), sweeter than honey (103), and a light (105). Repeatedly the psalmist expresses his joy in obeying and meditating upon God’s commands (16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77 et al).
When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all go them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. (Prov. 31:21-22)
This joy — joy in the Lord and joy from the Lord — belongs to the wife who fears the Lord. Whether a wife literally sews her own clothes or whether she buys them in a department store makes little difference in qualifying her as a Proverbs 31 woman. If providing clothes for her children or choosing them for her husband is part of her agreed-upon duties, then doing these things with a joyful spirit out of service to the Lord puts her into the category of a Proverbs 31 woman.
The harder the real-life environment, the more critical this “delight in the Lord and in his commands” becomes in enabling a woman to survive without succumbing to depression or sinful anger. When family members are unappreciative or when financial pressures escalate, the Spirit of wisdom remains strong, comforting, guiding and giving inner joy, and at the same time reassuring that being a Proverbs 31 woman is not dependent upon pleasing others but upon trusting and obeying God.
5) She is teachable
Let the wise listen and add to their learning. . . (Prov. 1:5)
The woman who fears the Lord continues to grow in wisdom. The young groom will not find the finished product standing beside him at the altar. However, if his bride has determined in her heart to spend her life learning God’s wisdom, he will have a treasure. He will likewise be a precious possession to his wife if he has chosen to do the same, because the truly wise will not be wise in their own eyes but instead will recognize their need for additional wisdom from God.
Proverbs 31 ends with an admonition that the godly wife deserves to be praised. Before praise, however, comes a humble spirit that is teachable, for “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Prov. 15:33).
6) She is a peacemaker
[Wisdom’s] ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. (Prov. 3:17)
There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace. (Prov. 12:20)
Whoever fears the Lord strives for peace. No household exists in which squabbles do not develop. The wife not only has to live at peace with her husband but she also has to keep children from quarreling and angrily hurting one another. Psalm 34 teaches that the fear of the Lord involves the pursuit of peace — but not at the expense of truth. The Proverbs 31 woman does not achieve peace at all costs. She is both peaceful and truthful. The woman who fears the Lord is to “keep [her] tongue from evil and [her] lips from speaking lies” and is to “turn from evil and do good, [to] seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:11-14).
A wife who truly fears the Lord, then, is the epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman. She is the woman who will continue to grow in wisdom, carrying out all of her duties in the manner that God desires.
(In Part 4 we will learn about the similarities between the Proverbs 31 woman and Ruth, the widowed Moabitess.)
Carmen J. Bryant @2004 (PDF), reproduced with permission. Carmen spent 19 years as a missionary among the Dayaks of Kalimantan Barat (West Borneo, Indonesia) and draws upon her experiences there for insights into the description of the Proverbs 31 wife.
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