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The two sets of scripture that we often refer to when we’re contemplating what represent ideal characteristics to be found in a spouse are Proverbs 31 and Ephesians 5. Far too often though, I think we hold high expectations without putting the same expectations on ourselves. If I want a woman who comes anywhere near a woman of the illusive “Proverbs 31” woman, I need to man up and cultivate in myself those attributes that fit parallels for being an “Ephesians 5” man.
The first thing that needs to be said is perfection doesn’t exist. If we sit back and wait for perfect, outside of Jesus Christ, we’ll die alone. Marriage is a beautiful framework God has designed for us to support one another, love one another, work together, and most importantly put God first in all that we do.
The second thing that needs to be pointed out is that these are important attributes, but often times the attributes will overlap to benefit the opposite sex as well. It’s not a list we should look at and think, okay this is the men’s side of the list. Women shouldn’t even think of living up to all these standards. Neither should we look at Proverbs 31 and identify it only with women. As a matter of fact I remember Proverbs 31, at perhaps at an even higher frequency, than I remember Ephesians 5. I am not saying that’s necessarily preferable, but what I am emphasizing is the relevance to men is there. You just need to dig into it and think about how it applies to you in your own life. Part of the reason is the orientation of the commands inside, but it does also often come to the forefront of my thought life in anticipation of what God may provide in the future.
Some have theorized that this is an ideal woman, while others have ventured to examine whether or not this woman actually existed. Whatever the case may be, I can think of not more than ten women that even approach aspects of acquisition that revolve around Proverbs 31, to the extent that I personally have witnessed and continue to admire. The foremost of these is, and continues to be at this present time, my mother. God willing, one day a special woman of God, may come about that expands this reality so that she’s not either perceived as having been replaced nor is she expected to be. As a matter of fact, nobody can replace my mother, but fortunately for me I am not looking for my wife to fill the roles my mother fills or filled. If I were, I would die alone with only Jesus Christ, and that’s not such a bad thing after all. Not a day is guaranteed, so I am enjoying the journey, as well as the new transition when that stepping stone has been reached.
I am also not naive enough to tell you I think my mom has arrived at anything near perfection. I would be foolish to directly compare my girlfriend or future wife to her as if it were a contest. There’s an unconditional love a parent holds for a son or daughter, which may cause a quagmire. When we facilitate comparison of a parent/child relationship in comparison to that of a married couple, it causes a serious rift between reality and expectation. This particularly rings true for only children like me. I have been brought up to some level, being the center of attention. This has a lot to do with being the only male on my mom’s side of the family who remains alive. Suddenly when that vantage point is compromised, a loss is perceived but the replacement is responsibility. Responsibility met with the potential for a higher degree of risk, effort, and potential rewards that marriages entail.
A different era of life has beckoned. This occurs in the sense that we cannot place the expectation upon our spouse to fulfill those unrealistic parameters, that we’ve come to experience from our loving parents. Suddenly we’re in a position where we’re contributing as a team to achieve a mutually desirable goal as God empowers us to. The goal to bring Him honor, delight, and glory the way we did as individuals. However, now we’ve come together in order to do this as one flesh, if it be in God’s will for that lifelong covenant to become a reality.
With all that said, those aforementioned sisters in Christ I respect a great deal. I can see clear indications that they hold several of the qualities I believe line up with what being a Proverbs 31 woman involves. I can see some have a revolutionary work ethic, and wake up extremely early on a consistent basis. Others have an entrepreneurial mentality, and make good investments with their time, energy, resources, and selflessness. A lot of these are eternally minded investments that pertain to ministry, but some of them are also financially oriented investments applied to ministry. This may occur by either the incorporation of their passion with serving God, or by giving from the first fruits of their labor. Either way we ought to respect the sacrificial love demonstrated by their service. Whether it’s a result of giving of their time and energy, or giving their money that was earned as a byproduct of their time and energy. There are also clear cut characteristics that are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Characteristics such as: gentleness, kindness, peace, and long-suffering that should not be undermined.
Who is she?
Right off the bat we see that she and her husband both know her value, so God knows it infinitely more. The descriptors begin in the latter part of Proverbs 31:10 “for her worth is far above rubies.” That isn’t a conditional situation, it’s a fact. When she understands her value is not based on her performance, that will free her up to perform to the best of her abilities anyways. She doesn’t have the illusion of a certain expectation from her husband, and she follows the lead of the Holy Spirit. She deciphers how she ought to allocate herself to each venture God has placed in her and her husband to execute together.
Proverbs 31:11 puts an emphasis on trust, and it shows us that her husband safely trusts her. She doesn’t need to be babysat, domineered, or micromanaged. She has God-given authority to act assertively, and she doesn’t have to disrespect her husband to do so. This doesn’t frequently express an internal power struggle dynamic, there’s a natural balance achieved due to the beauty of selflessness. At times when it is expressed, one or both parties are willing to operate from the position of humility, and admit their shortcomings in order to resolve conflict responsibly.
The beauty of knowing that God keeps perfect score, compels us to avoid keeping score for ourselves as if we were on opposing teams. A detriment to her is a detriment to me. Likewise, a victory for her is a victory for me. I applaud her successes, because her success is also mine and vice versa. These aren’t merely vicarious feelings of joy that comes as a result of a loved one doing something well. They’re more complete, she’s one flesh with me, and it’s as if I had also triumphed alongside her.
Proverbs 31:12 demonstrates that there’s a call upon her to do good to her husband her entire life. She wouldn’t have it any other way. She knows, that if he is approaching life the right way, he is called to love her like Jesus Christ loves the Church. It’s beautiful and reassuring to find a woman like this, because you know you don’t have to consistently wonder if she’s harming you. There’s no worry that you think she will be a hindrance, because you married her. We should recognize that when God is at the forefront of our lives, we wouldn’t entertain ideas of doing bad to the spouse God has ordained for us. We treasure them, and in this case our wives would not desire to do us harm. Doing harm to us is either equivalent or worse than it is for them to do harm to themselves. They’d be hurting someone who desires to directly and regularly bless them. This unravels when one or both parties either don’t appreciate their spouse or they underestimate the power in their words to build up or destroy. [Read James 3:5-6].
In Proverbs 31:13 we can see she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Did you think it would be a good idea to build something in your backyard? This woman says “I am game, let’s do it and let’s make it awesome.” She sought wool and flax, probably to make her own garments. Granted we have cultural considerations, provisions, and dynamics to consider here. If you’re both working 9 am-6 pm jobs, and bringing in a healthy 6 figure sum annually or more, there’s no reason to try building your own Gazebo. You can walk into Home Depot and buy one, because chances are the value of your time is higher than the act of building it. This isn’t because you look down on the work, and in actuality if you believe it’s a project you could grow together doing, you might want to get your hands dirty anyway.
On the flip side maybe what you need is to build that Gazebo, regardless of the cost involved. If it brings you together, the “burden” of building it, could be a blessing in disguise for your communication. Maybe you need to laugh at each other again, re-ignite some of the romance that initially brought you together, and do something that gets your minds off of the daily grind for a little while. The stress of life is a reality. You can’t expect to win the gauntlet that you’re facing, without re-fueling your “fuel tank”. The one built on the pillars of patience, gentleness, kindness, camaraderie, trust, loyalty, faithfulness, joy, and other positive contributions. Contributions that stem from the fruits of the Holy Spirit working in us.
They will be the asset when life gets tough, and you both need to be each other’s #1 fans all the time. She doesn’t look down on working diligently alongside you, in the sense of perceiving herself above performing smaller tasks, because you’re a team. You took out the garbage, washed the dishes, and cleaned the windows. Cool – she’ll mop the house, do the laundry, and cook dinner. There’s a team effort, and thankfully you didn’t need to hire a maid to do anything. Not that there’s necessarily anything particularly wrong with that if you’re okay with that arrangement, and have the means of purchasing such a luxury. The biggest challenge in that case could potentially be finding someone trustworthy.
Are you together at the inception of your marriage with a collective net worth of < $20,000? Are you in a situation where you don’t have to look at the bill after you order your European cruise for two, with several stops abroad after taking a transatlantic cruise? The point is there’s a time for eating Mac-n-Cheese and grinding from the bottom to the top. You may find yourself in a situation having to work together pinching pennies, scraping for survival, and persevering in the midst of adversity. Maybe you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and as soon as you took your first breath, you had already acquired all the wealth in this world you’d ever need.
Chances are you fell in between one of those two extremes, but regardless of where you started the financial aspect of your journey, you can get to where God desires for you to arrive. The love that transpires in the context of marriage transcends net worth, socioeconomic status, or desires in this world. God’s love for us goes beyond anything we can ever imagine, and we know that to be a fact by experience as believers. That doesn’t mean we exist outside of the scope of needing precisely what is required in order to survive or thrive in the context of God’s will for eternity. Rolling this idea back into Proverbs 31:14, we know that she contributes without any qualms to the family. Whether it’s just her and you, whether you’ve got little ones, or the nest is now empty – you arrived by the grace of God and you still have things to do for Him. If we’re alive and breathing, He isn’t finished with us yet as it pertains to this earth.
You don’t allow your net worth to define your temporal happiness, but you dig deeper together to embrace the joy of the Lord to strengthen you. The intimacy that God has built between you, nobody but He understands as deeply as her and you do. There’s no adversity that God will give you that you cannot persevere over by His grace for His glory if it be in His will. If for some reason it’s not in His will for you to conquer it, you can rest assured that the life you have been given is a win-win scenario. A scenario that only God has the authority to give or take away. [Read: Philippians 1:21]. If you stay alive, you continue to store up heavenly treasures as God leads you to. If you die as a believer, you’re merely taken to your eternal residence. In other words there’s no possibility for eternal loss, because God works all things for our eternal good. [Read: Romans 8:28].
Given my current situation, I particularly have a high regard for Proverbs 31:15. There is an indication here of affluence in the life of this woman, but this is not a rule of thumb that the life of a believer has to aspire to, strive toward, or achieve unless it’s part of God’s will. It’s clear that she wakes up before dawn, and she provides for her household. This is in contrast to the stereotypical role of a man always providing for his family, although that’s also to be expected. She is generous as she extends her hand to those who serve her and those in need. What’s the point of being wealthy if you’re only hoarding it? There’s a distinct pleasure and grace about generosity, but it needs to be given from the right motivation of the heart. It may also be a factor in storing up for yourself heavenly treasures in the process, but is also a clear responsibility as it relates to being a good steward of what God has entrusted you. It perplexes me greatly to think about the motivation behind the donations of the elite, wealthy, and powerful that aren’t believers.
I don’t typically entertain impossibilities, but if I didn’t believe God existed, I would be the most arrogant, self-seeking, lustful, and prideful fool out there. The simple fact is that if your motivation is to serve God, and submit to His sovereignty, you have an eternally valid reason to operate by God’s grace for His glory. If your life mission is to maximize pleasure here on earth in dead-ends, and aim to satisfy the insatiable appetites of the flesh, what encouragement do you have to do good? I might be a combination of the worst attributes that some of our Biblical heroes ever possessed. Perhaps a combination of King Solomon, King David, and Samson’s weaknesses without any of their God-given strengths. I would certainly be a lover of money, I would take pride in bedding as many women as would give me the time of day, and I would probably ruthlessly seek wealth and vanity. Fortunately for me, I believe in God, so none of these desires need to be pandered to by me. I serve a higher authority, and since I answer to God, it holds me back from allowing the worst aspects of my depraved nature from manifesting themselves. While it’s been finished in terms of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf, and my redemption has been fulfilled, the process of sanctification goes forward.
The only motivations I can currently think of for giving from a secular standpoint are to feign consideration for the less fortunate in an attempt to undermine Christianity, to give in order to feel less residual guilt from past sin, or giving such a small, inconsequential amount that it almost has no bearing whatsoever on the massive wealth being stored up. Granted I do on some level respect the audacity the generosity of some of the world’s wealthiest seem to demonstrate. They don’t have the motivation we have, but they have somehow found it in themselves in many cases to give away their entire fortunes upon their death. I think there’s way more to this story than meets the eye, as God uses even those who don’t submit to Him for his own delight, pleasure, and will to be executed the way He sees fit.
Except, it grieves me to think, what it profits a man to inherit the world and lose his soul: nothing. (Mark 8:36-37). There aren’t any U-Hauls behind hearses and they firmly know this, but yet they still in some cases haven’t found it in themselves to submit to God through His Son Jesus Christ. There’s no such thing as a self-made man, self-made millionaire or billionaire. No wonder Jesus Christ said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get to Heaven. (Mark 10:25). By that standard we’re also pointing the finger at ourselves by the way, we’re among the richest people on the face of the earth. Fortunately what is impossible for man, is made possible through God. (Matthew 19:26). You see if all we had was Mark 10:25, we might have to consider that we were all exempt from Heaven as a result of the privileges we hold in the United States of America. Other prosperous countries abroad in Europe and Asia would be in a similar boat. Fortunately, by the lead of the Holy Spirit, we can discern what is good stewardship. God can lead us to make economically sound decisions with our money, time, energy, and resources. Often times people wonder how God could allow suffering to the less fortunate in some underprivileged countries as far as the scope of economies are concerned. Yet we know many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:30). What if we turned the question around and wondered how we might have been given the short end of the eternal stick? Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness. (Matthew 5:10-12).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to be persecuted unless God desires me to be. At best however in the United States of America, speaking from some degree of personal experience, I cannot say I have without question been persecuted. Persecution is the threat of your family dying, relocating, or otherwise being inconvenienced because you’re constantly being threatened with the prospect of death. Persecution is not cultural inconvenience, misunderstandings, discomfort, and secular judgment. Such matters are inconsequential in comparison to the worst of what we can typically see experienced here in the United States of America, outside of perhaps some anomalies.
So who is more eternally blessed? Only God knows for certain, but what we know is we cannot change where we are. We also know that we’ve been given the privilege of tremendous access to utilities, opportunities, resources, time, and energy that we aren’t investing in running for our lives for the sake of being Christian. That means that we’re called to use it accordingly. (Luke 12:48). There’s no need to compare, but rather to simply run our own race with perseverance. Part of running that race with perseverance brings it all full circle back to Proverbs 31:15, we need to be generous with what we’ve been entrusted, and it’s easier to say than to do. Praise God for second, third, and even more chances. He knows we’ve needed to come to terms with what has often been deemed the final aspect of submission to God in the life of a mature believer, that of which is to entrust Him with our finances. This makes it crystal clear why we serve God and not money. (Matthew 6:24).
We know that the love of money is the root of all evil, but simply wielding a high net-worth, affluence, or wealth isn’t intrinsically sinful. It just means you bear more responsibility for what you own, and we need to be mindful of how we steward it in consideration of eternity. This is a lesson that by all means pertains to both women and men, and isn’t exclusive to gender.
We see in Proverbs 31:16 she has already considered the field to purchase it. She has the capacity to make prudent financial decisions, and there is a fiscal benefit to them. We know according to Proverbs 31:18 that she is an entrepreneur. With her God-given discretion she perceives that the merchandise is of a high quality. The latter portion of verse 18 shows us that it’s indicative she has run the marathon of what constitutes the day without necessarily turning in to sleep early, “her lamp does not go out by night”.
Proverbs 31:19-20 tell us that she’s willing to work diligently on tasks that seem to be of lesser importance, but willingly does them for the sake of her and her family. In Proverbs 31:21, which mentions,”her household is clothed with scarlet”, she is referring to the provisions that God has abundantly blessed her and her family. This is made even more clear in the following Proverbs 31:22 where it specifies that she made tapestry for herself, and talks about her garments. Garments fine linen and purple, which match those of quality and color indicative of royalty.
Her husband is known at the gates according to Proverbs 31:23, where he sits among the elders of the land. While the set of verses focuses on her for the duration of Proverbs 31, Solomon led by the Holy Spirit, saw it fit to mention a snippet of the man’s role here. He is not daunted by the prospect of being known, and clearly has some level of influence. A great woman of such a caliber would have it no other way. In Proverbs 31:24 it’s made clear that she doesn’t only provide for her family by producing these linens for just them. She also finds the time to sell in her abundance to provide another monetary influx by doing business with merchants and other sales.
When Proverbs 31:25 arrives it jumps from using materials to using fine clothes as a metaphor for her character. “Strength and honor are her clothing, she shall rejoice in the time to come.” Who wouldn’t find joy in such a collaborative, powerful relationship. A relationship she finds foremost with God, and extends throughout her family. She is treated with respect, and she is continually sharing wisdom and kindness when she opens her mouth to speak according to Proverbs 31:26. Proverbs 31:27 indicates that this woman “watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” She’s making sure that the household is running like a well-conditioned engine for a 787 Boeing Dreamliner. It’s critically important for her to stay active, and clearly a balance is achieved with respect to all the various activities she finds herself in.
Proverbs 31:28-30 are as important for women to learn from as they are for men. The children show her respect, love, and admiration. Likewise the husband praises her too, and it gives a sample of one such way to acknowledge the depth of their relationship and his view towards what she signifies: “Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all.” There is no comparison at all to be found to this kind of wife.
Likewise in verse 30 where it speaks about, “charm is deceitful, and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised”, we observe the priorities of how time doesn’t detract from her value. Wrinkles don’t deduct from their mutual respect, love, and admiration. Furthermore, as a God fearing woman, she’s not even ultimately defined by her boyfriend or spouse, but rather by her Maker. With her identity firmly placed in Jesus Christ, she has no need for any more validation, but finds that God often works through her husband to deliver timely words of encouragement when they are needed.
Finally in Proverbs 31:31 it’s displayed that she is rewarded. She sees the fruit of her labor from the work of her hands, in so many of these examples of her diligence. It doesn’t imply that she brags about her excellence, instead other people and her work speak for her. Why taint such a beautiful myriad of compensation, and continuous flow of good works for God, with speaking highly of herself. Better to allow other people to do that for you, and remain humble. In other words, she’s got it going on and as long as the Lord sees that, she’s eternally grateful.
Entirety of segment in Proverbs 31 that refers to a virtuous wife for reference:
The Virtuous Wife
10 Who[b] can find a virtuous[c] wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31:10-31 (NKJV).
Next entry in this series will be a journey through Ephesians 5!