The Real Proverbs 31 Mom

proverbs 31

She was a new member of the church and asked me how she could get more involved. I mentioned several things including women’s ministry and when I did her countenance changed and she said, “I just cannot take another Proverbs 31 study!”

Why did she feel that way? I think it’s because we have often treated Proverbs 31 like a gospel-less job description but that is not how it functions at all in the book of Proverbs. In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified and folly is personified as well. They are voices calling out, competing voices, voices that echo all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In the garden God spoke to his image bearers but a competing voice spoke as well and said, “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3:1). After Adam and Eve listened and obeyed the serpentine voice of folly, God spoke good news to them; he promised that there would be a seed born of woman would crush the head of the serpent.

Throughout redemptive history God continues to speak wisdom and the serpent continues to speak folly. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, the apostle Paul contrasts what he refers to as “the word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18), which is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:20-21, 24, 30, 2:5, 7) and the “the wisdom of the world” which is folly (1 Cor 1:20-21, 1 Cor 3:19). Paul explains, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” and “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor 1:24b, 30b). In Colossians, Paul asserts he wants the church to know, “the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2b-3). Jesus is the good news and Jesus is our wisdom.

The Most Important Thing

The most important and fundamental thing about the Proverbs 31 woman is explained at the end of the chapter, “she fears the Lord” (Prov 31:30). Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10, 15:33). This fear is a sense of awe and wonder, it is the fear of faith. Psalm 130:3-4 explains, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sin, then who could stand? But there is forgiveness that you may be feared.” The real Proverbs 31 mom does not read the description of “an excellent wife” (Prov 31:10) as a performance list to earn God’s favor. She is not building a spiritual resume to be proud of because her only hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no good news or wisdom apart from Jesus.

If Proverbs 31:10-31 is not a list to evaluate your performance or to cultivate a spiritual resume then what should we learn from it?

A Proverbs 31 Mom Seeks Wisdom not Wishing

 Notice that the Proverbs 31 woman is busy living the life she has in the fear of the Lord, which is in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She is not sitting around wishing she had someone else’s life. The list of activities the text describes her being involved in is very mundane. It is a list of daily, ordinary things that she does for her husband (31:11-12), household (31:13-19, 27-29), and community (31:20-26). If we were to translate the descriptions in contemporary language it would sound something like:

  •  Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Making, repairing, or buying clothes
  • Buying groceries
  • Bargain shopping
  • Gardening
  • Working in the home
  • Working outside the home
  • Laundry
  • Helping neighbors
  • Helping needy people
  • Speaking well of her husband
  • Making phone calls
  • Checking on others
  • Reminding, supporting, and encouraging her husband
  • Reminding, supporting, and encouraging her kids
  • Teaching her children
  • Teaching her children the Bible and the gospel
  • Teaching practical theology
  • Praying
  • Praying for others
  • Up early and late feeding infants
  • Staying up with sick kids
  • Potty training
  • Comforting frightened children

This is not a performance checklist of all the things a wife and mother ought to be doing. Rather, it is a representative list, a reminder that this ordinary, mundane, list of routine and daily activities can and should be done in “the fear of the Lord.” In other words, a wise woman is one who lives the life she has, surrendered to Jesus by faith instead of wishing she had a different life. This is also true for women suffering through the pain of infertility, miscarriage, and single-parenthood. It is not about living an ideal life but living the life you have in the fear of the Lord.

The real Proverbs 31 mom remembers that Jesus’s life appeared to be ordinary and tragic by outward appearance: born in a stable, from a nowhere town like Nazareth, blue-collar parents, rejected by the religious establishment, a low-income itinerant teacher, with a band ignoble followers, crucified as a common criminal. There is glory in the ordinary in Christ.

A Proverbs 31 Mom Seeks Purpose not Perfection

 One of the interesting things about Proverbs 31:10-31 is that it is an acrostic poem in which the successive verses began with the consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet and that it is permeated by language that has military overtones. The word “excellent” (Prov 31:10, An excellent wife) refers to strength, power, and nobility. The language is often associated with a military warrior celebrating a victory and similar language appears throughout the poem. The word appears again at the end of the poem bracketing the entire discussion with military language (Prov 31:29). Fearing the Lord in the daily, mundane, and ordinary things listed is the Proverb 31 women’s battle. She believes there is sovereign gospel purpose in all of her daily service.

The purpose of the list is not to overwhelm women by calling them to perfectly live out this list. That would be anti-gospel. This is not a job description to use for evaluating yourself daily. You do not measure up to and do everything on this list. You need Jesus. He alone is all-sufficient. But the list does teach you that in Christ all of these activities have purpose. Too often the problems moms have is thinking that the mundane things on this list keep them from spiritually growing. Moms often think—If I could just spend two hours a day reading my Bible distraction free in my favorite chair then I could grow spiritually and really make a difference.

I once heard a pastor say, “Ministry would be great if it wasn’t for having to deal with all these church members!” I was thinking if it were not for all of those church members you would not have a ministry. The very thing he was complaining about hindering his ministry was what constituted his ministry. God has never promised any of us distraction-free spirituality—especially moms. Instead of wanting to get away from daily tasks to focus on the gospel, wisdom liberates us to see gospel purpose in all we do.

A Proverbs 31 Mom Seeks Gospel not Glamour

Moms are on the front lines of living out the implications of the gospel in the daily and ordinary routine of life. Most of us do not have too many mountaintop moments in our lives. Our spiritual battles rarely take place on platforms with thousands watching. Most often, they take place in kitchens, backyards, and office cubicles. Most of us will be role players in our lives, not superstars. Mothers model for their children how to live the 98% of our lives to the glory of God. This is indispensable gospel ministry to children. Moms who fear the Lord train children to live with gospel joy and intentionality while performing countless tasks for which no one applauds.

One of the best theologians I know is multi-vocational. She is involved in meal services, interior decorating, supervision, custodial work, mechanical work, nursing, conflict resolution, interpersonal relations management, money management, continuing education, career planning, counseling, and is on the clock in these locations 24 hours a day. While at the same time teaching theology and the gospel on all cognitive levels of difficulty and allowing endless follow-up questions of “Why?” Her vocation to me, and our 8 children, is not glamorous but it is strategic for the sake of the gospel in the Kingdom of Christ. Many women have done excellently, but to me, Judi surpasses them all (Prov 31:29).

It is a tragic when a woman has the opportunity to be involved in what is satisfying and eternal and spends her time despising it and wishing for what is superficial and deceptive. This is the nature of the warning in Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

The anti-Proverbs 31 mom is not one who is aware of her own inadequacy, struggling with kids, time management, and household management, not knowing how she’s going get everything done. The anti-Proverbs 31 mom is the one who looks at the list in Proverbs 31:10-31, abstracted from the gospel, and sees a performance check list to prove her superiority as a wife and mother.

It is also the woman who defines her significance based on the world standards. She may be busy performing her role as a wife and mother but she internally despises it, thinking this kind of ordinary, mundane stuff can’t have any real purpose. She spends her life thinking, “If only . . .” Her daily wishing spiritualizes her daily purposelessness and allows her to fantasize about the gospel difference and influence she could make, if only she was less busy and had a more glamorous platform.

It is the same logic that hissed in the Garden of Eden, “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3:1), if only you would take and eat your “eyes will be opened” (Gen 3:5) and then your life will be significant. Competent super moms serve the purposes of the evil one just as readily as incompetent ones as long as they do not fear the Lord.

But the mom who fears the Lord, believing there is gospel purpose in all she does, who looks to Christ in her daily struggles and her readily apparent inadequacies, is an effective gospel warrior, rightly praised in the Kingdom of Christ.

By |May 15th, 2014|Categories: Blog, Featured|Tags: , , |

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18 Comments

  1. MeansvilleMom May 20, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Oh, thank you for publishing this. When I first became a christian, in my 30s, one of the first things I was offered was a book called the Excellent Wife. I struggled with it over the years, ending up despising the book. Then last year I studied the book, The God of the Mundane and this article goes hand in hand. What a release!!! As a mom, wife, homeschool teacher and house keeper, it is reassuring to know I can do all these mundane things to the glory of our God and be a true witness to the grace of gospel all at the same time. This is real life and here is where doctrine meets it.

  2. Ginger May 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Beautiful thoughts on Proverbs 31’s meaning and intent. That said, I think the lady’s point was that we women get really tired of Bible studies on that chapter. Sometimes it seems like that’s the only one churches seem to think apples to women. It’s not that it isn’t a wonderful thing to study, just that we’ve done so many studies on it that we’d love to learn about something else from the Scriptures in depth for a change! Some things I would love to have my ladies’ group study more are The Beatitudes, the miracles of Christ, and Acts. 🙂

  3. c May 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I really appreciate this breakdown of the spiritual aspects of Proverbs 31 rather than the performance-oriented, legalistic aspects that are too often the main focus. However, I think women are simply tired of that passage being the main, and often only biblical passage applied to women’s ministries, women’s studies and women’s conferences. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent passage assigned to men that includes so many practical daily tasks, so women often feel pigeonholed by Proverbs 31 even when it’s rightly understood. God calls us to focus on so much more than just that passage (for example, the fruits of the spirit, the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, as examples of more prescriptive passages). Often in conservative Christian bookstores or churches, it can seem that women’s material focuses only on womanhood and its daily practical and cultural expressions. Sometimes women would rather study broader topics in Bible study that apply to the whole of Christian life, like a larger theological topic or a book of the Bible, rather than something that defines “womanhood”. That’s my two cents on why there’s a fatigue around Proverbs 31.

  4. David Prince May 20, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for all of the helpful and insightful comments. I really appreciate your feedback.

  5. Sarah May 20, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    I’m curious why you titled your article, “Proverbs 31 MOM. When I read Proverbs 31, I see a fully-rounded, accomplished WOMAN. I see her as an amazing business woman, intelligent, organized, reaching out in many ways to her family, business, community. She leads a fulfilling and satisfying life, which includes all aspects, not just the mundane.

  6. Barbara May 20, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Sir,

    This was a real gift to this overworked, overtired, weary soul this morning. The part about walking in the fear of the Lord in all the mundane, – thank you. I don’t want to be amazing. That commenter seems to miss the entire point. I just want to walk in the fear of the Lord and submit to His good hand and learn to be content in all circumstances as Paul learned as he sat in a jail and wrote to the Philippians. I just want to serve where and how the Lord allows, and be satisfied in Him here while longing more and more for the new Heavens and new earth because this one is exhausting. I had just sat down Sunday night and put those thoughts together while walking through a very difficult year in the midst of what has been a very difficult life, and the convictions you write of are exactly the ones I had identified as the depth of my own soul, though the pain of it can be quite exquisite at times – yet repeatedly, over and over, He shows Himself to be kind and gracious and faithful and ever-present in just such ways as this. So your words applying these texts are a balm from the Lord Himself. Thank you for being His vessel.

  7. RT May 20, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Thank you. As the mom of three under five, it’s easy to get lost in the mundane and lose sight of the bigger picture. This was really encouraging.

  8. Scott May 21, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Great Article!

  9. David Prince May 21, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Thank You Barbara, RT, and Scott!

  10. David Prince May 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Sarah,

    The simple answer to the question about the title “The Real Proverbs 31 Mom” is that the Proverbs 31 woman is a mom (Prov 31:28). The point of the post was to help moms think through how to rightly apply Proverbs 31 to their daily lives. I certainly agree that she is an amazing, intelligent, woman leading a satisfying life because she fears the Lord. The list is full of seemingly mundane and ordinary activities but for the follower of Christ there is glory in the seemingly ordinary.

  11. Greta May 21, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I’m a pastor’s kid, a Bible College grad and have been a youth pastor’s wife for 17 years….I tend to feel the same way when someone starts a message or Sunday School class with, “Turn to Proverbs 31”. But, I am so thankful, SO thankful, for a God who holds women in such high regard. What a freedom knowing that I serve a God who encourages me to pursue so many things, from maintaining my household (a full time business) to possibly a full time business outside the home! Wow! And not only that, but He enables me to do so. What an amazing God we serve Who has not pigeon holed my role as a woman that follows Christ, but graciously gives me life to the fullest! Praise the Lord for His kindness and His desire to use ME to glorify HIM!

  12. David Prince May 21, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Amen Greta!

  13. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog May 22, 2014 at 6:00 am

    […] The Real Proverbs 31 Mom David Prince: “She was a new member of the church and asked me how she could get more involved. I mentioned several things including women’s ministry and when I did her countenance changed and she said, “I just cannot take another Proverbs 31 study!” […]

  14. Doug Wolter May 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks for these helpful words! On Mother’s Day I preached from Proverbs 31 and asked the question, “Who IS this Woman?” So often the Proverbs 31 Woman is a source of frustration and guilt as women look at her and think they can never match up.

    This message seeks to show how Proverbs 31 is a pointer to Christ and thus encourages women to find their rest in Him. http://oakhillhumboldt.org/01%20201405112014.m4a

  15. David Prince May 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks Doug!

  16. The Sites to See | Only in Christ May 25, 2014 at 8:09 am

    […] “The real Proverbs 31 mom does not read the description of “an excellent wife” (Prov 31:10) as a performance list to earn God’s favor. She is not building a spiritual resume to be proud of because her only hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no good news or wisdom apart from Jesus.” […]

  17. […] Read it all. […]

  18. Lara May 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Thank you for this excellent article! Rather than get irritated at more focus on that chapter, I welcome it. What a privilege that God would give us women an entire chapter that includes so many daily “little things ” that we do! Talk about validation! 🙂 I appreciate your comments.

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