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:
- Making, repairing, or buying clothes
- Buying groceries
- Bargain shopping
- Working in the home
- Working outside the home
- 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 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.