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The Virtuous Wife

virtuous wife

By Dennis Pollock

As I read through the Bible in my early days as a Christian, certain verses and passages seemed to jump out at me as being extra-special. Paul’s essay on love in 1 Corinthians, the exhortation to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding found in the third chapter of Proverbs, and Jesus’ exhortation for all those who labor and are heavy-laden to come unto Him are examples of these. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that most of the passages which struck me so forcefully affected many others similarly, and these Bible verses have been and are quoted frequently in many sermons and Christian books.

One of these passages which proved so unforgettable to me was the lengthy description of a virtuous woman found in Proverbs 31. Not being a woman, it didn’t exactly apply to me, but still I was struck by the beauty of the language and the power of the thoughts expressed. If I remember correctly, my little King James Bible placed a heading above the passage which said: “The Virtuous Woman.” Many Bibles today refer to it as a description of the virtuous wife, since the woman being described is clearly a married lady with a family. Because we are convinced that the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and represent the mind of God, we can approach this passage with the idea that this description of a godly wife is not merely some ancient man or woman’s idea, riddled with cultural bias and irrelevant to us today. We must conclude that the woman described here is God’s very own description of the woman who is pleasing to Him and fulfills her role as an ideal wife and mother. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what is said of this woman.

Women on the Dark Side

The first thing we should notice is that this description of a godly woman is in distinct contrast to most portrayals of women throughout all the earlier chapters of the Book of Proverbs. Throughout this book of wise sayings, ungodly, immoral women are frequently mentioned, with the idea that a young man should by all means avoid such ladies. Some of the verses we find in this book which paint women in a rather negative light are these:

  1. … (wisdom will) deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God… (Proverbs 2:16, 17).
  2. For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell (Proverbs 5:3-5).
  3. As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion (Proverbs 11:22).
  4. It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman (Proverb 25:24).


It doesn’t sound too good, does it? There are a couple of references to good women, but the negative verses outweigh the positive ones – until you reach Proverbs 31, the final chapter of the book. Here we get a balancing of the scales, and the author goes on and on about what constitutes a godly, moral, and virtuous woman.

Hard to Find

The first thing said is still a little on the negative side, however. We read, “Who can find a virtuous wife?” It sorta sounds like he’s saying, “There aren’t that many of them around! They’re hard to find.” But then he goes on to say, “Her worth is far above rubies.” Such a lady is incredibly valuable, far more so than any precious gem. In another words: a virtuous woman, when you do find her, will be well worth the search.

Next he declares that “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” We might suppose, if we didn’t read any further, that this may be referring to a husband who trusts his wife to be faithful to him. And while I’m sure this certainly is a genuine dimension of a virtuous wife, sexual faithfulness is not what the author had in mind. He next states: “So he will have no lack of gain.” The trust, described here, that her husband has in her is a confidence that she will handle the financial affairs of the household wisely, and will work diligently to see that family prospers and lives comfortably. And for most of the verses that follow in this amazing declaration of God’s view of a godly wife, the emphasis seems to be on hard work and careful organization of the family business more than anything else.

Work Ethic

One thing you cannot miss when you read this passage is that this lady being described is an incredibly hard worker. Over and over the point is driven home that a godly woman is a hard-working woman. She doesn’t have a single ounce of laziness in her. We read such statements as:

  1. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands (Proverbs 31:13).
  2. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household (Proverbs 31:15).
  3. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night (Proverbs 31:18).
  4. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants (Proverbs 31:24).
  5. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27).

Wow! This is one hard-working woman! This is probably not the description most Christians would give, if they were asked to write a couple of paragraphs on the nature of the ideal Christian woman. Most of us would elaborate on her prayer life, her willingness to spend time in God’s word, and her faithful involvement in her church. We might make one or two references to hard work, but we would not go on and on the way this Spirit-inspired account does.

I think this makes a valuable statement about the nature of the life God expects of us all, men and women. As important as prayer and Bible reading are in the life of the believer, we should not assume that if we were truly spiritual people, we would spend most of our days praying and reading the Bible, and cut our ordinary work to a bare minimum. The truth is men and women were made to work. “Six days thou shalt work,” the commandment declares. Being devoted to Jesus Christ does not mean that we spend the vast majority of our time talking to Him and neglecting our responsibilities.

Value of Work and Prayer

Sometimes people who work at “secular jobs” feel a little like second class Christians because their work plus their family responsibilities consume the vast majority of their time. They suppose that the really spiritual Christians simply sing praises, read the Bible, and pray most of their waking hours. And they know they could not possibly do this and keep their lives and their families afloat. But the God who created us knows that being human means having many different responsibilities, and for most people that means working a job a minimum of forty hours each week, often more. Nor would it be wise for us to head straight to our studies the minute we get home, and pray and read the Bible until time for bed.

This is not to suggest that prayer and reading the Scriptures are unimportant. They are incredibly important. But they tend to work best for most of us if we spend twenty or thirty minutes two or three times a day rather than attempting to set aside long hours of time each day for them, which force us to neglect our other responsibilities. And if there is one thing we must say about this Proverbs 31 woman, she definitely did not neglect her family responsibilities!

If you look at some of the most effective and successful ministers in the history of the church, you find that they were nearly all incredibly hard workers. The apostle Paul, John Wesley, George Whitefield, D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts… all of these men, plus a number of successful women ministers I could name, worked very, very hard in the work of Christ. Certainly, they prayed and believed in prayer. But they did not spend all or even most of their time in prayer. They traveled, they preached, they wrote, they counseled, they organized outreaches, they mentored others, and they constantly sought new ways of reaching more and more people. They put in long hours every day, sometimes to the point of becoming physically ill as a result of their strenuous exertions. Like the woman of Proverbs 31, they did not eat “the bread of idleness.”

Mrs. Businesswoman

It is refreshing that in those days of patriarchal societies, this woman seems to operate in realms of authority that would traditionally belong to the men. The Scripture says of her: “She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard.” This woman is not merely confined to household duties – having babies, cleaning the house, and cooking; she is in effect a businesswoman, going out and purchasing fields, arranging for them to be planted, and then using some of the profits to create a vineyard. These are things men would typically do, but because her husband “safely trusts her” to manage much of the business affairs of the household, she is given a free hand in making major decisions for the family. While some husbands might be too pig-headed to allow their wives such latitude, she has won her husband’s confidence, and as a result the family flourishes and prospers.

In addition to her amazing work ethic, there are three spiritual qualities in this woman. First, we read that, “She opens her mouth with wisdom.” The virtuous woman is a wise woman, and that wisdom is reflected in her conversation. She is not given to profanity or screaming or lying. Her words reflect her godly character. Second, we read that “on her tongue is the law of kindness.” She has a kindly way about her, and this kindness is once again reflected in the words that come from her mouth. She is not easily angered and speaks gently. And third, we discover that she fears the Lord. In conclusion the author declares that charm is deceitful and beauty is temporary, but “a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”

God-Fearer

Now we get to the heart of the matter. Her decency, her strong work ethic, her wisdom, her business acumen all spring from her respect for and trust in the Lord. She is, above all else, a believer. And not only does God honor her, but her family does as well. The Scriptures declare, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” This amazing lady has won the hearts of her family, and they treat her with the honor and respect she deserves. Her place among her loved ones is secure. Her husband will never trade her in for a newer model. Her children will never leave her to herself in her older years. Her godly character and her years of serving her family will be rewarded. “She shall rejoice in time to come” (Proverbs 31:25).

I realize that this chapter could prove pretty intimidating to many women, who feel utterly incapable of living up to this high standard. And apart from Christ this would be true. But it is Jesus Christ living in us, who is the hope of glory, and the hope of godly character for both women and men. When we are born again and receive the crucified and resurrected Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we are given two great gifts. First we receive eternal life and can be assured that we will live forever with God in heaven after we die. But secondly, and of no small consequence, we also receive the Holy Spirit who comes and lives inside us, bringing with Him the very character of Jesus Christ. In essence, this is Jesus living His life in us, bringing with Him His amazing character: His work ethic, His decency, His kindness, His great love and compassio

As we abide in Jesus, and make Him the focus of our lives, He will manifest Himself through us. Virtuous women and virtuous men are the result, not due to their striving and vows to be better and nicer, but as a free gift given to all who believe and abide, courtesy of the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

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