Here’s a good idea for mothers and for all: Walk with God.
But what kind of person will you become if you walk with God, if you take Him seriously?
That’s what people wonder when they consider whether to turn and follow Jesus Christ. Ok, the faith is reasonable. The faith makes sense of the world. Ok, through Christ I’ll be safe from the wrath to come. But will I like what I will become, or will Jesus turn me into a freak?
Here’s what I mean. People think:
- Christianity emerged from the Middle East, and from what I’ve seen on the news a lot of people over there seem to be radical and have a primitive vibe. And at the heart of Christianity is something pretty primitive: blood sacrifice for the remission of sin. So if I became a Christian, would I turn into someone wild-eyed… unstable?
- The Bible contains commandments that are hardline and force adherents to take unpopular stances. Will I become grim and angry? Will I stop enjoying life?
- TV depictions of serious believers portray them as judgmental, or petty, or silly, or cruel. Is that accurate? Would I become creepy or dour or boring or mean?
- What about the phrase “she’s so heavenly minded that she’s of no earthly good”? If I followed Jesus Christ, will I become syrupy, always rambling off topic, spouting platitudes?
With those questions in mind, I ask you to please turn to Proverbs 31.
At the end of the collection of Proverbs we’re given a portrait of a virtuous person. Now, this portrait happens to be of a woman who happens to be a wife and mother – – so it’s a good passage for Mother’s Day. But note: we could easily generalize some of the thing said about this woman and apply them to those who aren’t wives or mothers or females.
First, let’s glance at the end and notice the overall description given to this woman who is enjoying the blessing of God, in v. 31: she fears the Lord. Or to say that in other ways, she takes God seriously. She is moved by God.
To put a specifically Proverbs point on “fearing God”: She’s willing to learn, to change, to be proven wrong…for the sake of following God.
Back to our original questions: What does God make of a person when he blesses him/her? What kind of person does someone become when he/she really believes God, really takes Him seriously?
The women in this paragraph is the answer to that question. God – through all His strange directions and stories and worship protocols and this strange community called the Church – is forming his people into this mold we find in Provers 31. Here, we’re given a portrait of the person who fears the LORD, who takes God seriously, who is attentive to the details of God’s requirements, whose life is being changed by God. So, in this portrait, we’re seeing the sort of person the followers of Jesus Christ are becoming by the grace of God.
With all that said, let’s look verse by verse at this description. Please follow along in your Bible. We’ll have to fly! And as we look at this portrayal, I want you to constantly recall the root of her character, the starting point of these qualities: she fears the Lord.
V. 11 – This woman is trustworthy, reliable, and that solidness engenders the success of those around her. The first thing spoken about her is that she causes others to flourish. “Behind every successful man is a
surprised strong woman.” Why this ability to influence? because she fears the Lord.
V. 12 – A contributor. A builder. Not someone who tears down others or makes their lives more complicated and burdensome… but rather improves them. And this uplifting influence goes on all the days of her life. When she doesn’t feel like it. When the people she’s helping don’t deserve it, aren’t grateful. Steadily. Steadily.
V. 13 – Gathering materials and resources. Preparing raw materials to be used. She’s educated herself and she knows stuff; knows what to do with the stuff. She got skills! Know-how.
You gotta love that expression, Willing hands. Eagerness. Actually, “hands” shows up throughout this portrait, denoting activity and immediate engagement with the work. Yes, delegation and hiring others is good. But do we sense in here an inclination to doing as much as she can herself: painting her own rooms, clearing her own drains, etc.?
V. 14 – Her table is set with foods that are from afar – it wasn’t a simple thing to get these striking and unusual foods to the dinner table, but the labor she’s expended is worthwhile; her dinners are interesting, flavorful. Why was eating the dinner she’s prepared so enjoyably dramatic…even could be called an exotic experience? Because she fears the LORD. The person who fears the Lord doesn’t incline toward drabness or shabbiness. Tastelessness is not next to godliness.
V. 15 – By her discipline and even making sacrifices, others are taken care of in ordinary but important ways. A tireless worker. Others lean on her. Others are looking to her. Perhaps even without their realizing it, people expect things from her and she delivers.
V. 16 – Work done well has opened up other opportunities. One successful venture leads to another. Her life is positively developing. She’s a thoughtful and smart investor. Profitable. Increasing. What’s at the root of this flourishing? She fears the Lord.
V. 17 –Dresses herself – Presents as someone with energy and competency. Perhaps not naturally able but she’s made herself strong. Able to handle the work. Ready. Eager.
V. 18 – The output of all her effort is solid, durable, worthwhile. Her products aren’t cheap smoke and mirrors. What she’s accomplished isn’t a house of cards ready to fall apart. She perceives Meaning, in real time she sees her efforts returning a profit.
The lamp not going out at night likely refers to a supply of oil or tallow that allowed some house lights to stay on throughout the dark night. Point is, there are enough resources at hand. God is providing for this household…through the efforts and prudence and savvy of this good woman.
V. 19 – Again we see busy hands. And hands trained to use different tools. Skills. Dexterity. Labor. Variety. And the kind of varied skills that will benefit people.
V. 20 – We’ve already seen that those closest to this person benefit, are comfortable and are successful because of her. But the poor also experience her generosity. And this isn’t forced generosity; she notices the need and goes out of her way to help – reaches out and is open handed. Like Jesus, her Christ, she’s going around doing good. Making things better for herself and her household and those she comes in contact with. Why? Because she fears the LORD.
V. 21 – My understanding is that scarlet could only be applied to materials of thick fibers, and so the implication is that this good woman’s family will be warm when cold weather arrives. And so she’s not worried about the snow, because she’s made preparations. Her head isn’t buried in the sand; she knows that uncomfortable days are coming. But she’s prepared her household. By extension, she’s prepared her children to face difficult days. She realizes that there are worries about things we cannot control, and those are pointless worries; but there’s hard times coming down the pike we can do something about. Since she fears the Lord she’s geared up for the future.
V. 22 – The opposite of this portrayal is a person who’s cheap, shabby, unkempt, who makes a virtue of ugliness, turns up his nose at quality things. In my bank of illustrations, I have this little nugget: Tip O’Neil, the House Speaker from Boston, would get irritated with Jimmy Carter because he would entertain Congress using paper plates. Rather! In this woman we find an appreciation and enjoyment of fine things, luxuries, beauty. Here is no proponent of austerity!
We should learn lessons from this woman: The church has always struggled against the tendency toward – in the name of God – being anti-material, ennobling poverty, having no time for beauty. The smart people call this an “over-realized spirituality.”
But anyway – why this high aesthetic? Because she fears the LORD!
V. 23 – The “gates” were the gates of the town where official transactions took place – similar to ‘city hall.’ Where the movers and shakers gathered. And this woman’s husband enjoys a good reputation among them. Since this is a poem about the woman, the implication is that much of his solid standing is due to his wife. Her diligence and savvy and goodness propel the lives of those around her. Again, we are being shown that the fear of God runs into them and through them and out from them: around them people flourish.
V. 24 – Again the woman at work – we see what she’s done with the flax – and not only has she designed and fashioned these garments she’s maintaining a list of contacts. She is the opposite of retiring and passive. Her religion hasn’t made it so that she’s stuck in her head, simply thinking lofty thoughts. But out from her knowledge of the Creator has come an energy and drive.
V. 25 – What you notice is competency. Ability. Determination. Composure. Someone that you have to respect.
Laughs at the time to come: We should remember that this is a woman who lives in a fallen creation, in this vale of tears. Just as in our day, there were worrying signs. There were gloomy forecasts. Things fell apart then too. She couldn’t control what her grown children would do. She likely has experienced some tragedy. And yet… When she looks into the future, she laughs. Hope. Confidence. Opportunity. Cheerfulness.
V. 26 – Her speech is marked by wisdom: insight, restraint, patience, plain-spokenness. And she has been instructed, and learned her lessons, on how to be kind in what she says. Not how to flatter, nor how to avoid painful subjects, but real kindness that improves the atmosphere around her.
V. 27 – Here is a summary statement – Looks well to the ways of her household. She has a sharp eye for how everyone is doing, what is upcoming, how many jars of peaches are left, when it’s time to turn over the soil, making sure that we tip the mailman, Sally’s awful good at math and I need to point her to more science, etc etc.
Shall I say it again: the fear of God doesn’t turn one inward and dark but makes him sharp-eyed, observant, thoughtful.
Not eating the bread of idleness means that she lives from day to day on the fruits of her own activity. She wasn’t living off the charity of others. Her labors have opened up a future for her. Why? Because she fears the Lord.
V. 28 – Those who know her best are most appreciative of her. Some people have a good reputation outside the home, but their family sighs, If you only lived with him. But this woman’s influence on those under her care render them into thankful people who are aware of the grace of God in their lives. Some mothers are good mothers – diligent, selfless etc – but they mess up in that they rear ungrateful and inconsiderate children.
V. 29 – Her husband doesn’t speak falsely to her: some people you know that flattery just won’t work on them. So he can’t say, You’re the only good woman out there. Rather, there’s a lot of good women out there, but I think I got the best of them.
V. 30 – Yes, there’s beauty and there is charm – the power to immediately impress people and get them to admire you. But these are temporary, they can be a skim coat over a lot of unpleasantness; by themselves nothing substantial can arise from them.
But fearing the LORD – taking God seriously, attentive to the details of His word, making yourself accountable to set God before you, positioning your schedule to hear him, adjusting your habits to comply with Him, installing yourself around His people – now there’s a foundation upon which all these good, solid, productive, lovely attributes are built.
V. 31 – This woman has feared the Creator, which means in part that she has acknowledged that He is the Creator and that He’s created the world a certain way so that some things work, some things don’t work. Certain actions lead to certain consequences. Causes have these effects.
And she has so trusted that Creator God with all her heart, she has not leaned on her own understanding, she has bought into that whole perspective, she has worked the causes so thoroughly – the only reward for her is to let the consequences of her actions return to her. Just allow her to get what’s coming to her.
Well, you get done with this list and you might feel a little inspired, or you could feel a little exhausted or daunted. But this is meant to be encouraging and give us hope.
How should you respond to this? Let’s list three:
#1 – Read it again and think it over and let these words expel false ideas from you: You might have ideas of godliness or piety or maturity that don’t square with this presentation. For example, you might think that being spiritual means that you stop caring about fine things or that you wouldn’t take your employment so seriously. Or you might excuse your bluntness and corrosive effect of your speech because you know quite a lot about doctrine. Or, you might have accepted your pessimism as just a necessary part of your personality. So, allow this portrait to show where you’re wrong, where you’ve come short.
#2 – Embrace a life of work. A lot of the complications and troubles and worries and failing relationships come after… sloth. We need to acknowledge this boring truth. Our society wants to dodge this. Even Christian thinkers can obfuscate the reality that sloth damages lives.
#3 – If you’ve ever done work with plants, you’ll know that sometimes a plant matures to the point that it’s hard to see anything but the stems and the leaves and the flowers. You have to really piece through it to see where that plant comes up out of the ground. And that’s the thing with Proverbs 31 – with all the great traits of this woman you could miss her base: really the source of all this is that she fears the LORD.
Which means – to put that in current terms – she’s a woman who, time after time, has opened up her Bible to hear from God. God’s Word lives in her. So that she’s accepted that she’s a sinner. She’s skeptical of herself. She knows all about the traps of self-righteousness. She has learned to evaluate people very very slowly. She confesses her sins. She gathers with the church. She deliberately cultivates relationships with ordinary people. Yes, she’s a worker, but she also has learned that God has designed this world so that work sometimes needs to be left off.
She works on remembering this: All the good things she enjoys are transitory and on the way to the big and lasting joy. In fact, a lot of what make her love and delight in these things is that they are what’s on the path to the great thing.
She is careful to love her God. She is wary of covetousness. She values discernment and has an inbuilt skepticism toward a lot of spiritual teaching – what does the Bible say? She is circumspect about what is influencing her. She’s on her guard. She is tired of temptation. Inside her grows more and more a hatred for evil, especially its subtle forms.
She knows herself as a servant of Jesus. She reckons herself as in Christ – His death and resurrection are her key identifiers. She loves Him. She cares for His people because she loves Him. She loves the Gospels which present Him. She loves the Epistles which explain Him. She loves the Revelation because it reveals another side of Him. She loves the Old Testament because it’s all about Him. She loves the Bible, for Christ’s sake.
She fears God, and that’s the spring of all her success. Brothers and sisters, don’t start with just working harder, start with seeking for the fear of the LORD.