Good morning everyone. Children ages Preschool-2nd Grade can be dismissed out this door to your right. And for children who are staying, there are children’s bulletins in the back right in front of the sound booth, with activities that go along with the message. And lastly, if you’re a student, 6th-12th grade, don’t forget, if you fill out the outline in your bulletin and give it to me afterward, you’ll have a chance of going to lunch with 1 friend, and myself and my bride. We’ll draw those at the end of the month.
Because it’s Mother’s Day, we wanted to focus on Proverbs 31 this morning. As we move into Proverbs 31, I also want to bring up something worth bringing up: Mother’s Day doesn’t feel like a day of celebration for everyone. Maybe you’ve lost your mother, maybe you’ve had struggles with infertility. Whatever feelings come up on Mother’s Day, I want you to know that the text we’re looking at today is not just for mothers.
Proverbs 31 is quite a remarkable chapter of the Bible, also quite a well-known chapter about the woman who fears the Lord, the Godly woman. Before we begin to read and understand this text, we have to understand what we’re looking at in Proverbs 31. This woman that is explained to us, is the ideal of a character type. It’s not not actually talking about a real woman, which might relieve some of you when we read this in a minute. The writer here doesn’t have a particular person in mind. Instead, she’s giving us a picture of a woman who has fully embodied what we see throughout the book of Proverbs, someone who is fully devoted to the wisdom and virtue that’s seen throughout this book.
So, for those of you who read this and think, “I’m never going to be like that,” that’s actually kind-of the idea. This shouldn’t be a depressing thing to read, but an encouraging thing, something to aim for, and a picture of what it might look like to be a woman who pursues Godly wisdom and virtue.
This passage is not just for those who are married or have children. This is really about all women. How do I know that? Well, something you probably don’t know is that verses 10-31 make up an acrostic. What does that mean? Each line in these verses start with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, from Alef, Bet, Gimel, all the way to Tau. 22 Hebrew letters, 22 lines of text in verses 10-31. So why is it that this is an acrostic? Probably multiple reasons: makes it easier to memorize, since this is actually addressed to the son, who in this culture was the only one with really a choice as far as who to marry. It’s addressed to him for him to know what to look for in a wife. So an acrostic is easier for boys to memorize. But it also shows that the writer’s purpose in writing this was to provide an artistic way of listing the full range what a woman of wisdom and virtue looked like!
I don’t want today to be just a celebration of mothers and women in general. I want this to be a challenge. It seems like a trend for churches to celebrate mothers on Mother’s Day, and then chastise and challenge fathers on Father’s Day. Have you ever noticed that? You’d think the fathers are the ones getting jipped, but I actually think it’s the opposite! When we open the Word it’s not just to feel good about ourselves; sometimes it’s not that at all! Today, women, we’re not going to jip you by giving you just a feel-good message. We want you to be challenged. We come to the Word for truth. Truth does many things—It encourages, and uplifts, but it also challenges us to become more like Jesus.
That’s what I’ve prayed this week for today. So let’s jump in! Proverbs 31, starting in verse 10 and reading to the end of the chapter:
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
This is a great text presenting the epitome of wisdom in a woman. Today, we’re going to summarize these verses into six traits of a woman who fears the Lord.
What does it mean to fear the Lord?
Before we get to the traits, though, we have to ask the question, “What does it mean to fear the Lord?” That’s an important question. Verse 30, again: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
Martin Luther explained biblical fear of God by making a distinction between servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear is the fear that a prisoner has of a vicious master, afraid of being beaten inexplicably. Filial fear is the fear that a child has for his father. A real respect and love for the father, but also a real legitimate fear of what might happen when he doesn’t obey. Sometimes we too often put the fear of God into a category of general reverence. That’s part of it, but there also is a legitimate fear of God. That’s why, in fact, fearing God in the Biblical sense compels you to turn to Him. Why? Because you don’t want to turn away! Fearing God means that God is the ultimate determining factor for your character and your choices.
He’s our source of security and love and stability. All of us give something our ultimate respect. Something ultimately dictates how we live our lives. Is it, financial security? Is that the biggest fear that you have is a lack of financial security? Is it emotional security? Is that what you want most, and what you fear most, the lack of emotional security. Is it as trivial as your looks or what people think of you?
Where do you find your significance, your identity, your comfort and contentment and direction? Is it in things that will not last, that will fade away? Or is it in God, who loves you and disciplines you as His child, who desires for you to pursue wisdom and holiness. What might help you really test and examine yourselves today, in whether or not you truly fear God above all else, is looking at these six traits of a woman who fears the Lord.
Six Traits of a Woman who Fears the Lord
- A woman who fears the Lord is rare (vv. 10, 29-30).
I love verse 10 that we read: “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” This woman who is excellent, who fears God above all else, is rare. She’s not common.
When I was in college I remember meeting Lauryn in the TCU marching band, we were the stereotypical trumpet and flute relationship—I think I’ve mentioned that before. If you’ve been in band, you understand what I’m saying. It just seems common for like the 1st chair flute player in high school and the 1st chair trumpet player to date. Maybe that was just at my school. But we met, we both majored in music, and so I had a class or two with her.
I remember when she started attending my church and I thought, “I need to get to know this girl better.” I went online to her facebook page and stalked a bit, that’s what you do now. And I found a Facebook note that she had just written a few weeks prior. The note was about how she was through with dating until she absolutely knew that she was focused on Christ, and that she didn’t need a boyfriend. Ironically, that note was the first thing that really made me want to date her.
But think about this. I’m not saying she was particularly Godly or that I was particularly Godly, BUT for those of you who are single, if you think you want to get married, don’t go for attracting the average guy! In fact, forget about the guys, at least in the sense of your need for identity and affirmation, and seek Christ. It may very well be the first thing that attracts your future husband, that you are preoccupied with Christ. I don’t want you to think that this is the way you get a guy, or anything along those lines. But it IS the way to know for a fact that you are in God’s will. Fear the Lord above all else. If you’re doing that, you are in God’s will, whether married or not.
The woman who truly fears and reveres God above all else is rare. We see this also in verses 29-30: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
This is what it means to be a true woman. The world will tell you something completely different. Do not mix what God has said with what the world has said. Do not feel pressured to do things or be things that our culture demands or expects, even our Christian culture demands or expects. Instead, pursue what God has laid out as Godly womanhood.
I want to encourage you, no matter where you’re at in life: Don’t wait to pursue Godly womanhood! It’s not something that magically happens when you get married or have children, or even for those of you who are empty nesters or have lost a spouse, don’t think biblical womanhood is something relegated to your past. It’s just not true. Five of these six traits are absolutely applicable to every single woman in this room. Only one is specifically for those who are married and/or have children. So let’s jump in to trait #2:
- A woman who fears the Lord is wise (vv. 26, whole text).
How do we know this? Well, first, the entire text here describes a woman who reflects all the book of Proverbs, which is wisdom literature. But, specifically, look at verse 26 again: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” The woman who fears the Lord is wise and she teaches!
She teaches the people around her, especially if she has children. She teaches. If she’s married, guess what? She occasionally teaches her husband! She sets him straight! Wives are absolutely commanded to respect and even submit to the servant leadership of the husband, if you remember back to Ephesians 5, but that doesn’t mean she can’t correct him.
I must say one of the most valuable things about being married is someone knowing you better than you know yourself! God has made me more holy and more Godly, though I still have a long way to go, because of my bride. She speaks wisdom. Not always, and not perfectly, but she definitely speaks wisdom.
So the woman who fears God is a woman who is seeking wisdom. Part of seeking wisdom is the ability to accept wisdom from others, even in the form of challenge. It might be easier to hear me say that the husband should be able to be challenged by the wife. It’s just as true that the wife should be able to be challenged by the husband, in a humble, loving way. If someone challenges what you’re doing, or what you know to be true, do you respond with pride, because subconsciously we have to justify how we do things or what we know. Or do you respond as someone who desires to grow in wisdom? The question to ask is, Do you desire truth more than you desire being right?! The woman who fears the Lord desires wisdom and truth more than she desires to prove herself right. 3rd trait:
- A woman who fears the Lord provides for her family (11-15, 21, 27-28).
Verses 11-12: “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” Her character, her wisdom, her goodness, and all of her traits cause him to trust her. She’s a constant source of encouragement.
Verse 13: “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” Now to try and put ourselves into this culture, we must remember that this is way before the Industrial Revolution, in fact, thousands of years before. Women worked at making clothes and other things to try to be industrious “with willing hands.” Another way to put that is “at the pleasure of her hands.” Why is she doing this? Because she enjoys doing what she needs to do for her family. This isn’t encouraging all wives and moms to work, as in get a paycheck. But moms are to do what they need to do for their family. If the mom needs to be industrious, or just wants to be, then she does it. Now, how we define “need,” particularly in Western culture, is not really a very good definition of need. If you desire to work because you enjoy working, praise God. If you’re working in order to keep up with a particular lifestyle, though you may desire to stay home with your kids, this might be something worth rethinking. Sometimes we think we need a mortgage and multiple car payments and a financed living room and bedroom set. Nothing wrong with those things, but again, if you’re working just to keep up, and not because you desire to, as your pastor, if you’d let me be really honest, just think through that and pray through that if you haven’t already.
Again, the Bible makes no prohibition or even encouragement either way as far as whether or not a mom works. It does make very clear, as we see in this trait, that the parents, but even particularly so, the mom, is to be devoted to her family.
Verses 14 and 15 go on and show this devotion to family: “She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides for her household and portions for her maidens.” I think I read it somewhere the story of a husband asking his wife, and referring to this verse, “Why don’t you get up early and make me breakfast?” And she responded, “Why don’t you hire any maidens for me.” I thought that was too amusing not to share.
But you get the idea here. She is devoted to providing for her family. She does what she has to do. Verse 21 makes clear that she does what she needs to provide quality clothing for her kids, and I’m not talking brand-name, again, we have to try and put ourselves into this culture, about 8000 years ago. Quality clothing was clothing that kept you warm and lasted a while. Verse 27 says she looks well to the ways of her household. The woman who fears the Lord provides for her family. Trait #4:
- A woman who fears the Lord is strong and trusts the Lord (17, 21, 25).
Verse 17- “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.” That doesn’t mean you have to work out and go to the gym every day, it just means that she works hard enough that there is some natural physical strength that comes, that may not come if she didn’t work so hard. Verse 21- “She is not afraid of snow for her household.” Why is she not afraid of snow? Well, if she reflects the character of all of Proverbs, then we know she’s not afraid, because she trusts in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6, some of my favorite verses- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” This woman who fears God trusts Him also, that’s why she’s not afraid. BUT, why else is she not afraid? Look at the 2nd half of verse 21- “for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” She’s unafraid of the future because she trusts God AND because she is doing what she needs to do to live with wisdom. She provides clothing for her family. She works hard!
I just think this is a really important little note to make. Trusting God does NOT mean doing nothing. If something comes up, what it means to trust God is to know that He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him. Know that, know that God will provide what He wishes to provide, and then, get to work! I remember in college, I was in my last year, getting ready to be married, and I had been praying about a job or several part-time jobs, what to do, basically, to provide for me and Lauryn. My college minister asked me, “Where have you applied?” I answered, “Well, I’ve just been praying and waiting to see what happens.” Spencer, that was his name, gave me the closest thing to a spiritual slap in the face I’ve ever had. He said, “You’re getting married. Trust God, absolutely, but you must know: trusting Him does not mean doing nothing.” The woman who fears the Lord trusts God by using the brain and the abilities that God gave her to work and plan for the future.
Verse 25- “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” I love this! She’s strong, dignified (or honorable, worthy). And being this woman of character and strength, not afraid of the future because she’s prepared for whatever might come! So she can laugh at the future. The woman who fears the Lord is strong and trusts the Lord. Trait #5:
- A woman who fears the Lord works hard (16-24).
In verses 16-24, really the whole text, maybe the most understated thing to say, is that she works hard. We’ve really already seen this throughout. The proverbial woman stays up late when she needs to, gets up early when she needs to, she buys land with money that she’s made on her own, she gives to the needy, she sews clothing. She works so hard that it reflects well on the husband, as we see in verse 23. She is not a lazy woman. Verse 27 makes very clear, “she does not eat the bread of idleness.” I don’t know if it’s just men in general, or just me, but I have a very strong tendency to be lazy, or at least that’s my default. I work hard, but because it’s something I’ve learned to do. This woman isn’t lazy. She may have time to herself, of course, and time to relax, but she isn’t lazy. She works hard. The sixth and last trait of the woman who fears the Lord:
We’re closing on this trait, and I really want us all to pay extra close attention. If you were asleep, wake up. In fact, look to the person to your left, then to your right. Pinch someone if you need to.
6. A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (23, 28-31).
Verses 28-29: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’” To the family, this woman is the greatest wife and mother in the world. When was the last time you told her so? We need to praise these women, we need to lift them up, and we need to call them blessed.
When I was young, my dad often told me this little story. He’d say, “You know, Ryan, if I had all the Ryans in the world lined up in a row and I got to choose which one would be my son, I’d choose you.” It was a pretty affirming thing to say to a son. Maybe we need to speak like this of our wives and our mothers. Kids, teenagers in particular: Realize what you have in your mother. She’s not perfect, but she’s your mother. Call her blessed. I know that’s a weird word, maybe hide in the kitchen and jump out and say, “Blessed!” like an old-time preacher or something. Let’s joke about it, make it fun. But, seriously, tell her of her worth. Tell her how valuable she is.
Verse 30 really sums up the whole text: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. There’s nothing wrong with being objectively beautiful (if there is such a thing), there’s nothing wrong with being charming. But, ladies, are these things worth your primary pursuit? Your true beauty is in your reverence for God. Singles, any man not attracted to you because of your fear and awe of God, isn’t a man you want to be attracted to you. Both single and married women here today, pursue reverence and fear of God above anything else. For those of you who are married, your husband may or may not recognize the value a wife who does this, but he likely will one day.
As you leave today, we want to honor all women here in a small way. There are flowers on the table in the middle of the entryway. Please pick one up on your way out and take that with you. I pray today that not only you are encouraged and praised, but also challenged to be a woman that fears the Lord. That is what Godly womanhood is. Don’t let our culture pressure you into being a certain type of woman. Open the Word, find wisdom in the Proverbs, and pursue Christ.