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By Rev Charles Seet
(Preached at Life BPC, 8am service, 10 Dec 2000)

Text: Proverbs 31:10-31

I. Introduction: The Roles of Women

A. The Changing Role of Women in Society

One of the main causes of problems in marriage relationships today is the changing role of women in society. Society is fast moving away from the traditional roles that women used to have in society – such as being a good wife, and a good mother and housewife. These traditional roles are generally perceived today as being too restrictive and perhaps even demeaning for them. Women have great potential that must be tapped by society. They should therefore be given more challenging roles like that of leadership, and policy-making. It is no secret that a large part of our economy depends on women in the labour force. If all the women in Singapore were to stop working completely and concentrate fully on their traditional roles, our nation would face a crisis of very huge proportions!

 

However, the opposite is also true. If all our women were to relinquish their traditional roles completely, and concentrate fully on their new roles in society, our nation would also face a crisis of equally great proportions. The price will be paid in terms of broken marriages, fragmented families, broken homes, and juvenile delinquency. And this is what we must be concerned about. We cannot ignore the impact that these changes will have on us. That is why we must return now to the Scriptures to learn about the role that God has ordained for women to fulfill.

B. The Call to Return to the Biblical Role of Women

1. The Bible Takes a High View of Women

One of the things we will observe in the book of Proverbs is the very high view that the Bible takes about women. Look at the last verse of our text – “Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” Such commendation would never be found in the pagan cultures in Bible times. In the ancient world women were regarded by most cultures only for their charm and beauty, but without substance. They were often seen as objects, and their worth was only measured in the number of children they could bear. But in those times, the Bible’s teaching on the role of women was very different from this. We can see this even from the account in Genesis of how woman was created. She was made out of a rib taken from the side of Adam, the first man. One writer has made the interesting observation that God did not choose to make woman out of a bone from Adam’s head, for then she would be over him. Nor did He choose to make her out of a bone from his foot, to be under him. But God chose to make woman out of his side, to be by his side forever. And though she was made to be the help-meet of man, she was given rights to receive honour from man and blessing from God. In ancient Israel, children had to honour both mother and father alike. In fact Leviticus 19:3 says “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father,…” putting the woman first, before the man.

The Laws of God gave women the right to own property and land, and to develop it. We see this in v.16 of our text – “She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.” In the time of Moses there was a man called Zelophehad who had five daughters, and they inherited their father’s estate when he died. Luke 8:3 records that some women ministered to the Lord Jesus with their substance (“And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance.”), and hence they must have been wealthy women.

The Bible also upholds the spiritual privileges of women. In our text from Proverbs 31 we see this in v.30 –“a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.” Every Christmas we remember the important role that was played by Mary, the faithful woman who was specially chosen by God to bring the Lord Jesus into this world. She is given the description of being “highly favoured by God” and “blessed among women”. The Gospel narratives abound with instances of the encounters of Jesus with women. He forgave them, He healed them, He taught them, and they in their turn served Him by making provision for His journeys, by giving hospitality, by deeds of love, by noting His tomb so that they could perform the last rites for Him, and by becoming the first eyewitnesses of His resurrection.

Jesus included women in His parables, making it clear that His message involved them. By thus honouring them our Lord put woman on an equal footing with man, demanding the same standard from both men and women, and offering the same way of salvation.

After the resurrection the women joined ‘in prayer and supplication’ with the other followers of Jesus and received the the Holy Spirit with them on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14; 2:1-4, 18). The home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, became a centre of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). Paul’s first convert in Europe was the woman Lydia (Acts 16:14). The four daughters of Philip ‘prophesied’ (Acts 21:9). Many others, as, for example, Phoebe, (Romans 16:1) were active Christians and wholly engaged in the service of the gospel.

In the light of all this, any attitude of treating women as inferior or subservient to men must be considered as unbiblical and in fact, sinful. It is wrong for anyone to discriminate against women, or to deny them the equal rights and privileges that God granted to them.

 2. The Subordinate Role of Wives in Marriage

But the Bible does make a distinction of the role of a woman who is married: God’s Word teaches that the wife is to have a subordinate role to her husband. Why is this so? Because God has made men and women to fulfil different roles in marriage. Man is specially created to fulfil the role of headship in the marriage while women are specially created for the role of submission in the marriage. These roles must be maintained and not overstepped, for the proper functioning of a godly marriage.

One reason why many wives may find this hard to accept is that they have a negative view of this role of submission, perceiving it as being an unpleasant role, always on the receiving end. Wives are commanded by God to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). But let us understand that submission does not turn a woman into a doormat, but rather a willing partner to her husband in the home. In this, a woman is actually following the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who willingly submitted Himself in obedience to the will of the Father.

Furthermore, the submission that is required of women must always be “in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18) Hence, if husbands should ever go astray from God and require them to disobey the Lord, then they must not submit to such a requirement. Christian wives must not submit blindly, but be spiritually discerning, understanding what God’s will for them is.

Let us understand that God’s ordained roles for husbands and wives must ultimately serve the role of doing God’s will and glorifying Him. For those of you who are husbands, that role requires you to love and to lead your wife in the same way that Christ loves and leads His Church. And that love must be unconditional. That means whether or not your wife fulfills her role of submission, you are still to love her and lead her.

And for those of you who are wives, that role requires you to submit to your husband in the same way that the church submits to the headship of Christ. And that submission must be unconditional, whether or not your husband loves and leads you as he should. You must still submit to him, even when you find him swamped by commitments to his work and church responsibilities, so that he may not appear to care about you as much as he used to in your courtship days. Only then can you become like the noble wife described in Proverbs 31.

II. The Background of the Passage

For the rest of this message, we will study the noble wife in this passage of Proverbs 31:10-31. Let us first consider the background of this passage. It is actually written in the form of a poem with 8 stanzas. This poem was quite important to the Jews, as it was recited by Jewish husbands and children at the Sabbath meal every week on Friday night. Several characteristics of this poem should be noted in order to appreciate its impact:

The entire passage is an acrostic poem. Hence it has 22 verses, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This made memorization easier and also served to organize the thoughts. We may say then, that the poem is an organized arrangement of the virtues of a wise woman. It presents a pattern or example for godly women to follow if they want to develop a life of wisdom. It is also useful as instructions for the bride-to-be, and it provides a biblical perspective about career women.

Thus it speaks primarily to you who are women who intend to marry, or who are already married or working. This does not mean that it is irrelevant to the rest of us. Many of its principles are actually universal and apply not to women alone but to men as well: faithfulness in the stewardship of time and talents that God has given to us, the virtue of being productive and beneficial to others, the need to balance family, work, and social responsibilities well. So let us all learn precious lessons now from this passage as we proceed to study it section by section.

III. The Lessons from the Passage

A. Good Character (vv.10-12)

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.”

The first virtue that is highlighted here about the noble woman is her trustworthiness – “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her”.  Trust is one of the most important elements in a relationship. It is the sense of confidence in one’s spouse that is so precious. If you want to be a good wife you must be someone that your husband can take into confidence. Make sure that you do not betray your husband’s trust. We think of how Jesus suffered the pain of betrayal, by one who was supposed to be His friend. Do not be like Judas who kissed Jesus as a sign of affection or friendship, but at the same time he brought the temple guards to arrest Him!

In the Old Testament we have a negative example in Rebecca. She schemed against her now-blind husband Isaac so that her favourite son, Jacob would receive his blessing instead of Esau. Nothing is mentioned about their marriage relationship after that, but we can imagine that Isaac would be suspicious of her from that time onward. Wives, please do not be like Rebecca, doing things behind your, husband’s back. This is one sure way to spoil your husband’s trust in you.

The second virtue about the noble wife is her faithfulness. V.12 –  “She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” On the wedding day, the bride makes the vow of faithfulness to groom. She says to him that she takes him to be her husband: “to have and to hold from this day forward for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.” That vow must be remembered and kept no matter what happens in the marriage.

B. Industrious Efforts for the Family (vv.13-15)

“She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.”

The noble wife takes her responsibilities as a home-maker very seriously, even to the extent of working when the rest of the family are asleep. The simile with the merchant ships suggests that she brings a continual supply of abundance. Through her efforts there is always food on the dining table at mealtimes, and there is always freshly washed and ironed clothes in the closets. Let us not take these daily tasks for granted.

We truly salute all the women in our midst who have been excellent home-makers. Unlike their husbands who get paid well according to the work they do, and paid more for overtime work, these hardworking women receive nothing but the satisfaction of seeing her loved ones happy and contented. Husbands, if you have a wife like that, consider yourself to be very blessed, and be sure to show your great appreciation to her. While you fight your daily battles in the stress and strain of the outside world, she is faithfully holding the fort at home!

C. Financial Enterprise (vv.16-18)

“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.” This portrays the noble wife as a wise businesswoman, making wise investments from her earnings. This passage makes it clear that God has nothing against women who go out to work for a living, to supplement the family’s income. What God is against are those who neglect the needs of the household as a result of their work or career.

The important question that all working mothers should ask is: “Why do I go out to work?” If economic survival is the answer, then the choice is right. But economic survival and a better standard of living are not the same. Some mothers work outside to find self-fulfilment and worth. “I don’t want to be just a housewife.” Others dislike the drudgery of washing, ironing and cooking, and work so they can employ a maid to do these things. But let all working mothers always bear in mind that the more time they spend away from home, the less time they have with their husband and children. Please be careful not to sacrifice the precious time you can spend nurturing your children at present, just to provide all that they will ever need for their future. You will only end up having affluent but alienated children.

D. Provision for the Family and the Poor (vv.19-21)

“She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” The spindle and the distaff are instruments that were used to weave cloth. This was part of the wife’s tasks in those days. Today, they would just buy material or ready-made clothes at a department store. And that takes effort also – to do shopping, compare prices, get the best bargains, especially near to Christmas and Chinese New Year when new clothes are usually needed. The noble wife’s concern goes beyond the four walls of her home. She also cares for the poor and needy.

E. Distinction by Industry (vv.22-24)

“She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.”

This section reveals that the noble wife’s work is of the finest quality because she puts her heart into all that she does. Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might…” And that is what the noble wife does. She applies herself fully to whatever she does, be it housework, motherhood, or being a helpmeet to her spouse. And the excellent supportive role that she plays at home, creates the kind of condition that would help her husband to do his best as well. As v.23 says, he is known in the gates. The “gates” here refer to the gates of the city, which in those days was the place where all the city’s elders and leaders would assemble each day for judicial or legislative purposes. For anyone to be known by them, means that that person is someone of good repute and accomplishment.

Thus I would like to exhort you who are wives to do well in your role. Perhaps one day this may help your husband to do well and ‘be known in the gates’. There is a saying that behind every great man, there is a woman, or we should say rather a devoted wife, whose untiring efforts have enabled him to attain to greatness.

F. Wisdom and Kindness (vv.25-27)

“Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”

Verse 26 tells us of how this virtuous woman uses her tongue – not to break down, but to build up. What a contrast she is to the habitual gossiper or talebearer. James 3 tells us what great damage this little part of our body can do: “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (v.8) Let all of us be careful how we use the tongue. Let us be like this noble wife: Her words are carefully thought through before they are said. They are designed to edify and encourage, not to criticize and discourage.

G. Merits Recognized

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”

The key word in these verses is the word ‘praise’ which is found three times. The noble wife earns not only the praise of her own family, but also the praise of society. But the most important praise of all that she gains is the praise of the Lord! And what is she praised for? Not for her charm or beauty, but for her godly character, and the enduring accomplishments of her life!

May the Lord help all those who are wives and mothers in our midst to make this noble wife, their pattern to emulate. How desperately we need such women today, in the midst of a changing world – women of spiritual and moral distinction, women who earn the praise of men and of God, because they are bold enough to fulfill their God-given roles well, so that our Lord will be glorified in and through them.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

November 19 & 26 - The End of the World

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10