Thursday, March 29, 2012

Proverbs 31 in Real Life

     It is a fairly common practice for Christians to read “the Proverb of the day,” meaning that whatever calendar day it is, that chapter in Proverbs would be read.  My problem with this in my own life is that 7 months out of the year have 31 days.  This means that at least every other month I am faced with my complete failure as a Christian woman.  The “virtuous woman,” as many call her, puts us all to shame.  Fortunately, we all know that this woman doesn’t really exist.  Right?  Isn’t that what our mothers and mentors and pastor’s wives and Sunday school teachers have told us?  What a load off my shoulders to be set free from such a standard!

     For years I was content to hear, “Of course, this woman doesn’t exist.  She is a model of the perfect woman.”  As a leader of women’s study groups, I have been guilty of saying, “but we all know that no one can measure up to this…” an out.  An excuse to not measure up to a passage in the Bible that God clearly gave specifically for His daughters.  For a moment, put all that you think of the Proverbs 31 woman out of your head and ask yourself, “what if she really did exist?”  Because if she really did walk this earth at one point in history, we have no excuse today.  I believe she did live and that we have her life story passed on to us in the book of Ruth.  So let’s take a few moments to examine exactly what this woman (whom we all say we admire but secretly despise and resent) can really teach us.

  1. The virtuous woman is dedicated to her family.  Proverbs says that the heart of her husband can safely trust her.  She will do him good and not harm all the days of her life.  She rises while it is night to make preparations for her household.  While none of us is perfect and able to never cause hurt to our husbands, this is a goal we can strive for.  This should be our general character.  Ruth shows us it is possible.  She gave up everything she had known her whole life to follow her mother in law.  She obeyed Naomi’s instructions in order to find food to provide for them both.  She did not even question the unusual proposal that Naomi told her to make to Boaz, but followed every bit of her orders.  She did all of this out of her complete dedication to the only family that she had left, the mother of her deceased husband.  She had truly left her parents and clung to her husband, which included dedicating her life to his family.  There is every indication that Ruth obeyed and worked cheerfully, since she is commended for all that she has done for the sake of Naomi.
    1. Do you recognize the ability to provide for your family as God’s gift to you?
    2. Do you see your family as solely your (together with your husband) responsibility, depending on no one else to provide and train them?
    3. Is it your desire to assist your husband in all of his endeavors, to support him and lift him up, or do you resent him when he seems to achieve more than you do?
    4. Do you conduct yourself in such a way that your husband fully trusts his heart to you, not fearing unfaithfulness?
  2. The noble wife is diligent in her work and delights in it.  She is disciplined, rising while it is dark so that her maids will have what they need for the day’s work.  She finds joy in working with her hands and uses her talents for financial gain.  She invests in order to secure the future of her household.  When hard times come, she is prepared.  This also is a reflection of her dedication to her husband, as she is a co-provider for the needs of the household.  She does not allow the stress of physical provision to rest solely on his shoulders.  Ruth worked hard, laboring in the fields to gather the crops.  She asked permission to glean, even though by law gleanings were her right, so permission was not needed, showing a humble and grateful spirit. She worked all day, every day, until the end of the harvest.  Together with what Boaz gave as a gift, Ruth was able to bring home produce enough not only to sustain herself and Naomi, but also enough to be sold in the market in order to purchase other necessities.
    1. Do you look for ways to use the talents God has given you to provide for your household?
    2. Are your spending habits beneficial to the future of your home or do you only think of purchases that satisfy your immediate desire?
    3. Do you help your husband plan for future emergencies?
  3. The honorable wife is dedicated to Godly speech.  She opens her mouth in wisdom and teaches kindness.  Every instance of speech we see by Ruth shows humility, gratitude and grace.
    1. Does your speech reflect an honorable heart and a grateful spirit?
    2. Are your words beneficial to others?
    3. Do you rely on deceitful charm to draw others to you, or do you work so that your actions are worthy of praise without you saying a word?
  4. The worthy wife is dependant on God.  A woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.  Ruth left all that she had to follow Naomi.  She left the gods she had been raised to follow and clung to the God of her husband’s family.  She submitted to God’s law and did not sneer or balk at how those laws changed her life.  Because of her faith, the law that she could have looked at as encumbering and overbearing was the tool that was used to bring her security, love, honor and a place in the very lineage of Jesus Christ.
    1. Do you recognize God’s word as His love letter to you for an abundant life, or do you view it as a hindrance to the things you desire?
    2. Do you depend on God to guide your steps through His word, prayer and Godly counsel, or do you forge through life without seeking Him and then pray that He will pick up any messes you have made?
    3. Are you willing to shed the things that have ruled you in the past in order to serve Him completely?
  5. The Godly woman dresses carefully and modestly and is honorable in her dealings with men.  She knows that beauty is vain, and does not seek to show her physical beauty in order to draw attention.  She balances beauty and modesty in her dress.  Beauty for the joy of it, for the honor it reflects to her husband and as a symbol of thankfulness for all God has provided.  Modesty to protect her character before the general populace and before her husband.  The heart of her husband can continue to trust in her because she shows him no reason to fear that she desires the attentions of another man.  Ruth shows us that there is nothing wrong with dressing for our man.  She prepared herself to be clean and dressed as well as possible before going to Boaz on the threshing floor.  This was not sex appeal, but rather an honoring act.  A poorly-dressed woman was a sign of a poorly managed home and a lack of material provision by the husband.  She was showing him that even in her appearance she would strive to bring honor to him as his wife.  She behaved modestly when approaching him at night.  She did not come to his side so that no one could accuse her of any immorality.  She lay at his feet, but we have no indication that she touched him even then.  As long as the people of the town had known her, she had shown herself to be virtuous.  She was careful to cast no shadow of doubt upon that character now.
    1. Do you dress modestly, striving to clothe yourself more in “strength and dignity” than in the latest fashions?
    2. Do you honor your husband in your appearance, making yourself physically appealing to him without flaunting your body for others?
    3. Does your behavior toward men indicate morality and discourage inappropriate advances?
  6. The excellent wife delivers blessings to others.  We have already seen how she provides for those under her roof, but Proverbs also tells us that she gives to the poor and needy.  Ruth provided for her needy mother in law, which we see as caring for her family.  But this showed that she was the perfect partner for generous Boaz, who gave gifts to Ruth without expecting anything in return.  She had a generous heart and gave of her own self to provide for Naomi.  More than that, after giving birth to her first child, she shared the raising of him with Naomi.  This incredible act of love was the perfect balm for Naomi’s many losses.  The women of the town recognized the complete selflessness in Ruth’s gift and honored her as “better than seven (the number of perfection) sons.”
    1. Do you give to others out of your abundance or do you hoard your blessings?
    2. Do you seek to heal the hurts of others, even if it requires personal sacrifice?
    3. Do you strive to be of benefit to all and a burden to no one, as Christ was when he walked the earth?
     The Virtuous Wife in Proverbs 31 is a challenge to us all.  Often we read this chapter and become frustrated and overwhelmed.  But the life of Ruth gives us hope.  She was a real woman who had real sorrows and real difficulties.  We can connect with her because of her poverty and her loss.  Yet she never wallows in misery.  She always shows grace and honor in her life.  When others saw her coming down the street, their thoughts were not of her poverty or of her lonely life.  Her behavior caused others to think first of her great love for Naomi, her dependability and hard work and of her moral conduct.  Through her life we see that it is possible to overcome great heartache if we will rest in God and His plan for us.  We can see that we do not have to be sensual to be attractive.  We can find joy in serving others and reward in being disciplined.  Ruth takes away our excuses for not being a Proverbs 31 woman.  May we strive to be better than seven sons!