This past weekend my sermon in Proverbs focused on what Solomon has to say about marriage. In talking to husbands and wives about marriage, I found myself spending some time in Proverbs 31. I walked into this passage of Scripture with a little bit of trepidation because over the years I have seen how many women find this passage to be overwhelming and intimidating. If you Google “I Hate the Proverbs 31 Woman,” you will find many posts by women who grew frustrated by” the excellent wife” who had deep, godly character, cared for her husband and children with the utmost diligence, and contributed to the well-being of her household through entrepreneurship.
Any time a passage of Scripture becomes a millstone around the neck of Jesus’ followers we have either misunderstood or misapplied it. Jesus said those who follow him would be free indeed, and that his load was easy and his burden light. He does not throw the onerous yoke of the Pharisees on his people, but instead gives them rest as they follow him.
One of our problems we face when we approach passages of Scripture that tell us what to do is that we often misunderstand how to respond to them. Sometimes we come to them with a legalistic mindset. We read them, try our best to do them in our own power, and then feel guilty when we don’t. Other times, we realize we are licked from the start and fall into a kind of license where we say we can never live up to this passage so we never try.
What if there was an alternative to legalistic obedience in our own power or a licentious resignation to failure? What if we explored how the Gospel shaped our approach to these passages before we buckled down to try harder or simply gave up in shame?
We know that every passage of Scripture that tells us to do anything will reveal where we fall short. When we read, “love your neighbor as yourself,” we remember many times we failed to love our neighbor. Hearing “do no lie to one another” conjures up memories of times when we have been deceptive with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The same is true in Proverbs 31. When you see the hardworking, godly woman in this passage you often run into ways in which you have failed to be the things which she exemplifies. So when you see this as a Christian, how do you respond? (What follows is a slight modification of the grid for thinking through the relationship between Law and Gospel used by Bob Thune and Will Walker in their book, The Gospel-Centered Life.)
Look to Jesus’ Death
Often when we are confronted with the reality of our sin we either minimize it or wallow around in shame. Either one of these responses evidences a mindset that is only focused on me and my personal obedience. Instead of looking to ourselves and our performance, we should look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and see him dying for us. We must remember that Jesus gave his life for our sins. Every way we could sin against God by flagrantly breaking his demands or by failing to do what we should have done has been covered by the Lord Jesus on the cross. For every look we take at ourselves, we should take three looks at him.
Look to Jesus’ Life
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul tells us that just as our sin was laid on Christ at the cross, so his perfect righteousness is credited to us by faith. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father in every way. He never broke God’s law either by doing what he should not have done or by failing to do what he should have done. He stands perfectly accepted and approved of by the Father. When we are united with Christ through faith alone in him, God counts us righteous in him. In other words, the Christian stands before God as if we had lived Jesus’ life. Jesus fulfilled the whole law of God so that we stand before God with Christ’s perfect obedience counted to us.
This is great news for the believer who finds herself staring hopelessly at Proverbs 31:10-31. You do not have to summon up the strength to be the Proverbs 31 woman. In Jesus Christ, you already are the Proverbs 31 woman. Through faith in Jesus, you stand before God draped in Christ’s perfect righteousness. You stand before him fully accepted and fully loved. In your position before God, he sees no flaw or defect in you whatsoever.
Look to the Holy Spirit
Our daily practice doesn’t match our position in Christ, though. We often struggle to live in a way that is consistent with our righteous standing before God. We are called to walk obediently before God because of the new life we have in Christ. There is more good news because we do not have to obey God in our own strength and power. Not only do we have a new heart and new desires, but we also have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks in Colossians of laboring for the sake of God’s kingdom in the strength that God supplies. This means that our obedience to God and our faithfulness to his commands is empowered and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Not only are we forgiven by God and counted righteous in Christ before God, we have been given the Spirit to empower us so that we can live the joyous Christian life we have been called to live.
There’s so much more that could be said about the realities to which Proverbs 31 points. (The personification of wisdom as a woman throughout the book, its relationship to Ruth, etc.) However, in this post, the main thing we need to see is this, do not read Proverbs 31 as if Jesus had never lived, died, and been raised from the dead. This overwhelming reality changes how you read these verses. You read and respond to them as someone who has been changed by the grace of God and who through the Holy Spirit have been empowered to obey.
“Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day“
For Further Reading:
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full by Gloria Furman
Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson