For some people, the words of Proverbs 31 are fantastic. They hear the words of King Lemuel and his mother, and they are like comfort food for their souls. In their eyes, this passage ranks up there with Psalm 23 and the 1 Corinthians chapter of love.
However, this is not the case for all. Many hear mention of Proverbs 31 and immediately experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Syndrome. This is because their parents, teachers, mentors, pastors, or authors have wrongly instructed them in days gone by. These teachers errantly:
- Viewed these verses as a lecture to women.
- Used this text to force upon women a cultural, extra-bilical, limited, and antique view of womanhood.
- Established a to-do list of virtues whereby a woman might make herself worthy of God.
- Saw in these verses a “prosperity theology contract.” Those who keep the covenant must be those who get blessed with health, wealth, husband, children, and honor. Those “other people,” well, they must surely be receiving the due consequences of their sin.
Consequently, instead of meditating on the wonderful words of Proverbs 31 and finding themselves honored and encouraged, many ladies have found themselves increasingly burdened and shamed because they just don’t measure up to the perfect Proverbs 31 gal.
Friends, I am guilty. As I look at my life, my sermons, and my writings, I have been one of those errant patriarchal devils who have heaped burdens on my wife, my daughter, and and many other precious women in Christ’s church. I confess my transgressions. I am not proud of my sin. I do not take it lightly.
But I have repented.
And I am still repenting.
And I am interested in showing forth fruits of repentance.
And, if Christ and his promised Holy Spirit will help me, I hope all women of Christ will see their burdens removed, shame eviscerated, calling elevated, souls encouraged, and their husbands, sons, and daughters singing.
Today, I repent. Today, I present Proverbs 31 in its Gospel brilliance. Are you ready?
An Oracle from Mom
Proverbs 31:1-12 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows? Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor. 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.
We do not know much about the identity of the human author, but this is what we do know. These words were provided by:
- A wise mother who put her affectionate words in the form of a Hebrew acrostic.
- A wise son who held on to them and passed them on to his children and neighbors.
- A wise ensemble of scribes who safeguarded and transmitted these words for the ages.
- A wise Holy Spirit who governed all, insuring these words were inspired, inerrant, canonized, and authoritative. The are great words of wisdom for us today.
The text begins with a regal mother questioning and exhorting her son. Proverbs 31 is not a commandment-list for women. Any imperatives in the text, they are focused on her son and his children. Specifically, the royal son is to:
- Be careful of abusing the great gifts given him by God. (I.e. Wine, Women)
- Be careful of abusing the regal position given him by God. (I.e. Perversion, Passivity)
She then, after outlining the importance of rightly treasuring the gracious gifts of the Lord, transitions to her primary subject matter:
Highlighting the exceptional gift of the wife who fears the Lord.
If we remember the creation account in the first chapters of Genesis, we remember how God intentionally created a “not good” situation for Adam. The Almighty declared it ‘not good” that the perfect man embark upon his ministry alone. This was not a perfect situation. Therefore, God came to the rescue and solved the problem he intentionally created. God custom-designed an “ezer” or “helper.” (Ezer is a term God used for himself in regards to his care and help for his beloved.) God created the female version of his image and partnered her with his male version. God then said, “This is very good.” Adam had found his excellent wife, and she was one of inestimable worth.
To this day, it is still not good that man should be alone. He is custom-designed with an in-build need or deficit. He still needs an “ezer” or “helper.”
Some, are not so fortunate. They find a wife who does not fear the Lord.
However, some are graced beyond measure. They find a bride who fears the Lord and is willing to be a co-partner with them in the Cultural Mandate, the Great Commission, the building of a house, and the making of disciples. And those who find such bride, they are extremely wealthy men. They have a spouse of exorbitant value.
The wise husband, he fully trusts in this exhorbitant gift given from God. He trusts her with all he is and has, and as he does so he will find himself so improved and blessed. The excellent wife, she is God’s minister to do him good all the days of her life.
So, what does this excellent wife or “ezer” look like? Listen as such a woman is described and praised.
An Ezer from God
Proverbs 31:13-27 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.
She has willing hands. She is not forced to live the life she has chosen. As she sacrifices, she does so because she chooses to do so. She is filled with selfless affection and love.
She has an incredible work ethic. In the home, outside the home — she does whatever she needs to do and goes wherever she needs to go. Like a merchant ship, she goes to unreasonable distances to bring delight to her household. Yes, her work-interest and work-ethic is off the charts as she labors during the daytime and sometimes at night out of love for God, her family, her maidens, and her hurting neighbors.
She has keen business sense and financial savvy. She sees a field, does her due diligence, and purchases it with her own funds — the “fruit of her own hands.” She then takes that field, spends more assets upon it, improves it, and builds a vineyard. Notice her entrepreneurial bent. She knows her produce well and is confident the open market will pay her well for her talent. Consequently, by the end of the season, this business woman has utilized her intellect, time, talent, and cash to bring perpetual abundance to her family and community.
She is strong and dignified. In regards to physical brute strength, the Lord has made woman the “weaker vessel.” I like to say men are like cast iron skillets while women are like the finest of china. But let us not take this “weaker vessel” language and apply it elsewhere. In terms of longevity, emotion, wisdom, character, giftedness, and will, women are not weaker. Women who fear the Lord “dress themselves with strength and have strong arms. and strong male leaders who are needy, oh how wise and thankful they are when they find themselves surrounded by strong female leaders or “ezers.”
She is confident and poised. She is a planner who sees the danger and prepares her family. Therefore, when troubling or difficult times come the way of her family, she has no fear. She is brave and bold.
She has a heart and hands filled with compassion. She has made sure that her family has lived on less than they make. Why is this important? It is because she longs to lead them in contributing to the needs of the poor. However, I think she does much more than simply give cash or food. She serve the poor and the needy in her neighborhood. Busy she is baking bread and writing cards. She watches children and visits the infirm. She sends flowers and offers up prayers. She listens well, provides counsel, leads non-profits, and takes governmental posts. The Proverbs 31 woman, she is both minister and missionary. Everywhere she goes, she is a priest of the Almighty God.
She enjoys the gracious gifts of God. It is very clear that this excellent wife is not chiefly concerned with her own pampering. She is not a high-maintenance diva. She can roll up her sleeves and get dirty with the best of them. However, this gift from God, she takes no delight in being merely utilitarian, simple, or frumpy. Personally, she enjoys the niceties of life, she delights in presenting herself attractively, and she values having her home and bedroom be a place of luxury and delight.
She builds leaders. Her husband, he does not for a moment consider himself to be a self-made man. He is a man with needs, but the Lord has provided an “ezer” or “helper” for him, and because of her affection and action, he finds himself greatly improved. Yes, because of Eve, Adam went from “not good” to “very good.” And this man, because of his precious bride, has found his way to being a city leader in the city gates.
She is winsome and wise. The woman, missionary, minister, businessperson, wife, and mother — her mind and mouth are so brilliant and beneficial. She is educator, exhorter, and encourager.
An Exhortation to Men and Family
Proverbs 31:28-31 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.
She is to be praised by her children. Her sons and daughters should grow up, rise up, and speak up. They should consider her the blessing of the Lord. And they should learn to do so from their Father.
She is to be praised by her man. Her husband, he should be continually praising God and his bride. His constant chant should be, “Many women have done excellently, but none compare to you.” This is what should happen.
However, all should know the following …
She is not excellent due to external features. Charm is great; beauty is fantastic. My son, who would not be enraptured by a charming and beautiful lady? There is nothing wrong with those two attributes. However, my precious boy, these characteristics often prove to be deceitful and vain. Charming and beautiful are not synonomous with excellence.
She is excellent due to internal fear. Instead of focusing on externals, focus on the heart, and if you happen to find a bride who is a believer, a humble-penitent, a worshiper, a Christian, one who honors the Lord, she is to be praised.
Therefore, she is to be praised; you my son, worship well. Give her the fruit of her hands. Give her that which results from her reverencing the Lord. Honor the Lord by honoring her. Praise her loud, proud, and often, Do it in the home. Do it in the gates. If you have such a bride, you have been blessed beyond measure. You have found a diamond of great price from the Pearl of great price. You have received an inestimable gift from the Giver. Honor the Lord by honoring your wife.
Ladies, what does the Heavenly Father say to you? He says, “I am the one who created man and woman. I am the one who dreamed-up husband and wife. I am the one who grants some to be fathers and mothers. I know what is good, right, blessed, and very profitable. Listen to me. Read my word. Think my thoughts with me. I know how I have designed this world to work. It is a fantastic thing for you to be a woman, a wife, and a mother.
Ladies, what does the devil say to you? He always starts off with, “Has God really said?” Pretty soon he continues on with, “Don’t you want to be like god?” Then he ends with, “That which God said, don’t worry about it. There is no need to be constrained by his words.” So today, he tells you to ignore, devalue, deconstruct, discount, or redefine gender. He encourages you to see marriage and mothering as horrid situations to be avoided at all costs.
Ladies, what does the Law say to you? The Law says, “This is the way of God, walk in it.” The Law says, “Blessed are those who keep all God’s commandments perfectly. Cursed are those who break eve one of his smallest commandments. Keep them and live. Keep them and earn my favor and approval. Be a good woman, wife, and mother and be blessed.”
Ladies, what does the Judge say to you? You have not been perfect. You have not been good. You have not met my standard. You are not the righteous woman, the righteous daughter, the righteous wife, the righteous mother, or the righteous woman. There is no one righteous — no not one.
Ladies, you who have learned to fear the Lord, what does the Groom say to you every single day? I have seen the temptation of the world, the flesh, and the devil. I have seen all of Satan’s ploys. And sadly, I have seen all your sin and rebellion — past, present, and that which you are still going to do.
However, instead of cursing you in accordance with what you deserve, I have chosen to curse me and bless you. Because of my eternal and unwavering affection, I have earned all your righteousness and freed you from any condemnation, separation, and shame. I have caused you to fear, reverence, respect, and love me.
Therefore, today, I am not interested in talking to you any longer about your flaws. I have not kept a record of them. I am not interested in pointing out to you your sins. As a matter of fact, I have paid for them, thrown them in the sea — behind my back — and I can hardly remember them.
Therefore, because of my work as your husband, I declare you again, always, and only to be my radiant, perfect, spotless, and excellent bride. To me, your worth is far more than jewels.
Therefore, relax. There is no need for you to perform. I have chosen you, remade you, declared you to be holy, and my Father is perfectly satisfied with the bride I have made you to be. Listen to my voice. Listen to my Gospel. Look at me and see my smile.
Ladies, what does the Counselor say to you? The Holy Spirit says I will cause you to enjoy fearing the Lord! I can’t wait to work for you, in you, through you, and with you to cause you to live in accordance with your new excellent identity. Watch and enjoy me as I cause you to be more loving, industrious, entrepreneurial, prepared, poised, confident, fearless, and compassionate. Through my power, watch and enjoy as I help you shepherd yourself, your husband, your family, your church, and community. Go ahead and dream big. You have no clue what I can do through a sanctified “ezer” — one I have set apart for my own purpose. Sister, we will not settle for less that what Christ has declared you and made you to be. It is fantastic to be a woman, wife, and mother who fears the Lord.
Ladies, what does Christ’s church say to you? We know that “it was not good that a man should be alone in running his garden ministry.” We know that even the perfect man had a need for his God-gifted “ezer.” Therefore, we have come to see that “it is not good that man should be alone in his church ministry.” Ladies, we will endeavor to lead, serve, love, and sacrifice, and we will not be those men who find our manhood challenged by strong women. We are in need. You are God’s gift. We are determined to be “complimentarian feminists.” It is our delight to see our church improved by utilizing all “ezers” God has placed in our midst.
Ladies, what do we, your husbands, fathers, sons, and daughters say to you? We confess our sins of arrogance and self-sufficiency. We confess our sins of belittling and constraining. We have devalued you. We have dishonored you. We have been apathetic in our thanksgiving to God and praise of you. We have not praised you rightly in our hearts, regularly in our prayers, and loudly in our gates. Therefore, we repent. We hear the words of Lemuel’s mother. We hear the words of mother wisdom. We hear the words of King Lemuel. We hear the inspired words of God. You are excellent. You are of inestimable worth. You are God’s gift, and we are blessed.
Friends, today, allow me to take the lead in joyful repentance. On this Mother’s Day, I am so thankful for:
- A strong and dignified mother – Martha Franks
- A strong and dignified wife – Laura Franks
- A strong and dignified daughter – Ashlyn Franks
- A strong and dignified daughter-in-law – Schulyer Franks
- A strong and dignified administrative guru – Julie Henry
- All the strong and dignified ladies who minister, serve, lead, and love at Horizon Church.
Today, speaking on behalf of all wise husbands, fathers, sons, and daughters, it is our delight to worship God by praising and encouraging you. We are so grateful for strong, dignified, poised, and ambitious women who fear the Lord. We are so improved because you are God’s “ezers” graciously sent our way.