Sunday, September 21, 2014

Marriage

Part 7 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 31:10-31

You can listen to this sermon here.



Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Prov. 31:30). The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).


Why So Much Talk About Women?

Have you noticed that the book of Proverbs talks a lot about women? When you become aware of the book’s target audience, you’ll understand why. Tremper Longman writes, “Proverbs discusses women and wives and not men and husbands because in its original setting the book was addressed to young men. However, modern women can certainly read the proverbs and apply them to their relationships with men.” [1]

This means that Proverbs 31:10-31—the passage about the “excellent wife”—was written for the benefit of young men. Earlier in Proverbs they were warned about the kind of women to avoid (see 6:24-29). Now at the end of Proverbs they are shown what kind of women to pursue. [2]


Wisdom Needed

Marriage requires lots of wisdom, which really is skillful living. After a few years of marriage, a man learns a few things.

  • “I’ll be ready in five minutes” doesn’t actually mean what it should mean. 
  • A husband should be very careful how he answers the question “How do I look in this dress?”
  • Instead of directly stating what they want, women will often give subtle hints. 
  • When a wife tells her husband about a problem, she wants him to listen to her talk about the problem, not necessarily solve the problem. 


The Excellent Wife

Proverbs 31:10 says, “An excellent [3] wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” The Hebrew word translated “excellent” is hayil, which means strength.[4] She is a strong and able woman [5] (as seen by all of her strengths and abilities listed in this passage). [6]  Hayil and the Hebrew word for wife/woman are found together two other times in the OT: “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4); “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11). 

Many Christian women say, “I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman.” [7] But then they get discouraged when they fall short of this woman’s standard. What we need to understand is that the Proverbs 31 woman is the ideal wife.

The Proverbs 31 woman should be imitated, but she will never be duplicated. 

Verse 29 states, “Many have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” So a woman can be an excellent wife without completely measuring up to the Proverbs 31 woman.

The husband of the Proverbs 31 woman is often neglected. The husband is mentioned in verses 11 and 28, which show us that a man needs to show confidence in his wife (“The heart of her husband trusts in her,” v. 11) and to praise her (“he praises her,” v. 28). A husband should never forget that a good wife is a blessing from God: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22; cf. 19:14).


The Fear of the Lord in Marriage

Verse 30 says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, [8] but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Bruce Waltke writes that the “fear of the LORD” is “the key to Proverbs.” [9] Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Charles Brides defines “the fear of the LORD” as “affectionate reverence” [10] for God. It is the foundation (“the beginning,” 1:7) of wisdom, including wisdom in marriage.

The foundation of a successful Christian marriage is the fear of the LORD. 

When a person fears the LORD, he or she seeks to obey God. So when a God-fearing man enters a marriage, he is seeking God’s glory more than his own glory. How do we glorify God in our marriages? By being like Jesus. (Remember Proverbs can be seen as more about a who—Jesus—than a what.)

Christian husbands need to be Ephesians 5 husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “In your relationships with one another [including marriage], have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5, NIV). What is this mindset? If Paul were speaking directly to husbands and wives, he would say, “Let each [husband and wife] look not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of [their spouse]” (Phil. 2:4). Of course, we can’t perfectly duplicate the mindset of Jesus, but we can imitate it.

Tim Keller writes, “Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it to assert your interests for the fulfillment of yourself? The Christians teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.” [11]


It's Not All About Me 

One thing I discovered this week is that a popular name for bridal boutiques is “It’s All About Me.” If a marriage is “all about me,” it’s doomed to failure.

A successful Christian marriage begins with the fear of the LORD. Those who have a reverent affection for God seek to glorify him. And we glorify God by acting like Jesus. How do we act like Jesus in a marriage? By sacrificially loving our spouse.


[1] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 578.
[2] The ESV notes that Proverbs 31:10-31 is “an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”
[3] The KJV calls this woman “virtuous,” while the NIV says she is a woman “of noble character.”
[4] Bruce Waltke believes that “valiant” is a good translation of hayil in Proverbs 31:10 (The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 520).
[5] This is why the HCSB says she is “a capable wife.”
[6] The Proverbs 31 woman works both inside and outside the home. Basically, she does whatever is in the best interests of her family.
[7] Or many single Christian men say, “I’m looking for a Proverbs 31 woman.”
[8] This does not mean that beauty is unimportant. Proverbs 5:19 says, “Let [your wife’s] breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”
[9] Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 100.
[10] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 17.
[11] Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 47.