It's Mother's Day, but for once I've decided to give mothers a break. Maybe I should explain…
My father liked to read Proverbs 31 on Mother's Day; however, I'm not sure my mother always appreciated it. Proverbs 31 is a poem of praise for "The Wife of Noble Character." It was written by King Lemuel, who knew how to lay it on pretty thick:
A wife of noble character who can find?
she is worth far more than rubies… .
She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks… .
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue… .
Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all (Prov. 31:10, 15-17, 25-26, 29).
Not very many women compare favorably with that description, but my mother happens to be one of them. She is a noble woman, so it didn't take much imagination for us to see her in Lemuel's song. My father was not trying to be ironic when he read Proverbs 31. But, as I say, my mother felt somewhat differently. Proverbs 31 made her feel guilty, I think, for she knew that she could never fully measure up to the biblical ideal.
With that in mind, I'd rather not talk about the wife of noble character. It's Mother's Day, and most moms deserve a break. So instead I want to talk about the husband of noble character. It is sometimes said that behind every good man, there stands a good woman. One of the things we learn from Proverbs 31 is that the reverse is also true: behind every noble wife, there stands a godly husband.
King Lemuel tells us at least three things about the noble husband. First, he trusts his wife completely: "Her husband has full confidence in her" (Prov. 31:11a). If this woman is going to do all the things described in this chapter, he is going to need to have full confidence in her. Not only does she do the shopping, but this woman also does the gardening, runs a small business, makes her own clothes, and invests in real estate. She is active in social work, caring for the needs of the poor (Prov. 31:20). She teaches her children everything they need to know (Prov. 31:26). In short, "she watches over the affairs of her household" (Prov. 31:27a).
Now in order for her to do all these things, she must have the complete trust and unconditional support of her husband. If he were always looking over her shoulder, finding fault with her way of doing things, or insisting on doing everything himself, she would never have the freedom to develop her gifts as God intended. But the noble husband depends on his wife to look after the needs of their family.
Second, the man takes care of his own business. He, too, is a hard worker, a man who provides for the needs of his family. He fulfills the calling that God has given him. Lemuel writes, "Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land" (Prov. 31:23). The noble husband has a place of spiritual leadership in the community. And of course the way a man gains that kind of respect is by working hard, building relationships, giving wise counsel, and generally conducting himself with dignity and integrity. One of the things that motivates the wife of noble character is her husband's nobility. She finds her joy in watching over her own household so that her husband can watch over the work of the whole community. She knows that his honor is also her honor.
Finally, the noble husband encourages his wife: "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her" (Prov. 31:28). This, too, is absolutely essential. This woman's work is extremely demanding, both at home and in the wider community. It is very hard to persevere in difficult work without getting constant encouragement. If a husband has a critical spirit, his wife will not flourish; she will struggle in her work, and she will never become the woman God wants her to be. But the noble husband recognizes his responsibility to be his wife's number one supporter.
It is worth noticing the basis for his encouragement. He does not praise his wife for her physical beauty. There is a place for that, and if you want the proof, just read the Song of Songs. But Lemuel was a wise man, and he knew that inner beauty is far more important than outward beauty. So he said, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Prov. 31:30).
A few years ago, a young bachelor told me that he was looking for a "P-31." I said, "What's that?" He said, "You know, Proverbs 31. That's the kind of woman I'm looking for." I told him he had better start becoming a P-31 himself-a man of noble character. I had two reasons. First, a woman who comes anywhere close to Proverbs 31 will be looking for the same kind of husband. Second, a wife does not become noble all at once. Proverbs 31 is the work of a lifetime, and it requires the kind of husband who is also described in the passage.
So I close with a question for husbands: Is your wife the kind of woman King Lemuel had in mind? Hopefully, by the grace of God, she is at least starting to become a woman of noble character. But understand that what kind of wife she becomes depends on what kind of husband she has.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org