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Building up believers and the New Testament church

Woman, An Honored Vessel

A Woman's Place in the World

How does the godly woman fit into this world and its system without being "of the world"? What if she is not married and must earn her own living? Are there guidelines that can guard her from conflicts within herself and with her position in the world? In Proverbs 31:10-31, we read of a very active woman who is described as being successful in all areas of life. She is commended by God, her family, and the world. Let us examine how her life illustrates many of the principles we have been considering.

"Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life" (vv. 10- 12).

This "wife of valor, in the sense of all forms of excellence" (marginal reading) has within her person what is beyond any quality that can be purchased or hired. The most significant relationship she has on this earth is with her husband, and it is solid and deep; they are truly one. There is no competition or struggle for self-expression in her relationship with him. He is totally confident in her, and we can be sure that she in turn is totally confident in him. This is the foundation of their relationship, and we find at the end of this passage that it is because she fears the Lord, not because she has a perfect husband. Every husband of a godly wife should be confident that he can safely trust her and that she does him good and not evil, for these are the qualities that her relationship with Jesus will produce within her.

A woman does not need to be married to be able to express this total trustworthiness; it should be her daily expression in every relationship with those who are important in her life. It is increasingly rare in today's workplace, and those in this world who are wise will recognize and value it greatly.

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants (vv. 13-15).

We see some of the areas of life in which this woman was diligent, areas in which we can function likewise. Shopping wisely for quality purchases and working with your hands can encompass many activities. It is commendable to be an excellent cook and to prepare a variety of nutritious foods for your family, even rising early to be sure that this task is not neglected. "And a portion for her maidservants" reveals that she was an employer of other women, and a good organizer and administrator on their behalf. We might notice that she did not seem to be in charge of the male laborers that likely were attached to her household.

"She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard, She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms, She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle, She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy" (vv. 16-20).

This lady was certainly an astute businesswoman who could evaluate prudently and use money wisely. She was not above some real physical labor, and kept herself physically fit. She recognized the value of her talents without falling into the trap of arrogance, and she was willing to work late hours to accomplish an important task. She was likely a good seamstress, able to produce excellent work. We sense that she would not be willing to just "get by" in any area of life. Yet she was also compassionate toward those less fortunate in life, and she did more to help than just give them money; she got personally involved in ways that would truly help the needy to improve their lives.

"She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple" (vv. 21-22).

A wise woman is able to plan ahead and be prepared for things she knows are coming, so there is no panic or lack. Her family is well-dressed, as are the others associated with her household. Her home is tastefully decorated and likely reveals the personality of its mistress in many unique ways--not just thrown together, nor a reproduction of a home magazine. Her own clothing is of fine quality and good taste, reflecting her sense of modesty and restraint. She knows how to enhance her discreet feminine attractiveness without drawing attention to herself in an inappropriate way. One senses that she provides well, but is not overly occupied with the fashions of the day.

"Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land" (v. 23).

This is one of the most intriguing verses in this chapter, and reveals the true godliness of this woman. "Being known in the gates" means that her husband was known and respected by the community. His wife has been so discreet about her activities that she does not draw attention to herself in a public way. She supports her husband and might share a lot of the credit for his prestige and reputation, but we do not see her seeking recognition for herself. She is content that her husband represents them, for they are one.

"She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness" (vv. 24-27).

Again we see that this woman contributed substantially to the income of the household, and it appears that she worked from her home. She isn't out just to make money in any way possible, but rather it seems she has built a solid reputation for quality and dependability. Her integrity and honesty are established, and she always has time for the individuals who come her way and need her concern and counsel, for she cares for people rather than monetary gain. She is a good supervisor of her family and others who work for her, and sets the example for them. Any woman (or man) who establishes a reputation such as this in the business world of today will surely find a solid basis for success!

"Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 'Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all'" (vv. 28-29).

We observed above that it is her husband who is "known in the gates," but the godly woman is known by her husband and family, and they will bless her. Those we live with know us best, and the highest test of our inner spiritual life is how we live with those with whom we are intimate. Many celebrities have been "undone" by the inconsistencies in their personal lives, and the modern press revels in searching out the smallest flaws. But when the inner life is right with God, it will also be right with those closest to us, and that is the source of our most cherished recognition.

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates" (vv.30-31).

Here is the final assessment of this woman's life, which reveals the source of all her inner strength and her outer productivity. These come from her relationship with God. Her eyes have not been focused upon herself and her own desires, but upon her Lord and her family. In the end, the reward of her life will come to her through what she has given of herself to others: her own works will "praise her in the gates."

There is a choice vignette in verse 30 from which we can all benefit. "Charm" and "beauty" are words that describe the unique attributes of women in general, and most are aware of the attention they receive for these from an early age. Just observe the cute and coy manners of the young girl from toddler age on, as she gains admiration and often more tangible rewards for her appearance and behavior. If parents are not wise enough to train her otherwise, a girl may grow up focused on herself and how she looks and acts to charm others for her own gain. These habits can lead a young woman into a life of vanity and immorality because of what they produce within herself and in those she affects. If what was cute in a small child becomes a life practice, it might result in an empty and self-centered life, ending in disappointment and despair, for all is focused upon self rather than upon pleasing God and serving others. Truly, charm is deceitful and beauty is vain...

"But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised." Within every woman (and man) is a desire to be praised, or appreciated by others, but if she seeks this through her natural beauty and charm, it will never satisfy. The only way to gain true praise is to look away from self and self-seeking ways of gaining attention. Focusing upon the Lord, His beauty, His holiness, His will, and His ways will bring about an inner beauty which will, in the end, bring the genuine praise that was truly desired. This is one of the eternal principles expressed by Jesus, running as a thread throughout the Bible: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25).

Her Adorning

"Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4).

"...That the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works" (I Timothy 2:9-10).

If we look at Genesis 3 again, we find that the first result of sin recorded is that "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings" (Genesis 3:7). When the Lord God came to walk with them as usual, they hid themselves with the explanation that they were afraid because they were naked, even though they had already covered themselves with the fig leaves. After God dealt with them and the serpent, we read that He provided them with clothing that He made himself: tunics of skin (which required the death of an animal). From the beginning, man's ideas about clothing have not always been acceptable to God.

When we think about adorning or clothing, our first thought goes to the outward, but God's thought goes right past that to the inward realities and motives. As women who desire to please the Lord, we must give careful thought to how we dress and adorn ourselves, rather than fall into habits of thinking and dressing without considering the source and the effects of what we wear. The question we should consider is: "For whom do we dress?"

Do I dress for comfort and convenience, pleasing myself? These are the watchwords of the society we live in. Most people are unthinking slaves to "what feels good," and this motivates most choices in their lives, especially in clothing. Our society also has a strong god called "fun," and the clothing industry serves it well. As Christians, we need to be very careful that we are not unknowingly affected by these trends, which will draw us from the path of conscious diligence in following the Lord.

Do I dress for men? Our immediate reaction to this question may be, "Of course not," but let us recognize that there can be many subtle factors affecting the clothing women wear which they may not be aware of. Those who would not purposely wear a sensuous style of clothing may yet copy habits or "looks" they see worn by others, which communicate something they do not intend. One example might be the second button left open at the neckline or other ways to show or suggest cleavage. A woman's curves are sensual to a man, including curvy hips. Pants and shorts reveal these in a way that attracts men's attention to this part of her body, whereas modest dresses or skirts do not. Clothing that is not obviously revealing might still give a tantalizing suggestion of what is beneath, which has a powerful effect upon a man that women are not always conscious of. If Jesus holds a man responsible for lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:28), does He not also expect a woman to be careful not to prompt lustful thoughts by what she wears? A godly woman does not want to give even a suggestion of any such intent. The Holy Spirit is ready to guide every woman in her choice of clothing that will honor Him and not cause her brother or other men to stumble.

Do I dress for other women? Nearly every girl growing up experiences at least a temporary phase of being concerned about what her friends are wearing and "what they will think" about what she wears. More maturity usually brings less concern about this, but it is usually the other women in our lives who have the strongest impact upon our concepts of what is right and appropriate to wear. Therefore, let us be sure our "role models" have gained their direction from the Lord.

Do I dress to be acceptable to the world? I believe most men would say they prefer women in dresses or skirts, so why have pants/slacks/trousers become women's predominant choice in our society for nearly every occasion? We cannot take time to go into history here, but in our culture women have been on this pathway for such a long time that very few can even remember when society itself reinforced that "a woman should look like a woman," and pants were considered to be men's clothing. We must look beyond the "norm" around us and ask the Lord to guide us.

We have considered the uniqueness of the woman and the way God created her to be different from the man while being one with him. Satan tries to undermine and counterfeit God's design of oneness by a strong influence in the world sometimes called "unisex." The goal is to deny the differences and put women and men on the same level in all possible areas of life, such as hairstyles, clothing, occupations, etc. The Bible says, "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 22:5). I personally grew up on a farm wearing blue jeans, and had difficulty changing my thinking, but I gradually came to see the deeper significance my choice of clothing represented to my Lord, and recognized that pleasing Him was much more important than my own preferences. God's design is that a woman look like a woman and a man like a man, for He created each perfectly. We must not let the shrewd tactics of the enemy defraud us of the fulfillment God wants us to have. He has given us the privilege of being women.

Do I dress for the Lord and for my husband? If we focus our eyes upon the Lord and His purpose in our lives, refusing to be distracted by the world and its vanity, we will find a place of rest and contentment in pleasing Him in all areas of life. One of these will be our clothing and adornment. If we are truly one with Him, this will take no special effort, just simple responses to His promptings by the Spirit. Think of a lovely bride on her wedding day. All eyes are upon her, but she is unaware of that, for her eyes are focused only upon her beloved. Her beauty is the reflection on her face of the love and anticipation that fills her heart. She has prepared herself to please him alone, and this made her choices simple because she has begun to know her beloved and to perceive how to please him.

The verses above tell us clearly what is precious to the Lord: the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. Our selection of clothing and outward adorning should be consistent with this. Anything that draws attention to any feature of the outward physical person will feed pride or other improper motives. But a gentle and quiet spirit will reveal itself through our eyes and in many inconspicuous ways that draw others to the Lord alone. It will reveal itself through good works without any thought of gaining attention for ourselves. The secret of acquiring this gentle and quiet spirit is to turn our attention away from ourselves and fasten it fully upon Jesus, responding to Him just as the bride mentioned above. He will satisfy all our deepest desires and longings, and this will bring inner beauty to the hidden person of the heart, where time takes no toll but only increases its loveliness.

In Closing

"Contentment" and "contention" are two similar words with very different meanings, which can summarize these thoughts about woman as God created her to be and how this was spoiled by sin and rebellion. God's creation was "very good" (Gen. 1:31), and it was His purpose that man and woman find contentment and fulfillment in their relationship with Him and with one another. But His enemy entered the picture and brought contention and dissatisfaction to Eve's heart with the insinuation that God was keeping something good away from her. She was deceived by him and moved of her own accord to find out if this was so, separating herself from the protection God had provided for her in the man who was not deceived. Thus began the ever-repeating cycle of discord and contention between man and woman, and between them and God.

God loved and gave Himself in the person of His Son to restore our relationship with Him and to show us how to restore the relationship between man and woman. When we come to Him with humble hearts desiring Him to do His work of grace within us, He will respond by coming in the person of His Holy Spirit to dwell within our spirit, and He will do in and through us what we are unable to do for ourselves. This is indeed a great mystery, but it is available as a reality for each one who is willing to cease "contending" for his or her own way and come into that place of "contentment," walking in oneness with Jesus and in obedience to His perfect plan.