The Woman’s Guilt-Free Guide to Proverbs 31 and Mother's Day

The Woman’s Guilt-Free Guide to Proverbs 31 and Mother's Day

Can God speak on Mother’s Day?

It was that great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who said, “You can observe a lot just by looking.” I have found this to be true, as a pastor, and I offer: “You can hear a lot just by listening.”

As I was preparing my Mother’s Day message from Proverbs 31 I was seeking to hear God’s voice in the text. One of the greatest questions I’ve ever had about Proverbs 31 came to me from one of the members of my church, who was preparing to work with the children Sunday morning. She asked, “Where is the gospel in this part of the Scriptures?”

The is the exact question that must be asked of all of Scripture and especially the Wisdom Literature of Proverbs. “Where is the gospel?” You can hear a lot just by listening. I might even ask on a day like today, “Where is the gospel in Mother’s Day?”

Mother’s Day is not on the Church Calendar, but came about from a Christian woman, Ann Jarvis, in Grafton, West Virginia. She felt a day should be set apart for mothers still suffering forty-three years after the Civil War losses in America. She convinced her minister to hold a special service for grieving mothers at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908. Soon, others heard about the special day in Grafton. A lot of folk thought the Mother’s Day service at St. Andrews Church was a great idea. Indeed, Congress and Woodrow Wilson thought it was a good idea, too. Thus, we have a Christian influence on the civic calendar. Yet, somehow, across the years the day has been infused with unrealistic expectations that detract from our biblical goal of “honor thy Mother…” Even Ann Jarvis protested that Hallmark Cards took things too far. She even got arrested for protesting against the commercialization of Mothers’ Day. Imagine that.

Indeed, I have found through the years that this can be a difficult day for single women, for couples with no children, for families who have lost children, when it was originally designed to honor the one who reared us. But once God’s Word is taken out of the church calendar and inserted into the civic calendar and into the gift shop it can take on sentiments that seem to warm the heart, but in the end break it.

Proverbs 31 seems to me to be a Scripture that suffers from some of the same legacies as Mothers’ Day. It started off with one meaning and became something else altogether, removed from its context. The passage can become so over-saturated with unrealistic expectations that it is unrecognizable from the intention of the original Holy Spirit inspired author.

“Where is the Gospel in Proverbs 31?” Well, you can hear a lot by listening. Listen to the Spirit as we listen to the truth of this passage:

It was originally given by a woman; King Lemuel’s mother. Now, King Lemuel is often thought to be a pen-name for Solomon. The king’s mother would, then, of course, be Bathsheba.[1] Some scholars even believe the actual writing here is different from the previous chapter and they believe it reveals a feminine hand at the pen. Even if that were not so, it remains the teaching of a woman and is far from being the alleged glamour retouched photo of the ideal woman by some patriarchal priest or prophet. No, what we have is the composite model of a good woman given by a Jewish mother to her son.

Proverbs 31:10-31 is given in an acrostic, i.e., given in the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and given as a poetic depiction of the model woman for him to marry. There are eighteen attributes that follow her wise caution. Now, I will not focus on the attributes. Rather, I want to focus on the seven people or groups who are blessed by this kind of woman.

“Where is the Gospel in Proverbs 31?” That is a powerful question that has an answer that unfolds in this way: God has shown His love to the world by giving us special women in our lives. Who are the recipients of God’s love through these special women? I want you to see the seven representations in this passage and you will see how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only here in this passage, but also in Mother’s Day.

Proverbs 31 teaches us that God blesses the world through special women:

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses husbands (Proverbs 31:10-12,23,28). The passage was clearly written as a way to show how this woman truly blesses a king. Yet, in verse 28, the illustration is that she uses her wisdom to shape her husband’s gifts for the gates, not the court. So, this is for every man. Truly, whether carpenter or king, all men are dependent upon the nurture and wisdom of their wives for making them whole persons.

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses households (and we could even say, entire economies or markets) (Prov. 31:15)

It is amazing that King Lemuel’s mother, if she, indeed, wrote this part of the Proverb, also knew that the woman brought blessing to the markets. Today, on Mothers Day, it is a good time to say thank you to the Lord for how He has made our wives, our mothers, our daughters to be so industrious that entire markets are dependent upon them. If you think I am overstating it, just take a look at any ad on television and see which gender they are marketing to. While there are social engineering attempts underway, there can be no denying that our society reflects the same truth that Proverbs 31 teaches: the woman of the house controls the market concerning her house.

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses the poor and the needy (Prov. 31:20)

This is such a blessing. Without women in the Church where would our mercy ministries be? God has used women in the Church to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and lead great causes throughout our own national history, such as the temperance movement that, in its beginning, was a movement to stop alcoholism from destroying families, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to stop the unnecessary carnage on our highways, or ministries like the Salvation Army, or any number of other charities in our land. Thank God for our women and our Mothers who saw a need and reached our their hand in God’s name to save a soul.

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses the Church (Prov. 31:26)

It says that she teaches. Oh, how I have witnessed this first-hand! From my own experience of Sunday School teachers in my life to watching my own wife teach in our churches, to seeing the special women who taught our son in his life, growing up. I know that right here in this church the backbone of ministry consists of those women who faithfully teach, teach the children, teach other women, teach in the community, teach in schools. We thank God for our women today who have served our churches and our communities through teaching.

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses Children (Prov. 31:28)

The covenant of God’s grace was as important then as it is now. Mothers play a critical part of the continuation of the faith by inculcating the children in faith in God so that the children grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Of course, this is what Mothers’ Day is all about. Children are blessed. I always recall that wonderful illustration of the woman in the grocery with the buggy filled with groceries, a toddler, and a newborn, and a five-year old running behind. Frazzled, as she was checking out, managing her little ones, flipping through her coupons, this one-time corporate executive woman-on-the-way-up looked to see a former co-worker. The woman, polished and coiffured, asked, as if she couldn’t see the obvious, what she was doing these days. The young mother and former co-exec, smiled, and replied, “I am overseeing the training and development of the next generation of leaders of our nation. How about you?”

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses other women (Prov. 31:29-30)

This is a woman among women. And the statement bears pressing a point that a godly woman is a teacher of other women, a model to others. As St. Paul teaches in the Pastoral Epistles, older women should teach the younger women. One way this is accomplished is how they conduct their lives as a wife, a mother, a woman in their home and in the community.

Through the gift of that special woman He blesses Mankind (Prov. 31; 1 Tim. 2:13-15)

It is at this place that we must turn to our New Testament reading for today: 1 Timothy 2:13-15. That text is a controversial text, but is given by St. Paul to support an argument that he was making to Timothy about the role relationship of men and women within the Church. His argument, which must be dealt with another time, was grounded in the fact that women had been deceived in the crisis that led to the fall of mankind. Yet, Paul here states that women, who had been deceived, would be saved through childbearing. Now, is St. Paul here meaning to say that woman will experience spiritual salvation by becoming “with child” and by giving birth to that child? What about those who cannot have children? Or those girls who never marry? Or those who die before they reach child-bearing age? Surely he is not guaranteeing that Christian women will all defy the fall in this life and successfully bear children without any medical problems. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Dr. George W. Knight III in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles joined with many others, including myself, to argue that Paul is merely saying what he says in other places: namely, that womankind, who experienced the fall and a certain kind of hardship after the fall, also, received a promise in Genesis 3:15 that she would bring forth the Messiah without the help of a man, and, indeed, that is her primary role and her place.[2] It was woman, then, Mary, who was the ideal woman, the Proverbs 31 woman, if you will, who was the “God-bearer” and who said, “from now on, all generations will call me blessed.”

Whatever you think of how Mary is revered in the world today in certain parts of Christianity—and it has been extreme in some cases and slight in others—you cannot deny that her prophecy came true. The truth is, it was woman who brought forward the Savior, woman who anointed the Savior’s feet with her tears, women who stayed faithfully at the foot of the cross, women who went to anoint his dead body, and it was a woman who first proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, “He is risen.” Lydia, a merchant who sold purple dye, like the merchant-class woman in Proverbs 31, was the first convert in Europe and all the world looks back to that first European who confessed Christ (Acts 16:14-15).

Today we as Christians separate from the world’s picture of womankind.

In some cultures, woman is hidden by the burka. In other cultures, she is hidden by shame. In others, she is veiled in false and unrealistic expectations. But, we who read her story in the Bible refuse to see women as anything other than the gift of God, the last and highest order of creation, who became the one who bore the Savior in the world and bore the news of the Savior to the world. She is mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. She is a child of God. That is her identify.

Each of us remember that special one today. I remember Aunt Eva. My Aunt Eva who reared me, never bore children, physically, but she bore Christ in her life, and she proclaimed Him to me. She was the only mother I have ever known. I could not have had a better mother. As I speak her teaching speaks through me.

Today, as you think of your mother, your wife, or another woman in your life who nurtured you, raised you, helped you, taught you, cared for you, or shared the gospel with you, remember that this woman was a gift of God to show you His love. And the greatest way we can honor our mothers today, or any day, is to honor God, by following that One that woman brought forth: Jesus of Nazareth, as Lord and Savior of our lives.

And ladies, young women, and my daughters in faith: Rememer that your identity is not in an unrealistic standard made by anything or anyone in this world. Your identy is as a precious daughter of the Father who sent His only begotten Son to fulfill the perfection that you couldn’t fulfill and to suffer and die and rise again from the dead for your sin. He has removed your shame and and replaced it with honor. This is the gospel in this passage and the gospel for this day.

Endnotes

[1] Consider all of the options in Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2005).

[2] “The most likely understanding of this verse is that it refers to spiritual salvation through the birth of the Messiah. Some commentators (Alford, Bernard, Guthrie, Ward) have rejected this view without giving adequate reasons. But good reasons exist for adopting it (so Ellicott; Lock; H. von Soden; Wohlenberg; Huizenga, “women”; cf. RV, RSV margin, NEB margin; with undue emphasis on Mary, Ignatius, Eph. 19; Irenaeus, Haer. 5.19; Justin, Dial. 100). George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992), 146-149.

Other References

“Mother’s Day 100-year History a Colorful Tale of Love, Anger and Civic Unrest.” DeseretNews.com. May 06, 2014.

Michael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.

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