Stop using Proverbs 31 as a godliness standard

Several days ago i woke up and freaked out. I looked down at my hands and saw–to my relief–that there was no ring on any of my fingers. I had dreamed very vividly that i had gotten married to a girl to whom i had never spoken before. I’ve claimed many times that i would love an arranged marriage because it would take so much drama out of the dating process, but this dream changed my mind.

When it comes to dating and marriage, i would consider myself a hopeless romantic. Perhaps i don’t even know what that term means, but the simple point of the matter is that i strongly desire a relationship that will lead to a lifetime of commitment in marriage, but sadly this sort of relationship seems ever elusive.

My brother–who is also my best friend–married his girlfriend of six years about a month ago (a post dedicated to them will follow sometime in the next week and a half), and ever since they got married i have been overly focused on and desiring marriage, and thus the dream i had several days ago.

The sad part about this topic is that for too long i have considered Proverbs 31 the model for a Christian woman/wife. There is a huge problem with this thinking. It is not a model for that. And anyone who holds this chapter up as a standard for women is going to be sadly let down.

If we–as men–expect women to live up to the “definitions” in Proverbs 31, not only are we legalistic, but we are also more chauvinistic than we realize.

The main portion of this post will seek to prove the statement concluding the prior paragraph. You see, if you read Proverbs 31 carefully, it is clear that it cannot be an actual woman.

  • The author challenges you to actually find this woman (verse 10)
  • She never sleeps, which is impossible (compare verse 15 to verse 18)
  • The husband literally has to do nothing in this household except praise her (verse 28)
  • She is described the same as wisdom (verse 10 compared to 3:14-15 and 8:10-11)
  • When she speaks it is wisdom (verse 26)

Simply put, the woman in Proverbs 31 is the antithesis of the woman in Proverbs 7. Proverbs 7 is foolishness/sin personified. Proverbs 31 is wisdom/righteousness personified.

As such, i propose a new theme verse that i wanna see present in my future wife. Paul writes the following in 1 Timothy 1:15:

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them.

You see, if this is her life verse, as i have decided to make it mine, four things will shine through:

Centrality of Jesus

Whoever i end up dating and marrying someday needs to be madly in love with Jesus.

The grammatical subject of Paul’s “trustworthy statement” is Jesus. This is what i want the subject of my life to be as well, and if i’m to be married someday, then the subject of her life needs to be the same or else we will often end up at odds with each other.

This militates against the theme of Proverbs 31 being “a Christian woman description” because Jesus doesn’t even appear in Proverbs 31. Sure, if i was preaching on Proverbs 31, i could preach Christ from it, but there is no explicitly Christocentric material within the passage itself. The closest thing would be explaining that because of the Trinity the Lord she fears is the same God as Jesus.

But the point of the matter is that the woman i date and end up marrying needs to know Jesus. She needs to love Jesus. She needs to have her focus on Jesus.

Explicitness of the Gospel

A focus on Jesus leads directly into the next main reason for choosing 1 Timothy 1:15 over Proverbs 31. The gospel is the topic. While Jesus is the subject of the “trustworthy statement,” His work is the predicate.

The reason Jesus is known in history is because He “came into the world to save sinners.” This is the gospel.

It is also not present in Proverbs 31. Proverbs 31 is all about a woman slaving away for her family. The gospel is about how God provided for us what we could never provide for ourselves. It is not at all about how hard we work. It is not at all about how strongly we fear God. It is not at all about how good people think you are.

The fact of the matter is that my future wife needs to be grounded in the gospel, so i would much rather have her meditating on 1 Timothy 1:15 than on Proverbs 31. Jesus came into the world to save sinners; this must be her mantra!

Humility expressed

The result of recognizing that Jesus came to save sinners is that it requires a person to label him-/herself as a sinner if he/she desires salvation. If you refer to yourself as a sinner it means that you do not do everything perfectly.

While we may not be the worst sinner of all–since Paul took this title upon himself already–the plain and simple fact of the matter is that we are all sinners.

And this is where there is a huge disconnect with Proverbs 31. The woman in Proverbs 31 cannot sin. Everything she does is perfect. Everything she does earns her praise. Everywhere she goes people know her and her family as the perfect ones.

The woman i marry one day needs to recognize herself as a sinner so that she isn’t surprised and upset when people don’t praise her all the time. If we insist on preaching Proverbs 31 as the goal, women will forever be depressed that they haven’t achieved their goal. The problem being that said goal isn’t a legitimate goal: Christ died for sinners. If we, as sinners trust in Him–even if we are the worst sinner (read: abortion, homosexual, or murderer)–Christ’s grace is enough for us. It is his grace that saves; it is not our virtuous living.

Grace experienced

Because of the fact that grace alone saves, and because of the fact that humility leads us to refer to ourselves as the sinners Christ came to save, we will refuse to be okay with continuing in sin. This does not mean that sin won’t continue to be a struggle, but it does mean that when it does occur it is not taken lightly.

Proverbs 31 does not describe grace. It is typically not presented as, “because of grace live like this.” Usually it comes across as, “if you want to find a godly husband you’d better live like this so he notices.” The only problem with this thinking is that Proverbs 31 can’t be lived out literally by a woman if she is not married because she can’t do all her husband’s work for him, and she can’t take care of her children if she isn’t married–at least in the perfect world (some women do have children but are not married)–because she doesn’t have them yet.

The woman i marry one day will flee from sin. She won’t be fake about the fact that she has sinned–potentially quite seriously–in her past, and i as well won’t have to pretend to be more godly than i am. We can together spur one another on to grasp grace, rather than legalistically trudge through life striving to appear more than we are.

So, with all that said, the following lyrics sum up my feelings in this post:

Forget Proverbs 31; she ain’t real
I’m praying for my 1 Timothy 1:15 girl
Cuz i want her to be grounded in grace alone
Cuz Galatians 5:1 says to flee from legal yokes

So, with that, you have my most recent thoughts on dating and marriage. The reason my dream a few nights ago freaked me out so bad, is that if i’ve never talked to a girl then i can’t know where she stands on the four points listed and explained above. She must:

  • Love Jesus
  • Believe the gospel
  • See herself humbly as a result of the gospel
  • Seek to live in light of grace as a result of the gospel

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments below. God bless!

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus

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