Summary: Relating the characteristics of the noble wife in Proverbs 31 to the Church - as the church is the bride of Christ in the world. Are we a wife of noble character bringing glory to the Bridegroom?
A Bride of Noble Character
How true is the opening question of the Proverbs passage? A wife of this echelon of noble character, who indeed can find? She is most certainly the woman that nearly every man would want to marry. And she is the wife that most women aspire to be. She is confident and trustworthy. She is a hard worker and yet also compassionate. She works in the house and in the public arena. Her children call her blessed and her husband praises the work of her hands. In short, we might call her Superwoman or perhaps Wondermom for in all honesty isn’t this the description of a super hero? Who can possibly be so competent in all areas of her life?
It makes me tired reading the accolades of this noble wife and it makes me ashamed of how lacking I seem to be in so many arenas – especially in the domestic, spinning thread and making garments arenas! I wonder what one person can possibly live up to the standards of this noble wife?
Earlier this week, as I struggled with this idea, I continued with my usual sermon prep and went on-line to see what and how others were preaching from this passage. And what I found almost surprised me. Of the 100+ sermons I scrolled through on Monday afternoon, none of them were given by a female pastor. Many of them were preached, by men, on Mother’s Day and were used to encourage women to be less petty, less focused on external beauty and to strive to be the Wondermom described by this passage. They were words from male mouths (sorry, guys) encouraging women to live to this caliber of nobility in order to bring glory and praise to her husband and children. I would say this was by far the most common usage of this passage. But there was a close second, and it was using this passage as the scripture for the funeral meditation of a faithful, family-centered matriarch. Well, in all honesty, I didn’t really see either of these themes applying to our time together today. And so I continued to meditate on what God wanted and needed for us (men and women – the body of Christ in the world) to hear and to learn from this scripture…
And then it dawned on me, perhaps this passage is not simply about one woman and the work that a singular wife is supposed to carry out while her husband sits at the gate of the city. But maybe there is a larger picture to be seen. Maybe there is a message in this passage that is not just for the women of the world, but rather a message for the Church – the bride of Christ in the world. What if we look at this passage and the passage from James and seek to hear a message about the wisdom and work needed in order for the church universal to function as the noble wife, the virtuous wife, the wife of good character, the bride of our Savior to whom we give all honor and praise.
Listen to the description again, but instead of thinking of one person fulfilling all these qualities, think about the role of the Church in the world…
Christ, her husband, has full confidence in her, for the Church brings him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. The Church works with eager hands, providing food for her family and for the servants. The Church sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for the tasks and her lamp does not go out at night. The Bride of Christ opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity, she speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. Many do noble things, but the Church surpasses them all.
Suddenly this list of seemingly impossible tasks for ONE person is now a very doable lifestyle for the bride of Christ.
We as the Church are to be a people united in working for the glory and praise of our Bridegroom. We, as the Church of Christ, are to be less concerned with what the world thinks of us and more concerned with living a noble life in accord with our Lord. Too many congregations are in competition with other congregations. For some reason we have begun to lose sight of our common mission as the bride of Christ to bring glory not to ourselves, but to God who created us and sustains us.
Success for the Church is not about which congregation has the most members nor is it about which building is the most state-of-the-art. Success of the church, much like the success of the noble wife, is not measured by vanity and outward appearances, but rather success as the church universal (and individual congregations thereof) is measured by how well we live out the qualities of the intrinsic values. The bride of Christ is called to be the noble wife in Proverbs 31. The church universal is called to live, as James says, by the wisdom that comes from heaven. The wisdom that is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere. These are the measures by which congregations and the Church as a whole should be judged in the world.