Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"A woman's work is never done …"

Day #292 - Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 16th

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 31 …

With all of the changes in the world around us, one of the most often-debated is the role of women in the family, in the church and in the world.  In our nation we seem to have gone from "a woman's place is in the home" to "a woman can do anything a man can do."  Some have attempted to make a biblical case for each of these positions without realizing that they are carrying into the discussion their own thoughts and then finding passages of Scripture to support what they want to believe.  Sadly, that is true with any number of subjects.  You and I always have to be sure that we approach the Bible with open minds so that we hear what GOD has to say, not what our traditions, our culture or other people have planted into our pattern of thinking.  What does GOD have to say about the role of women in the family, in the church and in the world?

While Proverbs 31 does not cover all of these areas, it does help to lay down some unchanging principles that govern the lives of husbands and wives and a woman's role in other areas as well.  The chapter starts out, however, with some words about the behavior of kings.  What is interesting is that these are "sayings of King Lemuel - an oracle his mother taught him" (31:1).  We don't know exactly who King Lemuel was, but it is significant that it was his mother who taught him his ethics.  From the beginning of his proverbs Solomon instructed his sons (and daughters) to listen to the instruction of their fathers AND their mothers.  Mothers have a vital role in working alongside their husbands in the training and instruction of their children.  In fact, mothers often have a greater role due simply to the time spent with their children.

This mother taught her son to treat people with respect and fairness.  She warned him of wasting his strength on immorality and forgetting to apply God's law with equity for all people, especially those who cannot defend themselves.  "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy" (31:9).  That is good advice.  We don't know if King Lemuel's father was alive as his mother instructed him, but it was clear that her influence was great in his life.

I am reminded of Paul's words to Timothy when he wrote, "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also" (II Timothy 1:5).  God makes it clear throughout His Word that the role of women in the home is vital to the family, and thus to the church and to the world around us.  To think otherwise is to deny God's truth that men and women are equal partners in His sight and that He has created each of us to fulfill our God-given roles for His glory.  When matters of "headship" are discussed and illustrated in the Old Testament and the New Testament, it is never to place women in an inferior role, but rather to show how God made women to complement men so that together the family, the church and our culture would be what God designed in the first place.

Back to Proverbs 31 …  verse 10 introduces a question that is at the same time a statement:  "A wife of noble character who can find?"  What follows is a description of a woman who in our words, "does it all!" This remarkable woman not only fulfills the role of a wife often thought of today, but goes far beyond what most imagine the Bible to say.  It begins by saying that "her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life" (31:10-12).  This does NOT mean that a woman has no value if she is not married.  Other passages of Scripture deal with that.  But in speaking of wives, it is clear that "a wife of noble character" is a blessing to her husband in countless ways.  And that character arises from her relationship with God and her willingness to fulfill her calling as a wife and mother.  Somehow our culture has made that out to be a bad thing, but in God's kingdom it is crucial to the well-being of the marriage, the family, the church and the world.

The wife described in these verses "gets up while it is still dark" (31:15) and "her lamp does not go out at night" (31:18).  A lot of wives and mothers can identify with that schedule!  Her list of activities makes you tired just reading it.  "She provides food for her family … 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 …" (31:15-17).  She trades, she opens her arms to the poor and needy, she makes clothes for her household.  This woman is amazing.  Some would say she must have found the secret of cloning herself!  But what about the verses that say a woman is to "submit" to her husband and Paul's instruction to Titus to "teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live … Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the Word of God" (Titus 2:3-5)?

God does not contradict Himself in His Word so all of what God says about the role of women in marriage, in the home, in the church and in the world must be taken into account.  A neglected topic in the church is often the role of those to whom God has given the gift to be single.  Those who are single are called to put the Lord first in their lives and to do everything unto Him.  They have an advantage in being able to devote themselves entirely to the Lord's work because they do not have a responsibility to a husband (or wife) and to children.  They DO, however, have a responsibility to the Body of Christ and that becomes their "family."  Single people have talents and time to be used for God's kingdom in rare and unique ways.  Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 are talking about the role of women in marriage and in the home in particular, and they are both saying that a wife's primary responsibilities are to her husband and her family.

Her "submission" to her husband is the same as his "submission" to her.  Ephesians 5:21 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."  The meaning of biblical submission is "willing and cheerful service."  Wives are called to serve their husbands, as unto the Lord, and husbands are called to serve their wives, as unto the Lord.  "Headship" simply means that the husband is to be the chief servant, meaning that "the buck stops here."  He is responsible before God for the spiritual and physical well-being of his family, and for the spiritual and physical well-being of God's family, the Church.  "Headship" is not about privilege, but rather about responsibility before God.  Men and women have been given roles by God to fulfill.

The godly woman understands that her first priority, after God, is her responsibilities in her home and everything that pertains to her family.  As Proverbs 31 makes clear, that doesn't mean that she does nothing outside of her home, but that it all relates to her family:  "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness" (31:26-27).  So he concludes, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate" (31:30-31).

"The city gate" refers to the place of business and government, where her husband is engaged in fulfilling his role.  And all of this points to the relationship of the Church (true believers) to Christ, OUR spiritual Head.  As Paul speaks about the marriage relationship, he explains, "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).  In the relationship of a husband and wife, more than any other relationship, God reveals truth concerning Christ and His Church that is necessary to understand if you and I are going to understand His love for us and our response to Him.  If we miss the God-given roles of husbands and wives, we miss the beauty of our intimate relationship with Christ and what it means to love and to be loved, to be part of a family that is united around God and His truth.

It is true that a woman's work is never done … and it is true that a man's work is never done.  If you are willingly and cheerfully serving the Lord Jesus Christ, the words of Colossians 3:23-24 apply to you:  "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving."  Serving Jesus frees you from self-centered living that leaves you frustrated and angry when others don't do what THEY are supposed to do or what you want them to do.  Serving the Lord makes your life and the lives of those around you much more enjoyable and much more glorifying to God.

Thank the Lord for the joy and opportunity of serving others, beginning with your family, friends and neighbors (everyone is your neighbor!), and your life will fly by quickly as you live as a light in the darkness, pointing people to the God you serve … the One who gave His Son for you!

"O Lord, my God, Your Word is truly a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.  Your truth brings freedom from the influence of the lies of the evil one that cause divisions and rivalry and frustration and anger and a whole host of negative thoughts, emotions and actions that destroy families and your church and even entire cultures.  Knowing You and following Jesus, as Your Spirit works within us, leads to satisfaction and joy as all that we do becomes an offering to You, our Father in heaven.  Help ME to accept my role in this life, trusting in Your promise of an eternal inheritance bought for me and all who believe by the blood of Christ.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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