The Best of Women (Mother's Day)

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 31:28-30

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:28-30, RSV

That is one of the sweetest songs we ever hear, especially when it’s addressed to us: the melody of affirmation, the music of praise. In this case, it’s a woman whose virtues are being extolled. The members of her family name her “blessed.” They crown her the best of women. They salute her as worthy of high praise.

While we all delight to be affirmed, we also take pleasure in giving tribute to others. We are inveterate “praisers.” I’ve never known a person who didn’t declare something or someone to be worthy of acclaim. We like to magnify the skills of our athletes, the beauty or brawn of our sweethearts, the charisma of our leaders. Something in us wants to ascribe greatness to another: to build a hero, to canonize a saint.

What or whom we praise also tells a great deal about us. We learn in the book of Proverbs that “a man is known by his praise.” Find out what a person admires, thinks highly of, lifts up as an ideal, and you have learned that person’s secret, what his or her values are. You may learn also what he or she is in the process of becoming, for we all begin to resemble those we most appreciate.

Sometimes the way a society distributes praise seems inappropriate, even ludicrous. We may feel instinctively that the whole system is wrong. It bothers me, for example, that in our modern American culture people are often lauded and admired simply because they have wealth. It doesn’t matter how they’ve gotten it: that may reflect no credit on them at all. They may be scoundrels; they may be abusers of other people, but they’re fawned over because they’re rich.

Fame and success are among our dubious contemporary idols also. If people have made a name for themselves, if they have compiled a list of impressive accomplishments, they are important, they are great, in the eyes of our society. It matters not what twisted values they hold, what promises they break, what misery they bring on others. They are achievers. They are given the accolades of the group.

On the other side of it, we see devoted nurses whose self-giving service to others is scarcely recognized and scantily rewarded. The same is often true for teachers of the young, servants of the handicapped, keepers of the peace. Who praises the farmers on whom we depend for food and the nameless volunteers who contribute immeasurably to the public good? We praise the glitter and not the gold. We’re impressed by “hype” and self-display more than by humaneness and service. Perhaps nothing is so damning an indictment of us as the false heroes we create and the real ones we ignore.

How would any of us know what is really worthy of praise? Is there any objective standard? Yes, there is. We find it in God’s Word, in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and in the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible points us first of all to the One who uniquely deserves our worship, the true and living God. At the same time it exposes the pretensions of all our idols. And in doing that, it also shows us what qualities in human life are praiseworthy and what are not. In this remarkable passage of Scripture we’re thinking about today, Proverbs 31, we discover what is genuinely admirable in a woman.

In this instance, as we’ve seen, it is a wife and mother being praised by her husband and children. I surely want to include such persons, but I want to spread the net more widely. Some women fit this pattern, but not all. Perhaps you are unmarried. You may some day have a husband, or you may not. What will be worthwhile, “praisable” in you, whether you marry or not? Perhaps you are married and have no children. Perhaps you’re divorced or separated. Perhaps you have become a widow. What about you could be worthy of admiration and acclaim? What in you ought to bring the favor of people and the smile of God? Let’s find out.

WHAT MATTERS LITTLE

First, notice here a couple of surprises. “Beauty” and “charm” are not on the list. The passage in praise of woman says nothing about her appearance, her beauty of face and form, her physical attractiveness. The only thing we read is this: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.”

These qualities are not despised, of course, by the biblical writers. All beauty is to be rejoiced in as God’s creation. Everything appealing is surely His gift. But charm and beauty are definitely viewed here as having less value than the other qualities mentioned. They can also be called “deceitful” because they often promise more than they deliver.

Some women appear beautiful and desirable but inwardly are not. A closer acquaintance casts them in a different light. Their value as prospective wives may be more apparent than real. That loveliness so often praised by poets and suitors may mask an inner emptiness. The person inside has neither the heart nor the power to bless a husband or a household. The beauty and charm are vain not only because they swiftly fade but also because they easily mislead.

Here’s another mild surprise. You would think that this ancient book, the Bible, would declare a woman’s place to be in the home and highlight only her retiring, domestic ways. But the lady commended in Proverbs 31 is a business woman. “She makes linen garments,” we read, “and sells them… She delivers girdles to the merchant.” She’s an entrepreneur, as well. “She considers a field and buys it. With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard.” The range of her responsibilities given here is breathtaking. This by any measure is a working woman. She’s praised for her shrewdness, her industry, her creativity.

But to say that and nothing more would convey a wrong impression. The lady lauded here is not a career woman in the sense that her business operations are the chief focus of her life. The work she does has little to do with pursuing power and prestige. She never appears as an independent operator aiming to maximize herself. All her prodigious activities are in the context of relationship. She is in the most profound sense a “people person.”

WHAT MATTERS MUCH

Here are three prominent features in her dealings with people: her thoughtfulness toward loved ones, her helpfulness to those in need, and her kindness in speaking to all. These are priceless qualities. This way of living is worthy of praise.

Think now of her thoughtfulness toward loved ones. The heart of her husband, we read, can safely trust in her because she is utterly loyal. She does him good and not harm all the days of her life. When it comes to her children and her household, she sees to it that they are warmly clad and well fed. She anticipates their needs. She’s always on the lookout for ways to support them. In all her activities, she is thinking of and working for those whom she loves.

But her care for others goes beyond the family circle. Listen: “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” Behind all her industry and self- discipline, her long hours of productive toil, is a great desire to do people good. She wants to have enough for her family, but more than that. She seeks to share with those who have little. When people are down on their luck, brought low by adversity, she reaches out toward them. She seeks to lift them up, to give them hope, to do them good. Her home is not a castle for the well-to-do, closed off against common people. It’s a refuge, a house of welcome, a place of help for all who may need it.

And, for those in her household and all others she meets, she has a characteristic way of speaking. Listen: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching [or “the law”] of kindness is on her tongue.” The book of Proverbs has much to say about our words, sometimes pointing out how destructive they can be. Harsh words, we read, are “like sword thrusts.” “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Sometimes, according to these sages, wives can speak to their families in ways that are less than gracious. Listen, “It is better to live in the corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” A wife’s quarreling, we read, is like “a continual dripping of rain.”

Gentle, considerate speech, however, is highly acclaimed. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver… The lips of the righteous feed many… A soft answer turns away wrath … A “good word” makes people “glad.” The woman pictured here speaks in that way. She speaks with wisdom, offering practical counsel to her family and friends. The law of kindness is on her tongue. Kindness keeps the door of her lips lest anything bitter and vindictive, sarcastic and cruel come forth.

Those then are the fruits of her character. Notice how they apply, not only to wives and mothers, but to all of us. You don’t need to be married to be thoughtful toward the people closest to you. You don’t need to be a housewife or a mother to care about needy people and reach out to them. And whoever you are, weighing your words and speaking kindly is always appropriate.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

But there’s more to be said. The best I’ve kept for last. Without what I’m about to say, this description of an ideal woman could be downright depressing. Who measures up? Who fits the picture? But there’s something else about this lady, something that helps to explain all the rest. There’s a root that creates this fruit. This is, we learn, a woman who “fears the Lord.”

We’ve been noticing as we look at the Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is not like fright or terror. Respect and reverence come closer to defining it. To fear the Lord is to trust in Him with all our hearts, to hope in His great mercy, to delight in His commandments. It means to take Him seriously, to live as though in His presence. To fear the Lord is to set Him always before us and make Him the center of our lives.

A woman’s relationship to God is the secret of her inner beauty. Fearing the covenant-God makes for loyalty in the covenants of family. In Him she finds both the pattern and the power for compassionate helping and the transformed heart to speak with real love.

This lady may or may not be beautiful to behold. She may or may not exude charm. She may or may not dress with taste and style. The heart of the matter is: Does she trust in and obey the Lord? Does she have a deepening personal relationship with God through Christ? Does she live her whole life to please Him? She may be praised for many other things, but people who acclaim her for those are really recognizing this: her life has been touched by the Lord’s love. Oh, that’s what I would urge upon you, to welcome into your heart and life this Savior Jesus Christ, who loved you and gave Himself for you, and to receive the gift of His Spirit, to empower you to live a life of genuine love.

If I could encourage you in a worthy ambition today, it would be this: to be a woman (or a man) who fears the Lord, who is thoughtful of loved ones, helpful to those in need, kindly to all. Perhaps you’ll be recognized for that and duly honored. Perhaps not. But your life, never doubt it, will be worthy of praise. And whether recognized or not here, eventually, when the day is done and the secrets known, you will be. A voice will come from Someone like a family member, but nearer, with a grace that sees uniqueness in each one, “Many have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

PRAYER: Father, we think of people right now whom we would rise up and call blessed because of the love that has shone forth from their lives. May all of us today so trust in Christ, so be filled with His Spirit, that we may live lives that are worthy of praise and show forth the Lord’s faithful love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.