Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Today might be a little dangerous. You know, in our current message series we have been talking about women who lead us. From the very first woman in the Bible we have explored how women have set a bold example by leading us all in the faith. Today, I might wreck it all, because today, I want to talk about the ideal woman.
Throughout history, society has had differing views on the ideal woman. We different visions of the ideal woman in art from cave paintings, to ancient Greece, through the renaissance, and even today in advertising. Each culture has put its own stamp one what it wants from women. Today, Photoshop allows any woman to crafted and formed into what the business thinks it’s ideal woman looks like—to often these expectations are unrealistic and sometimes odd.
On top of that it is often men who are the ones setting these standards for beauty and what makes a good women. I think about advertisements in magazines from the mid 20th century. Vacuum cleaners were sold with pictures of women taking care of their home while the man rests in the easy chair. Even today, we find that commercials for cleaning products feature more female cleaners than men.
Today I want to share with you what the Bible says about the ideal woman. The problem is, I don’t think any of us are going to measure up to what the Bible has to say. And this is dangerous part, I think some of us might go crazy if we start looking for to do list to be ideal. Here’s what we find in Proverbs 31:
10 A competent wife, how does one find her?
Her value is far above pearls.
11 Her husband entrusts his heart to her,
and with her he will have all he needs.
12 She brings him good and not trouble
all the days of her life.
13 She seeks out wool and flax;
she works joyfully with her hands.
14 She is like a fleet of merchant ships,
bringing food from a distance.
15 She gets up while it is still night,
providing food for her household,
even some for her female servants.
Well of course her husband’s heart is safe with her, she is doing everything for him. Getting up early to buy food and the cook the meal. Making clothes for him from the finest wool. On top of that, she’s happy about it.
16 She surveys a field and acquires it;
from her own resources, she plants a vineyard.
17 She works energetically;
her arms are powerful.
18 She realizes that her trading is successful;
she doesn’t put out her lamp at night.
At least all of her work isn’t about her husband. She also buys land herself and starts a small business. So, not only does manage her husband and her household, she is the CEO of her own company. We already know she wakes up before dawn, now we see that she works deep into the night.
19 She puts her hands to the spindle;
her palms grasp the whorl.
20 She reaches out to the needy;
she stretches out her hands to the poor.
21 She doesn’t fear for her household when it snows,
because they are all dressed in warm[c] clothes.
22 She makes bedspreads for herself;
fine linen and purple are her clothing.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates
when he sits with the elders of the land.
Now we get a little insight on this husband of hers. Maybe he is working just as hard as his wife. Nope—while she is doing all this work, he hanging out shooting the bull at the city gates. No wonder he is proud.
24 She makes garments and sells them;
she supplies sashes to traders.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
she is confident about the future.
26 Her mouth is full of wisdom;
kindly teaching is on her tongue.
27 She is vigilant over the activities of her household;
she doesn’t eat the food of laziness.
28 Her children bless her;
her husband praises her:
29 “Many women act competently,
but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Let her share in the results of her work;
let her deeds praise her in the city gates.
Wow, that’s a lot. Now, some will have you believe that this passage from Proverbs 31 describes everything a woman needs to do. The ideal woman needs to cater the needs of a man and of children. The ideal woman needs to work hard and worry about her own desires. She needs also have a job where she makes money and even helps people outside of her family. People love giving overs advice about how to live their lives.
You could probably go through this list and make a checklist of everything a woman should do. But if we look at each of the things this woman does, the list of expectations is just too long. I don’t think anyone could even come close. There is no way that someone could go down the list and accomplish each thing that is laid out here. No single person could even try. Not only that, I don’t know if anyone would want to try. Who wants to work late into the night and wake early in the morning all the while your husband is just hanging with his friends.
And if this is the way you started to measure your life, it would be easy to become pretty depressed. There is no way that I can do any of this. I must not be a good person; I must not be a good woman. I’ve got nothing going for me. I must not have enough faith. So if we see this passage as a check list for the perfect woman, I think we would all be lost and we would all be left with nothing but worry—worry that we don’t measure up or that we aren’t good enough.
But then, we have the words of Jesus. Jesus was teaching a large crowd of people and told them (Matthew 6:25-34)
don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes?
Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31
Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Jesus instructs us not to worry, but how are we not to worry when no one can live up to the checklist that we find in Proverbs 31? If people are really supposed to do all this, how are we not to worry? There is no one, no woman or man that could live up to this checklist.
Since it is pretty clear that no-one could live up to all of these tasks, for very long at least, I want to suggest something. Perhaps, even though Proverbs 31 says it describes the “capable wife,” what if it is not a checklist for women at all? What if, instead of seeing the woman as a role model for how to be the ideal woman, we instead see the woman in Proverbs 31 as the ultimate image of a God who provides for us as Jesus says God would.
Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will wear or eat. He says that the birds are fed and clothed by God and that God will do the same with humans. And this woman in Proverbs 31 diligently sews the clothes and prepares the food for the others. The woman in Proverbs 31 is working to plan for the future for sustenance and grace and so it is with God. Jesus tells us that God knows our needs and if we desire God “all these things will be given to you.”
Perhaps it’s not a woman’s job to worry and to take care of everything, perhaps it is God’s job to be the provider of all our needs. Perhaps it is God who is responsible for worrying over the to-do lists and the things that we have to do.
I’ve always had a hard time not worrying. I will often stay up at night going over the list of things that I need to be doing; the list only seems to get longer. Maybe I have worried even more because Jesus tells us not to worry. But what if I had this image of God from Proverbs 31, of a God who brings us good and not trouble, of a God who gets up in the early dawn to prepare food for God’s family, of a God who surveys the resources and plans for our future even while we sleep, of a God who reaches out and cares for the needy, of a God who is confident about the future, of a God who is always working for the benefit of God’s family. Now, if I have that image of God, maybe I wouldn’t worry so much.
As we have been looking at women who lead us, perhaps God is the chief among these leaders. Perhaps before looking at any of these women who teach us powerful lessons of bold faith, we must first look to God. And realize what they realized. That all boldness and faith is only possible because of the provision of God. That if I trust in God, God will take care of things.
So as we think about our lives, our to-do lists, even how we want the church to be active in the community, it’s important to remember that God is the one who is always working on our behalf. God is the one who is working to care for us and for our community. So, when we wake up and when we get to work, God has already been out ahead of us taking care of things.
Today, know what God is going ahead of you. Know that God is working on your behalf. Whether you are a woman or a man, don’t worry about trying to do it all—God is there. God will provide; God will work with you.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.