I will first acknowledge that this is a tremendously tender topic within the Church - boil yourself some tea as I venture to tread through these delicate waters.
Throughout my studies I have found there are five types of Biblical Literature:
- Narrative | Story
- Epistle | Letter
- Poetry | Art
- Prophecy | Prediction
- Wisdom Literature | Advice
All Scripture is paramount. All Scripture is true, but not all Scripture is intended to be read in the same way. Different kinds of literature have different expectations. In the same way that you would read Henry Longfellow differently than you read C.S. Lewis, you should expect different things from a Psalm than from Acts. Although I would love to delve into the complexity of each literary type, my main focus today will be on Wisdom Literature.
Wisdom literature is full of very helpful but very general advice. Many people can become confused when treating wisdom literature like a dogmatic truth. A classic example would be Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." While often read as a divine promise, this verse (as my mother can well attest) is only meant to be a piece of conventional wisdom.
Proverbs 31 naturally falls into the plethora of misconceptions surrounding wisdom literature, especially in that it is only directed towards woman. We are all to be Proverbs 31 wives. The Church as a whole is preparing to be the spotless bride of Christ - men and women alike.
The first aspect we observe in Proverbs 31 is kingship. Proverbs 31:1-2 refers to King Lemuel. History records nothing on King Lemuel however his name consists of two parts: Lemo (towards) and El (God). Therefore, it means towards God. This text is directed towards the elect and their not being distracted from God’s law by their flesh or worldly preoccupations.
Throughout the Proverb, we see again and again how we (as the Church) are all to be brides of Christ.
Verse 13 "She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands." shows that the Christ is preparing spiritual garments for others - we need to provide spiritual food and understanding for others. This is manifested not only by our prayers for others, but also in our on-going love and empathy for people.
Verse 14 "She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar." shows that our salvation comes from afar through the Holy Spirit. Our food is to do the will of Him who sent us (John. 4:34).
Verse 18 "She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night." exemplifies how we are to meditate on Scripture to determine our actions in how we should interact with one another, and in how we empower the Church. Her lamp not going out at night is a reference to the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 24). Through the diligence of the Proverbs 31 woman, the lamp remains consistently lit.
Verse 27 "She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." affirms that every detail of the home is done in humility and fear of God. She is diligent, and full of zeal to do God’s work.
In closing, Proverbs 31:31 "Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates." informs us that we are judged in accordance to what we do. The Church, as the bride of Christ, is empowered by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to edify other believers and ultimately bring glory to God's Kingdom.
Another misconception that's commonly thought -and sometimes preached- (pertaining especially to women) is that only when you're married can you be virtuous, only when you can perfectly care of your household & family, and only when you reach a certain age can you truly become a Proverbs 31 Woman. This makes many of us feel insecure in our ability to ever attain such a goal, an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and impossibility set's in and we accept the lie that's being presented to us: you're not enough.
The Proverbs 31 Woman (Bride of Christ) is able to be all that she is because of her committed and unwavering spiritual fervency. Not because she's perfect or because of her deeds, but because she lives a life entirely surrendered to God, the fruit of that relationship being evident in all areas of her life. She puts God first and trusts in Him - not her husband, family, beauty, or housework.