The Proverbs 31 woman has been received with an inaccurate, imperfect blend of mystery and misjudgment. What if instead of being threatened by this “superwoman” we studied her in light of what God’s Word actually says about her? The biblical vision for virtue is entirely breathtaking because it is founded upon the character and nature of Jesus Christ. Tune in to hear Leslie shed light on the real heart behind the Proverbs 31 woman, and how you too can become a valiant woman of godly character!
Leslie Ludy: Hey everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages. Today we’re going to tackle the question: Does Proverbs 31 present an unrealistic standard for today’s women? And the reason that I wanted to tackle this subject is because I have heard so many women who are Christians subtly mock, or be sarcastic towards, the standards presented in Proverbs 31. I remember a woman once saying, “Hey, I’ll become the Proverbs 31 woman as soon as I get all those Proverbs 31 maids! This is a woman who has all these servant girls working for her!” This lady was saying, “I’m not going to be a Proverbs 31 woman unless I can get a whole bunch of servant girls to do my housework for me.”
I remember reading a Christian book that actually mocked Proverbs 31. Basically, the conclusion was any woman who lived this way would be completely frazzled and exhausted and never have time for herself. Even for me, many years of my life I actually avoided Proverbs 31 because I was afraid that it would only make me feel guilty if I read Proverbs 31, and it would only remind me of all the ways that I was falling short of godly womanhood. But a few years ago, I started to take a closer look at this chapter in the Bible, and it was truly life changing for me.
Taking a Closer Look
Leslie Ludy: In the very first part of Proverbs 31 where it goes into a virtuous woman, it says, “Who can find a virtuous woman” (Prov. 31:10, KJV)? The actual meaning of the word “virtuous” is valiant, mighty, and strong. In fact, it’s the very same word used to describe King David where it says, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is…a mighty man of valor, a man of war, and the LORD is with him” (1 Sam. 6:18). That very same description — a mighty man of valor, and a man of war — is applied to the Proverbs 31 woman! Modern Christian books for women often try to imply, “This isn’t even possible for us to become Proverbs 31 women, so don’t even try! You’ll only end up burned out and exhausted if you even try to live this way.” But think about this: the chief word that God uses to describe the Proverbs 31 woman is the word strength. It’s mentioned no less than three times in addition to that description of valiant and mighty in the beginning of the chapter.
And the Proverbs 31 woman does a lot more than just prepare food and embroider fine linen. I think a lot of us glance at Proverbs 31, and we think of this domestic diva who is cooking a sewing all day long. But a closer study of the Proverbs 31 woman reminds me a lot of the set apart women that I have studied throughout Christian history. Women like Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael, Catherine Booth, Elizabeth Fry—women who sacrificially poured out their lives for the poor, rescued the oppressed from their enemies, set captives free, and transformed entire countries by their valiant living testimony of God’s power.
The Character of a Godly Woman
Leslie Ludy: So let’s take a quick look at some of the amazing characteristics that mark the heroic femininity that is outlined in Proverbs 31. She lives faithfully for her husband even before she meets him, that’s in Proverbs 31:12. She has a rich supply of resources, that’s in Proverbs 31:14. She’s a diligent and excellent leader, that’s in Proverbs 31:15. She’s an excellent business woman, that can be found in Proverbs 31:16, 24. She’s physically strong, and she’s continually gaining strength, that’s in Proverbs 31:17. She’s energetic and fulfilled in her work, Proverbs 31:18. She’s a rescuer of the weak, that’s in Proverbs 31:20. She is fearless, that’s in Proverbs 31:21. She’s dignified and dresses like royalty, that’s in Proverbs 31:22, 25. She helps her husband gain honor and respect, that’s in Proverbs 31:23. She’s an excellent teacher and an excellent speaker, that’s in Proverbs 31:26. She garners praise and respect from others, that’s in Proverbs 31:28-30. She fears God, that’s in Proverbs 31:30. And she has a fruitful life and a stellar reputation, that’s in Proverbs 31:31.
Leslie Ludy: So let’s take a quick look at some of the amazing characteristics that mark the heroic femininity that is outlined in Proverbs 31:
- She lives faithfully for her husband even before she meets him (Prov. 31:12).
- She has a rich supply of resources (Prov. 31:14).
- She’s a diligent and excellent leader (Prov. 31:15).
- She’s an excellent business woman (Prov. 31:16, 24).
- She’s physically strong, and she’s continually gaining strength (Prov. 31:17).
- She’s energetic and fulfilled in her work (Prov. 31:18).
- She’s a rescuer of the weak (Prov. 31:20).
- She is fearless (Prov. 31:21).
- She’s dignified and dresses like royalty (Prov. 31:22, 25).
- She helps her husband gain honor and respect (Prov. 31:23).
- She’s an excellent teacher and an excellent speaker (Prov. 31:26).
- She garners praise and respect from others (Prov. 31:28-30).
- She fears God (Prov. 31:30).
- She has a fruitful life and a stellar reputation (Prov. 31:31).
When you look at all of those qualities, you realize this is not a weak, timid, overwhelmed, exhausted, or frazzled woman. Rather, this woman is an incredible picture of triumphant, womanly strength. The Proverbs 31 woman lives a miraculous, super-human, victorious, fulfilling, poured-out life.
The True Source of Strength
Leslie Ludy: Now, this is certainly not possible in our own strength! It is a supernatural, impossible life. But the important principle for us to remember here is that what God has called us to, He equips us for. It’s easy for us to look at Proverbs 31 and think, Well, that’s not really what God expects of us because it’s just too high of a standard; this must just be some nice poetry for us to read in the Bible. But God lays it out very specifically that this is the type of triumphant womanhood He has called us to, and what we oftentimes miss is that He is ready to give us the strength to live it out.
Instead of mocking Proverbs 31 womanhood, I think we should be asking the question, “God, how do you desire to equip me to live out this amazing calling that you have placed on my life?” So I’d love to share some key principles that I have learned about Proverbs 31 womanhood.
First, we need to tap into His strength. It is certainly true that if you and I try to go out and become the Proverbs 31 woman in our own strength, we will certainly end up frazzled, exhausted, and burned out. But we’re not called to live that way in our own strength. God has called us to live a supernatural life — to live out an existence that other women would never even attempt — but it is impossible in our own strength. The power to fulfill the high calling on our life was purchased by the blood of our Heroic King, Jesus Christ. He doesn’t just give us the standard and say, “Okay, rise up to it!” He actually purchased the power for us to live this out by shedding His very blood.
Now, I love this from Proverbs 31:10, it says, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (KJV). Think about what a powerful analogy that is — Jesus paid the ultimate price for His Bride. He bought us with His blood which is so much more precious than rubies. This purchase was not just for the forgiveness of our sins, but to enable us to live a valiant, triumphant life that we can never live on our own. It’s a life that really showcases His stunning beauty, strength, and glory.
So instead of rolling our eyes at Proverbs 31 and dismissing it as an impossible standard, we need to recognize and embrace the supernatural power that Christ equips us with to live out this calling. It’s a life that may shock the world around us, but it’s a life that is equipped and empowered by the grace and strength of God. So we must tap into His strength. There is grace available for what He has called us to, most of us don’t even recognize that it’s there, and we don’t ask for it.
The Simple Starting Point
Leslie Ludy: Secondly, we need to learn how to come to the Cross and understand the power of the Cross. Becoming a heroic, Proverbs 31 woman does not come through striving but through surrender. I’m going to say that again because it is so key. Becoming a heroic, Proverbs 31 woman does not come through striving but through surrender. Which means that only the transforming power of Christ can enable us to live this victorious life. Therefore, we must exchange our self-effort for complete reliance on Him.
I love what Corrie ten Boom says about this with her statement, “When I try, I fail. When I trust, He succeeds.” So instead of making a detailed checklist of all the things we have to somehow achieve in order to be the woman that God has called us to be, we need to lay our life at the foot of the Cross without reserve — holding nothing back. God doesn’t need human talent or merit in order to build us into a heroic, Christ-centered woman. He just needs a fully surrendered heart. He needs us to be ready to become a conduit of His divine power.
So I encourage you to take some time to study the lives of women throughout history who have dramatically impacted the world for the Kingdom of God—Elizabeth Fry, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor, Corrie ten Boom, Gladys Aylward—women like that. Notice that it wasn’t their accomplishments, their efforts, or their qualifications that enabled them to become world-changers for the Gospel. It was their childlike faith in a big God — their absolute, whole-hearted surrender to Him.
A Heavenly Vision for Virtue
Leslie Ludy: And thirdly, we need to gain God’s vision for femininity. I mentioned earlier that I used to feel somewhat suffocated by Proverbs 31 because I had been around a lot of Christians who gave me their own perspective or version of what they thought the Proverbs 31 woman needed to be. It basically meant staying at home all day long, doing laundry, and cooking in the kitchen, and really having no other impact on the world outside of domestic service.
As I took a closer look at Proverbs 31 I realized, yes, this woman is called to serve her husband and her children if she is married and has children. Raising children and guiding the home is a high priority in God’s Kingdom, but if you look at the entirety of Scripture, and even at Proverbs 31, you realize that that is not the only priority that God has for our lives. Raising children is just one of the heroic things that the Proverbs 31 woman does. She also reaches out to the poor and stretches out her hands to the needy. She’s a leader in her community. She teaches others about Christ. She teachers others about God. She diligently sows and reaps for the Kingdom of God.
If you look at 1 Timothy 5:10, where he (Paul) is talking about the virtuous widow it’s very, very similar. Bringing up children is one of the qualities that marks her godly life, but she also excels in good works, in lodging strangers, in washing the saints’ feet, and relieving the afflicted. Her life is an example of world-changing, heroic femininity.
I remember reading the story of a quaker woman named Elizabeth Fry who had eight or nine children, and yet she single-handedly transformed the prison system in all of England, and then eventually in all of Europe simply by making herself available to live a poured out life. She was excellent with her home, with her husband, with her children, and yet God took her beyond that to change the lives of prisoners all around the world.
Catherine Booth was very similar. She and her husband William founded the Salvation Army, and she raised a large number of children. She was an excellent wife and mother, and yet she was an excellent minister of the Gospel, and one who reached out to the poor and transformed many lives with the truth of Jesus Christ.
Who was the first person that Jesus appeared to after His resurrection, and what did He tell her to do? Just think about this: He came to a woman, and He told her to go tell the Good News to the disciples. I love that because it seemed to seal something that He accomplished through the Cross which is found in Galatians 3:26, 28. It says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…” (NIV) “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Now that doesn’t negate the importance of a married woman honoring her husband’s position as the head of a family, or honoring a man’s role as a leader of the church, or being an excellent keeper of the home. But it definitely showcases that a woman’s significance in the Kingdom of God does extend far beyond the role of merely a homemaker and a wife. Whether you are single or married, God has a significant purpose for your life as a woman in His Kingdom, and that purpose includes proclaiming the Gospel in this lost world and becoming His hands and feet to those in need of a Rescuer.
So if you, like me, have ever felt stifled by portrayals of Proverbs 31 womanhood that would limit what God can do through a woman’s life, then ask God to give you His vision for femininity. Take some time to study the world-changing women in the Bible including: Sarah, Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Rahab, Elisabeth, Mary, Lydia, Tabitha, Lois, Eunice, and many others! Read Proverbs 31 with a fresh perspective, and ask God to show you what He wants to do through your life as you fully yield to Him.
Leslie Ludy: So some final thoughts that I want to share: a Proverbs 31 woman isn’t a perfect woman. Rather, she is surrendered to the only One who is. This is not a matter of rising up to an impossible standard; it’s simply a matter of laying your life at His feet and saying, “Lord, I can’t; but you can!”
I hope you have enjoyed this episode of the Set Apart Girl Podcast. I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!