Marriage (Proverbs 31)
Godly marriages are trusting marriages. Godly trust is only possible when both spouses are Christ-like in their submission and sacrifice to each other.
In The Beginning
The first marriage in the Bible occurs at Creation, between Adam and Eve.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. – Genesis 1:26-27
Right after Adam and Eve’s wedding, God says:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:24
I do not have time to unpack this in detail. However, I want to draw some things from this text to provide interpretive lenses for other scriptures on marriage.
- Men reflect God’s image through masculinity.
- Women reflect God’s image through femininity.
- Marriage reflects God’s image through unity.
- All of these image reflectors are metaphors, not the point.
- The nature of God is the point.
Not long after Adam and Eve’s wedding, sin came into the world. Sin leads to distortions of masculinity, femininity, unity, and any other reflections of the image of God.
All people, everywhere, as created beings, reflect the image of God. This is true even after the fall, but the image is tainted by sin.
Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, redeems those distorted images. For Christians, the goal is not only to reflect the sin-distorted image, but the Christ-redeemed image.
Godly marriages are trusting. As husband and wife become more Christ-like, their unity increases. One piece of becoming Christ-like is to love like He loves.
Christ and the Church
Using marriage as a metaphor to help us understand Jesus’ love for His people, Paul says this:
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:23-33
This passage is confusing because it uses a mixed metaphor. In one metaphor, Christ is the physical head of the body. In the other metaphor, Christ is the corporate head of the church. In yet another metaphor, Christ is a groom to a bride. All of these metaphors are meant to show us how Jesus uses his authority, his headship, in a loving way.
Remember that Marriage is the metaphor. Jesus’ love for His people is the point. It can be tempting to mix those up, which only results in confusion.
So let’s take this in smaller chunks.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross for us, His people. He gave himself up for His bride. That act of sacrifice started in the Garden of Gethsemane with an act of submission. He prayed that “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).
An act of submission started Jesus’ work on the cross. An act of sacrifice completed it. Submission and sacrifice are equally valid ways to reflect Jesus’ love for us to your spouse.
Christ exercises authority for the benefit of His body and His bride. “That he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor…”
Remember that the great wedding in this relationship does not happen until the book of Revelation. For now, we are in the engagement stage. Planning the wedding. What bride ever would argue with a brighter, whiter dress? Or fancier hair and nails, and spa treatments before her wedding?
Christ plays his “headship card” to spoil His bride to get her ready for the wedding. Men, if you ever play the headship card in your marriage, this is the example you are to follow.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
Just as we eat, sleep, and exercise to care for our bodies, so Christ cares for the Church. So men should care for their wives – their basic needs of sustenance and health must be met by your work.
Just as Jesus plays his headship card to ensure that He meets the basic needs of the Church, so we must use our headship to meet the basic needs of our families.
Jesus does not play the headship card so that he has the final say in all decisions. He does not disregard the strengths or weaknesses of the Church. He exercises His authority for only two reasons: to meet basic needs, and then to exceed those basic needs with great blessings.
The Ideal Couple
It is hard to follow Jesus’ example in Marriage because in His earthly life He was never married. Jesus’ marriage to the Church is spiritual, corporate, and different in many ways from a flesh and blood marriage. So God also gave us flesh and blood examples to follow.
In my life, I have often heard about Proverbs 31 on Mother’s Day. In that context, the message usually thanks mothers for being like the woman in Proverbs 31. The call to action is to husbands to love and appreciate their wives; and to children to love and appreciate their mothers – which is a great thing.
Other times when pastors preach from Proverbs 31, the call to action is to women to be “Wonder Woman.”
In the first part of Proverbs 31, we have King “Lemuel” writing down wisdom passed to him from his mother. Scholars disagree on just who Lemuel is; some think he is King Solomon. Others think he is a foreigner.
You may already know that Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba. Bathsheba was King David’s wife only through adultery and murder.
At a minimum, if King Lemuel is not King Solomon, the purpose of Proverbs 31 is to provide a template for a godly, trusting marriage.
At most, if King Lemuel is King Solomon, the purpose of Proverbs 31 is to provide that template and to show an example of how God redeems relationships from sin.
Through following this template, we can have more godly marriages. We can have more trusting marriages. Through having more godly and trusting marriages, our experience and understanding of the love of Jesus for us, His people, will increase.
This flesh and blood marriage is a great example of submission and sacrifice. It is a great example of trust. It is a great example of godliness in marriage.
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
A complementary marriage is characterized by trust. Trust is both offered and earned. We get to look at this couple many years into their marriage. But we know that trust develops over time. Trust is risky. We see that their risky trust is rewarded with “no lack of gain.”
A woman like this is incredibly hard to find. Many men are shallow, and look only for charm or beauty. Many women want to deliver charm and beauty because that is what gets them noticed. Few men look for character, and the fear of the Lord, so few women deliver it. This man was wise. He looked for character and the fear of the Lord. He found a treasure more precious than jewels because he was not fooled by a fake.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
She works HARD, both inside the home and outside it. Again, because he trusts her. He encourages and empowers her. He gets to eat well because she “provides food for her household.”
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She is fashionably dressed and fit. Both in character and body. He does not complain when she goes shopping. She has the character of self-control, not to overspend. When she comes home and tries on her new clothes, she looks good, and he likes it.
When she goes out, she does not look depressed. She has a good sense of humor. She exudes joy. People in public see her as dressed with strength. They hear her laughter and happiness and hope for the future. Anyone seeing this woman would know that she is loved and appreciated at home.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She is generous and charitable. Not only with their possessions but also with her knowledge and wisdom. He does not complain when she gives. He appreciates it. He does not tear her down. He does not assault her credibility. He builds her up.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her home is well maintained and well decorated. He fixes things without complaining, or he pays for them to be fixed. We also get the idea she is just as comfortable working with contractors or laborers as he is. She is business savvy, she is tool savvy, and she is not going to be taken for a ride. He trusts her a lot. Because he trusts her, he does not have to worry about being cold.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
Up until now you might have been wondering what the man does outside the home. The supportive husband is not merely a cheerleader for his wife. He is a businessman (the gates were the place of business). He also has some political pull “when he sits among the elders of the land.”
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.”
I suspect that this man’s praise for his wife is not only given in private. He sets an example for his children by building up his wife in public. Because of his example, they do the same. I think it is this part that makes this such a great Mother’s Day text. Again, if that is all you take from this text, you are missing a lot.
Men – work hard against your selfishness. Pray that God would help you to love through sacrifice. Like Jesus. Trust your wife to respect you.
Women – work hard against your selfishness. Pray that God would help you to love through submission. Like Jesus. Trust your husband to care for you.
All – Surround yourself with other people in Godly marriages. Find marriages characterized by unity and trust. Being around them will help you in your own marriage. Being around them, seeing their love and trust for each other will help you have a greater understanding and experience of Jesus’ love for you.