A Fresh Look at the Proverbs 31 Woman

Jesus in the templeThis week I have to come up with a sermon for Mother’s Day. This is will be my 28th Mother’s Day message, and that’s a problem.

There just aren’t that many ways of saying, “Mom’s are great! Go, Mom’s!” And there aren’t that many Scriptures to draw from. I’ve not tried to count, but trust me, there aren’t 28.

Especially when you consider that we use the ones about Mary the mother of Jesus at either Christmas or Easter.

The one that is used the most is probably Proverbs 31, from which someone coined the term, “The Proverbs 31 Woman.” There’s even something called “Proverbs 31 Ministries” for women.

Here’s the part that is used for Mother’s Day sermons:

A capable 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. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 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 opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

(Proverbs 31:10-29 NRS)

I’m just guessing that if most pastors were women, this would never make it into a Mother’s Day sermon. Come on, it’s tough enough to be a mother without holding this woman up as the ideal of the Godly wife.

Oh, wait, this isn’t the ideal wife, this one is merely a capable wife. Thanks, New Revised Standard translators! Maybe we ought to stick with the King James Version’s virtuous woman or the New American Standard’s excellent wife.

Because if this woman is merely capable, then what would a truly excellent wife look like? Look at her: she doesn’t just go to the store and buy clothes, she first makes cloth out of raw wool and flax, then makes the clothes for her family! And they are of such high quality, she makes some more and sells them at the market.

But that’s not all. She purchases exotic foods from faraway lands. She buys real estate, then turns the land into a vineyard. She rarely sleeps, is never idle, and never just sits around. She not only instructs the servants—she has servants?—but outworks them. She even helps out the poor, having a charitable spirit.

So how are you doing, average harried mother? Planted any vineyards lately?

I know that all of these Mother’s Day messages are well-intentioned, meant to praise mothers everywhere and encourage them in their roles as wives and mothers. And I’m not throwing off on these other guys, because I’ve preached these sermons as well.

But since most sermons are preached by men, I wonder if any of us have ever stopped to consider how these sermons truly make a woman feel. Truth is, few women that I know feel that they are doing that great a job. They feel inadequate.

I see some women who are obviously doing a pretty good job of being a mom, yet to hear them tell it, they not only don’t feel that they are good at it, they secretly—and sometimes not so secretly—are convinced that they are terrible mothers.

That their shortcomings are going to ruin their children.

So the sermon that talks about the importance of being a godly woman—ladies, how do you feel you measure up? Do you find yourself struggling to find time for a 15-minute quiet time of prayer and Bible study? Do you find yourself ever snapping at your children or husband? Would a godly woman do that? A Proverbs 31 woman?

Or the sermon that says that the ultimate purpose of a mother is to instill a love of God in their children, how are you doing on that one? Oh, you may be doing all right when they’re young, but it’s not at all unusual for children to grow up and drop out of church, so a lot of you must be failing at your ultimate purpose. A Proverbs 31 woman’s children grow up to serve the Lord, even while they’re in college, right?

Well, let me give you a little insight into Proverbs 31. It doesn’t begin with this description of the virtuous/excellent/capable wife. Here’s how it begins:

The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: No, my son! No, son of my womb! No, son of my vows! Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.

Proverbs 31:1-3

This description comes from a guy’s mother, and the first, most essential thing she tells him is to stay away from women! “No woman is good enough for my boy!”

It’s Ray’s mother Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond criticizing his wife Debra!

She’s telling him, “No, don’t do it! But son, if you insist on finding a wife, here’s what you should look for,” and then writing a job description that few if any women are going to be able to fulfill.

Look, I’m all for high standards and striving to be the best you can be, but I don’t want to give any more Mother’s Day messages that inadvertently shine a light on a woman’s inadequacies. Culture does a good enough job of that without the church jumping on the bandwagon.

So for all of you moms out there who are afraid that you are doing a terrible job of being a mother, who are convinced that your kids would probably be better off with someone else as their mother, let me ask you this:

Have you ever gone on a long trip, headed home, and after driving for a full day, realized you left your only kid behind?

Looked in the backseat and said, “Hey, where’s little Johnny?”

Because that’s what Jesus’ mother did. Mary and Joseph, heading back to Nazareth, leaving Jesus behind. Check it out: Luke 2:41-50.

It’s not like they had 10 kids and just miscounted. Even if they did, this one is kinda special, being the Son of God and everything.

You’d have thought they at least would have made sure that they had him.

But they didn’t. Mary and Joseph lost the Savior of the World.

Kinda makes you feel good about your parenting skills, huh?

So here’s a couple of encouraging thoughts to send you on your way.


Do the best you can.

That’s all anyone can expect. Do the best you can. There are no guarantees, except maybe the guarantee that you won’t do it perfectly. You are going to make mistakes.

Some of your mistakes will turn out all right. And sometimes you will do everything right, and it will still blow up in your face. There are no guarantees.

There are no seven steps that you can take that will guarantee your child will grow up and love God and serve him and do everything he or she is supposed to do.

There’s this pesky thing called free will that keeps getting in the way.

But no child ever grew up and criticized their parents for doing the best they could.


Love your husbands as best as you can, and love your kids as best as you can.

There are a lot of things as a wife and a parent that you can’t control, but you can control this one. Love them as best as you can. Love them as unconditionally as you can.

Show Grace

No woman ever married a perfect man; your husband needs lots of grace. No man ever married a perfect woman; you need lots of grace.

And no mother ever had perfect kids. They are going to mess up, and if you really want to mess your kids up, be skimpy on grace.

Parenting requires a lot of grace.

Oh, and on the grace part, show yourself some. Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards. You are going to make mistakes, lots of them, some of them will be whoppers. It’s OK to apologize to your kids. They are pretty forgiving, and very resilient.

So give yourself a good measure of grace as well.

Because, after all, you’ve never lost the Son of God.

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