The Capable Wife in Relation to Her Family
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Proverbs and notice with me a portion of chapter 31. Our study is going to center around the positive victories related to family living and around some of the failures as they are portrayed in the Old Testament. In our next lesson, we will talk about the mistakes that some Bible mothers, and some fathers too, made in relation to their children. Perhaps we will be able to profit from those, because they are a matter of record and they are not going to change.

The “Know Your Child” study to which I have referred was delivered originally several years ago, and I have had folk say, “That worked while your children were growing, but here it is several years later. What is the record? Why don't you write a sequel so that we will have some idea whether it really works or not?”

Well, by God's grace it is working, and we trust that as far as our own children are concerned, it will not need to be changed. In relation to these Old Testament stories, the record is fixed, and the record will not need to be changed. We should be able to profit from what is here. Notice the paragraph which begins with verse 10:

Proverbs 31

10Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

This is a familiar passage of Scripture, I realize. I daresay all of you have heard it read many, many times on special occasions. This passage seems to be reserved in the minds of men for reading at the funeral services of motherly saints who have gone to be with the Lord. Some dear old grey haired lady has lived a long life, and the preacher feels that he needs to read some appropriate passage of Scripture, so he reads this passage. People tolerate the reading of it, but have no real idea of what is involved in what is read. They say, “Well, that fits her. She was a sweet old soul.” That is about all the good it is. If it isn't reserved for reading at funeral services, it is reserved for reading on Mothers' Day and the preacher as a rule reads it without much comment and says, “Thank God for godly mothers.” and that is about all it means to anyone.

The Virtuous Woman

I would suggest to you that this passage of Scripture is a portrait of the kind of wife that every man wants and the kind of wife every woman ought to strive to be. Did you notice how the paragraph begins?

Proverbs 31

10Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

Look at the word “virtuous” as I suggest to you that it is used only three times in the Old Testament. Although in our thinking we connect virtue with chastity, that is not the basic meaning of the word. This word “virtue” means the “exercise of force.” The translators of the Berkeley version, realizing that that is the basic sense of the word, translate this question, “Who can find a woman with strength of character?” The suggestion is not that there are none such; the suggestion is that the man who finds one is fortunate indeed. The Amplified version makes it even more down-to-earth by suggesting that the question could read, “Who can find a virtuous woman—that is, a capable, intelligent and virtuous woman?” So I am going to suggest to you that this is the story of a capable woman—a capable wife, if you please; and the passage says that the man who finds such a woman for his life's companion is fortunate indeed, for her price is far above rubies.

A Personal Illustration

I wear a wedding band that makes folk who look at it closely remark, “What a unique wedding band.” I say, “Thank you. It is unique. My wife designed it for me.” It is a circle of rubies on each side of which there is a band of gold. I never look at this wedding band without remembering God's goodness to me to give me a wife who is far above rubies. Now I realize, of course, that she is not the only one in the world. I make these references to her and to our family for purposes of illustration. You men who recognize that you have such a wife can thank God for His goodness to you. You wives who desire to be the kind of wife that God would have you be will find some suggestions in this chapter.

A Cultivated Spiritual Life

What kind of person is a capable woman who is far above rubies? I am going to suggest some characteristices which are found in this paragraph, not in the order in which they are found, but in the order in which perhaps they should be given. May I suggest to you as you glance at verse 17 that a capable wife is one who cultivates–notice the word “cultivates”–her spiritual life. I know of nothing more important than that. I know many dear women who are bogged down in the chores of household living to such an extent that they do not spend any time cultivating their spiritual lives. Consequently they are out of fellowship with the Lord, and I am sure you have been taught enough to realize that when an individual is out of fellowship with God, nothing is right. Everything goes wrong.

Strength of Character

Notice verse 17:

Proverbs 31

17She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

The loins are the source of strength. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. No, she does not spend her time, although there may not be anything particularly wrong with it, down at the local beauty salon. She is strengthening her arms for the task that she is going to face throughout the day; and if you will glance at verese 25 you will find this thought further emphasized by an explanation that the strength of which we are speaking is not the physical strength which might come from proper exercise and what have you. This is a figure of speech to describe the strength of character that is needed for her task:

Proverbs 31

25Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

I like the way the Amplified translation presents this verse:

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing; and her position is strong and secure. She rejoices over the future, the latter day, or time to come, knowing that she and her family are in readiness for it.

The Berkeley translation reads: “Strength and dignity clothe her, and she laughs at the future.” I rather like that, because so many dear wives and mothers are so bogged down in the burden of household chores that seem insurmountable; the work is never done. Do you feel that way—that the work is never done?

A Personal Illustration

We have had some help in our home through the years. One dear girl that we had for a while came to me one day and said, “Dr. Joe, I am going to quit.” I said, “Why are you going to quit? What is wrong? Did someone hurt your feelings?” She said, “No. But I work for Mrs. So-and so over here and I do my work and I go back the next day and all I need to do is blow off the dust. But I do my work here and I come back the next day and it is all to do over again.” Well, the difference is that in the household to which she referred there was only a husband and wife, and they were gone most of the time. In our household there were my wife and myself and seven children, so she had plenty of reason to feel that the work was never done.

Some of you feel that way many times, don't you? You feel that the work is never finished; it is never done. You are going to be overwhelmed by it unless you learn to gird your loins with strength, unless you learn to strengthen your arm, unless you let strength and honor be your clothing. If you do these things you will be able to laugh at the future. You will be able to laugh at tomorrow.

You won't be wondering how in the world you are going to face another day like this one.

Early Spiritual Preparation

Of course you want to know how you might cultivate your spiritual life, as this passage of Scripture suggests, so look at verse 15:

Proverbs 31

15She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

Some commentators interpret this verse of Scripture from a material standpoint and say that she ariseth while it is yet night and fixes breakfast for the household and plans the program for the day. There certainly is nothing wrong with such an interpretation, because all of you here can say something very similar to that. You do arise a great while before day and make the preparations for the day.

Other commentators see in this both the material and the spiritual. For example, the Amplified version says, “She rises while it is night and gets spiritual food for her household and assigns her family to their tasks.” I rather like that. I would like to say to you ladies that if you will cultivate your spiritual life in this fashion, arising a little before the rest of the family and girding your arms with strength, getting spiritual food for yourself and for your household, the day will not be nearly so bad and you will be able to laugh at tomorrow.

Difficult Days

Oftentimes when I have come in at night my wife has said to me, “Honey, this has been a day.” She will tell me about it, and then she will say, “You know, the thing that is bothering me is that this morning while you were in your study at 5:30 I was in the laundry room talking to the Lord, and I asked Him to order my day, and it has been a horrible day.” Sometimes—it is a little mean of me, but I do it to make a point—I say, “Well, what do you mean?” “Honey, it has been terrible, and I asked the Lord to order it.” Then I say, “Well, didn't He?” “I certainly didn't think it would be like this.” She was doing what most of us do, men and women alike; when we ask the Lord to order our steps, we mean, “Lord, make it easy.” We mean, “Lord, don't make it too difficult.” When it is difficult, we assume He hasn't ordered it. I lovingly remind her that when she asks the Lord to order her day, oftentimes He orders it through the difficult places. He may order it in contact with some of those obnoxious people that drive you crazy. He orders it. When you can remember that He orders it, it is a little easier to take.

God's Provision for Each Day

She has a verse and we claim it together: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25). Most folk claim that verse for old age. They say, “If I live to be seventy and can barely make it, the Lord will see me through.” Really, the verse has a deeper implication than that. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” He will give you the strength you need for Monday that you may not need for Friday.

You know, Friday is an easier day than the others for some women. My wife goes to the beauty shop every Friday at my insistance—not because she can't fix her own hair, but I think it is good for her to relax under a dryer and listen to chitter-chat that doesn't mean anything. Well, she does not need as much strength for Friday as she does for Monday when the kids get up cranky because they have been to church late on Sunday night, and they have not studied as they should have studied, and everyone wants the same thing at the same time, and no one can find things that are in plain sight. Do you know how those days go? You need more strength for Monday than you do for Friday, figuratively speaking.

Having Time With God

You can learn to claim the verse, “As thy days so shall thy strength be,” and the Lord will give you the strength for that particular day. But you must lean to cultivate your spiritual life. Those few moments that you take before the rest of the family gets up will be the most profitable minutes of the day, though you might be tempted to set the alarm fifteen minutes early so you can reset it and get fifteen minutes extra sleep. Have you ever done anything like that? I don't know why that last fifteen minutes is better than the rest of the night, but it is. Maybe you set the alarm thinking, “I will get up for this little time with the Lord,” and then you think, “Oh, it would be so good just to have a few extra minutes sleep,” and you reset the alarm. Well, the sleep is good, but remember that the cultivation of your spiritual life is tremendously important.

Checking On Her Spiritual Life

Will you look at verse 18:

Proverbs 31

18She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.

What in the world does that suggest to your mind? It suggests to my mind that she never takes for granted that her fellowship with the Lord is what it should be. As a matter of fact, one translation presents the verse: “She tastes and sees that her gain from work with and for God is good; then her lamp does not go out, but it burns continually in the night of trouble and adversity.”

All of you women who cooked before the days of TV dinners know the importance of tasting. You know how some women used to stand at the stove while they were cooking and taste; then they would know whether it was going to be right or not. When they put it on the table, it was just as it ought to be. This is the illustration, and it would behoove godly women to taste and see that things are going the way they ought to go, spiritually; then verse 21 will be true:

Let me emphasize, at the risk of mere repetition, that the capable woman will be one who takes time to cultivate her spiritual life. Such a woman for a wife is far above rubies.

A Consciousness of Personal Appearance

I would like to suggest something else. She is conscious of her personal appearance. You know, Peter brings these two things together; he mentions the outward adorning and the inner adorning (I Peter, chapter 3). Folk who are opposed to any outward adorning interpret that passage of Scripture as suggesting that Peter is against it; but if you follow that literally, there wouldn't be any kind of clothing worn. There is need for inner adorning, as I have emphasized; but, believe me, there is need for outer adorning. I love to see women with their hair fixed and with the right amount of makeup on. That is terrible for a preacher to say, isn't it? But I remember what a dear old preacher said one time to a group of young people when they were discussing how much makeup a Christian woman ought to wear. He said, “All I can say is, if the barn needs painting, paint it.” That might be a good thing to follow.

The Need to Care for Herself

This capable woman is conscious of her personal appearance. Look at verse 22:

Proverbs 31

22She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.

The Paraphrased version, putting it very simply, says, “Her clothing is beautifully made.” Yes, she spends some time with the Lord in the cultivation of her own spiritual needs, but she spends some time at the sewing machine making beautiful clothes for herself.

Now, you may not make your own clothes; you may buy them. But may I suggest something that you mothers, you young mothers particularly, need to know. Although it is important for you to take care of your household, and although it is important for you to clothes your children attractively, don't forget about yourself in the process. Mothers have a sacrificial nature.

A Personal Illustration

I have heard preachers preach sermons against getting new clothes for Easter, saying we ought to remember the resurrection of the Lord and not think about new clothes. But let's be practical and recognize that as far as a fixed date for Easter is concerned, there is none, and if you are going to overdraw the point, we are observing a pagan holiday, anyway. I don't know why people like to dress up around Easter-time, other than that spring is in the air and the change is inviting. We have five girls in our family and my wife and the girls make all their clothes; they buy very few. But when they were smaller, many times as Easter approached my wife would be busily engaged in making new garments for all the girls. I would say to her, “Honey, what are you going to make for yourself?” “I am not going to make anything for myself.” Then I would say, “Now, let me tell you something. You are either going to make something new for yourself, or you are going to go buy something new.” That always pleased her because she likes something new as well as anyone else, but she is so self-sacrificial that she might spend all of her time thinking about the appearance of her children and be prone to neglect her own. She doesn't; she is particular about it; but my point is that the temptation is always there.

I would like to say to you women that if you want to be a capable wife whose pricee is far above rubies, don't cultivate only your spiritual life; be conscious of your personal appearance, too. It is not as inviting as you think it is for a man to come home to a wife who greets him with straggly hair and a shiny nose and says, “Honey, I have had a wonderful time with the Lord today.” He might say, “Well, I am glad you did, dear,” but he might be thinking, “I would like to have a wonderful time with you this evening, but in the shape you are, I can't.”

Adequate Care for Her Family

Let me suggest another characteristic of this capable women: She cares adequately for her household. You see, there is a perfect balance here. There are some individuals who are so conscious of their own needs that their households are neglected, but this woman cultives her spiritual life, she is conscious of here personal appearance, and she adequately cares for her own household.

Avoiding ”The Bread of Idleness”

Look at verse 27:

Proverbs 31

27She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.

Do you know what the bread of idleness is? The Amplified version has included the phrase “her own house.” “She looks well to how things go in her own house.” Some folk can tell you more about the neighbors' house than they can about their own. She looks well to how things go in her own house, and she eats not the bread of idleness. Synonyms for “the bread of idleness” are given: gossip, discontent, and self-pity she will not eat. If you are as occupied with your household as you should be, there won't be time for all that.

Knowing Her Household

The Paraphrased version translates verse 27, “She watches carefully all that goes on throughout her household.” This provides another suggestion. Do you know that there are many mothers—and I am speaking about mothers, not about fathers—who do not know what is going on in their own homes where there are young people? My children have told us of visiting in homes where boys and girls were “making out.” That is a new phrase. I have to learn to keep up with the times. But in some cases the children are making out in their bedrooms while the parents are busily engaged in some other part of the house and they don't know it, and then when something tragic happens, the parents are the most surprised people of all. They don't watch what goes on in their own households.

An Example

I would suggest to you mothers that you take the liberty of knowing what kind of books are in your boys' rooms, and it might not hurt you to lift up the mattresses and see what is between the mattress and springs. “Oh,” you say, “my boy wouldn't do a thing like that.” Wouldn't he? “You think your boy would do a thing like that?”, someone asks me. I hope he wouldn't, but he is my son and I know what I was.

Then someone says, “Well, what are you going to do if you find something between the mattress and springs that you shouldn't find there?” You might not need to do anything about it right then. In fact, it might be best if you put it right back where it was and not say anything at all about it, except to the Lord. Then at the right time and with the right opportunity, take whatever steps need to be taken. Of course, you don't want to fly down into the family room and say, “Look what I found between the mattress and springs. What do you mean? What kind of boy are you to have a thing like this in your room?” You don't want to do that because do you know what will happen? He will kick himself for being so dumb and he will find a better place to hide it the next time. Do you see? “She looketh well to her own household.”

An Industrious Woman

We could look at verses 13 and 14 and say that this woman about whom we are talking is an industrious person:

Proverbs 31

13She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.

That verse always bothered me. You know, I see amusing things in the Scriptures sometimes, but I hate to compare my wife to a merchant ship, barging through the water. There is something about it that just isn't appealing, and I knew that there had to be something wrong with that translation. In perusing it in the original, I found that that was not exactly what the writer had in mind, but I never did find a good translation for it until the Paraphrased version became available. It suggests not that she is a merchant ship barging through the waters, but that she is a thrifty housewife, looking for bargains. The Paraphrased version says, “She buys imported foods brought by ships from a great distance.” This does not mean gourmet delicacies. It means that she goes down to the wharf and looks for the bargains that have just come in by ship. Industriously, thriftily, she looks after the ways of her household.

A Business Woman

If you will glance at verse 24, you will see that even though she does that, she has some outside interests:

Proverbs 31

24She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

She has a little manufacturing operation all her own going on to make a little extra money. I am often asked in these days whether women ought to work, whether wives ought to work, what the Scripture says about it. I have consistently emphasized that the basic teaching of the Word is that a woman should be a keeper at home. That is what the Word of God says. No ifs and buts about it. But I do recognize that in this day of pushbutton living, if a woman does not have any children, or if she has very few children, she may be able to be a very excellent keeper at home in a matter of a few hours, and the rest of the day drags on if she has nothing to do. If such is the case, there is no reason why she shouldn't have a little business of her own as this woman did, and sell some girdles to the merchants, if that is what it takes.

Conserving Time

But in verse 16 there is another suggestion that I would like to leave with you, and it is that this woman, industrious though she is, conserves her time. If there is one thing that capable women need to learn to do, they need to learn to conserve their time:

Proverbs 31

16She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.

Someone says, “Well, that doesn't sound as if she is conserving her time.” But permit another translation, which to my mind is more accurate: “She considers a new field before she buys or accepts it, expending prudently, and not courting neglect of her present duties by assuming others; with her savings of time and strength she plants fruitful vines in her vineyard.” Do you get the point? There are all too many sincere wives going beyond their strength. They don't know when to say no. They are busy with the obligations of their own household, and then someone comes along and wants them to do something for the church—generally speaking, for the Lord—and they think, “Well, I must do it because it is for the Lord.” They don't do what this woman did; they don't stop and consider the amount of strength they have before they expand into other activities. With the savings of time and strength which you will reap if you are careful, you will be able to plant vineyards that will bear real fruit. Do you know that many, many women are doing nothing more than running around in circles, because they haven't learned to conserve their time?

Being Calm In Trying Circumstances

Look at verse 26 as I suggest to you that this capable woman is calm in trying circumstances. That is really easy, isn't it—to be calm in trying circumstances? Well, I see from your faces, and I know from experience, that it isn't easy.

Proverbs 31

26She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

Have you ever wished you could bite your tongue out after you had said something? You said it before you really knew what you were doing. Oh, how you wished you could draw back what you said, but it was too late. It had been said. You opened your mouth without wisdom. You say, “I know; but I tell you, those kids that morning, they were driving me mad.” That's right; they were; that is why you opened your mouth without wisdom. But a capable woman, such as we are thinking about, whose price is far above rubies, will according to another translation, “open her mouth with skillful and godly wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness, giving cousel and instruction.” Oh, how much more could be accomplished if mothers would stop and, with kindness on their tongues, give some counsel and instruction instead of saying, “If you kids don't stop that, I am going to kill you.” Of course, you don't intend to kill them, but you have said something like that.

Oftentimes they don't even know what they are doing that is provoking you to such a feeling. They look at one another and say, “What have we done?” True, they might have been bashing a hole in the wall, but it didn't seem too important to them at the moment. They were just exuberant in their strength. How much better it would have been if you could have stopped and said, “Now, children, listen. This house belongs to God. He gave it to us. We have got to use it carefully, so we don't bang holes in the wall. Daddy is going to have to fix that hole when he comes home, and you might have to help him.” How much easier on them it would be than to flare out as is so often done.

Interest In Others

Verse 20 suggests that this woman is not completely related to her home; she has something else on her mind. Some outside interests again; she is ever mindful of the needs of others.

Proverbs 31

20She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

We are going to stop right there. That is not all we can say about this chapter. We will continue it later, the Lord willing. I would remind you that this woman of whom we are speaking did not live in a pushbutton age, yet it worked.


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