Connections 09.19.2021: High Standards

Proverbs 31:10-31

This week’s lesson text praises women who are wise, righteous, industrious, and productive. Those are good ways to be. It also instructs husbands and children to praise such women. That is a good thing to do.

I had a mother and I have a wife. I appreciate the ways in which my mother lived out and my wife lives out the qualities praised in our lesson text. I wholeheartedly honor and praise them for their character that showed (in the case of my mother) and shows (in the case of my wife) in their actions.

I must say, though, that I cannot imagine being a woman who reads the words in this passage. I will, with much fear and trembling, venture to suggest that were I a woman reading those words, I’d probably think something like, “Oh, so that’s all that’s expected of me.” And then I might roll my eyes. I think that feeling obligated to live up to these standards would put quite a strain on a woman.

But on the other hand, we are all expected to live up to a very high standard. The entire book of Proverbs, for which our lesson text provides the closing verses, calls all of us to live in wise and upright ways. All of God’s people are to avail themselves of the wisdom that God in God’s grace makes available to us. God expects us to use the great gift of God’s wisdom. Proverbs makes it clear that we are fools if we fail to do so. Being wise is better.

Other biblical passages, including the other lectionary texts for this Sunday, set standards for all of us that are as demanding as those set for women in Proverbs 31. Psalm 1 says, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night” (vv. 1-2). James 3 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (v. 13). In the Gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die before he will be resurrected. They reveal their failure to comprehend what he says by arguing with each other over which of them is the greatest disciple. Jesus tells them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). This makes clear that an approach to life that prioritizes service is required not only of what some people refer to as “a Proverbs 31 woman,” but rather of everyone who follows Jesus.

The standards are high for all of us. It may well seem to all of us that they are too high to reach. When such thoughts occur to us, we do well to remember that it is by God’s grace that we have the opportunity to keep growing toward becoming the people that our life in Christ makes it possible for us to become. And when we are disappointed by our failure to progress, we do well to remember that it is by God’s grace that we can get up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward.

Discussion

  • The book of Proverbs personifies God’s wisdom as a woman. How might the book’s closing portrayal of a wise woman relate to that personification?
  • Name and discuss three qualities that could summarize the characteristics of the woman described in the lesson text. How might displaying those qualities by both men and women benefit them, their families, and their communities?
  • Verse 30b says that “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” What does such reverence entail?
  • Why is it important that we do our best to be and do what God expects us to be and do? How can we expect the best of ourselves without despairing over our failures to do our best? How can we forgive ourselves while also taking seriously our need to do better?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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