Missing the Forest for the Trees

15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?

25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 ESV

Don’t be too righteous, but don’t be too wicked. Don’t be too wise, but don’t be too foolish. That sounds like strange advice, doesn’t it? It comes across like Solomon is recommending a life of mediocrity – a middle-of-the-road kind of mentality that avoids the ditches on either side. His assessment is that the righteous die in spite of their righteousness and the wicked succeed in spite of their wickedness. So, he recommends avoiding the extremes and fearing  God instead.

What Solomon seems to be saying is that a man will end up disappointed if he pursues righteousness and wisdom thinking they will provide him with a long and prosperous life, free from trouble and trials. A life of righteousness, marked by wisdom is no guarantee of immunity from difficulty. Good people still suffer and die. Wise people still make dumb decisions. But at the same time, Solomon warns that a life of wickedness may bring you a semblance of pleasure and happiness, but you’ll end up paying for it in the long run. This leads him to conclude: “Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18 NLT).

It’s important that we not misunderstand or misinterpret what Solomon is saying. He is not diminishing the importance of righteousness or wisdom. He knows that both are essential and, when pursued properly, honoring to God. He even acknowledges that “One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town!” (Ecclesiastes 7:19 NLT). A wise person possesses an inner strength that provides protection from the effects of adversity. It provides a form of self-reliance and security that is preferable to dependence upon outside sources.   

But wisdom has its limits. So does righteousness. There is no one who is all-wise. There is no one who is fully righteous.

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

That’s not exactly a revelation, but it’s so important that we recognize and come to grips with the truth it proclaims. In this lifetime, we will never experience unvarnished righteousness. We will never be completely holy and sinless. So, while righteousness is a worthy and worthwhile pursuit, we must remember that it will never keep us from suffering. Or to put it another way, no amount of righteousness in your life will protect you from pain and suffering. The righteous and wicked both experience difficulties in life. In fact, sometimes it appears as if the righteous suffer more than the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah took pains to share his frustration with this disturbing reality to God Himself.

Lord, you always give me justice
    when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
    Why are evil people so happy?
You have planted them,
    and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
    but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:1-2 NLT

From our earth-bound perspective, it can sometimes appear as if the wicked are being blessed by God. They seem happy and content. Their lives appear to be relatively free from pain and marked by prosperity. But as the saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” Solomon had lived long enough to realize that the righteous and the wicked both experience their fair share of suffering. No amount of wisdom can guarantee a trouble-free life. This was a man who had pursued wisdom in a vain attempt to make sense of the incongruities and inequities of life.

And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 ESV

Solomon had been blessed by God with greater wisdom than any other living man. But he had not been satisfied. Instead, he spent years trying to acquire even more wisdom. It became an obsession. For Solomon, the accumulation of wisdom had become the end-game, rather than recognition and reverence for the One who made wisdom possible.

In his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, J. S. Wright describes wisdom as “not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience” (J. S. Wright, Ecclesiastes). John Piper describes wisdom as “that practical knowledge of how to attain true and lasting happiness. It begins with the fear of the Lord and consists in humbly hearing and doing God’s will perceived both in Scripture and in the unique circumstances of the moment” (John Piper, desiringgod.org, “Get Wisdom”).

Solomon knew and understood the importance of wisdom, so he went out of his way to get his hands on it. But it seems as if he treated it as just another commodity, like gold, silver, horses, houses, chariots, and servants. As John Piper stated, the fear of the Lord is central to getting the full advantage of wisdom. And, of all people, Solomon should have understood that truth. After all, it was he who included the following proverb in his well-known collection:

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. – Proverbs 9:10 NLT

But despite his awareness of this truth, Solomon’s self-obsessed accumulation of wisdom left him less than satisfied.

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:16-17 ESV

Solomon had lived a long life. He had accomplished much and enjoyed all the perks that came with his achievements. And while he could put abundant wisdom at the top of his long list of assets, he still found himself operating in the red.

I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT

Despite his superior intelligence, the only conclusion Solomon could reach was that wisdom was an antidote to foolishness. It was like a vaccine that protected one against infection from folly.

I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:25 NLT

To Solomon, wisdom was nothing more than a panacea against a life of foolishness. He even characterizes folly as a seductive woman.

I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare. – Ecclesiastes 7:26 NLT

And Solomon was somewhat of an expert when it came to seductive women. He was addicted to them. You don’t amass 700 wives and 300 concubines without some kind of a physical and psychological obsession with the opposite sex. And so, when Solomon attempted to describe the attractive nature of folly and the life of foolishness, he tended to use the familiar allure of a promiscuous woman.

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
    and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
    as dangerous as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps lead straight to the grave.
For she cares nothing about the path to life.
    She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it. – Proverbs 5:3-6 NLT

Solomon knew that a life of foolishness could be highly appealing, but also extremely deadly. It was an equal-opportunity trap that ensnared both men and women. In fact, when he makes the statement, “Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous”, he uses the Hebrew word adam, which can be translated as “man” but is actually a generic term referring to both sexes. Foolishness is not a male-dominated trait. Every human being, regardless of gender, class, educational status, or social standing, is susceptible to the allure of foolishness.

Yet, in verse 28, Solomon seems to be saying that only men can be virtuous.

I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! – Ecclesiastes 7:28 NLT

It would seem that his use of the term “woman” in the second half of this verse is a direct reference to the seductive woman in verse 26. He is stating that folly is never virtuous. The individual who pursues a life of foolishness will never discover virtue or righteousness. Wisdom can prevent us from succumbing to folly’s temptation, but folly will never produce wisdom or result in a life of righteousness. This is why Solomon closes out this chapter by saying, “God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 NLT). God created men and women to live righteously. But ever since the fall, humanity has made a habit of following a divergent path, pursuing darkness rather than light.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning or foundation of wisdom. But pursuing wisdom without a healthy reverence for God simply turns it into a commodity to be coveted and acquired. It becomes the objective rather than a relationship with God. Instead of viewing wisdom as a gift from God, designed to help us live in obedience to Him, we make it our end goal. Wisdom becomes nothing more than a tool to make us smarter, wealthier, healthier, and happier.

Solomon had spent decades in search of the meaning of life. And, in his relentless quest, he had tried wisdom and wickedness, viewing both as potential doorways to his desired destination. But God and a healthy reverence for Him were, and still are, the only ways for a man or woman to discover their true purpose in life and enjoy their days “under the sun.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

These Things.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV

Peter is dead serious about the seven virtues he has just brought up. They weren’t just friendly suggestions that the readers of his letter were free to take or leave. No, Peter saw them as indispensable and unavoidable necessities for living the Christian life. They were the attributes of Christ Himself. And since growing in their knowledge of and intimacy with Christ was to be an objective of their relationship with Him, they should also grow in the likeness to Him. Their character of their lives should emulate His. So, Peter warns them that he is going to continue to lovingly nag them about these things. He knows that he has not told them anything they have not heard before. This was basic Christianity 101. But, he knew that they needed constant reminding because these things were easy to lose sight of in the midst of all the pressures of life and the temptations that come with living in a fallen world. Other things take precedence. Each of the seven virtues have competing alternatives that can tempt believers to display opposite character qualities that are destructive, rather than constructive. Instead of virtue or moral excellence, there is always the temptation to live in moral compromise or mediocrity. In other words, to live a slightly-less-than holy life. This usually happens when we begin to live according to human, rather godly standards.

If knowledge is the Spirit-empowered capacity to know right from wrong, how simple it is to silence that still, small voice of the Spirit and listen to the wisdom of this world. When we do, we begin to call good evil and evil good. Our sense of perspective becomes corrupted by the passions associated with our old sin nature. And instead of displaying wisdom based on a knowledge of God’s will and ways, we begin to act like fools, operating in ignorance, and all the while thinking we are wise.

Self-control is the ability to master one’s desires and passions. So, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what a lack of self-control looks like. When we stop adding self-control to our faith, we fall into the trap of operating according to our own fleshly desires. For the Christian, self-control is really about being controlled by the Spirit and not by our own flesh. And the apostle Paul makes it clear what happens when we let our old nature take back over the reigns of our life.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Steadfastness is patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The obvious alternative is impatience and impulsiveness. We find ourselves quickly running out of endurance and the stamina it takes to live Christ-like lives in this fallen and sin-filled world. The pressures of life mount up and we find ourselves giving up.

The opposite of godliness is ungodliness. But that doesn’t necessarily mean totally depraved, sinful behavior. Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God, so ungodliness is any and all behavior that fails to reflect His character. You don’t have to hate someone else to fail to reflect God’s character. You just have to refuse to love those He has called you to love. You can simply ignore others and refuse to give them the time of day. You don’t have to murder someone to reflect ungodly character. You simply have to slander them or spread damaging rumors about them. Even despising them in your heart is ungodly in the eyes of God. So, if we are not constantly adding godliness to our lives, the opposite will show up.

Brotherly affection is nothing more than love for a brother or sister in Christ. But it is more than a feeling of affection for them. It is an outward display of tangible care and concern. It is the ”one another” passages of Scripture lived out in real life. We are to encourage one another, admonish one another, carry one another’s burdens, accept one another, forgive one another, and patiently tolerate one another. You can easily see what the opposite of brotherly affection would look like.

Finally, there’s love – agape love – the kind of love by which God loved us. It is selfless and sacrificial, expecting nothing in return. It is other-oriented, not me-focused. And when our love of self overshadows our love for others, we are not living out this non-negotiable character quality of Christ Himself. We are not loving as He has loved us.

So, Peter tells his readers that he is going to continue to bring these attributes up, even thought he knows they are already familiar with them. Knowing them and living them out are two different things. Having a cognitive understanding of them is of no use if our lives fail to display a visible application of them.

In this passage, Peter says that he feels it is only right that he remind them of these things, and that he will do so as long as he is alive. Then he makes an interesting statement: “since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:14 ESV). What is he talking about? What did Jesus makes clear to him regarding the putting off of his body or his death? If you recall, after the resurrection of Jesus, when He had made numerous appearances to the disciples, He had a particularly memorable encounter with Peter. Three separate times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. It is important to recall that Peter had denied Jesus three different times on the night that He had been betrayed and was being tried. The three questions Jesus asked Peter had been difficult for him to hear and answer. But each time, Peter answered in the affirmative. “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’” (John 21:17 ESV). And, it was right after this that Jesus said to Peter:

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 ESV

Notice that last two words, “follow me”. Those were the same two words that had started Peter’s journey with Christ more than three years earlier. But this time, Jesus was indicating that Peter was going to follow Jesus in death. Tradition states that Peter was eventually crucified. His hands were stretched out and he was carried where he did not want to go. But at the time Peter wrote this letter, he had no idea when his fate would come. He simply knew that he was going to one day follow Jesus in death. So, he was driven by a sense of timeliness and urgency. And he tells his readers, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 2:15 ESV). In other words, Peter was going to leave them some form of written encouragement to continue to remind them about these seven character qualities.

Peter made “every effort” – he wrote down his thoughts, making them a permanent record of his feelings concerning these things. And that letter not only encouraged those who received it initially, it became a permanent part of Holy Scripture, providing all of us who have come to faith in Christ with words of encouragement and admonition. These seven virtues are as necessary today as they were the day Peter penned his letter. “These things”, as Peter calls them, are still a vital part of living the Christian life. Times have changed. Cultures have evolved and adapted themselves to new conditions. But there is still a need for virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. And only the body of Christ can display these characteristics, because they are spiritual in nature. They are Spirit-empowered. Apart from the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God, no man is capable of producing these qualities. We can fake it. We can display poor imitations of them. But these Christ-like character qualities begin with faith in Christ and are supplements to that faith. They are the marks of those who have been chosen by God and who have received new natures and a new capacity to live as His children in a lost and dying world.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faith Alone, But Not By Itself.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:5-11 ESV

Peter would have been one of the first to defend the concept of sola fide, salvation through faith alone. He firmly believed that man could not be justified or made right with God by anything other than faith alone in Christ alone. But that did not mean he believed that saving faith was all that was needed or necessary in the life of the believer. Our faith in Christ must be accompanied by a change in our behavior and character. James wrote, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14 ESV). Then he answered his own question, saying, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). James was not contradicting sola fide, he was simply acknowledge that saving faith is life-transforming faith. It results in a life of good works. And Peter corroborates the view of James when he tells his readers: “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV). That’s quite a list. James summed his up in one word: Works. But Peter decided to get a bit more specific.

When speaking of supplementing their faith, the  Greek word he used is ἐπιχορηγέω (epichorēgeō) and it is an interesting choice. It actually means “to supply, furnish, present” (“G2023 – epichorēgeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). But it comes from another Greek word that is compound word in the Greek that combines the preposition “in” or “on” with chorēgeō, a word that literally means “to procure and supply all things necessary to fit out a chorus” (“G5524 – chorēgeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). That gives Peter’s words a whole new twist. He is telling his readers to “make every effort” to see that their faith in Christ be outfitted with all the necessary elements to produce a harmonious and God-honoring life.

It is important that we remember the encouraging words Peter wrote just a few verses earlier. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). These “supplements” Peter speaks about come from God. They are not man-made or self-produced. In his first letter, Peter stated, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies (chorēgeō) — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). The seven things that Peter mentions are God-given and designed by Him to complete every believer with the Christ-like character necessary to live harmoniously and righteously on this earth.

Spirituality, or our growth in godliness is a daily choice. It doesn’t just happen. It requires cooperation and effort on our part. The list Peter supplies is in a specific order and each word builds on the one before it. He uses a common literary device to move his thoughts toward a crescendo that ends with the word, “love.” He is not necessarily giving priority to one word over the other. He is also not saying that you have to add them to your life in the order in which he has given them. He is simply expressing that their is a natural progression to godliness. Like a tree, we are to grow gradually and intentionally, just as our Creator has designed. He begins with virtue. This is a word that described our inward character. It is moral excellence that begins in the heart and expresses itself through behavior. Virtue is a willful obedience to the calling of God on your life.

Knowledge refers to our need to know more about God and His Son. In chapter three, Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was the God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17 ESV). His prayer for the believers in Colossae was that they would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 ESV).

Next Peter mentions self-control. This has to do with the ability to master our desires and passions. Rather than allowing our sinful flesh to dictate our behavior, we are to live under the control of the Spirit of God. That’s why Paul told us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV). Our flesh or old nature wants to control us. It wants to dictate our behavior, but we must keep it under control.

Next is steadfastness or perseverance. This has to do with having an attitude of resilience. Living as a believer on this planet can be tough at times. We must keep on keeping on. But it is much more than just a toleration of what is happening to us. It carries the idea of confident and joyful awareness that God is in control and is using any and all circumstances to mold us into the likeness of His Son.

Godliness is just what it appears to be. It is to have and display the character of God. This does not infer that we can become God, but that, as His children, we should reflect His character. We have the Spirit of God living within us, and as we submit to His leadership, we begin to exhibit the fruit of His presence: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Brotherly affection is simply love for our fellow believers in Christ. That includes the unattractive and unlikeable, the haves and the have-nots. It eliminates any place for jealousy, envy, gossip, slander or hatred. Paul gives us a glimpse into what this looks like when he writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10 ESV).

Finally, Peter ends his list with the word, “love.” He uses the Greek word ἀγάπη (agapē), which refers to the highest form of love. It is the same kind of love with which Christ loved us. It is selfless, sacrificial, and always puts others as the highest priority.

Peter tells us that these qualities should be evident and constantly increasing in our lives. And if they are lacking, then we have every reason to wonder what has happened. He says we have become so nearsighted as to be blind. We have lost the ability to see those around us and have become so self-focused that we end up living as if God and others don’t even exist. Is that really saving faith? Is that what we have been called to as believers in Christ? Peter tells us that as these seven qualities increase in our lives, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are truly called and our faith is real. They are the evidence of our election, the proof of our calling by God. So we must constantly remember what Paul told his disciple, Timothy. “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time–to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1;( NLT).

Proverbs 31

The Beauty of Character.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.” – Proverbs 31:30 NLT

In a society obsessed with outer beauty, it pays to be reminded that God looks at the heart. He is not impressed with externals. He does not measure our value based on our good looks or how impressive we may appear. God is all about inner character. He sees what others too often fail to see and what most of us even fail to look for. In this famous Proverb, King Lemuel describes a most impressive woman. She is industrious, a successful businesswoman, a loving mother, a highly disciplined worker, a caring friend, and a dedicated wife. In fact, this woman is almost too good to be true. But I don’t think the point of this Proverb is to hold up this unnamed woman as a model for all women to follow. I think the point is to remind us that it is our character that counts. It is what’s inside that gives us our value. This woman’s industry and hard work are laudable, but they are not the point. Hard work can simply become another form of idol worship, leading to workaholism and self-sufficiency. While King Lemuel describes this woman as dressing in fine linen and purple gowns, he says, “She is clothed with dignity and strength” (Proverbs 31:25 NLT). Her inner character was outwardly visible in the manner in which she lived her life. She worked hard out of love for her family, not out of love for self. She was industrious because she cared for others more than she cared for herself. This woman feared God. She had a reverence for God that drove her actions and determined her attitude about everything. Verse 10 describes her as “virtuous.” That word really has to do with inner strength. She was trustworthy, good, hard-working, discerning, compassionate, giving, humble, wise, kind, loving, and worthy of praise from both her children and her husband. Why? Because she had inner beauty that was far more than skin deep. It was the byproduct of time spent with God. If some of us, both men and women, spent more time in the Word and less time in the gym or in front of the mirror, we would exhibit more of the character qualities this woman possessed. If we cared more about the condition of our souls than we did about our bodies, we would be far more attractive to the world around us. “Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman [or man] who lives in the Fear-of-GOD” (Proverbs 31:30 MSG).

Father, we obsess over the outside. We spend far too much time worrying about how we appear when we should be thinking about who we really are on the inside. Renew our perspective. Give us a greater desire to be transformed from the inside out. Help us to fear You more and desire what is important to You. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org