The answer is challenging, simple, and freeing when you see the big picture.
“A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10 (NIV)
Many of us know this verse from Proverbs 31 and the eloquent description that continues of a woman who indeed has noble character. Her husband has confidence in her, and she brings him good. The Proverb describes her as caring deeply for her home, her community, and for herself. She is strong and dignified. She is not anxious. She is wise. She loves her children and her husband and the Lord.
I have asked married couples what it’s like for them to read that passage. The most common response from the gentlemen? “Wow, that would sure be nice.” The most common response from the ladies? “Wow, I would love to be that good. I fall way short.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the intent of that passage is not for women to feel shame and, at best, try to rouse up enough gusto to try to become that kind of woman?
For men to not try to measure their wives against the woman portrayed in the passage? And also, what about the men? Why are we not mentioned in the passage? What of the husband of noble character?
Allow me a quick tangent. I was talking to a fella in my office the other day who told me his adult daughter had said some very hurtful things to him, and in response, he had cut her off. He was sad and confused. As we explored the issue, I shared a picture I had of his daughter hitting him over the head with her fists. “That’s certainly what it felt like,” he said. I responded, “So your withdrawal makes sense. But I think that’s only half the picture.” The story needs more context. “You’re both in water, and she’s going under. She’s flailing about and she hits you on the head with her fists. Now, what is your response?” I watched as his eyes widened at the introduction of the greater context. “Of course, I would go toward her and rescue her.”
Context matters immensely, doesn’t it? We don’t know how to interpret an event, let alone read an essential passage like Proverbs 31, without context.
In the New International Version translation, the beginning of the chapter says “The sayings of King Lamuel – an inspired utterance his mother taught him” (v. 1). Now, regardless of who King Lamuel was (most scholars can only guess), his mother taught him these things.
Why would a mother – a woman – teach her son – a man – about a virtuous wife? There are only two reasons I can think of:
- The first possibility is that she was showing him a picture of the kind of woman she wanted her son to marry. This would be unlikely, however, given that her picture is of a married woman who has a family. The Proverbs 31 woman is mature and established within her community.
- The more likely reason is that King Lamuel’s mother knew a powerful, life-changing secret of marriage and wanted her son to understand it. “If you want a wife of noble character, my son,” we could almost imagine her saying, “love her into it.”
Slow down and read that again.
Men, if you want a wife of noble character, love her into it. Your responsibility is to care for and create an environment where your wife can flourish and grow into the woman God destined her to become. In doing so, you become the man God destined you to become.
Women, if you want a husband who can love you in such a way, love him into it. In doing so, you become the woman God intends you to become.
Does this all sound familiar?
Ephesians 5:21-25 (NIV) says it this way:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy…”
Let’s boil this down to the essentials.
What makes a good wife? Husbands, you do.
What makes a good husband? Wives, you do.
I cannot become the kind of man I hope to become without loving my wife into the kind of woman she is destined to be. At the same time, my wife cannot hope to become the kind of woman God has written into her heart to become without me loving her into it.
Over it all, we both seek Jesus first. Our destinies – my wife’s and my own – are intertwined. This means, if I have a complaint against my wife for something she’s said or done, I need to consider what context I am creating for her to live in. Am I helping her flourish, or am I leaving her to drown? And the same goes for her.
When it comes to the kind of spouse you have, you are a more powerful ingredient than you imagine. Seek God deeply, and then ask Him to help you create an environment for your spouse in which they can come alive, be free, feel safe, and flourish. Pray that you become the spouse you long to be so that your spouse can become who they are meant to be.
Dr. Brian Fidler
Dr. Brian Fidler is an assistant professor of counseling at Colorado Christian University and a psychotherapist in private practice, helping couples for more than a decade. He has worked with hundreds of couples through the years who wish to work through their marriage struggles and deepen their intimate connection. Dr. Fidler and his wife have been married for 20 years and enjoy spending time with their family, reading, and exploring the outdoors.